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Vilakudy Days

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Kerala Moment At Matunga

Was sauntering through Matunga in Mumbai. The streets wore a festive -- Onam -- look. That is when the Kodak Moment happened. At a nook, everything had a Kerala touch: tender coconut, fresh plantain, kasavu, a smoker despite ban and the ubiquitous wine shop. What was missing then? Perhaps, a Kerala beauty.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008


The wolves have tasted blood. Finally. After lurking around in the wild baying for the Bengal Tiger’s blood, a pack of wolves has finally made him retreat to his den. Every time they kept hunting, Sourav Ganguly emerged from the woods unharmed. But whenever he was hurt, they rubbed salt and found pleasure. Every time Dada’s towering sixes hit the sky, they dug up to unearth chaff. Yet, Sourav scripted a fairytale comeback -- what has been called one of the best comebacks in world sports.

On the course, he took everything in his stride. Not once did he show that it was taking its toll. Every time, he said that there was enough cricket left in him. His bat replied, but it did affect him. His fans and admirers gave up, but he did not. He played some of his best knocks -- and shots, including some imperious pulls off bollers like Nitini -- in Test cricket after his comeback. But the body took its toll. His hair turned grey. Finally on October 8, he proved that he is after all a man in blood and flesh. He decided to quit. At a press conference, in a choking voice, he said the most painful word a sportsperson can utter: quit.

Dramatic you may call, that was over in fleeting seconds. India was shocked. Even my wife, a Rahul Dravid devotee, had tears in her eyes as we stood in front of TV. Channel after channel. Call after call. The news started sinking in. There will be life, cricket, and TV without my dearest Dada at the crease. My mind went blank. I wondered what Rakesh, my friend and a loyal Dada fan, did when he heard the news. I did not call him.
I could not take his grief. Nor did he give a missed call. He was the one who performed some special pujas in or village Ayyappa temple for Ganguly. I know he would have shed a tear or two. It does not matter.

But the pack of wolves must be savouring the blood. Though he did not limp out the way they would have loved, they will sure cherish this long-awaited moment forever. Let their unbridled happiness flows forever till they find another Dada-like human being. There will be no one like Sourav. Here are some who will rub their hands in glee.

Greg Chappell: The happiest man on earth now. The man who entered India on Dada’s recommendation was the first to challenge him. Could not stand up to Dada’s authority and charisma. Chappell thought cricket is football, where coach runs the show. It was cricket, man. The worst allegation Sourav ever faced was by Greg Guru himself: Ganguly is playing for endorsements (read money). That was a hit below the belt. For Chappell’s information, Ganguly’s family (one of the richest in Calcutta) can buy him and his grandfather. Chappell went and came back in new avataar. When Dada finally hangs his boot up in India, he will be there on Indian soil -- this time helping out Aussies on ideas on manipulation.

Kiran More: The pocket-sized obnoxious weed grew into a huge wicked tree. As the selection panel chief, he acted vindictively again and again. Said he, “As long as I am at the helm, there is no future for Ganguly.” There was not. Even when Ganguly was scripting a fairy-tale comeback, More was there on Times Now channel, cribbing and lamenting. More is less, boss.

Rahul Dravid: Don’t get surprised by this name. The unkindest cut of all came from this old roommate, who described Ganguly as the God of off-side. No doubt, The Wall was his best pal in the Indian dressing room and outside. But when captaincy was thrusted upon that frail shoulders, the wicked mind started playing. Insecurity crept in. Journos in the know say the Rahul-Chappel-More trio tried its best to keep Dada away from the India crease. Finally, Dada scored his way to the team, but the relationship was never the same again. Rahuls’ brooding shoulders and body language bore testimony when Dada walked into a practice match in Chepauk before his grand comeback. Pehaps this back-stabbing would have hurt Dada the most. The God of off-side became an omnipresent devil.

M S Dhoni: The ‘globalised’ New India’s favourite cheerleader was plucked and nurtured from a place called Jharkhand. Sensing his talent, Ganguly promoted him to the No 3 slot and Dhoni never looked back. Not even to Dada. For the 20-20 folks, it was Ganguly who spotted him at the nets in Jharkhand and took him to the Indian team. As things turned around, Dhoni became the captain, and he never wanted the Fab Four – including the mighty Sachin Tendulkar –to be in his team. ‘Insecure’ was the word, again. How much ever the new India may hail him, such a parvenu will find an enemy sooner or later. Age was Dhoni's problem. Dhoni’s was thanklessness at its best. Had it not been for Dada, Dhoni may never have achieved what he got now. We never know. Not many know the fact that Dhoni is yet to play a great Test knock. Does the 20-20 generation know that?

Rajan Bala: The fiercest critic of Ganguly, even at his best of times. Not sure why. One of India’s senior-most sports journalists, Rajan Bala spewed venom every time he wrote about Dada. Was a cheerleader of Rahul’s captaincy. Even after Ganguly was out of the race and the team, his campaign continued through his columns in Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle. Maybe, there is a story underneath. The words sounded like swords. Luckily, his articles never appeared in the other side of India.

R Mohan & Vedam Jaishankar: Two South journalists hell-bent on destroying Dada. Article after Article. It was like a campaign to dethrone Ganguly and anoint Rahul Dravid the captain. Maybe, the South connection or the proximity to Rahul. No wonder, the latter wrote a biography on the Wall.

John Cheeran: The man who led the anti-Ganguly campaign in the blogosphere. A Dravid fan, he did on Net what Rajan Bala did in newsprint. I never understood what the real reason was. Posted comments on his blog, but never got a reply. It is long time since I checked his barrages. Waiting to see what he writes about Dada's exit.

Srikkanth: It may again surprise you. Because he selected him for the Australia series amid contradicting reports. It was no doubt a great gesture, but before that there is a long story of hatred while he was a commentator. Let us not scout through the old files. Picking him now was touching. All sins have been washed away in the Hooghly, chikka.

Bishen Singh Bedi: Was ferocious. What made him different was that he never made the articles look biased. Because he always stood out in his criticism -- be it Harbhajan or Murali. Yet, Dada was his favourite whipping boy.

Shiv and Salil: My old roommate and colleague. They had their own stories and arguments. What puzzled me was their refusal to even acknowledge Sourav’s captaincy. He is the best ever we had.

AND: Some who stood by him all through the turmoil.

Arjuna Ranatunga
Geoff Boycott

Sanjay Manjarekar

Ajay Jadeja

Kunal Pradhan, sports journalist

Most of West Bengal (other states should learn to respect its heroes)

Loyal fans, not just from West Bengal, like this blogger.

Tailpiece: When the match-fixing row surfaced, the needle of suspicion fell on every player. When a top bookie was asked if Ganguly had any role in the scandal, he said, "Sir, we wanted him. But nobody had the guts to ask Ganguly whether he could fix matches for INDIA."

The bookie said it all. Need I say more?

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Monday, July 28, 2008


After an eternity, here is a piece which I wrote for Knol, expecting some discordant notes. HERE IT GOES:


Friday, April 27, 2007


Reviewing is an art. Especially, movies. A great critique need not be a great filmmaker. In most cases, it is not. In most media organisations, KIDS have donned the critics lobes. Most of them fail to understand what a movie is all about. They just write stories. And the plot – the worst thing one can do to a film. It essentially kills the film. And any interest left in a prospective movie-goer.

Many don’t have even a clue about its cinematic pluses or minuses. Either they get carried by the leading actor and actress. Or by the director. Or by the big production houses. Filmmakers are livid when they read or watch or listen to the reviews. Most reviewers don’t even touch on the direction, or its technicians who would have spent sleepless nights before the movie’s release date.

Take this example. Director Bala, who rewrote the Tamil cinema’s characters, with his brilliant Sethu, Nanda and Pithamagan, told me in an interview that he could not sleep for seven days prior to the release of Pithamagan. The tension was visible on his face though he tried his best to hide it. We had a three-hour chat at his Chennai residence two days before Pithamagan's release. He told me about the perils filmmaking. Though he enjoyed every bit of it, he said, it was too stressful, especially before the release. I could not believe that such a master technician could have such a nervous period. I could understand Bala. I have seen what he did and what he does. Like our Bharatan or the matchless Satyajit Ray, he has drawn the entire scenes on a sheet of paper and made it a log-book. Every frame is a result of a thousand thoughts. Such was his passion to cinema. The Outlook magazine called him Lord of Crypts. Later after the release when I met him, Bala was all smiles – for obvious reasons.
Sorry for deviating from the topic. That is the pain that filmmakers take. It is their blood. So when some kids (some elders as well) who sit in glasshouses tear apart a movie, directors will not agree. And will feel hurt. Of late, the bloggers too toe the line. It is rare to read good reviews.
Which is why when one of my friends Don Sebastian mailed me the afterthoughts of Tamil film, Veyil, I read it with pleasure. To me, it is the best ‘review ‘in recent times. The interesting part is that he did not write the piece for a media (though he works for one) or a blog. He just scribbled it down as self-impressions. The observation of capturing light and the sun-burnt lives was brilliant. And Veyil being a character itself. And the reference to Tornatore's epic Cinema Paradiso. Don said, it is not a review, but just impressions. It was, really.

The review is here for you:

NO word could embody so much of Tamil Nadu as Veyil does. (Veyil is sun, sunrays, light and heat.) When Vasanthabalan chose the word for his debut movie's title, it has to be about sunburnt lives. From the first scene, the movie tries to capture the blinding sun of tropical Tamil Nadu. Light gives birth to photography, but Tamil Nadu's light is a challenge for photographers, who opt for the soft light of Pollachi and Theni.
Virudhu Nagar in southern Tamil Nadu epitomizes everything that puts off cameramen. Barren landscapes, parched riverbeds, dry bushes and an overexposed sky. Still sun and cinema are living characters in Vasanthabalan's movie. Veyilodu vilayadi, Veyilodu uravadi…Muthukumar's theme song and Vasanthabalan's visualization sizzles the air-conditioned auditorium. It's the free, raw, vibrant, innocent spirit of the land.
Consider this fleeting frame: Boys eating stolen corns by the shadow of a lone palm tree.
The tagline says, 'Life journey of two men'. These men raided cornfields, chased moon and bunked class to watch movies as little boys. Adult idealism and corporal punishment followed and the elder brother elopes with his mother's ornaments. Midway, MG Ramachandran's smile waylays him. Here, in a small-town talkies, he finds his destiny. The projector operator is a hero in a land full of matinee idols.
Like all wannabe filmmakers, Vasanthabalan must have dreamt of making a movie like Cinema Paradiso when he was assisting Shankar the director. (Veyil is the third movie from Shankar the producer.) His protagonist Murugeshan travels through MGR, Rajnikanth, Vijayakanth and Karthik. He finds and loses life and love in Kaniappan talkies, like Salvatore in Guiseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso.
The inspiration turned into brilliant evocation of Tamil Nadu's endless fascination with celluloid. Reel and real merge here. Light, like sunrays, creates and manipulates lives. But the movie refuses to rise to the league of Paradiso. True to Indian tradition, the filmmaker kills his protagonist. We still need a death or wedding for a climax of our movies, when the protagonist is not a superman out to eliminate the evil ones.
Yet Veyil lets in the light to the stagnant cinema. Balan joins the league of Thankar Bachan, Cheran and Bala who keep good cinema afloat amid all those hysteric flicks. In a one-liner, the movie may be unimpressive. But the detailing, so true to life, makes it a memorable movie. Pasupathi's Murugeshan, who takes beatings after beatings from life, is a poignant portrayal of longing for love. A man's search for his space in life.
The scene: Pasupathi's Murugeshan hides the soap so that his long-lost mother comes to bathe him. Wonder anyone bothered to depict a grown-up man's yearning to lie on his mother's lap. (Not to forget Ram.)


Monday, January 08, 2007


The Mid Day, Bombay’s most influential tabloid, ran a front-page headline: “Move over Mammooty and Mohanlal, Sreesanth has arrived.” Ravi Shastri and Harsha Bhogle were heard on TV saying Sree is the most popular Malayalee in Kerala. All this happened after the Kerala speedster ripped through the South African top-order at the Wanderers. I wondered: Was it so? I never knew. Then some of my colleagues started congratulating me on behalf of Sreesanth just because I am from Kerala. They asked me if he was a superstar in Kerala. I said ‘No;. Sreesanth was suddenly the talking point. But frankly, I was not excited. Nor am I a fan of Sreesanth. If I love and admire anyone in this Indian team, it is only one man: the courageous Sourav Chandidas Ganguly. Let me not talk about Dada. No blogger can capture his determination and passion.

Is Sreesanth the most popular Keralite? No. Days after the Wanderers Test, a Malayala Manorama poll named Achutanandan, the Kerala Chief Minister, newsmaker of the year. I was not surprised. Nor did my friends. Many Keralaites (maybe few) whom I talked were not impressed with Sreesanth’s attitude and behaviour. The way he behaves himself at public functions in Kerala left many Keralites completely angry. At a public function, he demanded more security for himself from no less than a DGP, seeking more policemen for his protection. What did he think? Would the crowd have attacked him? No way.
The irony is even in the Indian dressing room, he does not find many friends. Though his performance in South Africa may have changed other players’ perception towards him to an extent, it still lingers. According to a Bombay-based newspaper, Harbhajan Singh, another controversial figure in Indian cricket for his outbursts, gave Sreesanth a dressing down at the dressing room after Sreesanth sledged Sachin Tendulkar and Sehwag in the Challenger Trophy. I don’t know how many people have seen him taking on the “gentleman” Sachin Tendulkar. It was like this: Sachin defended two balls in a row. An excited or angry or arrogant Sreesanth went up to Sachin and mocked at him: “Why don’t you hit me?” Sreesanth, I have seen it, came dangerously close to Sachin, and stared at him. Sachin was taken for surprise. Why the kid is behaving like this? He would have mumbled. The gentleman he is, Sachin remained calm. Sreesanth was inviting trouble. And Sachin let the bat to do the talking. The next ball, Sachin stepped out and hit Sree for a huge six; then went up to him and said, “Don’t ever come this near to me.” Later, he also abused Sehwag, who hit two boundaries off his bowling. He asked Sehwag, “Why don’t you hit boundaries like this in International Cricket? That was a kid asking a great cricketer like Sehwag. In the evening, back in the dressing room, it was Harbhajan who put Sreesanth in his place. He was dropped from the team. According to Bombay sports journalists, it was not purely because of his performance, but on factors like this as well.
Dada was arrogant, but not against his own teammates. He was at his aggressive best against Steve Waugh and Andrew Flintoff. Not against his teammates and not against some tail-enders. Giving the devil its due, in the current form, he is the best bowler in the country after Zaheer Khan. The six priceless wickets at Johannesberg gifted India a rare victory overseas. The ball he dismissed the world’s best batsman Brian Lara in the West Indies tour was a peach of a delivery that took Lara by complete surprise.

Here is another tale. Soon after he got a place in Indian team and tasted the initial success, our man suddenly thought of changing his name. Again according to sports journalists in Bombay, he is obsessed with superstitions. He went and met a leading tarot reader in Bombay and changed his name from Shantakumaran Sreesanth to Sreesunth. He messaged to leading sports reporters in Bombay about his name-change. If you did not notice, he made two minor changes for better luck and prosperity. First, he dropped his father’s name. Then, he changed that ‘a’ to ‘u’. The world was informed through the media, but not his parents. Only when some reporter called up his home to confirm the news, his parents came to know about it. His father reportedly cried and called up his son and asked him to revert to his original name. That is how Sreesunth again became Sreeanth. Even Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi reported the tamasha. Another Kerala scribe tells me how he started ignoring ex-BCCI official SK Nair, who was instrumental in pushing him to the national level , after getting into Team India. That is thanklessness at its best.

Probably, this is why he has not yet been a huge favourite among Keralites. Kerala, I have a feeling, does not like arrogant upstarts like him. Prithviraj, despite his terrific acting skills, is yet to strike a chord among Malayalees. The young suave actor had a vitriolic attack on Mohanlal and Mammooty even before he set his feet firmly on the Malayalam silver screen. Kerala loves open-hearted, less-arrogant, modest, but strong personalities. That is why the affable Achuthanandan, not the powerful Pinarayi, is the favourite politician even at 89. That is also why Mohanlal, at 45 +, remains Kerala’s Numero Uno actor. Sreesanth has a long, long way to go before becoming Kerala’s THE poster boy.

Sunday, December 31, 2006


For once, I felt ashamed of BEING an Indian. On a cold morning while I was still fast asleep, when someone called up me and said Saddam Hussein, the former President of Iraq, not the Iraqi dictator, as foreign news agencies make us publish and believe, was hanged, I could not believe myself. Though the previous day, I read reports indicating his imminent hanging before the New Year. If the execution was sad, then India’s response was shocking. ‘Disappointed’. That one-word was India’s reaction to the murder of Saddam Hussein. Not that a 100-word stinging reaction would have mattered. But that would have made a difference. Saddam died a dog’s death. A man who loved India and Indians. A man who steadfastly supported India’s causes during all major crises. It was only Saddam who came out with open support when the Kashmir issue was discussed at the OIC conferences. He had great respect for the late Indira Gandhi, whom he called the “Iron Lady and “his sister”. Saddam’s Iraq was the only country which stood by India when the Babri Masjid was brought down by a bunch of hooligans. There were no Muslim or Hindu sentiments in that. Iraq was the only secular country, where women partied, wore whatever they liked, watched movies. There was no space for fundamentalism. He loved India. India played safe right from the moment he was pulled out of a rabbit hole by a jackal-supported Kangaroo government. His mock trial continued; he was tortured. India maintained a deafening silence. More than a poor Iraq, we wanted a richer US. Our foreign policy (if any) is in tatters. That is why watched the drama silently. Ordinary men and women shared the pain. But, where was Manmohan Singh? Where was Pranab Mukherjee? Where was the official India?
In Bombay, where I EXIST, nothing happened. Everything was normal. Or they were busy welcoming, partying for the New Year. Or they were busy thinking ways to make more money in the New Year. I was shocked even by the absence of an animated discussion or a serious talk over the execution. But I felt proud of a small state, where I was lucky to have born and brought up, in the tip of our country. It was Kerala, where I LIVE. It again showed the world that it is truly an International state. Whether in maintaining health standards, or in rural development or the human development index. Kerala went into a State mourning when the news was flashed by news channels. The state went into a bandh-like mode. In many places, nobody asked shopkeepers to keep the shutters down. They did on their own. Kerala was seething in anger. The number of calls I got from various parts of the state was a testimony to that. All parties, except the characterless BJP (if at all it can be counted as a party), organized protest marches across the state. George Bush was hanged and burnt in effigy. Everyone shed a tear or two. Fishermen refused to go to sea. Some fishermen dumped back all their day’s rich catch back into the sea in protest. They decided they would mourn their hero for the next four days by not going to the sea. On the famous Saddam beach in Parappangadi, women descended and wailed as if they lost a family member. Shattered Sivasankara Pillai, who had been to Iraq and felt the warmth of Saddam on many occasions, could not even speak on TV. The Citibank outlet in Kochi was stoned. Had there been a US consulate in Kerala, someone would have burnt it down. I wish it were. Unlike its Centre counterpart, the Kerala government lashed out at the US and Bush. Achuthanandan, Kerala’s luminous Chief Minister, led from the front and ripped the US government apart. So many others followed. I always carried my love for India on my sleeves. But this muted, spineless response even after a close friend’s death was a shock to me. Even after death, India owes an apology for that. But I was proud that Kerala did the damage control the way it could. For once, I was proud to declare that I am a proud Keralite than an Indian. Yet, on a larger picture, I bow my head in SHAME.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


If needed, here is another testimony to India’s hospitality and compassion. After years in exile, the Dalai Lama says he will be happy to die in India. In an interview that covers Tibet to Osama bin Laden, the unflappable Dalai Lama becomes passionate on India and its kindness. He should know. When he was thrown out of China, he was given asylum by the then Prime Minister Nehru as a persona non grata. That was in 1959. Considering the volatile Sino-Indian relations then, it was a highly risky decision by Nehru. Many countries denied entry to him and his followers. But India opened its doors and offered him and his followers an Abode at Dharmasala. Forty-seven years later, the world has changed. But the situation in Tibet has not. One of the most widely travelled persons on this planet, the Dalai Lama knows international realities like the palm of his hand. And when he says India is full of compassion, the world will listen. With the dream of a free-Tibet remains a mirage, he knows his final days will be spent in Little Lhasa in India. It is like a home away from home. A million others, like Chakmas, Bohras and Sri Lankan Tamils, will agree. I stop here; read the simple, but brilliant interview in Daily Telegraph.