Saturday, July 24, 2010

Smile Please

I found it tucked in between a garment store and a grocery shop. I expected a photo studio to be in a much better locality. "Focus" I told myself. All I wanted was four passport sized photos and I needed it by monday. And this studio was the only place open on a Sunday. I should thank God for that instead of criticising the ambience.
It was quite early in the morning and the orchestra of crows,sparrows,cuckooos and other indistinguishable species had given up hope of attracting attention with their singing. I stepped inside. It was a small reception with two chairs lying strewn across the tiled floor. There was a tabled across the room carrying a bundle of papers and bills. The shaky table also supported a very very old computer. The one that Emperor Akbar used to communicate with his many wives. The walls were adorned with posters of actresses in various poses costantly smiling at you and urging you to stay in forever. The rising number of women customers must have compelled the owner to add some posters of actors as well. I noticed a few actors stuck on the wall threatening to suffocate you with their six pack abs.
"Welcome sir" , a hoarse voice distracted my attention. "Sorry for the state of things here. I have just opened the shop and was not expecting anyone at this time."
The sound reminded me of someone trying to sharpen a knife by rubbing it against a rock. I looked at the source of the cacaphony. He was a short man about five foot tall with an unkempt hair. He had the widest possible grin on his face. As if someone had digitally altered his face and pasted the grin there. He had his front teeth missing and had a big brown scar covering his entire chin. He was massaging his scar constantly. His eyes were slighly squinted andhis eyeballs were dancing to the tuneof some odd bollywood song - restless and irritating. He reminded me of the henchmen of bollywood dons. Not the macho wrestling type; but the ones that planted evil ideas into their masters mind, or the one who kept the boss's account.
"I am new to this town and customers were few and far between. You are my first customer for the day. I am sure you will bring me good luck" he continued , the grin still glued to his face.
I was least bothered about the prospects of this guy. I just wanted my photos. "How long will it take?" I asked anxiously.
"Almost ready " he said " and you can collect your copies within 10 minutes" emphasising the last part." Please come in" he beckoned me in.
The room was surprisingly spacious for a studio. It had a white cardboard screen balanced on a stand hiding the blue painted walls. In front of the screen was a tall metallic chair. But what intrigued me was the wall opposite the chair. It was filled with photos. Not photos of celebrities but of ordinary looking men and women. They were neatly framed and hanged on the wall. It looked like a riot of faces all of them looking at you. I felt uncomfortable. There was something in their eyes that made me feel that way. But I could not exactly tell what.
"Here take your seat" the photographer offered me the chair." No need for make up. You look smart the way you are"
I was surprised that I felt happy hearing a praise from a person that I had started to repulse. I gave a quick a quick glance to the photo-filled wall before I took my seat.
"They are all my customers. For me they are the biggest celebrities. That is why I have created my own hall of fame for them.Soon you will also join them. I like to collect such photos of people. I like to collect something else also. "He went out of the room without enlightening me futher on his hobbies. "Good, I thought. As if I care".
He returned with a long-nosed camera - the one you watch journalist taking photos with and placed it very carefully on a stand. It was as if some hazardous chemical or a deadly virus will come out of it if disturbed. He began adjusting the camera asking me to lower my neck, straighten my spine look straight etc. He then proceeded to change the lights and adjusted the screens. He looked busy. "Good" I thought "let the work do the talking".
He returned to his apparatus. "Smile please" he shouted almost scaring me.
I tried to put up a smile on my face with great effort. "That's it. You look great.Stay right there" he said alomost dancing behind the cameraall the while giving signals with his hand. And then he pressed the button.
The flash blinded me and before I knew what was happening I fainted. I had no idea about the time. All I knew was that I had regained my consciousness. A strange sensation engulfed me. I realised that I was unable to move my limbs or even my legs. I felt like I was glued to something that left me immobile.The chair in which I sat moments ago was there in front of my eyes. But I was watching it while sitting some where high above the ground. That can't be. I had not noticed any staircase or anything opposite the chair except ... Yes the wall that where I was. A wild wave of emotions rocked me. I tried to cry. I could not. I was still smiling unable to flex even the muscles of my face.
That was when he came in. " I told you I loved collecting things. Actually , I love collecting people. You are now a prisoner within this photo frame. We will be travelling soon to some other town before people get suspcious. Meanwhile meet your neighbours and make some friends".He gave out a long evil laugh before he went out.
I was stuck in this photograph rather stuck as this photograph. God knows till when. I haven't lost hope. One day...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I cursed myself for listening to my grandfather. How will he know the trouble involved in finding an antique store from among a thousand odd shops? Added to that this tower did not have a 'sutradhar' - a robot guide that takes you around a place answering your queries. That made finding this shop in this 5 km tall carbon structure almost impossible. May be this building was not so developed when he was alive.His memory in this video log can only recall things that happened when he was alive. I cursed the old man again and kept searching.
At last I found it tucked in between a painting store and a scrap nanotube outlet. It was a plain looking parlor - a place where you expect to find nothing. Why he chose a place like this to hide a 'valuable treasure' to quote him; was a question that I kept asking myself. I decided to finish off this chore as soon as possible.
I entered the store. It was a small square room filled with articles that I had never seen before in my life. There were statues of tigers that I had heard so much about, some paper books and metal vases. The rest of the space was filled with currencies of countries with strange writings on them. They were all abolished the day the common universal government was adopted about a century back.
"Looking for something?' a voice enquired from a corner.
I turned to see an old man almost in his nineties glancing at me. He was a short man with a flowing white beard with a welcoming sparkle in his eyes. "He can sell himself as an antique" I told myself.
"I am Dev from Kashi sector-46. My grandfather Arjun Varma asked me to come here and give you this"
I handed him a thin glass sheet almost the size of my palm. I knew that it was called 'dhruv' used to identify people used in those days. Advantages of attending history lessons. I congratulated myself.
He took the crystal sheet and placed his thumb on it. Some images flashed from the apparatus. That was odd I told myself. It was usually a persons face and his voice describing his credentials that comes out. At least that's what I have learned.
I noticed the old man's face had turned grim. He left the room in hurry and appeared after a few minutes but this time with a plastic box in his hand. "Here take it and use it wisely " he uttered in a solemn voice. "Now please leave". He had barely given me the box and was trying to send me out rather rudely. What is in it? I wondered. But I chose not to ask. He was not willing to entertain me for even a second. I left.
I found the nearest teleporter and typed in my residential address. A capsule appeared, verified my credentials and opened itself. Just enough space for me, I should start exercising I told myself inspecting my 104 kg body.
As soon as I reached my home I broke open the box. Curiosity had almost turned me mad. There it lay inside the box the strangest object I had ever seen in my life. A rectangular plastic tablet almost 15 inches long and about 8 inches wide. It had the queerest thing stuck on it. It appeared like the keys I had seen in my history lessons. The keys had strange symbols arranged neatly on top of it : 'Esc' 'F1' 'F2' it went on. I searched the box for some manual. I was not disappointed. I found a 'gyaan' - a digital manual inside. I rubbed my thumb on it. The device started a general introduction of the bizarre item I was holding. This was called a keyboard used to enter data in ancient times in a language called English. It became obsolete after after the entire world adopted a common language called 'bhaasha' in 3013 A.D.
But why take all the trouble to give me this. And why do I have a strange feeling that this is not just a data-entry device? i scrolled down the e-tablet . I was filled with control keys and commands and description. What does my grandfather want me to do with this ? I wondered.
I decided to test this machine and if I find no use to it I decided to sell it back to the same antique-dealer.
I pressed a key that had a symbol resembling the up arrow. Nothing happened. Wait , I cannot feel the chair under me. Oh my god! I was resting in thin air some two feet above the ground as if I was tie to the ceiling by some invisible thread.There was nothing visible that ws supporting me. The only logical explanation would be that the arrow I pressed actually took me up. That's it!. This must be some magical charm. I could not believe my luck. My luck of being my grandfather's grandson and more importantly obeying my grandfather.
I was sweating with excitement thinking about the infinite options I had in my hands. I could fly above my office and impress my colleagues.May be I can become a vigilante and help the police. May be there is button that can me invisible. With that i can...
My brain was flooded with emotions. Focus I told myself 'you need to focus prepare a strategy. You have the power to be the most important man in the universe.The last thing you want would be some wild wild ideas in your brain. I brought myself back together. Or at least I tried to.My fingers were trembling. My head was spinning. I pressed the down key. I slowly descended back to the chair. I was escatic.
Now to find something really cool to do. I reached for the manual and browsed through it. Infinite varieties of symbols filled my eyes. I decided to test some key at random. There was an odd combination that struck me. It was glowing in red and for some reason appealed to me. I was too excited to read the manual. after all Fortune favors the valiant is what I was taught. With some difficulty I found the keys and pressed it.
I first thought that my eyes were playing tricks with me. It was pitch black . I could not see anything. I shouted at the top of my voice. No response. I pressed the keyboard frantically. No response. I tried to recollect the keys I had pressed.Alt and F4. Yes that's what I had pressed together. I tried to guess what it did but in vain.
I cried.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ads, girls and hair oil

The story unfolds in a busy residential street. A teenage girl is learning to drive a scooter and her friend is assisting her as the pillion rider. The amateur driver loses balance and crashes against a parked car. The driver tries to escape but her friend stops; sticks a sorry note to the side of the car and then they both drive away. This is how a recent ad of a popular hair oil gets going. And this is one of the strongest woman character I have seen in recent times in the mainstream media.She is apologetic but not frightened.
A bollywood actress had recently said that the rise of bikini-clad women on screen shows the growing power of women in the society. The woman showed in the ad commands more power and respect and that too while remaining fully clothed!
At this point I would like to share a conversation I had with my friend recently. That too revolved around an ad. The ad in question showed a girl with her boyfriend cuddling in a park bench. The genius male proceeds to distracts the dumb girl by pointing at something replaces his hand with a big doll and escapes to join his buddies for watching a football match. My friends reaction to this was that this ad is demeaning to women. I agree with my friend. But I feel that most ads, serials and films are demeaning to women.
Consider this: you wake up and brush your teeth with a particular brand of toothpaste and presto! you are surrounded by beautiful girls. You shave and out of nowhere a girl comes and hugs you in admiration. And yes shaving is a very tough job. The case of a car, shampoo, bike, perfume etc? Ditto. A woman exist at the level of these products. Something to be received and taken. Very much like these packaged products. Also there is a trap that is employed by the fairness cream companies. A girl has to be as fair as white cement to be successful. So woman have to peel their skin off like onion skin for fourteen days (?) till they become milky white to succeed in an interview, to marry, to post a letter ;in short - to survive.
I don't want to venture into the teary world of 'glycerine' soaps (read saas-bahu and bharatiya nari type serials). This post is not enough to cover the tragedies of that 'mahabharat'. The less said the better.
The hair oil ad mentioned earlier ends with the tagline - with growth there is improvement, there is life. Thus metaphorically connecting growth of hair and growth of the person's self. I hope the media grows up too.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Invisible Man

I was lying in a pool of blood, in a pile of rubbish just by the footpath and yet no one was noticing me. I can't blame them either. They can't see me because I am invisible.
Let me tell you my story. I was a normal kid born into a normal household.But the day I discovered that the pencil box which my uncle gifted me had the power to make one invisible I decided that I should become a successful man. I should be discussed by every household in this country. I knew that being invisible and earning money was not easy. I had stiff competition from Bobby Deol and a guy named Pawar from the agricultural ministry. But I was determined.
I set off to Bombay and decided to do tricks on the street with the help of my pencil-box. I would stand  in front of the gate way of India, disappear and make my shoes dance. I also composed some music for my performance. A few  costume changes and a song later I was successful. I had a bunglaw cars, bank balance. Pawar only had cricket. I was happy and was enjoying my success. I had a lead role in a KKekta Kapoor serial aptly titled "KKahin to hoga". It was a story about a bahu finding out her invisible husband in their palatial house overcoming the various obstacles put by her mother-in-law.I even had a reality show "jaane tu kahaan hain" running on prime time television.This award winning show had 10 supermodels and 10 housewives searching for me in a dense jungle. Obviously I was never caught but it did rake in some TRPs. I was basking in the glory of my success.
After a customary club dance just to show people that I am rich, I was pacing out of the exit when someone caught me by my arm. it was karan loafer - the ace producer and director. He had approached me with an offer for a role in his upcoming flick. I didn't know anything about my role and I swearto god i still have no idea about it. But I said OK. It was a Karan film. Thats what mattered.
I was walking on the street trying to get some air. I was excited and was toggling between see and no-see mode when a truck came truck came out of nowhere and rammed me to the ground. Apparently the driver didn't 'see' me. So here I am ; successful,invisible and bleeding to death. I was thinking that I had not even started and here I am awaiting my end in a footpath. being invisible is a big show-off I guess.
This post is an entry for Blogadda contest

Friday, July 2, 2010

.SRT - Some Retarded Talk

Subtitles -Those inseparable companions of movie files. Those little minions,going by a rather plain name of .srt becomes a crucial part of our cinema experience especially if the film is in a foreign language or the film is too 'slangy' to comprehend. Take Guy Ritchie's whimsical tale 'lock,stock and two smoking barrels' for example. The London slang was difficult to get hold of and I had to seek the help of a subtitile.
But I have found that they are not always very helpful.on the other hand they can be distracting and times even annoying.Picture this:
the location is a typical gangster den (don ka adda) with guns , drugs, old drums, furniture that a 3-year-old can break etc etc There is a fierce inter-gang gun battle proceeding towards a bloody climax. Blood literally flowing all over the screen , human organs decapitated in ways that one cannot even think of; and the subtitle says - {Guns firing}. All that tension and mayhem reduced to just two words {Guns firing}.
Do they have to tell us even the most obvious? Tires screeching, raining , snowball rolling,kissing (oh yeah!),scratching head - all these can very well be exluded from the description.Its similar to
the instructions behind some shampoo bottles -
step 1 : Open the lid.
As if we don't know that! Anybody who can buy a shampoo bottle will definitely know that the lid has to be opened.
Another funny experience is when I watch dubbed movies. Oh! I have a great time watching them. Whether its the sophisticated Judi Dench playing M
uttering podaango!(thoo teri!in our rashtra bhaasha) in place of a rather restrained 'for heaven's sake Bond' or terrifying dinosaurs being called 'bheeman palli' ( just a harmless chipkali) I had pure unadultered fun. But this one is the creme de la creme.I thank my friend for sharing this with me .
Superman returns after a long soul-searching journey back to his rural abode. He is welcomed by his Mom with a classic 'Aa gaye mere laal'!(it does not translate well to other languages).
I enjoy watching  the dubbed versions more than the original and as far the subtitles are concerned - I still hunt for them.

Subtitles: On the Foreignness of Film (Alphabet City)