Grand old Banyans of Chevella and the bid to save them.

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On the Hyderabad-Bengaluru route, off Chevella district, are thousands of trees awaiting translocation in order to make space for a new highway. About a thousand of them are banyan trees older than our grandparents. A group of nature lovers is fighting this and has an alternate solution. Let’s hear them out.
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Twitter : @chevellabanyans

Majili and the ‘watching movies on streaming phase’

Thanks to Amazon Prime and other streaming services, movies can now be divided into ‘must watch in a theatre’ versus ‘wait for it to stream’ versus ‘don’t even bother when it streams’. This, I believe is a whole new phase and one that is very useful for some of us who cannot make regular visits to the theatres. So we read the reviews, hear people talk about certain films, get asked the ‘you haven’t seen it yet?’ question, all the while patiently waiting for the movie to stream. And when it does, the kids go to bed early, dinners are carried to the hall and we watch the movie – first day, second show, albeit in the comfort of our homes. And that is exactly how, I ended up watching Majili in the previous week.

‘Panikimaalina vedhavalandariki lakshanamaina pellaalu vastaaru’ – this was the dialog from the movie that stuck in my head at the end. This dialog and how this trope is popularised by Telugu Cinema for ever. I remember watching Cinema Soopista Maava and coming out of the theatre wondering what the director wanted to convey. That a girl who’s the topper of the state will only fall in love with someone who has never passed his boards? That a guy who works hard to build a good life for himself is worthless? That to be able to ‘pataofy’ a girl, you need to be a vagabond who roams around the city with a bunch of completely useless friends. And fathers, who raise their daughters up with love, affection and care, become bumbling idiots and hand over their daughters to these good-for-nothings at the end of a stupid challenge.

Majili takes this trope further. Naga Chaitanya, in the movie, is like Arjun Reddy. He had a first love that he lost, so he gives up on his aim of becoming a cricketer, becomes an alcoholic instead and walks around town picking up fights and drinking himself to glory. He hates himself and everyone around. Samantha is the girl who loves him unconditionally since her teens and when she sees him in self-destruct mode, walks up to her father and tells him that she will either marry him or stay single.

Now, imagine you were her father. Here is your girl, the one who you brought up with all your attention, telling you that she will either marry the drunk, good-for-nothing guy who lives in the house opposite yours or she will stay with you. What would you do? I, for one, would very happily thank her for giving me the choice and keep her at home. She can work, study, go out with her friends and party the hell out of life and I would take care of her. In my head, I would also secretly hope that she will, in due course of time, see the truth of the matter, and fall in love with a nice sensible guy and settle down (because, like a friend’s father said, ‘Paddenimidi yella vayasulo pandi ki ponds powder vesinaa andangaaane kanipistundi’). But in the movie, Posani walks up to the boy’s Dad and tells him that he has no choice but to get his daughter married off to the drunk.

Now if you were the father of the drunk – what would you do? If I were there, I would talk some sense to my boy (or slap the shit out of him) for brooding about first love and destroying a promising career. Next, I would tell the girl’s dad that I have no intention of destroying a girl’s life and advise him not to do it too.

Now if I were the drunk, what would I do? I would keep on drinking and destroy my liver and meet with the Devdas ending – at least that would be the honorable thing to do (and the more pleasurable one too, think of all you could drink!). But here the drunk chooses to marry the girl (parental pressure y’all), then keeps her in a separate room and lives and drinks on her earnings. Can we have some applause all around please – thank you, thank you!

The other problem with Majili was that it could not decide what tone it wanted to take. The entire second half, where you are dealing with issues like an unconsummated, unhappy marriage, aging father seeing his son go to pieces, a teenage child suddenly being sent off with a stranger and discovering things about her mother, and adoption even, is dealt in a tragi-comic manner. Are we supposed to be smiling at how awkward the wife feels when her husband of a few years comes close to her. Are we supposed to be laughing when she admonishes her father-in-law for not taking his drunk son’s side? Are we supposed to be enjoying the false proximity that this couple displays for the sake of a teenage child who insists that they act as husband and wife if they want to adopt her? I was lost and in the finale, when Samantha decides to forgive Naga Chaitanya – I wanted to tell her not to – he ain’t worth a piece of your attention.

Overall, the movie was quite underwhelming and far removed from the blockbuster status it seems to have achieved. When I go back and read reviews that called it a sensitive portrayal of love or a sensible love story, I feel confused – either I don’t understand love or they don’t. Either which ways, my wait for a blockbuster/ sensible love story continues!

Madras to Chennai: The wave that got us here..

Chennai always had this strange appeal to me. Not just because it hosts my grandparents’ place or it was my summer vacation city, but also because it brought my textbooks to life. For instance, if we read about the oldest banyan tree in our school books, we got to see that in Adyar on our next visit for holidays. Or if you read about Mr. Cuddapah Rangaiah in history class, on your way to the railway station you casually see a Cuddapah Rangaiah Street to your left. The more you explore the city, the more it surprises you.

Chennai, as a city, started at the foundation stone laid by the British, near Parry’s corner, and rose to prominence engulfing the surrounding land. From being a colonial city to holding an important place in the Indian Independence movement, Chennai is a historical treasure trove. The Red & White buildings that we frequently see around have such important stories to tell. And it gives you a high in every instance you are around them.photo6188077739664320494

The pre city area of Chennai, broadly speaking, the land between Nellore & Cuddalore, was ruled as one kingdom with Kanchipuram as its capital. The temples standing tall even today, last as a testament to the culture and heritage of those times. The uncovering of the spice route, in the age of discovery, changed the face of this land.

The Portuguese, who first landed in Calicut in the 15th Century, eventually found their way to Mylapore in the Coromandel coast by the next Century. They built a port here, marking it for all the future explorers. The SanThome Church & the Luz Church built in this age were one of the first colonial structures in the city, but not necessarily in the same form that we see them today.

With the SanThome as the guiding center, towards the 17th century, almost all the major European powers established their presence in the Tamil Land. The Dutch East India Company that followed the Portuguese built forts to the north of Mylapore near Pulicat, and later to the south near Sadras. Further south of Cuddalore, near Tharagambadi (Tranquebar), the Danish Company built a fort Dansborg. And the French chose a place between these two near Pondicherry to build their fort, but all of them eventually lost their colonies to the British.

In the intervening period, the English East India Company, in the 17th century, after careful exploration, chose a sandy strip at Madraspattinam, the land between Pulicat and Portuguese settlements as the most favorable place to build a fort for trade; thus laying the stone for the City of Chennai & giving us our very first White building St. George Fort of the British Chennai. All these forts put on the map form the borders to the land between Nellore and Cuddalore neatly encompassing the city.

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With St. George Fort as the nucleus, the city rebuilt itself many times, each time expanding the city limits. The red hues from the Central Station or the High court and the white light from the Rippon building or the Higginbothams touch us from time to time when we are up and around the city. The colonial influences don’t just end here. It can be a street name or a school you see in the passing, that triggers something or makes you curious to know the stories behind it. The Lady Andal VenkataSubba Rao Matriculation School & the Ellen Sharma Memorial School are two names that get to me every time.

Towards the 18th century, British India formed the Madras Presidency which changed the lives of many people including my grandfather’s. In the early 20th century, as a young man when he needed to migrate from his birthplace Cocanada lands, in search of his livelihood, he chose the capital (Madras) and shifted to the city. For years, he worked at the Parry Company and made a home at the Luz Church Road-Mylapore. So I guess, it’s only natural for me to trace back the lines.

Anushka’s adda – through and through!

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The biggest measure of how scared an audience – at least for me – is how much people in the theatre titter and giggle even at the minutest of jokes. And if that yardstick is true, Bhaagmathie (I hope I got that numerological spelling right) was truly scary. People around me in Prasads were laughing out loud for the smallest of jokes or even things that were perceived as slightly funny. They kept screaming at Anushka to not go that way. And clapped their mouths in horror whenever she did something inexplicable. For the crowds that haven’t seen the ITs and the Conjurings of the world, Bhaagmathie provides decent enough scares.

Bhaagmathie is about Chanchala, I.A.S (Anushka), a sincere official who serves as a Personal Secretary to an equally sincere minister Eashwar Prasad (Jayaram). The government is out to trap him in some scam or the other and to this end, they target Chanchala, who is awaiting trial on a murder case. They shift her from jail to a remote bungalow in the middle of a forest so they can investigate her without a third person knowing about it. Chanchala proves a tough nut to crack and keeps the investigating officers frustrated. As the evenings approach though, she gets possessed by the spirit of Bhagamati, a queen who used to rule her kingdom from that very bungalow. Who is Bhagamati? Why does she choose to possess Chanchala? Did Chanchala really commit the murder she is accused of? Does the government manage to blot Eashwar Prasad’s spotless career? Bhaagmathie answers these questions in a barely there first half and an engrossing second half.

First things first, Bhaagmathie is Anushka all the way. She is absolutely spot on as the IAS officer who finds herself in a different situation. As Chanchala and as Bhagamati, she is absolutely terrific. She’s been there done that, but you will still come out awed about her every single time and that is her strength. Jayaram as the sincere minister, Unni Mukundan as the activist and lover boy, Mural Sharma as an ACP, Asha Sharath as a CBI officer and Dhanraj and Prabhas Sreenu as constables do justice to their roles.

The film’s strength is its technical department. The set laid out for the Bhagamati bungalow is brilliantly done, the background music is absolutely spot on and the photography is suitably claustrophobic and scare inducing. The film begins well, falls into the repetitive scare trap and has a bang on interval that will leave you spellbound. The second half has an interesting tempo for the most part, but once the story is revealed, you might feel slightly underwhelmed with the denoument. One dialogue from Anushka towards the end made it all worthwhile for me though – when someone asks her why she didn’t trust anyone, she says ‘Ee rojullo manushulani evaru nammutaaru… devullani, deyyaalani nammutaaru gaani’. How true and how sad a reflection on our times!

Not very ‘Intelligent’

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The British have their 007. The Americans have Ethan Hunt (not the same, but still). Indians have – Salman Bhai playing Tiger, (Ek tha Tiger, Tiger Zinda Hai). Indians also have Balakrishna, a RAW agent (Paisa Vasool), Shiva, an agent of the Intelligence Bureau (Spyder) and Jai, a DRDO Scientist (Jawaan).

After having endured about three-quarters of Jawaan a couple nights ago after which I gave up, I got chatting with a friend and thought about the asinine portrayals of our Intelligence Agencies in these movies. I look at the filmmakers and they are all young and in touch with the times (at least from their use of Social Media and the interviews they dole out before the release of the movie). What then compels them to have such poor understanding of how a top Intelligence Agency works? Sample these gems from each of these movies to understand what I’m lamenting about here – (Warning – LONG POST)

Tiger – the RAW chief, after he finds out that a group of Indian nurses have been kidnapped in Iraq, decides to fly to Washington to meet the CIA chief to persuade them to delay the bombing of Iraq. He then flies back to India to inform the minister that he has managed to get the US to agree that they would delay the bombing by a week. He then spends another day tracing Tiger and another 10 hours flying to Europe to meet up with Tiger. Ever heard of a phone, Genius? And the CIA chief takes decisions about when to launch airstrikes on Iran?
All the IS terrorists in Iraq resort to only hand-to-hand combat. They even wait for Bhai to pull a scarf of a clothesline, dip it in water and then patiently get hit in the face with said scarf. Ever heard of guns, dimwits? A scene in which Bhai and Bhabhi are in a car with terrorists in front of them and behind them goes on and on – showing the two wearing seatbelts, exhorting the kid in the back seat to wear his and then finally taking off on a ramp that is conveniently available – the terrorists only shoot their rocket launcher after the car takes off, conveniently bumping off their own vehicle at the other end of the street.
The RAW chief instructs his number one agent not to reveal himself and instead keep an eye on Tiger to see if the has ‘softened’ due to his marriage to a Pakistani agent. Why did you go to so much trouble to bring him back then? I could go on, but remember there are three other movies in the list.

Jawaan – oh where do I begin! The DRDO has developed a top-secret missile, one that can be carried across in a suitcase and has named it Octopus. The villains of course know about it already. Our Hero gets an inkling that someone is trying to get into the DRDO facility to steal something. He promptly takes a forged DRDO stamp, enters into the secure premises, overhears conversations about Project X and understands that this is important. He then sends out a Whatsapp forward saying DRDO is being shutdown and all true Indians should do a protest march to prevent it from being shutdown. A friend then asks his Dad if DRDO is being shutdown and the Dad tells him that they are far from being closed, they’ve just developed an ultra-secret missile called Octopus and that it will take DRDO to the next level. Said friend promptly calls Hero and tells him about this. Hero figures out that the missile will be taken to Delhi, figures out the route that the convoy will take (ever heard of air transport, numbskulls?) and then zeroes in on the spot where he thinks the attack will take place, shows up at the exact place and prevents the missile from being stolen. DRDO, upon learning that this guy illegally entered their premises, immediately offers him a job so he can now legitimately enter the same premises. And on Day One as a junior scientist, he is given the grand tour of Octopus, the supposedly top-secret project – ever heard of clearances, Donald Trumps?

Paisa Vasool – Nandamuri Balakrishna is a RAW Agent (I’m pretty sure I do not need to say more, but I will). Kyra Dutt gyrates suggestively in the title song, accompanies the hero with promises of a hot oil massage and a foam bath for a price and promptly pulls out a gun two scenes later claiming to be an Assistant Commissioner of Police. She is in direct touch with the chief of RAW, even has his number stored on her phone as CHIEF (in Caps, no less). She enlists Balakrishna (whose RAW identities are not yet revealed, at this point he is a drunken rowdy) to kill an international Don and tells the heroine to move closely with the hero so he can help her. So much for being an honest and upright officer.
Kabir Bedi, who plays the RAW chief is shot at inside his car in the RAW premises, not by a Sniper, but by someone who runs up to the car, pulls a door open, shoots and runs away. India’s premier spy network is surely in safe hands! Balayya’s interview consists of GK questions and opinions about the biggest spy agency in the world and a rabble rousing patriotic speech at the end of which the entire interview panel stands up and shouts Jai Hind. Ever heard of the word Research, Puri Jagannath?

Spyder – Mahesh Babu works for the Intelligence Bureau. His job is to listen to phone calls, pick out suspicious ones and send it upstairs for further inquiries. Our hero, however, is a genius. He plants his own software into the system and trains it to identify the words help or its equivalents and pick out those calls only. Fat intelligence the bureau has when one of their own has hacked into their system, planted a bug of his own and making it behave like he wants it to.
He has two superiors who come to know of his transgression and he manages to keep both of them quiet by talking about their retirement benefits. Both officers immediately back off – screw the nation, we don’t want to miss our retirement benefits. There is a special task force constituted, but all it takes is one statement from our hero that he wants to handle this on his own and the task force promptly backs off.

Yet again, I could go on and on ranting, but let me stop here. The one thing that beats me is how the heroes belonging to this generation like Mahesh Babu and Sai Dharam Tej can blindly agree to this stuff. Is the promise of a box-office success so blinding? Or do they take the audience to solely consist of fans who will lap up everything they do? And whatever goes on in the heads of these directors? Where do they dream up such stuff from? Pulp novels sold in bus stops have better plots (the Shadow series for example). I really hope they wake up and give us one good spy movie or just go back to sleep and tackle mass masala subjects. It is difficult to digest these half-baked intelligent thrillers now!

ఉత్తరం

సికింద్రాబాద్‌ రైల్వేస్టేషన్‌ పదో ప్లాట్‌ఫామ్‌పై ఆగిన గౌతమి ఎక్స్‌ప్రెస్‌ నుంచి దిగిన నేను క్యాబ్‌ కోసం బైటకి రాగానే నా చూపు అటువైపు పడింది.

ఏదో గోల, ప్లాట్‌ఫామ్‌పై ఉన్న కొంత మంది గుంపుగా చేరారు. ఏదో జరిగింది, దగ్గరకి వెళ్లి చూద్దాం అని అక్కడికి వెళ్లాను. ఆ దృశ్యం చూడగానే ఒకరకమైన ”షాక్‌” – 28 సంవత్సరాల యువతి స్పృహతప్పి పడి ఉంది. చుట్టూ మూగినవారు చూస్తున్నారేగాని ఎవరూ దగ్గరకు వెళ్లి ఆస్పత్రికి చేర్చే పని చేయడంలేదు.

యువతి బోర్లాపడి ఉండడంతో నేను వెళ్లి పక్కకు తిప్పి ఎత్తే ప్రయత్నంలో ఆమె మెహం కనపడింది. షాక్‌ – పడి ఉన్నది వాసంతి, నాకు పరిచయం ఉన్న యువతే. కాస్త చుట్టూ ఉన్నవారి సహాయంతో వాసంతిని క్యాబ్‌లో ఎక్కించుకుని నేనుండే అమీర్‌పేటలోని ఆస్పత్రికి తీసుకెళ్లాను. ఫస్ట్‌ఎయిడ్‌ చేసిన డాక్టర్లు బైటకి వచ్చారు.

“ఏమైంది డాక్టర్‌, ఏమిటి ఆమె పరిస్థితి?” అని అడిగాను.

“చూడండి మిస్టర్‌, మీ పేరు?”

“నా పేరు శ్రీకాంత్‌, నేను ఓ ప్రైవేట్‌ కాలేజీలో లెక్చరర్‌ని.”

“మిస్టర్‌ శ్రీకాంత్‌, ఆవిడ మీకు ఏమౌతారు?”

“షీ ఈజ్‌ మై ఫ్రెండ్‌ డాక్టర్‌.”

“చూడండి, ఆవిడ ఆత్మహత్య ప్రయత్నం చేశారు.”

నాకు మరోసారి షాక్‌, తేరుకోక ముందే డాక్టర్‌ చెప్పడం మొదలుపెట్టాడు. Continue reading