May 29, 2014

Mad Men: Thoughts on the mid-season finale

A new post! I know the fans (both of you!) are crying out, "Tiger Shroff! Make fun of Tiger Shroff!", and to that I say... in a bit. 

Let's depart from usual programming today, to discuss Mad Men. Specifically, the mid-season finale of Mad Men that was so gobsmackingly good that I can't not write about it (and I also don't know anyone who wants to talk about it).

(This post is full of spoilers, so if you intend to watch it, quit reading.)

The series, set in a 1960s advertising agency, has always been about so much more than the advertising. Recurrent and tangential themes include self-awareness, feminism, race, depression, conformity, greed, marriage, change (and how it affects us), violence, homosexuality, changing perceptions, death, and completely random events (for want of a better expression).

The only pattern you can possibly see in each season is that there's usually a death, a gruesome accident (Ginsberg this year, dear God), an affair of some kind and the highlight of whichever year the season is based in (JFK's assassination, the counterculture movement, and most recently, the moon landing.)

Almost every season so far has ended on a somewhat cliffhanger note. But now that the makers have decided to split the last season into 2, one in 2014 and one in 2015 (I hope they rot in hell), it was almost surprising how the mid-season finale could even actually be... a finale. Things ended on a positive, almost unreal note on a show which is known for rather unsettling finales to each season.

And that's why, it's not so bad to wait another year. Next year is largely going to be about tying up loose ends. Maybe no one will even die next year. Actually, maybe Megan will die next year and the fans will finally get the long-awaited Charles Manson reference.

In the meanwhile, major props to:

Don Draper - Who managed to go a whole season (okay, half-season) without alcoholism or an affair. Must've been tough. Well, except for that hilarious moment where his secretary tried to put the moves on him when she thought he was "so vulnerable". But then, can anyone really blame her, given he looks like this:
Much handsome. Such smart. Many intense. Waow. 

Pete Campbell - With every passing season, he manages to look more and more like a schoolboy and a villain; but he did get some of the most memorable lines this season. Always fun to watch him spit out words in a rage ("Marriage is a racket!"), always fun to watch him go after women who tell him, soon enough, to GTFO.

Betty Draper - As she becomes more and more the frustrated housewife and fading beauty queen, you can't help but sympathize. Sure she's evil, but she's evil in a fun way. (Nothing beats the episode with the pigeons, though.)

Joan Holloway - Whose decision-making abilities are finally improving.

Bert Cooper - Who will be missed, but not for long I think. The character had run his course.

Bob Benson - How can someone simultaneously be so positive and so creepy?

Jim Cutler - Who is just getting everyone's flak, but really seems like a straight-talking mercenary (and there are worse things than that). His volte-face on the McCann deal is hilariously typical ("It's a lot of money.")

Ted Chaough - Another character who has now been rendered obsolete by where the story is going.

Peggy Olson - Who's finally beginning to get her own. But not without a "having-it-all" crisis.

Megan - The moment had passed with Zou Bisou Bisou and is not coming back. The breakdown of their marriage lasted 7 episodes, and I'm just glad it didn't take longer.

Sally Draper - From a fairly peripheral character, she's now one of the highlights, simply because she has begun to embody the best and the worst of each of her parents.

And finally, Roger Sterling - Easily the most likeable character on the show, because he's basically a hippie in a suit. From finding out that his daughter has defected to a commune, to dealing with his oldest friend's death, to bribing Harry in this hilarious scene just to change his office, to strange orgies in his apartment, to trying LSD with his wife, to... "And he'd just gotten it in the door". Eternal slacker-off who has a way of coming through when (and only when) he is really needed to.
Roger: I'm about to do some awesome shit.
Don: Sure. It'll save my ass but I will not thank you.

March 09, 2014

What would you do if there was no social media?

Would you go skydiving if you couldn't put up the pictures? Heck, would you go if there were no pictures?

Would you read as many articles online as you do, if you couldn't link to them and spread the word?

How about the clothes you buy, haircuts you get, makeup you wear, places you go to? Still as many, if there were no profile pictures to be gotten out of them?

Do statistics (in everything from Ruzzle to running) matter as much if you can't tell the world?

Would you get married if there could be no pre-wedding photo shoot, no live Instagrammed pictures from besties wishing you happiness, no professionally shot video with a slow background track and lots of DSLR-type focusing and unfocusing on colors and fabrics and lights? Sure maybe you would, but on a smaller scale?

Where does it begin? Where does it end? 

On Comedy

I've recently been informed that a show named Comedy Nights with Kapil is the highest rated television show on Indian television right now. I'm also assured by various people that he is hilarious. Now I haven't seen much of the show (maybe 4-5 episodes) but I hope for the sake of our country that he was having a rough day on those, because as far as I can tell, all the show consists of is:
 - Men wearing women's clothes (and since that is funny by default, not bothering to do any standup whatsoever)
 - People hitting each other and magically falling to the ground 
 - A really confusing Delhi accent
 - Something called 'babaji ka thullu' which could be anything from the finger to something even more obscene, no one knows. 
 - Getting celebrities to participate in this (and man, they do love it)

Which gets you thinking about the state of Indian comedy. I mean, look at it. It has provided a secure retirement to Navjot Singh Siddhu and Shekhar Suman, replaced all the weekend prime time slots for movies and provided consistent employment to the same actors competing every year (or six months) in the Comedy Challenge (Laughter Challenge? The one where Archana Puran Singh laughs.) Most of it relies on repetitive cross-dressing and slapstick, and the rest on innuendo that just about makes it past the censor board - though given how the I&B ministry seems to be on the verge of beeping out "damn" and "girl", it wouldn't hurt if they focused on Hindi television a bit more and left the English alone for some time. 

We're of course far from a day when there can be a Seinfeld for Indian viewers. But would it be so difficult to have a Modern Family Hindi equivalent? Think about it. 3 families, several kids, lots of drama - that's the template for most Hindi shows right now anyway. The issue really isn't even that the audience is stupid - the issue is that the writers seem to be unable to envisage a world wherein audiences could laugh at something other than a man dressed as Kapil's grandmother hitting on male actors. Or not having a laugh track / studio audience that's high on something.

Remember Mahi Way? No you don't, because it was discontinued. Remember Star One? Sure, because at some point they just started airing all the programming that Star Plus wouldn't. Remember, for God's sake, even Shrimaan Shrimati? It really wasn't so bad. 

And honestly, now there are wedding videos on my Facebook timeline (all the frikkin' time) with better production values than Hindi television shows (but with the small issue that they take songs I like and make them the background of a couple I barely know, getting really handsy, and that's just disturbing). What went wrong? 

So, dear reader, if you feel compelled to watch it, here's a list of other things you could consider watching:
1. Any David Dhawan movie (I'm not even going to mention Our Beloved and Most Loved Govinda and Comedy Nights in the same breath, but all I'm going to say is that any David Dhawan movie is funnier. Even the ones with Salman Khan.)
2. Arnab Goswami on Times Now
3. Anyone on India TV
4. KRK's Youtube reviews
5. Bigg Boss, Indian Idol, Roadies! Any reality show that delicately balances that seriousness of random *tasks* with the utter hare-brained-ness of the participants.

Go now, run along and spread the word. 

November 18, 2013

Ram-Leela: in Bhansalicolor at a theater near you

Quick, how do you know something is a Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie? Any of the below:
1. 30 colours per frame, of which about 15 are different shades of red.
2. Someone has to scream out the hero's name, again and again and again.
3. Neither lead actor has a profession of any kind, and yet, no one is poor.

I had to search very hard to find a poster where I didn't have to look at Ranveer Singh's bare torso, so this is what I have. Sorry. 

Watch Ram-Leela (sorry, 'Goliyon Ki Raasleela... Ram-Leela', a throwback to that hilarious sequence in Delhi Belly where Anusha says... "I hate you... like I love you... like I love you in brackets"). Know, once and for all, that nothing good can come of casting Ranveer Singh and all his abs (I mean it, literally all his abs, down to the last one) in a movie.

But let's not blame this on Ranveer Singh alone. Sanjay Leela Bhansali has a rich history of extracting excruciating performances for fairly passable actors (Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, that man who played Chunnilal in the travesty named Devdas and is now relegated to playing Aamir Khan's father [wtf?], and many others).

The story is about 2 youngsters who fall in love (lust? hard to tell with the amount of facial hair Ranveer Singh has) with each other in the space of about 5 minutes and then waste about 2.5 hours of your day in trying to get with each other. Simply put, as an audience member, it becomes extremely difficult to give a flying you-know-what about the trials and tribulations of brats who have no human angle except really, really, wanting to be with each other.
I am a Hansa, and that's a Ranveer, no clothes as usual.

Why are they having a tough time? Because their families hate each other and are constantly at war (guns blazing). Who else is in the movie? There's Supriya Pathak, looking like this for no reason - and still being the best thing in the movie. There's Richa Chadda, mostly wasted. Abhimanyu Singh, who dies early on and another guy who looks just like him and therefore dies soon after (to save you the confusion).

As one song melts into dramatic crisis scene melts into another song, over and over, you begin to reflect on life, its meaning, and the money you paid to watch this, which is never coming back to you.

You begin to wonder if these two trigger-happy people who live in an unreal world somewhere between Gujarat and La-la-land will ever just stop pointing their guns at each other and take some time off from being ridiculously stupid? You wonder how Holi and Navratri can fall in the same month, just as you wonder how you can be shot one day and start walking like nothing happened, 3 days later.

You wonder why SLB can't seem to get enough of this obsession with actresses, with lamps, and with actresses holding lamps and dancing about. You wonder why Ranveer Singh doesn't ever reach a point of being fully clothed. You wonder what exactly Priyanka Chopra is doing with her career.

And while you're willing to give him the artistic licence to put peacocks (or a reference to them) in every fifth frame, you begin to wonder if there's a need to freeze to slow-mo every time:
a) someone's foot lands on the ground
b) drops of water fly
c) a bottle breaks (and believe me, about 68 bottles of varying colours break, in the course of the movie)

In fact, if you remove the bottle breaking, pointless dancing and superfluous (if not all) gun-firing from this 2.5 hour movie, you'd be left with about 1 hour of fairly tolerable footage. Unfortunately though you will have no such luck.

After sitting through Devdas, I'd begun to believe that he could only improve from that. Guzaarish felt like 10 steps forward from all his previous movies... but Ram-Leela is about 20 steps back.

At the end of the day, of course, it's all subjective.
Like films about violence in the hinterland? Watch Gangs of Wasseypur.
Like musicals and love stories? Watch any Bollywood movie.
Like Deepika Padukone, hell, there's about 10 fairly tolerable films from the recent past that you can watch.
If you like Ranveer Singh... you have my sympathies. This too shall pass.
If, however, you've heard of all the hype surrounding the amazingly creative mind of Sanjay Bhansali and you believe that there exists a world in an Indian village where 2 mob bosses can shake hands, click a selfie and say "Twitter pe jaayega"... you really, really should watch Goliyon ki Raasleela (Ram-Leela)... Ram-Leela brackets mein.

(I'm kidding. It's not actually in brackets. Should've been, though.)