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Monthly Archives: May 2012

From Everybody lies to Everybody dies: A tribute to Hugh Laurie

From Everybody lies to Everybody dies: A tribute to Hugh Laurie

But mostly just to House.

I’m still reeling from the fact that House MD, a show I have followed for the past eight years, has ended. Show finales are tricky; they have to be so many things. Keeping aside the fact that the series finale of House wasn’t the greatest (the best finale I have ever seen is Scrubs; perfect amount of tears and laughter. But then they decided to start season 9 with a new cast and completely screwed everything up. But that’s a whole new column), I have to admit; I will miss Hugh Laurie immensely.

No one could have played Gregory House MD better than Hugh Laurie.  He gets the accent right, his hand gestures are perfect, his pain is believable and his sarcasm is spot on. From the character of Gregory House I have learned that you’d be surprised what you can live with, Humanity is overrated, everybody lies and it’s never lupus. All important life lessons, imbibed in my most formative years and all because Hugh Laurie gave his everything to a character that became a phenomenon in television history.

But enough about House. Laurie was incredibly funny in Fry and Laurie, in real life, his songs are genius, he’s also an expert oarsman, he cooks like an angel and he looks great in a bow tie. What more could you want from a man!

Wait, I can’t say ‘enough about House’, what was I thinking. (It’s still too soon. ) House MD is a show written by David Shore and usually follows a pretty simple format. Patient comes in. House is disinterested. Patient develops an outrageous symptom. House is back in. A parallel story with an other character, mostly Wilson, usually gives him an idea. And bam, case solved. With a purposeful walk down the hospital corridors thrown in. Of course there are small twists and a bunch of great characters like Eric Foreman (what?), Lisa Cuddy, 13, Darryl Nolan and Chi Park.  My favorite episode by far has been season six, episode 1, Broken. I kept an hour aside on the morning of my first BMM board exam to watch it. I didn’t know it was an extended episode but it was so brilliant, I had to watch the whole thing. And I got late for my board exam.  (I’m super punctual, so instead of reaching my center an hour before the exam as I like to, I reached 10 minutes before. But it was still quite badass, ok?)

The point of all this is that as an actor, Hugh Laurie has done his bit. He has effectively brought a character to life in a way that no one else could.

While I will mourn the end of House for a while, here is some good news. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie will reunite to work on a mystery project.

– Sharanya

Who’s black, bald and does not look like a bitch?

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Who’s black, bald and does not look like a bitch?

If your answer is Marcellus Wallace, it’s because you heard these three attributes before you even saw him.

Last week, the trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s adaption of Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby hit the interweb. I am still skeptical of Luhrmann after Australia (Can you blame me?) but Sheena is outrageously excited. “The great Gatsby isn’t really big on plot or action, but it’s a very visual book. And if the wildly exhilarating Moulin Rouge is any indication, Luhrmann is pretty big on flamboyant visual imagery. And Leonardo DiCaprio is a good choice for Gatsby,” she says.

Last week, a friend of mine described what he imagined the characters of The Hunger Games were like and pretty much got everything wrong according to the movie. “Rue looks like that girl from Hugo or like Knives from Scott Pilgrim. Cinna looks like Stephen Fry.”

Most writers don’t describe too many physical attributes of a character. Vague descriptions like, tall, long fingers, round eyes or something. Never enough to visualize an entire person. For years, Hermoine Granger was just an unformed body of vapour with buckteeth and bushy hair. 

Sometimes the description doesn’t come with the introduction of the character. You’ve already followed John into depths of his adventure and now, 300 pages in, he is making love with soon-to-be Mrs Doe, you realize he has long arms, a dimple and is redheaded. And you were imagining a skinny midget with cankles.

Sometimes a name is enough to conjure up an image and no amount of detail will change it. Imagination is a wonderful thing. But everyone’s head works differently.

But then the movies happened. Making an absolute mess of your mind’s eye.

With adaptations, characters are in front of you, in the flesh. It sparks debate; “Will Andrew Garfield make a good spiderman?” “Sirius Black should have been like Morpheus big, bald and badass” and the usual, “I don’t care, the book is infinitely better.”

I have no problems with film adaptions. In fact, if it’s done well, it packs dense but good literature into a manageable matinee sized bite.  But when movies release while you are still reading a series, it will ruin the book and that’s the plain truth. The actors faces get jammed into your head, without your permission. I can’t read Sherlock Holmes any more without both Robert Downey Jr and Benedict Cumberbatch zooming in and out of my head. Strangely, Jude Law is never Watson. Never.

While this is part rant and part observation, Here’s what I want to know. What do you consider the worst casting in a movie? Which character complete baffled you? It’s a bit premature, but for me, it just might be Suraj Sharma from Life of  Pi.

We’ll be loving this show in two different millennia soon

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We’ll be loving this show in two different millennia soon

If someone had told me to watch Studio 60 instead of spending Rs 1,00,000 on a Post graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass communication, it would be good advice. Off the top of my head, these are some of the issues the show throws out there. Stand up comedy, writing for television, Television’s responsibility to different communities and to society at large, sensitivity in a mass medium, journalism, TRP ratings and what drives them, comedy at a time when your audience is threatened with war, violence and uncertainty. Question: Why would you watch something that…heavy? Answer: It’s unbelievably HILARIOUS. I probably should have lead with that.

First some background for the uninitiated. Studio 60 on the sunset strip was created by Aaron Sorkin of The West Wing fame. The show within a show format story is woven around the creators of a SNL type comedy sketch show called Studio 60. The series aired on NBC in 2006 and was promptly cancelled a year later because it lost its time slot to The Black Donnelly’s and later to The Real Wedding Crashers. I know. I’m speechless with rage too.

Here’s why you should watch, re-watch or Sunday-marathon-with-beer-watch Studio 60 on the sunset strip if you’re a/an

Amateur stand up comedian: If you want to get people to laugh at your material and at your jokes, here’s some free Studio 60 advice.

Harriet: I got a laugh at the table read when I asked for the butter in the dinner sketch, I didn’t get one at the dress. What did I do wrong?

Matt: You asked for the laugh.

Harriet: What did I do at the table read?

Matt: You asked for the butter.

And there’s plenty more where that came from.

Small fry Journalist (ahem): Yes, for a couple of episodes, a swinging, fast-talking Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Martha O’Dell, from Vanity Fair lands up to do a full-length feature on a behind the scenes at Studio 60. If you watch carefully, her character has a lesson or two for you. I can’t say too much without it being a spoiler, but I will say this. She doesn’t take notes during interviews (don’t try this at home. At least, not yet), she knows the answers before she asks the question but she asks the question anyway and she draws information and confessions out of the people she interviews, the way you draw doodles in your notebook fifteen minutes before filing your story.

Are working in Television: What’s important? Bowing and scraping to the network that airs your show or putting up content you feel the show demands? Every tussle you’ll ever have in the world of TV, every word you need to change in a script. Every bit of last minute writing you’ll have to do to make a deadline: It’s all here.

Are from the Entertainment industry: When is entertainment harmless and silly and when can it get dangerous? Do you have a responsibility to viewers and readership that do not come from the urban background that you do? Is taking a pot-shot at someone who can’t fight back okay as long as it gets you ratings?

Are a fan of Sting, Corrine Bailey Rae, Gran Bel Fisher, Three 6 mafia, and Natalie Cole:  They all appear on the show once, as themselves, and they perform. Also, Sting accompanies himself on a lute.

Get a kick out of celebrity impressions: Tom Cruise, Nicholas Cage, Holly Hunter and Ben Stiller. For real.

Tend to beat yourself up after a bad job: There’s an episode on the show called The disaster show, where everything that can possibly go wrong goes twice as wrong and then some. The characters still weather on. Remember that sense of entitlement you felt when you started working? Remember how it all came crashing down your ears when you actually got down to work? What’s that? It still happens? Yeah, it happens to everyone. Wrote a bad story? Had a bad show? Missed a deadline? Shake it off. Move on and do a better job next time.

Want to find out why I chose the headline I did: You’ll get it at the end of the season.

Believe that true genius never really gets its due anymore: You know I’m right. Look at the ratio of shows that do phenomenally well and look at the ones that flounder before bravely dying out.

Don’t care about any of this but like good television: Aaron Sorkin keeps the action fast, the plot and writing tight, the characters believable and the backstory bulletproof. If you’re a fan of the walk-and-talk technique and snappy dialogue, then this is the show you watch and then watch again and then talk about till people stand up and leave the table.

– Sheena

How to identify a Bombay Hipster

How to identify a Bombay Hipster

They’ll always drink at Janta even though they can afford to drink at a place with fancier decor than peeling walls and resident cockroaches. It’s habit, they’ll claim. Habit from when we were struggling copywriters, journalists, singer-songwriters, and record studio chai-bringers. They’re lying. It’s hipsterdom.

They’ve been to both NH7 weekenders and constantly compare one to another, every damn time.

They watch Dangerous Ishqq and Housefull ironically. And in Gaiety or Galaxy. Refer to point one.

They wear shorts to work because they work in advertising/film and television. If they don’t work in advertising, film and television, they wish they did.

They’ll spend Over Rs 3000 on a small ridiculously kitsch item from PlayClan, Tappu ki Dukaan and Attic. Like a miniature rickshaw that serves no purpose. And then they’ll put it on their desk at work.

First of all, Carter Road? Psht. Too preppy. They’ll go to bandstand instead and then claim they do it to make fun of the couples making out on the rocks.

The Bombay writer: A tribute to Jerry Pinto

The Bombay writer: A tribute to Jerry Pinto

Sharanya told me to put off writing this particular tribute. The person, a Bombay-based journalist-poet-novelist-a-whole-bunch-of-other-numerous-things, is way too close to home, she said, and too much of a big fish in the city’s journalist-literary circles. I agreed with her. It’s one thing to sing the praises of Vikram Seth and quite another to go all fan-girl about someone who knows at least two of your former editors. The risk of him reading this and booming out “You’re a terrible writer and you’ve got it all wrong” is too great and too knee-knockingly scary. But two weeks ago I finished reading Em and the Big Hoom, the most recent feather in Jerry Pinto’s already quite feathered cap. I have to do this. Now, as they say, is the hour.

Jerry Pinto, the journalist is faultless. His writing is crisp but detailed; he effortlessly works in mammoth background into his stories and as for his ability to get his point on paper, well, colour me awe-struck. He’s opinionated, well-read and tremendously prolific (The April 13th issue of Time Out tells me he the free press journal started calling itself the free press jerry). Even when he goes absolutely ballistic on national TV, you sense that he knows what’s what and being nice be damned. My mother has a word for the kind of person that Jerry Pinto comes across as. It’s Tana-tan. Rough translation: smart and on-the-ball. And he is that, as far as I can tell from his bylines, his television appearances and his dry but funny tweets (“Narendra Modi is on the cover of Time magazine. He means business but can he lead India, the dying magazine asks. In a word: No.”)

On to Jerry Pinto as a poet. I don’t read poetry for pleasure but I rate a good poem as one that isn’t a linguistically soppy mess that makes you want to slap yourself. I’ll read and like a poem if it’s universal without being banal and painstakingly crafted in terms of language. Free style is all very well but only if the thought and imagery behind it is superlative. Rhythm is important to me too. Think Emily Dickinson. Think E.E Cummings. Think Jerry Pinto.

Em and the Big Hoom. Ah, it was all very Charlie’s golden ticket, for me. The novel, published by fledgling publishing house Aleph, launched in the middle of April which means I couldn’t buy till my salary came in at the beginning of May. For a week, I read no reviews, looked away quickly when the name of the novel came up on Twitter and just waited. As soon as I could, I went and bought the book. It cost Rs 499 and I would have gladly paid double, even if it meant cutting into my food and alcohol budget.

There’s been enough critical appreciation about Em and the Big Hoom, so no, I will not be the 800 millionth person to say how tragic and funny every page is. I will say this. He got it right on three counts. One, the novels narrative tone is lighter than air despite the heavy theme, second, the characters (and I’m not just talking about Em here) are well drawn out and believable, and last but very important: the Goan Roman- Catholic idiom is spot on. (““Muttering Matilda, that Terry put  name for me. I’m saying, “Storming Heaven on your behalf on’y””) I’ve always said, if characters don’t speak like they would in real life then I can’t be bothered wasting my time with them.

I wonder if there are other young, inexperienced, invisible writers like myself, for whom, great bylines work as silent mentors. If it were up to me, I’d follow the man around with a notebook taking notes on what to do and what not to do. But that would get me arrested. Instead, at work and in my personal writing, at the end of every other sentence, I find myself wondering, how would Jerry Pinto write this?

– Sheena

Big bang head on desk repeatedly

Big bang head on desk repeatedly

“Dude, did you check out that episode of The Big Bang Theory? Oh man, it was so funny. Sheldon Cooper is so funny OMG LOL ROFLMAX.”

Yeah, I get this a lot. Every body I know – human, dog and otherwise keeps telling me about how awesome TBBT is and how it’s the ‘funniest show like ever’. Statistically, they say 4 in every 5 people like TBBT. Statistically, they also say that 4 out of 5 statistics are made up. However I don’t need any statistical backing when I say I hate the show. Actually, wait. Let me rephrase that. I don’t hate the big bang theory. I fucking loathe it. I loathe it more than I loathe tacky girls wearing purple velvet slacks with ‘bebe’ written across the buttocks. I mean come on…at least learn how to spell babe.

According to me, one of the main reasons people like TBBT is because of the laugh track. It’s like a comedy 101 for dummies book – it guides you on when to laugh.

“Oh look Sheldon said something unbelievably long, laced with big words AND there’s a laugh track at the end of it so this must be funny HAHAHAHAHA.” 

This leads me to my next point. Why do people love Sheldon exactly? He’s nothing but an insufferable know-it-all whose head I want to badger in with an electron microscope. (For poetic justice, of course.) People say he is one of the greatest characters ever written for television. I say he is nothing but an overgrown man-child who is infuriatingly impossible to live with. Of course, if Sheldon was here right now he would correct me and say that he was not impossible because he existed. He would tell me that the word I was looking for was ‘improbable’. After which I would take a sledgehammer and whack him in the cojones.

I hate Sheldon because he is annoying. And as a viewer, I can’t have somebody this annoying hold the show together. In Arrested Development, the entire family was annoying and stupid – but the protagonist Michael was the sane one. That balanced things out. Here, your most annoying character is running the show, and that’s not good.

The Big Bang theory is mediocre comedy at best, and I’m being way too generous when I say ‘mediocre’. There is one good thing about the show. Penny. Excuse me while I make my way to the bathroom.

Amogh Ranadive is a stand up comic, television writer and generally awesome guy. He is a multi billionaire who gives away luxury cars to his 120 person strong staff. Also, he is delusional. Slightly.

Kids stuff: Children and reality TV

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Kids stuff: Children and reality TV

I had a pretty normal childhood. I went to school, was a good student, played with my friends, did my homework and watched lots of TV (duh). But I have never been or wanted to be on TV. I never had to compete and prove myself to anyone. All I had to do was be a kid.

But a lot has changed since then.

When it comes to television, I have a fair idea of what is good and bad (and then I go ahead and watch both), but if there is one thing I’m conflicted about, it’s the concept of kids on reality shows. There’s a host on Indian television, Amul Chote Ustaad, Maha Mukabala, Comedy circus and more.

This week I saw two shows, Masterchef Junior and Dance India Dance Li’l Masters. I have previously watched a few episodes of Masterchef Junior online and have absolutely loved it. I saw DID last night, and I love that too. It’s almost unbelievable how intense and passionate these kids are. Some of them talked about their cooking career. Career! They’re 10 years old! And they cried, like kids are wont to, and they smiled, and kissed the stage a few times, like they were probably taught to. And god, they are talented.

There is a lot to be said for the kind of exposure these shows get children. If a kid is talented and wants to show his/her talent (and they are not all coerced by their parents), it’s a great opportunity. And of course, there is the prize money, which hopefully pays for college degrees in the future.

I am not against competition. In fact, some degree of competiveness is good. I draw the line at the voting segment specifically the vote appeals. Like it isn’t enough to face rejection in adult life, let’s get these kids to face it in front of a whole country. Be cute and ask for votes. Oh, you got voted out, the whole nation just didn’t like you enough. Too bad. You’re a maharashtrian/Punjabi/Bengali/; say a line or two in that language, let’s put some regional disparity in an 8-year old’s head. One can only imagine the psychological ramifications of that.

Do you remember the old Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, where  Sonu Nigam was the host  and the winner in the kid’s special was  decided only by the judges. I liked that show. It was simple and the kids didn’t wear garish make-up or tight clothes. I also remember an episode of the dance show Boogie Woogie, where Javed Jafferey, a judge, asked a parent to refrain from teaching their daughter ‘adult’ expressions and not dance to songs that had adult themes.

That was a different time of course. Before every viewer became an ‘expert’ and was asked for opinion. Before we thought it was ok to ‘vote’ eight year olds out. Before we blurred the line between entertainment and ethics.

If we must have children on national television, at least let’s not make them a spectacle for purposes of entertainment. Let’s not make a huge deal about whether or not we think they’re worthy to be on our television screens. In short, lets think back to the time when a teacher’s scorn was enough to reduce us to tears. And lets try to imagine that experience multiply by a 1000. Maybe then we’ll get some damn empathy and perspective.

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