Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Gender Benders

So authoress JK Rowling uses a male alias ‘Robert Galbraith’ for penning a detective novel (The Cuckoo’s Calling) and all hell breaks loose in the teeth-gnashing, chest-thumping, bra-burning world of feminists.

“Why do you need a masculine name when people like Agatha Christie have already broken the glass ceiling in the crime genre?” ask the women’s libbers. But what they don’t realise is Ms. Rowling wasn’t assuming a new identity to earn brownies from men. All she wanted want was to run far away from the Harry Potter baggage. And the farthest she could get, was by turning ‘he’.

Escape from an image trap is not the only reason for the quaint practice of gender crossovers in pseudonyms. Nelle Harper Lee opted for the manly Harper Lee when she wrote the masterpiece ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ because she was scared that people will mispronounce her first name as ‘Nelly’ instead of ‘Nell’.

Yes, the Bronte sisters published their classics in the guise of the Bell brothers to avoid male condescension, but many others such as George Sand voluntarily chose a virile moniker as they felt like one of the boys.

Another telling aspect that might surprise feminists is that there are quite a few respectable men who’ve written books under the garb of a woman. The big daddy of them all was Benjamin Franklin aka ‘the bloke on the 100 dollar bill’. When his brother refused to publish his pieces in a newspaper, Benjamin wrote some mystery letters to the editor under the pseudonym ‘Mrs. Silent Dogood’. The epistles were so good that they had to carry it!

Likewise, when Frank L. Baum (the chap behind ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’) wanted to publish his kiddie tales, he chose ‘Laura Bancroft’ as the fairer sex was supposedly best at narrating stories to children.

Female nom de plumes find currency even back home. The famed Tamil detective novelist ‘Subha’ is actually the literary mask of two guys - Suresh and Balakrishnan! ‘Charu Nivedita’ (real name: Arivazhagan), ‘Pushpa Thangadurai’ (Sri Venugopal) and ‘Sujatha’ (S. Rangarajan) are a few more popular examples. Just goes to show that artistry knows no gender.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Titter Proof Titles

Critics are easily the most unloved sub-species among Homo sapiens. Artist Man Ray once expressed his deepest feelings for them with an epic statement: All critics should be assassinated. Most Bollywood film makers would secretly concur with Man Ray’s assessment as they've been victims themselves of poison arrows from the rather mean quiver of the nasty critic.

Of late, the barbs have been getting crisper, sharper and snarkier thanks largely to the 140-character attention span of the connected cosmos. It all began with RGV’s ill fated ‘Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag’. Every reviewer worth his ink jumped into the bitching fest. The most pungent of them all came from Raja Sen who dubbed it ‘Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aargh!’ Then the wannabes rushed in with ‘Ram Gopal Varma Ki Daag’ and the tweets got regressively more below-the-belt.

Ironically, Raja Sen got a taste of his own medicine, when a two-bit reviewer labelled his script ‘Go Goa Gone’ as ‘Go Goa Gonorrhoea’! As a namer, I am of the view that a lot of these malicious wisecracks can be done away with, if one just picks a title with very little spoofability.

When you choose a catchy ‘Fukrey’, it might get you a few extra eyeballs but you run the risk of being rubbished as ‘What the Fukrey’ by some critic, venting his spleen. When ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ was released recently, Shobha De, the queen of cattiness, finished her soaked-in-the-acid review with a punch line that read ‘Bhaag Audience Bhaag’! Such tarty verdicts can derail any film from reaching its blockbuster destination.

The only way to protect your movie from the vultures of twitter is to make it titter-proof. Always think of negative words, idioms and expressions associated with the title. If you’ve picked ‘Policegiri’ expect a ‘watching the film is like a jail sentence’. If you’ve chosen ‘Air Force One’, you’re asking for ‘Air Farce One’. ‘A Dark Knight’ can be laughed at by making it ‘A Dork Knight’. Remember, cunning wordsmiths can turn even a harmless ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ into ‘Harry Plodder and the Lamest of Sequels’. So to escape scathing reviews, give the punster no scope for word play.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Court Jesters

Tennis players are the real rock stars of sport. They wear provocative wigs on stage - remember Agassi’s peroxide mullet? They use cuss words on prime time - remember John McEnroe’s infamous tantrums? They have wham-bam-thank-you-ma’m kinda romps outside marriage - remember Becker’s 5-second quickie? They dress up rather fashionably while at work - remember Bethanie-Mattek Sands’ Lady Gaga style attire? They even evoke extreme attention from fans – remember how Monica Seles was stabbed by Steffi’s fan?

There’s one more reason why the sport controlled by ATP, is eminently likeable: you’re likely to spot the funniest names in this ball game.

Take Jim Courier. In a parallel universe, he would be the delivery boy for UPS or FedEx. But in the world of racket and strings, he’s a champion who’s won both the French and Australian Open.

People who have no connection with tennis will rarely able to sniff out the aces from their names. Sample these. Mary Pierce has the ring of a tattoo artist. Pat Cash seems like a walking talking ATM. Arthur Ashe has all the grim traces of a funeral director. Roscoe Tanner has the stink of a leather maker. And Steffi Graf can only remind you of a statistician.

The Eastern Europeans add a mirthful flavour to the game. As all of us know, Novak Djokovic is the djoke of all jokes. Ivanisevic, Zimonjic, Zivojinovic, Petrovic and Petkovic sometimes make you think if Club Sandvic and Chicken Sandvic might get a wildcard entry for the championships. Likewise, Sharapova, Kournikova, Navratilova and Kalashnikova make you wonder if Palkova might have been better off wearing a short white skirt than playing the mouth watering milk sweet.

The tryst with amusing surnames is not a new phenomenon in tennis. Historically, there have been many players with equally fascinating names. The American lady who won 8 Wimbledon titles should have been one happy woman. Instead she was called Helen Wills ‘Moody’. The first ever male to win the Grand Slam was a fleet-footed chap, ironically named Don ‘Budge’. And the greatest female tennis player of all time, in all surfaces, was predictably Margaret ‘Court’. Talk of coincidences!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Brand of Brothers

Wars, battles and disasters, have created the fallacious notion that our soldiers are gun toting toy heroes born to die for their country. The underlying assumption here is that the army man is an emotionless, pre-programmed, remote-controlled robot built for the sole purpose of self-sacrifice. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For he’s a jolly good fellow, very unlike the zombies, one got to see in ‘Border’ and ‘Lakshya’. In reality, the jawan is as fun-loving, quirky and goofy as boys can be. May be that’s why the most ribald jokes and limericks get minted in military dorms.

The sense of humour of the infantryman is best reflected in the nicknames conjured up for their regiments. Members of The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry (TRGBWLI), for example, rechristened their loftily ludicrous name into the mildly amusing ‘Alphabety Spaghetti’. Even more ingenious were the battalions under 101st Airborne Division. They called themselves ‘One o’ Worst’ - a clever play on their official moniker.

The Canadians in Princess Louis Fusiliers were one notch higher. Inspired by their insignia of a grenade with flames, they hit upon the explosive nick ‘Flaming Testicle’. Likewise the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment’s abbreviation (LSSR) served as the cue word for creation of the ‘Losers’ tag.

Wordplay with abbreviations is a crowd favourite with armies across nations. If the Royal Canadian Regiment were ‘Run Chicken Run’, the Governor General’s Foot Guards became ‘God’s Gift to Fat Girls’! Not to be outdone, the caustic Brits re-labelled Queen’s Lancashire Regiment as ‘Quick Let’s Run’, the Royal Logistic Corps as ‘Retard’s Lone Choice’ and Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers as ‘Ruin Every Maiden Eventually’.

One can be sure that the relatively staid Indian Army has its fair share of earthy nicknames. Among the ones in the public domain, the charming story of Madras Goondas shimmers like a pettai rowdy’s freshly sharpened aruval.

It seems that the Second Battalion of the Madras Regiment is named so because of a tale that goes back to 1951 when some soldiers played Robin Hood to ensure timely supply of food grains for the famine-stricken people of Rajasthan. Thank god for the uniformed goondas!