Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Trust Me Not - Ankita Verma Datta

Ankita Verma Datta's debut novel 'Trust Me Not' delivers what it promises - a riveting, fast paced political thriller - set in Mumbai. The novel begins in an advertising agency, a familiar setting for Ankita, who has been an ad professional for a decade. Among the other interesting things Ankita does are - curating antique Portugal houses in Goa, hobby breeding exotic Tibetan mastiffs and indulging herself in another love of hers, nature.
Jaico Books, 375 p, Rs. 450
Reeva Rai, the beautiful, spunky protagonist of the novel, is offered a high ranking position in a PR Agency, a spin off of the advertising firm she is part of. She has to handle the political campaign of a major political party JBP, whose top man, Rishi Uttur is on the verge of winning the upcoming elections. She also has to deal with the attractive and dashing Kunaal Kaabi who is rich, handsome, has many skills and businesses, and who is also part of the PR firm, helping the political party gain points with the electorate. On the other side is young Nihaal, the handsome Creative Director of the Advertising Firm and Shalini who has stepped in to help with the PR arm. If working in a high pressure and volatile political environment is tough, things get doubly tougher when two high profile businessmen Thapar and Jaiswal get involved in the game for their own interests. The stakes rise.

Reputation, power, money and real estate are at stake for the bigger players while the smaller pawns have to deal with simpler issues like plain surviving. Some are battling for their lives, some for their homes and some for their love. Equations are made and broken, professional players brought in to gain an advantage and no inch is given easily. There is media capitalising on the situation, NGOs at the forefront and diabolical schemes that go way beyond what might be obvious. Obviously everyone is not what they appear to be and we find several masks falling off, lives being sacrificed until a startling truth is revealed in the end. The pace really picks up as the book draws to a close.

I liked the fact that Ankita set the story in familiar territory - advertising, Mumbai, political arena. She easily and credibly creates a world of high profile, power hungry and rich lives and it is easy to visualise all the settings she sets her story in. There are several twists and turns in the story right till the very end and she leaves it deliciously open ended. The pace is fast, characters credible, setting believable. The book leaves several images in the mind much after you read the book and I as the reader certainly empathised enough with the main characters to root for them. A couple of issues (or rather, one), perhaps deliberately left open by the author, keeping the end she had devised in mind, bothered me, but they are not really relevant as the story ends, in a most unexpected manner.

'Trust Me Not' is a promising debut in an interesting genre, socio-political thrillers, one which Ankita says she will stick to, and one in which not many writers are comfortable. Ankita can write, and undoubtedly will get better and better as she writes more and more books. I would not be too surprised if someone picks up 'Trust Me Not' and makes a movie out of it - there is a lot of action and drama happening to interesting characters. Madhur Bhandarkar for one, whose name appears on the cover with a comment.   

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thought for the Day - There is Always Some Love in the Air

Like the picture says - there is always some love in the air.
You only have to look for it!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Weekend Cricket Lessons - Baig Sir's Birthday

Today we celebrated Baig sir's birthday. He must be well over 80 but has the same passion. He suddenly picked young Sandeep from the Under 12 kids and called him over to the older kids nets. 'Where did he learn to play like that?' he asked.

We cut the cake. He called me and gave me the first piece - very touching. All the kids enjoyed the cake, the chips and soft drinks. After Baig sir spoke, I spoke to the kids about what I learned from Baig sir.

I told them how I met Baig sir in 1982 when he came to coach us at All Saints High School. Though it was my first year at school cricket I played state and South zone Under 15 that year entirely thanks to Baig sir's coaching.

I told the kids that if they want to play higher cricket they have the most experienced coach in India with them. Someone who coached BCCI teams, the Under 19 India team and who had coached Ravi Shastri's famous Under 19 team of which almost 12 played for India later. He had coached over 200 Ranji Trophy players and 40 Test players and has been coaching for 50 years now.

But what sets him apart are these three qualities which I asked the kids to imbibe.

Discipline. I have never seen Baig sir late for a single session in the 35 years I have known him. How much ever I try to beat him, he is ahead of me. Almost the first at the ground. Not rain, not sun, not cold, nothing stops him. He is never shabbily dressed, always immaculately turned out. If they wish to go higher, they could learn this discipline, this punctuality.

Commitment. Baig sir still coaches well into his 80s and still as vigorously as he used to when I was in school in the 1982s. He will come at 630 int he morning and if he finds the players are showing some interest or the session is interesting, he will put away all thoughts of breakfast and lunch and keep on at the nets. I once saw him coach without a break from 630 to 3 in the afternoon with no breakfast just because he found the boys interest. If I tell him some boy wants to meet him and could he look at the boy, he will come without a second thought. And he is all the time trying to improve the state of the game, every hour, every minute. The nets are his temple and I have seen him on Ramzan's roza days, going through without a break. Even today, when I asked him if we should go out for breakfast he was like 'No, no, Aditya is here. Let me spend time with him. Let him bowl. We will waste half an hour.'

Learning mindset. Baig sir has this incredible capacity to learn. When I teach something in the mental side he listens carefully. He looks at my handouts and studies them. He comes to the workshops I do and sits and listens through them. So keen is his learning mindset that he will learn from anyone - even the youngest member if there is something to learn. He comes up with new techniques every time and does not teach the same old stuff. He improvises them. I have never seen him say 'I know' and shut out knowledge. He is always open.

To the boys then I told them that if they do not apply what he has taught them, they are not progressing beyond the same class. In which case they cannot be taught new things. It is not that he does not know - it is that they are not able to grasp and apply and show enough effort to move past the lesson. So if they wish to play higher grade cricket they are better off applying what he has taught them and getting ready fro newer lessons.

As always, he amazes me. 'The only reason I coach here is because of one man. A great man. My captain M.L. Jaisimha.'


Brute Force - Movie Review

It's a 1947 movie set in a jail bubbling over with unrest. A weak warden, a sadistic guard Munsey and an alcoholic philosophical doctor are holding the jail together tenuously. Cell R17, watches their mate Joe Collins return from solitary confinement after being unjustly punished by Munsey. There are orders from above that the warden must control the ship or else. The jail is about to explode.

Joe finds the informer who led to his solitary confinement and first arranges an accident which kills the informer. Next he plans a getaway. Meanwhile Munsey threatens another member of Cell R417 and forces him to commit suicide. Pressure mounts on the warden to quit. Munsey's ways get worse. As the inmates prepare for the big getaway, there is another leak. Munsey is waiting. Warden is sacked. Another inmate is beaten by Munsey to death. Joe is set on his path despite all warning.

There is a dialogue by the doctor who speaks his mind against Munsey and gets beaten up, perhaps in his drunken stupor. 'Not imagination. Not compassion (or something to that effect) Just brute force. Yes, brute force does make leaders it seems (he speaks with such contempt here). But remember, it also destroys.'.

The doctor always advocates softer measures against the inmates. In the end brute force meets brute force and claims many lives on both sides. The inmates of cell R17 share their stories - all of them are there for their women. They have a picture of a lady who is every man's woman.

Angry. Violent. Made with all the idealism and innocence of 1947. Burt Lancaster looms large as Joe Collins. Polishing off the old movies collection. They are the best human interest stories.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Stanley Kramer, Film Maker - Donald Spoto

Stanley Kramer can easily take that tag - Film Maker. His career in Hollywood spanned five decades - he is one of the top producers and directors with over forty films of high quality made during the period. He worked with some of the biggest names and gave some big names their breaks. The names include Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn Marlon Brando, Marlene Dietrich, Gregory Peck, Judy Garland, Sydney Poitier among others. Films include classics like "High Noon", "Judgment at Nuremberg", "Ship of Fools", "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" among others.
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 367 p, $ 6.95

What impresses one about this fine book is that Donald Spoto creates Stanley Kramer through his best films and worst films. Kramer's thoughts on each one of those, his beliefs and convictions, his ideas and weaknesses all come through. Coming from a tough neighbourhood in New York's Hell's Kitchen, Kramer worked his way up from menial jobs in the studios to actually producing them. His films had a strong social conscience, values and a willingness to take risks. One remark of his - "My grandfather once told me that friends are the most important thing in life. Nonsense. More important is believing in something and taking a stand on it.'

And stand he took by making movies about racism - he made four movies in all about black men and the prejudice they suffer including "Home of the Brave" and "Who is Coming to Dinner" when Hollywood practically banned the idea of making movies on such topics. He made movies about fixing in boxing and the downsides of it. After producing several he directed his later movies.

Donald Spoto's delightful commentary on 34 films with lots of pictures and comments by Kramer and others makes the book a lovely read. Especially after you have read some really bad biographies that are totally one-sided it comes like a breath of fresh air. I was lucky to read this rare book that Jayant gave me - You must read it, he said.

So the journey starts with "So This is New York" made in 1948. Then "Champion", "Home of the Brave", "The Men", "Cyrano de Bergerac", "Death of a Salesman", "My Six Convicts", "The Sniper", "High Noon", "The Happy Time", "The Four Poster", "Eight Iron Men", "The Member of the Wedding", "The Juggler", "The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T", "The Wild One", "The Caine Mutiny", "Not a Stranger" (which he directed), "The Pride and Passion", "The Defiant Ones", "On the Beach", "Inherit the Wind", "Judgment at Nuremberg", "Pressure Point", "A Child is Waiting", "Its a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World, "Invitation to a Gunfighter", "Ship of Fools", "Guess Who is Coming to Dinner", "The Secret of Santa Vittorio", "RPM", "Bless the Beast and Children", 'The Wild Ones", "Oklahoma Crude" and "The Domino Principle". An impressive list for the sheer variety and scope. I saw five of them.

Many of his movies were made from plays and some from books. Certainly, he made movies to make a difference and the themes he chose stand proof of that. "You try to get the best collaborators but then you have to give them their own range since they are also artists in their own right. You have the annoying responsibility of curtailing their impulses and even standing against them as you try to achieve the painting you want. It never turns out the way you have foreseen. It can be better but never exactly as you visualised,"

"I am primarily concerned with the disintegration of values in our whole society."

"If a film doesn't make money there is something fundamentally wrong with the project. Either it cost too much in the first place or made at the wrong time or marketed poorly."

Lovely. I am so glad I read this book. Thanks Jayant and Suhita.

Thought for the Day - To Be Mindful, To be Present Is to be Compassionate

To be mindful of what I do every moment brings in a quality of being that is compassionate. I cannot be mindful and violent, hurried or thoughtless at the same time.

It is a good way to do good work - in all senses of the word.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Thought for the Day - You Only Get What You Are Prepared For

I believe that we only experience or encounter things that we are prepared for. There is nothing that we experience or encounter that we cannot handle because I believe it just would not come into our experience if we were not ready or prepared to handle it.

Most times we look at difficulties in life and wonder -hey, I cannot handle this. But I believe now that it has come into our experience only because we can handle it and because it will move us up the learning ladder. It helps to know that we are equipped to handle it. That awareness will give us a gap, a moment of calmness to engage with it head on. Not hope that something will happen to it and it will either resolve itself or go away.

To look at the big problems and difficulties then - and know that they have come as a test to graduate you into the next class - and to deal with it as only you can, is the way forward. Deal you can. Now engage.