Friday, February 13, 2009

At the red light

selected by BlogAdda as one of the top posts for the week's 'Spicy Saturday Picks'

It was a Monday morning. I woke up exactly an hour after the alarm gave up on me. I reached for my cell phone and quickly typed this message “I am sorry, I overslept. Had a party last night. Would be late to office”.

“Ok” said the new inbox message; my boss had given up on me.

It’s a twenty one kilometer drive from my home to office and there are precisely seven signals on the way. I have mentally classified them as good and bad signals, depending on time taken to cross them.

There are two particularly bad signals where the traffic comes to such a standstill that I fear ageing there.

While vehicles stand and stare the red light, a swarm of street sellers spring into action. It’s their show time. From peanuts in paper cones, to deep fried samosas, to ripened guavas, to cheap Chinese toys and cell phone chargers, to dog bone shaped head rests for your car, they sell many such interesting things. Fighting for your attention are also the beggars, eunuchs and the child acrobats with their noses and cheeks painted like clowns.

I was running very low on fuel so I turned off the ignition but kept the music playing. As I was listening to “Masakalli”, I heard a tap on my window. It was a kid wearing a tattered ‘baniyan’ and holding paper cones in one hand. I ignored him and increased the volume, thinking he would move ahead. But he kept tapping on my window harder and harder. As I gave him a stern look, he stopped tapping and came closer; almost sticking his face to the window he started saying something. There were patches of fog forming on the window because of his breath. It was really annoying.

I pulled down the window to the half and yelled “aage jaa na yaar. Dimag mat kharab kar”. Not minding my pitch, he requested “do rupay ka hai. Le lo na saab”. “Subah subah Kaun khata hai mungfali, jaa bhai” I tried shooing him away. Now he started making pity faces. A good salesman I thought “Bhai aagey bhad, yahin khada rahega to signal green ho jayega aur tera dhanda nahi hoga” I gave him a sales tip.

He refused to budge. He was looking through me. This time he spoke “ kaunsa film hai?” On the seat next to me, there was the CD cover of ‘Delhi 6’. I picked it up and showed him from behind the window “Padh Kya Lika hai”. There is an innovative mirror insert on the cover of the ‘Delhi 6’ CD, so he kept looking into it. I could see his amusement on seeing himself on it. I kept back the CD answering his question “Delhi 6 hai ye”. He didn’t get me, so I said in a language I thought he might understand “Dilli che hai movie ka naam”. “Dilli, who to shahar ka naam hai” he responded with a smile.

“Acha tujhe bada pata hai. Tu kahan se aaya hai” I asked. “Bihar” he spoke unclearly. “Arre, main bhi UP se hoon. Tu yahaan kaise aa gaya” I couldn’t believe I was talking to him. “Amma yahan kam karti hai, building ban raha hai na, wahan” . "Aur papa?" I didn’t know why I asked that. He just kept looking at me blankly. “Kitney saal ka hai tu?” I questioned him. He just kept moving his finger on the dust settled on my window, as if a kid drawing in his work book.

“Aath?” I asked. He smiled like he meant yes, but looked unsure. “Dus?” I questioned again. He gave me a bigger smile this time. I realized he didn’t know his age. Playfully I said “Tera birthday kab hai”. His eyes sparkled when he said “Happy Birthday” and then he went quiet.

“ Acha movie dekhta hai? Film?” I wanted to distract him. “Haan” he liked this topic. “Favourite hero kaun hai?” I wanted to know. “Shahrukh Khan” He said with a sparkle in his eyes. “Ohoo…mere baazigar, yeh bata ki movie kahan dekhta hai? Hall me”. “Showroom mein” and he pointed out to the fancy electronics store on the other side of the road.

I knew that the signal was going to turn green “Acha chal ek packet de de” I said. Wanted to pay him for his time I wasted. He gave me a paper cone. While I paid him a coin, I asked him “Kuch khaya subah se?”. “Nahi” he moved his head in disagreement. I gave him back the paper cone. “Yeh meri taraf se, yeh bechna mat, tu kha isko”. With a big smile he surprised me with a “thank you saab”. I could see the signal turn green. While the vehicles before me were preparing to move, I asked him the last question “Naam kya hai tera?”. “Sanju” he said and ran towards the pavement.

The next morning while waiting at the same signal, I was looking for Sanju. Wanted to see if he recognizes me and gives me any special attention.

I kept waiting but he didn’t turn up. Instead a eunuch came to my window. I wanted to ask her about Sanju. I pulled down my window and held a ten rupee note. She took the note and blessed me, while she was walking away, I asked her “who mungfali wala kahan hai, dikhayee nahi de raha”. “Who aaj nahi aaya saab” she informed me. I was thinking aloud “Aaj Sanju nahi aaya”. She turned back and asked me with an expression of surprise “tum usko jaante hai saab”. “Nahi Aise hi” I said. “Usko kal police pakad ke le gayi sir”. “What?” I exclaimed. “Usne kal chori kiya na saab, ek ladki ka mobile leke bhag raha tha toh police ne usko pakad liya”. The signal turned green.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Meeting Aamir Khan- Luck by chance

This post has been selected by BlogAdda as one of the top posts for the week's 'Tangy Tuesday Picks'- link:

There is a scene in “Luck by chance” where Konkana and Farhan are in a supermarket where there is ‘write a slogan and win a refrigerator’ contest on. While Farhan wants to fill the form, Konkana is quite cynical about such contests. They have a conversation about this before he fills the form, which loosely translated in English sounds like this-
Konkana sarcastically asks- “Do you think if I fill this form, there is a chance that I would win the fridge?”
To which Farhan responds-“I know that if you DO NOT fill the form, there is NO chance that you will ever win the fridge”
I watched “Luck by chance” on the night of 4th Feb and this particular dialogue lingered in my mind the whole night- and will always- whenever I encounter a similar situation of filling forms, writing captions, etc to participate in any contest or lucky draws.

I had an afternoon flight to Hyderabad on 5th (Thursday) and was scheduled to travel to couple of other places, returning to Bangalore only on Sunday.

I landed at the Hyderabad airport and was on the bus to the arrival terminal, when I switched on my phone to call up my wife. But before I could dial her number, the phone rang up. It was an unknown mobile number- I thought it was the driver who had come to pick me up. But a female voice greeted me. I suspected it to be one of those spam credit card/loan kind of marketing calls and didn’t pay half attention to it. It didn’t help that the signal was also poor. Her voice was cracking and I couldn’t make sense of anything that she said.

As I was stepping out of the bus I heard her say something like “he wants to meet you”.
I exclaimed “Who?” and then I added “may I know who is on the line?”
She started all over again “I am Aamir Khan’s assistant and I got your number off the blog. You are one of the short listed candidates that he would like to meet. How are you placed at 4.30 PM tomorrow? Can you come to IIM Bangalore campus?”

I was numb with excitement, all I could manage was “whattt…how…wow”
Taking a deep breath I pulled my self together “are you sure?” “ya” she said in a very matter of factly manner, “so can you make it?”.
“Yes, yes” I almost screamed as if the opportunity was slipping out of my hands “I mean, I am supposed to be travelling tomorrow, but I will cancel all of that. Ya…ya I will be there. Thank you so much. I can’t believe it”.
While she wanted to hang up, I foolishly let my suspicion out “I hope this is not a kind of prank call or something, because I am cancelling my travel and rescheduling my whole trip”.
“No. It is true and you can bring along a person with you. Only one” she said in a tone that you can add a smiling face to.

After this, I wanted to call the whole world to announce my luck. Didn’t know where to start. The first call was to Tanu, my wife. Before she could ask me “have you reached?” I mumbled out “We are meeting Aamir tomorrow?” “Stop kidding” she said. “No. God promise. Keep yourself free in the second half. I have to make couple of calls, I will call later…Yahoooo” I screamed like an excited kid

I walked out of the arrival gate with a spring in my step and in all my excitement missed out the cabbie who was standing with a board displaying my name on it.

For the next hour and half or so that I was in the cab, I was busy on the phone. The driver’s name was Ali and all this while I could see him intermittently glancing at me in his rear view mirror- especially each time I mentioned “Aamir Khan” in my phone conversations.
When finally his curiosity crossed the threshold, he asked me “Sir, are you talking about the cine star Aamir Khan?” “Yes” I replied proudly.
“But why does he want to meet you?” he asked me in an offensive way- like what has such a big star to do with a looser like you. “Just like that” I acted snotty.
“Sir, who apna bhi favourite hai. Apne Ghajini dekha kya? Ekdum mast acting kiya hai. Apna bhi salaam bolna usko” “Bilkul” I said thinking about how movies connect each one of us, across geographies, religions, languages and economic backgrounds.
I reached my hotel quite late that night. I was completely exhausted and had an early morning flight. Even a hot shower could not put me to sleep. Random thoughts about the upcoming meeting kept playing in my mind.

I wanted to revisit the place where it all started. So I switched on my laptop and logged on Aamir’s blog. I have been reading him since the beginning, but he is quite an infrequent blogger. Like with movies he posts after long gaps. Thankfully, unlike movies the gap between posts is just in months.

His last blog is titled ‘Thank You’ and was posted on 16th Jan. where he thanks the readers for liking Ghajini and credits the audiences for making it the biggest grosser of all times. He also apologises for writing after so long and tries to explain how busy he has been. Then he goes on to talk about his stay on the IIM Bangalore campus and how he enjoying it and finally getting some time to catch up on his sleep.
What was interesting and kind of news making stuff was what his closing lines said. I am quoting them as they appear on the blog-

“Would like to meet some of you who live here in Bangalore. So post me your contact details if you are up to it and I’ll try and work it out”

Almost instinctively I wrote a comment on the post- “Hi Aamir, Congrats for the success of Ghajini- though it is not one of my favourite Aamir Khan movies. I am glad you like 'India after Gandhi' and more so about the fact that you like to read on varied topics- its people like you who have redefined the way we look at actors. I would (and more importantly my wife) would love to meet up with you. If your schedule allows you, please do call me on xxxxxxx. All the best for your future endeavours”

There were some eight thousand five hundred plus comments on this post, thousands of them had people leaving behind their contact details and pleading Aamir to meet up with them.

I knew Aamir is an avid reader and has a keen interest in History. Next morning, I picked up‘The Life of Mahatma Gandhi’ by Louis Fischer from the Landmark bookstore at Hyderabad airport. On the first page I wrote this small note in my best possible hand writing- “Be the change, said Bapu. And you are one of the very few ‘change agents’ of our generation. Love and luck”

Aamir spent over an hour and half with us. Sporting a schoolboy-ish haircut, dressed in an ‘ed hardy’ kind of pink t-shirt and loose faded sky blue jeans he could easily pass of as one of the students of the institute.

The first thing he said was “yaar lets sit closer, these chairs are too far pull your chairs closer”- that really broke the ice.

As it was his last day of shoot in Bangalore, his in-laws were also there. He affectionately introduced them as “amma” and “appa” and ordered chairs for them as well.

One thing which I noticed about Aamir is his ability to connect with his fans. He made the whole setting so comfortable and casual.

We bombarded him with questions about three idiots, slumdog millionaire, rahman’s oscar nomination, movies that he is very proud of and not so proud of, fitness tips, about his stay on campus, his next directorial plans, upcoming movies, politics, his thoughts on a sequel to Andaz apna apna, his dream team to work on a movie, and many more.

Interestingly, he wanted to know our views on what worked for and what did not work for Mangal Pandey. While we were talking about Mangal Pandey, I got a feeling that he really felt for the movie and wanted it to work.

He also shared his interest in the epic tale of Mahabharata. We all got a taste of his perfectionism and importance he assigns to preparation and research when he said “A story of that scale would take at least five years for research and prep itself”, before he could finish, all of us unanimously screamed “Noooo… we want to see you at least once a year, please don’t deprive us of that”

I don’t think I can put down Aamir’s views on all these things, but what I want to tell is the fact that he was brutally straight and honest in his opinions. Not even once, during this whole session, did he mince his words or sounded guarded. He even jokingly asked us “I hope none of you is a journalist here. Yaar yeh sab kahin likhna mat. Hungama ho jayega”

All this while I was thinking about this parallel-y “How much has this industry changed. Five years ago could we even think of meeting our favourite superstars, let alone like this? Technology and blogging in particular have changed so much. What is more interesting is that the established stars like Aamir and Amitabh have embraced it so well. This is definitely the changing face of the Indian cinema, a new era and I am so lucky to be witnessing this first hand”

I got his autograph on Ishan’s flipbook. He read my quote on the book and gave me a modest smile.

Aamir has a very special way of making people feel important, for instance, when he asked us about our suggestions to improve his blog. He listened to each one of us so carefully, as if taking a mental note of all that we are saying. His genuine desire to make the platform more useful for us could be felt effortlessly.

It was a dream come true for a movie fanatic like me. While we were walking back to the main gate of the institution, it suddenly stuck to Tanu “Oh I forgot to ask him- among thousands of mails how did he choose to meet the ten of you? I am thinking what must have been the selection criteria or was it a kind of lucky draw”.

“I know the answer” I said, “How?” she was curios.

“Luck by chance” I believe.