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Life Into Death And Death Into Life

Apni jaan se pyaari behen ko qabr mein utaarne ka waqt Allah kisi bhai ko na dkikhaye.”

- Sunday, 7th February 2016

My brother Imran Abbas lost his elder sister to cancer couple of weeks ago, and what you see above is what he had published on his Facebook wall after her burial. For many, they must be words, plain words stemming from grief, but for some of us who look beneath the superficial layer, those are words that are sufficient enough to shake one up from our roots.

Whenever I have requested the discourteous to be compassionate, because a day will appear when we will have no breath to apologise for our unsolicitous behaviour, I have been rather steadily accused of taking life a bit more seriously. I agree that we ought not to stop living and laughing with the impending fear of death, but is it not death that pushes us to keep ourselves grounded? Is it not death that whispers to us time and time again, that no matter how much we claim to have control over life, life can still be over in a dot of a second? I do not say this harshly, but these very individuals who have poked jibes at me will one day come to realise that all buffoonery ceases the instant you lose someone you love. That time stands still. It changes you. And that part of you will never be alive.

Perhaps that is the only reason I stay away from funerals – it scares me to bits. It frightens me about the how, and the what. What would happen once I was to be buried to blend with the earth? What will happen after? And that, in a way, also makes me examine and re-examine my life with a magnifying glass. Am I good enough? Am I doing for the world and those around me what I am supposed to do in order to make it a better place? Am I forgiving my oppressor considering it is his/her ignorance when they say and do things to hurt and malign people? Am I sensitive enough to the vibrations of society and the people in it? Am I keeping my head held high regardless of the situation and moving along with optimistic gusto? Am I detaching myself from being unnecessarily attached to earthly manifestations? Am I telling myself that to live, laugh, and love is something we are entitled to, and nothing else matters since nothing else is ever so important? Am I not letting negativity around me affect me to such an extent that it clouds the very semblance of sensibility and reasoning?

As Marcel Proust once said, people do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life, which bears no relation to true immortality, but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were traveling abroad. Such words bolster those who seek relief in them, but the man who loses knows that words are temporary comforters that people use in order to distract us and make us feel easy, since true pain is not something anyone can ever comprehend other than the one going through it because life lives, life dies, life laughs, life cries, but life looks different through everyone's eyes.

On Wednesday, the 24th February 2016, this is what Imran had posted on his Facebook page –

“Just went through these messages sent by my dearest friend Mona Kapoor exactly 5 years from now. She was Arjun Kapoor’s mom and was as close to me as my real sister. After fighting cancer for a couple of years, she left us a few years back.

Today I miss her even more, especially when this cancer has snatched my two sisters from me, Mona and my Api. I try to keep myself busy, affirm to myself that I am happy and getting over this pain, convince myself from all possible manner of logic, but only me and my Allah know that I am all crumbled from inside. Things will never be the same for me ever again.

I miss you Mona, I miss you Api.”

He then went on to inscribe some guidance to his readers.

“I want to convey one message to everyone out there because I want no one to suffer from this fatal disease. From many important things I just emphasise on a few.

1. Keep your blood alkaline by all means. Cancer spreads in blood, which has acidic pH level.
2. Cut out white sugar from your life. It's a poison.
3. Stop eating meat alone (without the combination of vegetables).
4. Stop having processed meat and chemical infused food.
5. Don’t let it spread and reach to some dangerous stage. It is curable if it's detected in its early stage.”

And then I saw this on Tuesday, 23rd February 2016 –

“When you feel the laziest ever to leave your bed, and you are trying to kick start your remaining day with a cup of  “super concentrated” Espresso.

Oh, yes, I am in a bad shape these days but even then it’s fine. We are human and can’t be super fit all the time, and this is the real me. Feel great to be what you are even without packs.

#nopacks #nofilter #noregrets”

That is another aspect of life my brother has so beautifully thrown light on. We live in times that are incessantly barraging us with information, and it is rather ironical that while we are swimming in an ocean of information, we are but drowning in a limitless whirlpool of ignorance. The youth hero-worships stars. They assume that a ‘star’ must be perfect. That it is a crime for their stars to be human, that they have to be blemish free. The blur is so blinding that people forget that the people they idolise are but mere mortals, and I felt proud of my brother for having posted the picture below without any regrets. Being macho is not being macho, but being macho is being real, and that is the heart of the matter.


Ryan Gosling And A Dash Of Jimmy Sheirgill

The first time I was acquainted with Mr Gosling was through Drive. I was thoroughly tired after a long day at a shoot for a client from Britain and my body was pleading for some relaxation, ideally in form of a good night of sleep perhaps, and instead I found myself, on a whim, playing the DVD of Drive. What began as sluggish, and laden with melancholic visuals, had me seized in due course by Mr Gosling’s strength of the sinister. It was as if he had this simmering volcano effect to his rather subdued performance, and whenever it erupted, it engulfed you, leaving you no less entombed in your seats quite akin the mummified populace of Pompeii along the path of Mount Vesuvius. In bated and tense breath, I reached the end of the motion picture and felt as if I had been stabbed hard. I found myself watching it over and over again, and sensed every time I watched it, it spoke rather unswervingly to the iniquity that very much existed in me. Something that exists in everyone else too, just that everyone cloaks it for the fear of societal judgement.

I then greedily savoured The Ides Of March and was overwhelmed by the man’s ability to invade my senses in totality. I mean, how? How did a kid from around the corner supersede Clooney (whom many consider sexy while I think he’s just about ordinary) with his cold portrayal that is in no way comparable to Clooney? I watched Ides numerous times and unearthed that some of the characters in the novella I was writing at that point had obtained Mr Gosling’s mannerisms rather unconsciously. That is when it first dawned upon me that this was no ordinary man. That luck had no role to play in his getting where he had brought himself. That it was a design of providence, which had sent him to mesmerise us with his dazzle and brilliance. At the same time one could not but help ignoring the notion that with his depiction of evil, (he had the nerve to essay the same without any impetus) he communicated rather directly to the evil in us.

Then I watched Lars And The Real Girl; another splendid portrayal of the mechanics of the drifting mind. The critics might have dismissed it, and many might have thought it atrocious: concept of believing that a doll could be real, but I ask why not? We have unlabelled anxieties that have taken refuge in our heads that we muffle mainly out of fear. The human psyche is a very complex network of criss-crosses and only the one who is entrenched in it knows its depths, so it would be inappropriate for any one of us to poke at something that we do not understand. And if Mr Gosling had the verve to accept a character as challenging as the one chiselled out for him, we have to offer him credit for taking the risk rather than writing him or the movie off. I offer a bow to the man for having helped numerous others through his screen representation of Lars. I wonder how many Lars might have found a means of letting themselves out of themselves and let in the healing process, all because a young man took risks with a role many others might have thought dangerous to accept. The crux – men will be men, and as much as they love their women they still love their freedom more, and will only readily accept a woman who will be compliant with whatever they say. Harsh indeed, but the barefaced truth!

Next on my list: All Good Things, and that was when I fell in love with Ryan. I felt he was playing the essence of what every man felt and wanted. Wickedness is as innate to us as our shadow. It is as inherent to us as breath. And yet we behave and pretend that we are righteous human beings with values and ethics. I loved the way he got what humanity has quite literally bottled into itself, and unleashed it onto the screen with such impressive honesty. Granted, some might find his method grotesque, mainly because he was showing them their real faces, but my question is how long, and how far can we run away from who we quintessentially are? Violence is unsettling, but it is very much running alongside blood in our veins, and this is what Ryan helps you retrieve: the portions of your mind you are too afraid to access though they are very much alive and breathing. He allows you to feel what you feel and yet not feel anything about it. In a strange way, he is a psychologist at a heightened level, who helps you rid you of your demons via the characters he chooses and the distinctions they represent.   

Crazy Stupid Love: well, well, it was crazy and stupid and the only thing to love in it was Ryan. Initially, his character was flat and flaky, but my sole reason to hold onto watching that motion picture was because of Ryan. Although, I did find certain scenes interesting, overall the movie offered nothing novel, nothing that one had grown to expect from the reliable stables of the horse one could bet one’s money on christened Ryan. Then again, I assumed, he had done the movie out of obligation, or even a favour to Steve Carell, who in my opinion is a pathetic actor. Or one plausibility might be that perhaps Ryan was plain lazy and was in the mood of humouring himself with regards to how much he could stretch his stupidity on screen.

Then arrived the DVD of Half Nelson in the mail, and, man, what a journey it was! Like life, that takes its own course despite us wanting to try and keep things in our control. Like it throws on us surprises that would bewilder and haunt us. Like we wish to live and love in the barest of our emotions: this movie had it all. If the jokers at the Oscar committee had only been even one per cent as intelligent as they so claim they would have given Ryan the Oscar for this landmark performance that was infused with reality and reflection. I have this feeling that Ryan would care two hoots for an Oscar, bot because he is not bothered to be applauded for his talent, but because he is far profound a man to care for a statuette provided by a bunch of jokers, to people they think harbour talent, when they do not.

After The Believer I could think of nothing else but the fact that in life we actually hate that we most love. And in the oddest manner possible that is the strongest manifestation of love.

The thing with Ryan is he doesn’t try hard like the others do. I’m most certain he prepares mentally for his roles, but he has this absolutely nonchalant approach to his work that adds the authentic touch to it. And yes, he does remind me of a very dear friend of mine, Jimmy Sheirgill whom I quite simply can equate with Ryan. Both are simple, yet towering personalities. Both have done ground-breaking roles that many others would turn away from. Both have left, until now, their unmistakable stamp on cinema and will go down unparalleled in the history of the future of cinema.

Also, the ability to let himself be himself, without any dramatics, is a rare sight today, and that is where Ryan wins hands-down. The real test of the actor is not to distance himself from his audience by playing characters that might go down in history, but the real test of the character is to enrapture the audience with the escape of a little of his soul in each of his performances that will have history write itself around him and that is Ryan: the sovereign of confidence and humility. The dynamo of talent no one else can ever challenge, or remotely come close to for many years until someone equally good or better straddles along.

Having grown up around some of the famous names in literature and cinema, I have grown to view the ones who are in the limelight with objectiveness, so I would have to admit that I am not a fan of Ryan; he is a human being like any other who happens to hog the spotlight due to the profession he has chosen, but yes, I am a fan of Ryan’s mind, because to have the silver spoon in life, and do something about it to make this world a better place, step-by-step, now that is something he executes with the smoothest flamboyance, and more than anything he asks us all if we can be soulfully naked in front of the world and be utterly unashamed of it?

I overheard two women talking about The Ides of March. One of them said, “That man, Ryan, he has balls.” Quite honestly, all of us, regardless of gender have balls, and it was rather lame of the women to observe that Ryan had balls, balls he does have anatomically, but beyond that he has something even more precious: courage. The courage to defy the norm and help get you or me to use the balls that god has given us. That cleared, methinks what Ryan is doing is not self-emulation, but a huge service to mankind. We needed people like Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa in times that understood their language. In today’s times we need people like Ryan Gosling and Jimmy Sheirgill to talk to people in their own language.


Fitoor - 2016

The first thing that struck me when I entered the theatre was that the theatre was fairly empty – a somewhat grim sign for a movie that has released just three days ago, but as the film started to roll I was enraptured by the artistic and sprightly resonance of the scenes shot so bewitchingly by Anay Goswami. Without wasting time if I were to limply enumerate the attempt by director Abhishek Kapoor (Gattu), by avoiding plunging into the intricate specifics, I would say that Fitoor is clearly for the thinking man who is acquainted with reading, and not for the crowds that quite revel in the lewd, and so it is understandable that it has not charmed the rationalities of the common man. The sequence of events, are rather straightforward, and the yarn works reasonably well considering that it is after all an adaptation of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and the man had the liberty to articulate it in the manner he thought creatively appropriate. As time elapses you discern that the mood is melancholic. The canvases are remarkable. The texture is ethereal. The lilting music by Amit Trivedi quite befits the movie. I do understand that people are finding it dull, but one cannot expect a bhangra dance from a backdrop like Kashmir, right? 

Aditya Roy Kapur as Noor (Pip) is most becoming. His expressions are being compared to the woodiness of the Chinar trees found abundantly in Kashmir, and, I reckon, we have to discount people like these who judge actors as good or bad based on their histrionics or box office popularity, since I have always found Adi to be a refined actor who can carry anything away with élan. Take for example Daawat-e-Ishq, where he played the unqualified and immensely street-smart Tariq Haider. Not once did he lose his thoroughbred streak of refinement while playing that character, and this brought to the role the much wanted finesse that anyone else playing it would have destroyed it by overdoing it or underplaying it. So 'refinement' is in Adi's blood. It is in his DNA. My friend Mohit Suri had unearthed a stellar performance from him in Aashiqui 2 that seeps into your soul and unsettles it. In some ways the heart-wrenching pain that Adi had to produce in Noor, that originally Pip would feel, is absent in his range here, but that blip cannot be a slip on Adi’s part - a precise balance of ingredients is responsible in making a pie delicious, and it is no secret that apart from it being a team effort, it is the chef de cuisine who is responsible to add that extra zing to the preparation, so blaming Adi for the weak audience turnout by some news dailies is not merely lame, but an unblemished reflection of the immaturity of the reviewers’ own acumen. The screen writers (Gattu and Supratik Sen) ought to have prepared a fertile base sufficient enough to add more scope to elicit the actual essence from Adi. 

Lara Dutta is satisfactory in her role. Rahul Bhat is excellent as a deceitful control freak in the outfit of the cultured that he so comfortably reflects. What is disheartening is that the aptitudes of the multi-faceted Akshay Oberoi and the gracious Aditi Rao Hydari have been underutilised. They surely could have been given a better context in order to help build the depth of their respective narratives. Tabu as Miss Havisham was unbearable. Her crude and rough diction is depressing. Her costumes were peculiar, and her make up was seldom coherent. I wonder why Aditi agreed to have her superlative voice dubbed by that of Tabu’s, although; the one who needed dubbing of a better voice was Katrina Kaif who plays Firdaus (Estella). Other than looking like a porcelain doll made by a skilful sculptor, there is an innate poverty in her demeanour. Her voice and her acting ability are both devoid of any feeling. The burgundy hair brought no special lustre to her role, and she is best represented as a work of art – silent and plastered on the wall. The highlight of the film is the relationship between Begum Hazrat Khaala and Noor Miyan. It is quite like the rivalry between the seventeenth-century Italian architects Gianlorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini. Like Noor garners the love and attention of everyone despite his lower rank in status, Borromini found it hard to adjust to the demands of the times whilst the polite Bernini, who knew what to say, and when to say it, paved the way forward to make himself a name that has stood the test of time. Such is the case with Begum as Borromini, and Noor as Bernini, where Borromini, under the weight of his own misfortune ended up taking his own life and Bernini continued to carve his niche on the sands of time and is remembered even today with great reverence and delight.

Noor and Firdaus lack the magic that a role such as this demanded. Perhaps Deepika Padukone would have been a suitable person to render Firdaus. What I liked for a change was the idea of portraying the male protagonist with a Muslim background. It provided the much-needed ‘tehzeeb’ and ‘nazakath’ to the characters, a nuance that is on the decline lately, on, and off the screens as well. The dialogues were an awful let down. They should have been persuasive, strong and effective.

Societies must be mindful that one can work with anyone high up in the clouds (for the sake of art reaching unattainable heights), but when it comes to your life partner it becomes imperative to find somebody with their feet firmly on the ground. One must be mindful that somebody might party and still not be cool, just as traditional does not necessarily translate as dull. One ought to be observant too to the vital signs in a partner to be; sporting a modern attitude, even if the character were to have shades of the conservative. Outlook is important, not typecasts.

“Bro, Abhishek (Kapoor) is a superbbbbb director.” That was my big brother Subi (Samuel’s) reaction this morning when I told him that I liked Fitoor. I have not seen Gattu’s other films, so I must take Subi’s word on this, which brings me to the quintessential question – why did I watch Fitoor when I haven’t seen the other films by Gattu? Honestly, ONLY and ONLY for my buddy Akshay Oberoi, and then for Aditi Rao Hydari, who had worked with my brother Ali Zafar, and is a buddy with my friend Sirish (Rao). Also, I adore Adi as an actor, and despite what the world says, I still maintain that given the right roles, he can outperform the best we think we have today simply because he holds a certain element of suave subtlety about him, and additionally exhibits a rather strong touch of originality, which we see in short supply with the other actors, who are busy imitating someone or the other from yesteryear.

I concur that Fitoor is a bit lost and slow, yet it is unfortunate that it has received such motley, or wetted response simply because people could not fathom how intense a film it was - almost like a theatre play on the large screen and this is where it went a bit wrong I suppose: crowds that are used to lapping up rubbish were not able to digest intelligent cinema. Regardless of what anybody thinks, I came away content that although it was not magnificent; it certainly was not a disappointment as the columnists are making it out to be.

Note to Gattu:

1/ I know people do rant incoherently when under the influence of alcohol, but please do not trivialise it by “Doodh maangoge toh kheer denge, Kashmir maangoge toh cheer denge!” That was terrible.

2/ You enjoyed what you made, bro, and those who share your vision are enjoying what you have made, and that is enough, isn’t it. After all common knowledge states that every ball you hit cannot result in a six, right.