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Please stand up

Please stand up

If you live in Bombay, off late you’re probably measured for coolness by the number of times you’ve visited The Comedy store at Palladium. The Dark knight? Sure. NH7 Weekender? Definitely!  But XXXX’S set at The Store, OMFGSOFUNNYIALMOSTKILLEDMYSELF. I’m not exaggerating. Yes, I admit that the heady rush of exhilaration has died down somewhat. In 2010, it was the biggest thing since Jesus. Suddenly every publication in the country was doing profiles of upcoming talent and writing trend stories that just about stopped short of taking off their metaphorical shirts and throwing them on stage. Acquaintances wanted to be comedians. During sets, women friends made eyes and started touching their hair a lot. Twitter exploded with one-liners from hopeful amateurs. And amateur nights? Yeah, there was probably a bar somewhere in Belapur or Thane, that didn’t have one.

At Project Small Fry, we attempt to document the vein of a subculture that may in the future be held as the first record of the stirrings of a great youth movement. What do you mean, we don’t really do that? Well, the “babble” about TV and books are supposed to be a build up, okay? In any case, we’re a big fan of stand up comedy ourselves. We follow who needs to be followed on Twitter, we go to The Store (if we can afford the tickets) we free ourselves for things like this. All this is reason enough, to try and write about what’s great and not so great, about the stand up comedy scene in the city.

What’s great:

It’s a lovely alternative entertainment option. And it isn’t always expensive. Shows with local talent cost as much as the latest (dumb) Bollywood screening at PVR. And you get to listen to someone poke fun at the latest (dumb) Bollywood screening at PVR.

It will open your life to a lot of off-the-beaten-track entertainment options. Fun fact: Comedians are a restless bunch, always trying to break new ground and work on new cool projects. Like All India Bhakchod, a podcast by comedians Tanmay Bhat and Gursimran Khamba, for example. The more projects, the more laughs. It’s simple maths really.

You will start giving mainstream entertainment the slimmest sliver of a chance. A month ago, the only reason I’d agree to watch even 30 minutes of programming on MTV, would be if you told me that Raghu was converting to Buddhism live on Roadies season 8. Now, when I hear that a comedian I like, had something to do with the script of a television show or wrote such-and-such awards ceremony, I’m more likely to watch. Read Sharanya’s column this week to understand what I mean.

Jokes about Andheri. Jokes about parliament. Jokes about Pooja Bedi. Win.

What’s not so great:

Nine times out of ten, a stand up routine is not somewhere I would take my mother. Now calm down. I’m not talking about the cussing or even the jokes about religion. But, speaking as someone who is actually a patron of stand up, I gotta say, sometimes, comedians get carried away with the laughs. When that happens you can almost see the blood of super human recklessness rush to their faces before they leap, Willy Wonka like, over the line that goes from hilarious to offensive. Check out this clip from Louis, a clever sketch show by legendary comedian Louis CK. Jokes that skim the edges of sensitive issues had best make a point. If it’s a potshot without a point, I won’t laugh. Why should I?

The bandwagon people. These are the people in the audience who are laughing so hard, they’re almost doubled over. “What did he just say? I missed it,” You might ask of such a person. “Oh. I didn’t catch it either,” they’ll reply, eyes streaming over with mirth. So annoying. Though technically, this isn’t stand ups fault. It’s kind of the fault of human nature.

That’s all folks. More about this trend when it develops, I guess. For now, we love how stand up is going in the city. We love the veterans and the newer comics.  We love how fresh and new it all is. We love how funny has become a business and how it’s new enough to not be tainted (as far as we know) with the hypocrisy of most industries in the country. We love that years from now, when it actually is tainted, we’ll be able to shake our heads and say that this, 2010 to 2012, was comedy’s golden era, that we were unknowingly part of a revolution in entertainment and that we wrote about it on Project Small Fry.

A CIG’s guide to why you should read The BB guide to the GIG

A CIG’s guide to why you should read The BB guide to the GIG

CIG means Cool Indian Girl,  by the way.

Last year, The bad boys guide to the good Indian girl was published. The book, which has a strange dappled red jacket, is a collection of little vignettes about the Good Indian Girl compiled by Annie Zaidi and Smriti Ravindra. I hadn’t heard the latters name but I was familiar with and quite liked Annie Zaidi’s bylines. When the book came out last year, there was a lot of talk about how deftly it captured this and that, and how thoughtfully it threw light on the other.

I have the book and I have read it and I have liked it. I may not praise it as elegantly as it should be praised, but I will say this. Every word of it was something I have seen and felt. For a book of fiction, it’s almost scarily accurate. And I say this from my experience of having lived with, studied with and played with a wide assortment of Indian girls both good and bad. First of all, as each story will illustrate, The GIG is not an actual thing. It’s more of an idea, a concept. And that is the whole beauty. When you consider the fact that there’s 221 pages of stories about a damn idea you may end up wanting a drink.

But that’s not why I like it. I like it because it made me feel something I hadn’t felt in a long while. I couldn’t identify what that feeling was exactly, but I searched my memories and came up with an inkling.

When I was about 11, my mother started studying her BA through correspondence and I ended up reading all her prescribed texts. I gobbled up her plays, (The glass menagerie was my favourite) struggled through The Scarlet Letter, read Things fall apart with great enjoyment and also completed my first unabridged Dickens (A tale of two cities), a text I had the pleasure of studying when I did my own BA. There was one book, that came into our house during the mothers BA phase, that I remember very vividly, a copy of which I have never seen again. Sunlight on a broken column by Attia Hossain. I remember this book, because it was written as if the words were coming from my heart and speaking from inside me. I don’t even know why. Contextually, it might as well have been I don’t know, Breaking Bad. My family had told me no horror stories about partition, so obviously I didn’t relate to that, and I wasn’t raised in a conservative Muslim family, so naturally, I had little in common with the main characters. Defying tradition for love was obviously not it. (At that time, I was all about defying geometry homework in order to read BA books but whatever). Was I an orphan? Nope. Did I have an ancestral village where cousins would talk about how soon they wanted to get married? Uh uh. Maybe that was actually the first Indian English fiction I read. I can’t say for sure. All I know is, the writing made me feel alive. With the first vignette from The bad boys guide to the GIG, that feeling came rushing back.

The great thing about books that are compilations of short fiction, or even a book of short stories, is that there’s breathing space between pages. It’s not a book you read to finish. It’s a book you read when you have an hours wait in a coffee shop. It’s a book you put aside when something exciting comes along, not to desert it, of course, but to visit it later, like you would visit an old roommate that you never stayed in touch with.

If you don’t like short fiction, here’s a list of reasons you should read The Bad Boys Guide to the Good Indian Girl.

You’re a GIG, A BIG (Bad Indian Girl) or have known/loved either of the above.

You are a boy and your love interest is a girl.

You are a girl and you’re love interest is a girl.

You were shy with the opposite sex or still are.

You fight with your parents.

You live alone in a city and your watchman gives you sidelong glances when you come home late.

You regret things.

You are at a crossroads.

You are young, restless and eager.

You feel older than your years.

You are scared.

You are happy.

Firsts

Firsts

I’m about to devour From Heaven Lake, Travels through Sinkiang and Tibet, the first book Vikram Seth ever wrote. I’ve only gotten through the foreword as of now, a foreword Seth wrote for the 1990 edition to put the contents into perspective. This is going to be an important book for me, because in the past one month or so, my reading has gone for a toss. You can probably blame it on being homeless. I have several books that I intend to read and haven’t gotten around to. I’ve chosen From Heaven Lake, for two reasons – first, I’ve never read a travel book before, second this is Seth’s first ever published book and I have a certain soft spot for the first books of great authors.

Every book is a labour of love, but surely there’s a special spot reserved for the first. Especially when you consider the space, both physical and mental, from where they came. From heaven lake came from the pen of a much younger Seth, not the spry old guy we know now, but a wandering college student who was growing his hair and not really doing what he was supposed to do. Seth was being a typical 20 something – questioning his decisions, his path, buying time, writing, struggling and thinking. The book came out of a road trip and it’s interesting to note that Seth who has a profound insight into human character, and an astounding knowledge base about everything under the sun, started out by publishing a frikking journal he wrote while on a road trip.

On the other hand, take The Bluest Eye, which in my mind set the tone for whatever fiction Morrison was to write in the coming years. I don’t like to put writers in boxes, but there’s a strong activism in everything she writes. It’s kind of fitting that she started out by exploring the wrongness of what America believed with the whole black is beautiful phenomenon. In every book that followed The bluest eye, there was a theme that was at odds with the nice things people were saying, or the judgements people were casting.

Whenever I daydream about my first published book, I wonder what it will say about me. Will it come out of pain? Will I be in a space in my life where I’m happy, or restless or content? Will I write as a woman, a lover, an orphan? (That sounded scarily Alaniss Morrissette, but you know what I mean.)

Just as Art can’t be viewed in a vacuum, the artist can never be totally divorced from his work. There is a lot of weight attached to a created work. For starters, it means you’ll forever be referred to as so and so of so and so fame. It also means that for all eternity (that is if you produce something good enough to last for all eternity) no one will read your book, listen to your song or look at your painting and not wonder what you were thinking at the time of its creation. Art can make you vulnerable and your first may end up defining you forever. And if that’s not pressure, then The Wire is not the greatest show on earth.

Who’s got it covered?

Who’s got it covered?

I’ve been listening to lot of covers this past week. The Across the Universe OST, The Mamma Mia OST, Perfect Circles cover of John Lennon’s Imagine, a musician friends cover of Pearl Jam’s Just breathe. Don’t wrinkle your nose. A lot of times, at gigs, when amateur artistes start their set with a cover or two, they’re all these annoying hipsters/indie lovers who grumble and groan because they want original tunes. I personally love covers whether they’re sung by amateurs or professionals and I really think there’s no greater tribute than starting a set, or including a song on an album with a song that’s your version of someone else’s creativity. And as a listener, it’s always amazing to listen to these interpretations of your favourite songs.

For instance, the only thing that connects me to Glee, a show I don’t follow at all, is the fact that it has covers from artists I like. Yeah, sometimes they get commercial and annoying but I can just skip those particular episodes and move on the one’s that I like. Win win.

As far as I’m concerned, Across the Universe had the most rewarding covers I’ve ever heard. First off, the movie was just amazing. Each song had a different angle, added to the plot and were beautifully rendered. The happy-sounding I wanna hold your hand? Suddenly, a yearning plea. If I fell in love again, when sung by a girl, takes on a whole new meaning. The cinematography of I am the walrus, and being for the benefit of Mr Kite, made all the difference to songs that are mostly gibberish, lyrically-speaking. That’s another thing about Across the universe. The film wasn’t just a plot strung through with musical numbers. It had subtext. Beatles moments, that are ingrained in a pop culture consciousness, were brought out- the rooftop concert, for instance. The movie had big shoes to fill and they walked a mile or so in them to boot.

Mamma Mia, which came later, not so much. There was no originality in any of the old Abba favourites. Gimme a man after midnight? Sure, let’s bung it in at a bachelorette party filled with horny women. Does your mother know? Cougar to young beach boy. Take a chance on me? Yeah, if its sung by a woman who wants to get with a man who just got available, that’s totally original. Just make it funny and everything’s forgiven. There’s really nothing to be said about a film so insipid, that even Meryl Streeps’ cheekbones and kind eyes, couldn’t save it. Then again, it did have that plastic looking Amanda Seyfried. I’ve never liked that chick.

Movie-ception

Movie-ception

How great is the show within a show format? I know you think I’m going to start another I love Studio 60 post, but this time it’s something else. It’s an awestruck love letter to Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in Singing in the rain. I skedaddled from Bombay this weekend and the moment I touched the green, green grass of home (don’t groan. I’m engineered to reference country western music. I was raised on it) I knew I owed myself a great classic favourite. I chose Singing in the rain and within minutes I was lost in the slapstick comedy, the singing, the tap dances and the genius of Donald O’Connor. I also found myself enthralled by the lengthy musical number from The dueling cavalier.

For those of you who haven’t had the immense pleasure of watching Singing in the rain, it’s plot is set in the time when silent films were just making the transition to the talking picture format. Screen legends Don Lockwood and Nina Lamont find themselves having to convert the film they’re acting in (The dueling cavalier) into a musical with modern dance numbers (for that era, this meant lots of fringe trimmed flapper dresses and those sexy cigarette holders). But how to make a film set in 16th century France more 1920’s and less balcony swordfight-ish? Easy. Just make it about a Broadway aspirant who happens to be reading A tale of two cities and call it The dancing cavalier. It’s genius. I tell you, if The Dancing Cavalier were an actual film, I’d watch that shit in a heartbeat.

It’s the same with all the other stuff I’ve seen on films about films or television series about films. I found everything in Studio 60, (with the exception of that biopic that Harriet was supposed to star in) hilarious and that includes peripheral vision man. In the King and I, the Siam dance drama of Uncle Toms cabin was just amazing and since we’re on the subject what was that movie with Lindsay Lohan where she stars in a play about a modern day Eliza Doolittle? Who cares, but I remember she stars in play about a modern day Eliza Doolittle! They should have given that more screen time. It would have made Lohan’s presence bearable.

What women want: The male character you can have a crush on

What women want: The male character you can have a crush on

This article did two things for me. First it made me aware that somewhere in the world, there’s a legit system where you get to go on a blind date based on the authors both parties like. So like, hmmm, I adore Wodehouse and you like Irvine Welsh. We have such great balance. Let’s get together. That’s a shaadi.com idea in there somewhere.

Second, the premise of the story was a real eye opener. Really? Women don’t really go for the throw-normalcy-to-the-wind-and-take-off Jack Kerouac? Well, when I think of it, why would they? Would you want your boyfriend to up and leave all of a sudden? On the road sexiness stops at the page.

What male character, in books, television and film, is really a sure thing when it comes to a woman’s new and improved imagination? It’s probably getting tougher for writers to come up with a hero that’s complex enough to satisfy girls today. Most times, they have stop themselves from making him an outright romantic hero, because our modern new-age woman-ness would reject that instantly. Everything has to tread a fine line and maintain a balance. You can be a complete, misogynist jerk like House MD and I will swoon like a teenager but overdo it slightly like Harvey Spectre and I’ll actively have to stop myself from punching you in the face.

Jane Austen created Mr. Darcy over a century ago and we’re still using him as a blue-print but that perfect gentleman rescuer deal is getting a little tired. Shameless does a twist on the whole knight in shining armour routine. Jimmy/Steve is always just on the verge of sweeping Fiona off her feet and away from her troubles. Then the plot throws him into situations that force him to bolt. Speaking of Shameless, Lip Gallagher has to be the winner in terms of sexiness, his doped out frog looks, notwithstanding. I can practically hear women the world over sighing whenever he gets fucked over, or giggle at how careless he is about his intelligence.

There are some male characters that never go out of swoon-style (yes I just made that word up) There’s the jerk with a tender twist. There’s slick, confident and rich (Every James Bond ever) and there’s the lovable but always in trouble boy-child. But we’ve seen these guys again and again. We bore easily. Daniel Craig got laid of the line “Would you come in here a minute?” I wish you could hear me pssht.

Bottom line, unless you’re stuck somewhere in mills and boon never never land, you always want more from the characters you read about or watch. Or maybe that’s just me being exacting.

The story of a people

The story of a people

This is a thought I had and I’m putting it out there. The Anglo-Indian community has been for the most part absent in mainstream Indian Literature in English, especially literature set in the post-independence era. Anglo-Indian characters have little space in books that have pages breathe with Nehruvian Socialism, or stoically bear the pain of partition. When she does come to the surface, she’s spared a few telling lines – In A suitable boy, we learn that Arun Mehra’s secretary resented working for a brown sahib and Laila’s college classmate in Attia Hossain’s Sunlight on a broken column, calls England “home.” Having established these truths, the novel goes on to bigger and brighter things and the character is not heard from again, ironically, much like it was with the real community – a small section of people sidelined by history and ignored by art.

Of course, not entirely. I’m speaking of John Masters’ Bhowani Junction, a dense but simply laid out novel that revolves around three characters and their struggle with identity. The novel relies heavily on plot and while it’s not particularly gripping stuff, it’s definitely insightful in that it makes a strong case for the very human decision of what now? I can’t even imagine what it’s like to live in a country that’s brand new; still finding its feet. To be alive and having the choice of clinging to what you are or striving for what you want to be. There’s something to be said for a novel that satisfyingly explores that kind of uncertainty and fear. Jaysinh Birjepatil’s Chinnery’s Hotel also delves into loss and displacement among a few characters of Eurasian lineage, but this fiction is a little more subtle thematically. Maybe I should give it another chance

Clearly I’m not the only one thinking of this.  And though non-fiction is informative, I want me some of those stories.

I’ve always liked novels that have the story of a people, of a community behind it. Think Alex Haley’s Roots or Toni Morrison for that matter. Or Meave Binchy, Rohintan Mistry and Amitav Ghosh. I wish I knew about more books which told the Anglo-Indian story from within. If you know of any, let me know.

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