Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Man With Many Faces

It’s not easy being the ninth one in a family of fourteen children. You have to resort to every trick in the book to catch the eye of your parents. You have to be a maverick to stand out from your platoon of siblings. Fortunately, Subhas Chandra Bose never had to try too hard. You see, it came naturally to him.

In academics, he was a prodigy of sorts – stood second in Calcutta in the matriculation exams. At college, he was a confirmed rebel – slapped his prof for his anti-India quips. As a 24-year-old youth, he was a radical – chucked his cushy Indian Civil Services job for a stab at revolution. By 38, he had been an editor twice and had even written a book – that was provocative enough to be banned by the British. At 42, he won a prestige election as the Congress President – defeating the mighty Mahatma Gandhi’s nominee. And at our ever-youth icon Rahul Gandhi’s age, he took on the military prowess of the British Empire by having the temerity to launch a war in alliance with Japan!

His official historical narrative ends with an air crash when he was supposedly 48. But as the recent series of disclosures have indicated, Mr. Bose may have flummoxed us all by faking his death. Like many Netaji enthusiasts, I tend to believe in this theory.

After all, look at his track record. Around 1941, when the Brits were hatching a plan to shut him in jail for a long, long time, our man grew a beard, wore a black sherwani and disappeared into the cold night all the way up to Afghanistan assuming the identity of a deaf and dumb pathan named ‘Mohammad Ziauddin’. From there, he slipped into Moscow pretending to be an Italian called ‘Count Orlando Mazzotta’. Having failed to convince Stalin, he jumped ship to Germany and shook hands with Hitler and when he let him down, he took a submarine detour to Japan and assumed the avatar of the head of Azad Hind Government. If he could outfox the alert Englishmen and the canny Russians, how long do you think would it take our Houdini to befool the Nehru Government by donning the saffron garb of ‘Gumnami Baba’?

But the sceptics in our country ask: If the Baba were indeed Netaji, why did he choose to be gumnami (anonymous)? Well, for that, we’ll have to throwback a remixed version of an old Netaji quote at the Modi government: “Tum mujhe files do, main tumhe is controversy se azaadi doonga!”

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Name Above The Title

Tyler Durden and Kinofist. A very intriguing name leapt out of the credits and landed a smacking punch when I was watching a lovingly made advert, recently. It was the production house of award-winning director Thiagrajan Kumararaja.

A play on his initials, Tyler & Kinofist, was a nod to two people who had perhaps influenced his craft: the cult figure of ‘Fight Club’ and Sergei Eisenstein - the Russian film maker who coined the term ‘Kino Fist’ to capture his pugnacious style of making movies with impact.

That said, cleverly conjured up names are still a rarity in the world of film production companies largely populated by the many self-obsessed types like Aamir Khan Productions, Yash Raj Films, Pritish Nandy Communications and Anurag Kashyap Films.

But there are plenty of fish in the sea who’ve been swimming against the tide. Brad Pitt’s ‘Plan B’ is a classic self-deprecatory statement offering him an escape route in case he fails to rake in the moolah from his sure-fire blockbusters. Then there’s Lara Dutta’s quirky ‘Bheegi Basanti Films’ which is a celebration of Sholayesque kitsch. Another ingenious one that comes to mind is ‘Scott Free Productions’ a play on the founders - Ridley Scott and Tony Scott.

By and large, the trend is to choose something that goes with the sensibilities of the founder. Quentin Tarantino’s ‘A Band Apart’ is inspired by Jean Luc-Godard’s 1964 French flick ‘Bande à part’. Martin Scorcese who toyed with the Sicilian-American identity in many of his creations, picked ‘Sikelia’ (Classic Greek version of Sicily) for his outfit. Stan Lee, the co-creator of Spiderman, Iron Man and X-Men, opted for the very comic-stripy ‘POW!’ which in turn was an acronym for ‘Purveyors of Wonder’. Old-schooler Mani Ratnam settled for ‘Madras Talkies’. While movie maverick Roberto Rodriguez plumped for ‘Troublemaker Studios’.

Of late, celebs and stars have started floating their own studios. Former Beatle George Harrison was one of the earliest to play this game. He set up Handmade Films in 1978. George Clooney (Smoke House), Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Studios), Mel Gibson (Icon) Wesley Snipes (Amen Ra), Leonardo DiCaprio (Apian Way), Will Smith (Overbrook), and Kevin Spacey (Trigger Steet) have since followed suit.

Back home in Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan led the way with Red Chillies Entertainment. Pooja Bhat (Fish Eye), Dia Mirza (Born Free), Akshay Kumar (Grazing Goat) and Saif Ali Khan (Illuminati) have now joined the bandwagon. I am wondering if ever Salman Khan will launch a blockbuster factory called ‘Hit and Run’!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Epic Discoveries

I suspect every one of us thinks that we have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of our epics. Having been weaned on a healthy junk-food diet of Amar Chitra Katha, Ramanand Sagar, and BR Chopra, it’s quite normal to exude the cocky demeanour of a Kapil Sibal, every time one is posed a question on Indian mythology.

But let me assure you, we know precious little. I came face to face with my level of ignorance, when a little one stumped me with an innocuous poser: Why is Rama called ‘Rama’? After blathering my way out of the situation, I consulted a musty old Sanskrit dictionary. And I unearthed very many things that no one told me before.

Rama, as it turns out, has many meanings. ‘Harbinger of happiness’ is the one, many latch on to. But it also cues ‘dark complexioned’ – which is probably why he was depicted blue in the comic strips. Incidentally, Krishna is also synonymous with ‘dusky’ skin. So all you ‘fair and lovely’ folks, it’s time you gave us sooty beauties more respect!

Sita is the ‘trench made in the land while ploughing’ and it seems she emerged from a furrow when her dad Janaka was tilling his farm. Some of you might have already known that. But I am not sure if you know how Surpanaka got her name. It seems her nails resembled the winnowing fan at birth. That’s how!

Turning to Mahabharata, do you know Karna is literally the ‘ear’? The story goes that Kunti gave birth to her first son through her ear to avoid losing her virginity. May be that’s how we got the expression ‘playing it by the ear’! To just complete the dots in your head, Kumbhakarna, by the same logic, means ‘pot-eared’.

The ever-scheming Shakuni is curiously named after the hen-sparrow. Now you can get your head around the bizarre band name ‘Shakuni & the Birds of Prey’. Continuing on skin tones, Arjuna is supposed to be ‘white and clear’ or as some say ‘silver’. And Pandu, ‘pale yellow’.

Talking of Pandavas, Yudishtra is ‘firm in battle’, Bheem is predictably ‘formidable’, Sahadeva is ‘like the gods’ and Nakula means ‘mongoose’ apart from the politically correct explanation: ‘handsome in the lineage’.

And by the way, the real zingers are Kamsa (‘cup’), Vyasa (‘diameter of a circle’), Ashvathama (‘horse power’), and Kubera (‘deformed one’). The most surprising interpretation I came across involved Kashyapa. It seems the word meant ‘black-teeth’. That scrap of trivia made me want to brush up my folklore all over again!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Murder She Wrote

Around half a million murders happen every year on our little planet. 1 in 10 is carried out by women. And roughly 1 in 100 of these is a filicide (parent killing offspring). So that’s less than 500 cold blooded female murderers in a population of 7 billion. At any point in time, there may not be more than one jet-setting, multi-millionaire media baroness in this Elite Murderess Club. That kind of explains why the Indrani Mukerjea saga has hogged all the headlines.

While the media has generously fed us every morsel of minutiae about Indrani that may paint her as being a stereotypical gold digger, there’s still one well-camouflaged trait that the talking heads haven’t yet commented on. It’s to do with her naming.

The prime accused in the Sheena Bora case was originally christened as Pori Bora. At some stage in her life, when she decided to cast away her old persona, the lady picked a new identity for herself. She chose ‘Indrani’, a nod to the wife of Lord Indra, the ruler of heavens. That was her first public statement of intent on the type of lifestyle she wanted to lead.

Even when she gave birth to a baby girl, she didn’t settle for the usual Seetha or Geeta. She picked Sheena, a rather diva-like choice for a girl-next-door from Assam. Sheena (meaning: god’s gift) was perhaps inspired by Sheena Easton (a pop star of the eighties) or ‘Sheena: Queen of the Jungle’ (again, a movie from the eighties). For her second child, she chose Mikhail (meaning: god like). Vir Sanghvi revealed in an interview recently that Mikhail was derived from Mikhail Gorbachev, the then overlord of USSR. Mikhail Bora was another clue of the benchmarks she set for herself. Vidhie, her third child, is named after the ‘goddess of destiny’. A relatively conventional name – perhaps, influenced by her second husband Sanjeev Khanna. Still, the name was not-your-average goddess.

So the running theme of her nomenclature was powerful figures who dominate their domain. Even her executive search firm INX (Indrani Executive = IN-EX) was fairly eponymous. Not many founders name their companies after themselves, these days. That’s one more instance of her megalomania.

Also, Indrani Mukerjea’s name number is 9, which indicates the bloody influence of Mars, the god of war. Usually, the life journey of 9 numbered people is riddled with danger and Indrani was no exception. The amazing aspect however is that all the four protagonists in the episode (namely: Sanjeev Khanna, Indrani Mukerjea, Shyam Rai and Sheena Bora), had the same name number 9! Which brings us to the question: who scripted the murder? Was it Indrani or her destiny?