The Zesty Tales of Tenali Rama

A review of The Court Jester, a play directed by Amjad Prawej

Childhood memories fade away seldom.  They live buried deeply under a bundle of unexpressed emotions, pointless worries, long-term ambitions, short-term goals and a lot of other hazy aspirations and unnecessary expectations.

They are like wonderfully sweet reveries. They are like butterflies and gardens. They are like small joys in a sea of miseries. They are like fantasies and fairy tales.

The Court Jester, a play directed by Amjad Prawej will remind you of all of it.

And It will tell you colourful and witty tales of Tenali Rama and take you back to your childhood memories.

Yes, Tenali Rama, the scholar, the poet and, the clown a.k.a the court jester.

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Produced by one of city’s oldest and well-known theatre group, Bangalore Little Theatre, The Court Jester is an unpretentious, smooth, fun-filled play. The performers take turns to portray the various prominent characters such as King, Tenali Rama and his wife, The priest and the soldiers, reminiscent in the kingdom of Krishna Deva Raya.

All the five artists – Naveen Tater, Aditye Nair, Roopa Rayappa, Minti Jain and Sarvajna Acharya – never let once the audience forget the brilliance and the wit of Tenali Rama. They become the raconteurs from the Vijayanagara kingdom, the carriers of the legend, and the presenters of the past. They also turn themselves into props – umbrellas, swords, masks, and vibrant satin cloth. These props sometimes, become artists.

The play is cleverly crafted – true to its theme and subject.

The Court Jester

The director Amjad romances the folklore in a somewhat sophisticated and modern street theatre fashion.

Amjad skilfully executes the somewhat formidable task of attempting a street play in an urban setting (at the Orion Mall in Rajaji Nagar) and succeeds in enthralling the audience – even makes them shout – “Tenaaaaaliraaaamaaa” –   in chorus.

He even adds the musicians to the mythical milieu.  You can hear the magical Djembe rhythms (West African drum beats) played by Preetam Casimir and Aruna Manjunathan in the entire 70 minutes of the performance.

Watch the preview here.

The Court Jester takes you inside the mind of the brilliant scholar. It takes you to the streets of the Vijaynagara Empire. It takes you to the courtroom, and it takes you inside the mind of the undoubted wizard, Tenali Rama.

He even introduces you to the trivialities and the frivolities of the common man, Tenali Rama.

There’s never a dull moment in the play. The stories are chosen astutely. Be it the tale of Tenali Rama and the thousand gold coins, or the story of Tenali Rama and Cat where he makes the king realize his duty towards his people or the tale where he mistakes King’s soldiers to be thieves, there’s a life lesson in every story.

These are principles that are relevant even today. Amjad’s The Court Jester reiterates the morals and the values through the tales of Tenali Rama’s zest and wisdom and his unreserved sense of humour reminds us not to take life too seriously.

So go watch the folklores of mischievous children and clever men. Experience and learn from the stories of a wise man from the kingdom of Krishnadevaraya, the emperor of the Vijaynagara Empire.

There’s something for everyone in Amjad’s The Court Jester. Come along on the 23th of March at 5 pm. The venue is Green Arch, Woodlands Hotel on Richmond Circle – and bring your funny bone along.

Promise, it will tickle.

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– Written by Shubhra Rishi

Hathapayi – A sneak peek

The first mixed martial arts movie in India.

If I were a mad martial arts movie geek, which I am, and if someone asked me to create a Venn diagram representing all my favourite movies, it would be an intersection of three movies. I’d put Enter the Dragon in one circle, Fight Club in another and probably, Kill Bill in the third, and the union of all these circles would give me a cluster of cult followers of Mixed Martial Arts and a lot of Bruce Lee fan boys and girls.

Watch the trailer here:

Now that I have your attention, what if I were to break this news to all you karate kids that there’s an Indian first time producer duo that dares to make a movie to pioneer a new genre of reality action and early promo promises to shock you, make you sit up and straight and watch in awe and delight.

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The talented couple, Hon. Major Deepak Rao (Director) is a pioneer of Modern Commando Training and his wife, Dr. Seema Rao who is also the Producer of the movie is India’s first woman commando instructor. Not only are  they trained combat specialists, but they also seem to be true blue Enter the Dragon fans since they are calling their first ever production in India, Hathapayi – Enter the MMA.

No, you won’t see stunt men perform action-pack, killer sequences for dolled-up, chiseled and over-dramatic Khans or Kumars of the world, but you will be punch-drunk on some hard-core action stuff. Whether its blood spurting in slow motion, tough blows across the face, you will see real men and women hurting and kicking and falling – on screen.

All the actors were chosen from a national talent hunt and were later trained in acting as well as advanced martial arts in different parts of the world.  The lead actor of the movie is 22-year old Kayra Komal, who is a black belt in a unique martial arts system Jeet Kune Do (JKD)  founded by Bruce Lee.

As the grapevine goes, Director Ram Gopal Varma approached the Raos for technical expertise for him movie on Bruce Lee. He spotted the now lead actor of Hathapayi, Kayra, and offered her a role in his film which she declined. And the result is for all to see.

This is an Indian movie probably combining all the cults of marital arts in the world. Aren’t you excited? We definitely are..

Now if Bruce Lee were a woman, there would definitely be Hathapayi…

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To find out more about this movie, watch out for this space.

To browse their Youtube channelhttp://www.youtube.com/user/hathapayithemovie?feature=watch

Written by Shubhra Rishi

In Memory Of Harold Ramis and Philip Seymour Hoffman

I have a dirty habit. Although I love movies, I keep them waiting. They may lie for months, even years, in my hard drive, but I always find something to distract me away from them. There were two movies I’ve always wanted to watch for a long time, but I kept postponing it.

And then Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away. One of the best actors of this generation. The wise man of Almost Famous, the controller of The Master, the gamesman of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the Mattress Man of Punch-Drunk Love, and he was gone. A few weeks later, Harold Ramis passed away. No more crossing the streams. And I realised I’d hardly watched any of his other films.

Two nights ago, I decided to set everything aside and pay them a visit.

I first watched Groundhog Day. I knew the concept of the film; I’d also seen it play out in front of me in Source Code.  And it’s difficult to keep it interesting in such a way that you never tire of it. And might I say Bill Murray sells the charm – whether it be his genuine assholic self or his latter sweetness, but what gorgeous writing that film is. Ramis’ direction isn’t showy, and his writing is simple. And the comedy is great. I read recently that you can judge the greatness of a film by how much it spawned imitators. Groundhog Day would be right up there and one reason why it is because of Harold Ramis.

Egon Spengler

I couldn’t talk about Ramis and not write a little about Ghostbusters. I saw both the movies back-to-back when I was 8 or 9. And I don’t think I got much of the humour then. But the person I recalled most after that (besides the Gatekeeper and Keymaster) was Ramis’ Egon Spengler. Always tweaking and working while everyone around him were busy wisecracking away, his oddity stood out. As the writer of the film too, he may have given the best lines to Murray’s Venkman, but you knew that the one Venkman would be paying attention to, and you would have to as well, was Spengler. When he warned against crossing the streams, you made sure you never did. And when he did tell you to do it, you’d wonder why but still go along with it. Spengler’s fearlessness in the face of death is probably how I think Ramis must have been right in the end of his own life too.

From her introduction as the strict Mother Superior, Meryl Streep dominates most of Doubt. It’s a strong performance and it’s difficult for anyone to match up to it. Thankfully then, for Philip Seymour Hoffman. Playing the priest going up against her, he brings everything to the table. He’s a character who may or may not have done something wrong, and it’s easy to play the role with a poker face.

Hoffman has a hypnotic voice. His delivery of soliloquys was unmatched. When he delivers the homily about gossip in the film, you can’t take your eyes off him, you can’t take your ears away from what he says. He holds you in a trance, and when he talks about feathers over Roger Deakins’ shot of feathers blowing in the wind, you can’t help but be awed and even overwhelmed.

Fr. Flynn

Greater even, is the final confrontation between Hoffman and Streep. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object. And yet, when Hoffman has to rein himself in, he does it expertly. His final scene as he says goodbye to his parishioners is even more heartbreaking. Throughout the movie, we’re sold the idea that he’s guilty, and with these two scenes, Hoffman brings us on his side. Is he innocent? We don’t know. But man, does he sell it!

Two great people, lost in a month. Rest in peace, Harold Ramis and Philip Seymour Hoffman. You’ll always be remembered and your films, always cherished.

Written by Runcil Rebello.

Cut! – Thoughts on Kai Po Che

When you make a movie about friends, you add a lot of moments to it. Abhishek Kapoor’s earlier production Rock On! had them. It was a well-constructed plot discussing each character sincerely and completely before even getting all of them together in one screen. Let’s excuse Aryan, his 2006 inept blow job. But his recent Kai Po Che, which according to several other reviewers is 2013’s best film, an ode to true friendship or even a well-crafted mass entertainer.

For me, it’s none of the above.

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First, the beginning is vague. It’s even boring.

Secondly, be it Dil Chahta Hai, Three Idiots or the Indian version of Hangover, for Indian directors, the three-friends-recipe has become gastronomically fashionable. In Kai Po Che! as well, no surprises, there are three friends, Govind (Raj Kumar Yadav), Ishaan (Sushant Singh Rajput) and Omi (Amit Sadh). Their stories are shot in the backdrop of a city like Ahmedabad, a city where the chinfest of cricket, politics and business run hand-in-hand. It’s easy to create a tale about three friends embroiled in this milieu. The familiarity of the history of Gujarat creates a flavor but does not leave a remarkable after-taste.

But what makes the plot’s slightly delectable is its itsy-bitsy Gujarati sweetness, in parts, its actors and beautiful locations and music.

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The actors’ use of the local language adds to the local seasoning and a tang of blasphemous humor. Their inexperience in the reel world hardly shows. Performances by Raj Kumar Yadav and Amrita Puri (Vidya), Ishaan’s sister in the movie adaptation are note-worthy. Sushant Singh Rajput probably needs to work a bit more on his diction. He still mumbles, much like in his Pavitra Rishta  days.  In every frame, the beauty of places such as Porbandar, Sabarmati, Vadnagar and Diu is well-defined, elaborate and exquisite. Amit Trivedi’s Manja and Meethi Boliyan yet again do not fail to impress.

What fails to impress is the sheer absence of those moments.

Written by Shubhra Rishi.

The Year In Review – Hindi Cinema (2012)

2012 was (by its usual standards) a very good year for Hindi cinema. Yes, we saw the usual masala films hitting the 100 cr mark, but we did see other cinema receive recognition too, and not just from critics, but audiences as well. Here we try to lay down our 5 favourite Hindi movies of 2012, scenes, songs and what you should be looking forward to in 2013.

Favourite films (in reverse order)

5. Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu

Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu

Finally, an Indian rom-com that did not make me cringe. Bonus points for the end.

4. Paan Singh Tomar

Paan Singh Tomar

An extraordinary (real-life) story told very well. And Irrfan, one of our best actors.

3. Barfi!

Barfi!

May have lifted scenes but its sum was greater than its parts.

2. Supermen of Malegaon

Supermen of Malegaon

Okay, I cheated. This is a documentary. But you’ll laugh, and laugh, and ponder, and laugh again while watching the people from Malegaon creating their famous parodies. The whole film is available online here.

1. Talaash

Talaash

The film got a lot of stick for the twist, and it was promoted wrongly too – as a thriller. But watch the film knowing it’s about grief, and perhaps even knowing the twist, and this film turns out to be something else. My Hindi film for this year.

Before we move on to my favourite songs of the year, the composer of the year goes to Amit Trivedi (Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu, Ishaqzaade, English Vinglish, Aiyya, Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana as well as Trishna and the best episode in Coke Studio India Season 2). Runner up: Sneha Khanwalkar for Gangs of Wasseypur.

Might I add the best background score in a movie this year was by Abhishek Ray and Sandeep Chowta for Paan Singh Tomar.

Favourite Hindi songs (in reverse order)

6. Auntyji (Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu)

Composer: Amit Trivedi; Lyricist: Amitabh Bhattacharya; Singer: Ash King

5. Ala Barfi! (Barfi!)

Composer: Pritam; Lyricist: Swanand Kirkire; Singer: Mohit Chauhan

4. Laakh Duniya Kahe (Talaash)

Composer: Ram Sampath; Lyricist: Javed Akhtar; Singer: Ram Sampath

3. Jiya Ho Bihar Ke Lala (Gangs of Wasseypur)

Composer: Sneha Khanwalkar; Lyricist: Varun Grover; Singer: Manoj Tiwari

2. Motorwada (Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana)

Composer: Amit Trivedi; Lyricist: Shelley; Singers: Tochi Raina, Amit Trivedi

1. Aafaton Ke Parinde (Ishaqzaade)

Composer: Amit Trivedi; Lyricist: Kausar Munir; Singers: Suraj Jagan, Divya Kumar

Favourite scenes of 2012 (in reverse order)

Have tried to provide clips as much as possible.

6. The Dinner Table sequence (Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu)

One of the best written scenes of the film (and the year).

5. “I love gandagi.” (Supermen of Malegaon)

One of the writers of the film Malegaon ka Superman comes up with a classy entry with a fitting monologue for the Lex Luthor-esque villain of the film – Ding Dong Ding – who is the owner of a tobacco company and loves filth.

4. The Bengali and Punjabi parents visit each others’ homes. (Vicky Donor)

Our cultural biases can be a lot of fun, especially when shown in such a hilarious manner. What Chetan Bhagat tried to show in one entire book called Two States was shown here in two smartly-written, short scenes. Here’s a (very) short clipping.

3. “Parmissan” (Gangs of Wasseypur)

Hands down, the most hilarious scene this year!

2. The Underwater Sequence (Talaash)

Beautiful cinematography aside, (and avoiding spoilers), this scene was just surreal.

1. Raabta (Agent Vinod)

Not a good film, not a bad film. But was it technically sound! For instance, this one take shot for the song Raabta.

Films to look ahead to in 2013 – In no particular order.

1. Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola

Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola

Director: Vishal Bhardwaj; Actors: Imran Khan, Pankaj Kapur, Anushka Sharma

2. Lootera

Lootera

Director: Vikramaditya Motwane; Actors: Ranveer Singh, Sonakshi Sinha

3. David

David

Director: Bejoy Nambiar; Actors: Vikram, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Vinay Virmani, Tabu, Lara Dutta, Isha Sharvani

4. Kai Po Che!

Kai Po Che!

Director: Abhishek Kapoor; Actors: Sushant Singh Rajput, Rajkumar Yadav, Amit Sadh

5. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

Director: Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra; Actors: Farhan Akhtar, Sonam Kapoor

6. Ghanchakkar

Director: Rajkumar Gupta; Actors: Emraan Hashmi, Vidya Balan

7. Dhoom 3 (in IMAX)

Director: Vijay Krishna Acharya; Actors: Aamir Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Uday Chopra, Jackie Shroff, Katrina Kaif

8. Gunday

Gunday

Director: Ali Abbas Zafar; Actors: Priyanka Chopra, Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor, Irrfan Khan

9. Chennai Express

Chennai Express

Director: Rohit Shetty; Actors: Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone

10. Peekay

Director: Rajkumar Hirani; Actors: Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma

Innocence, Lost

Shala (School) begins with a quote by Jim Morrison: “I am free.” In my mind, a film could not go wrong from there.

Shala, a Marathi film directed by debutant Sujay Dahake, and adapted from the novel by Milind Bokil, is a film that will take you back to your school days, making you relive your moments of friendship, love: lost and won, freedom and growing up.

The story takes place within the backdrop of the Emergency in a rural Maharashtrian town. Mukund Joshi (Anshuman Joshi) and Surya Mhatre (Ketan Pawar) are best friends in the 9th standard. Teachers stress on studying well as they would soon be appearing for their Board Exams. But as in wont with children of that age, Mukund and Surya have other plans. Surya likes Kevada (Mukta Vaidya) who never returns his affection, while Mukund falls for Shirodkar (Ketaki Mategaonkar) who too likes him.

What happens next is ably summed up by the John Lennon quote that Mukund’s maternal uncle Narumama (Jitendra Joshi) imparts to him: Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Such poignant stories like in Shala are a rarity in Indian cinema. The storytelling is crisp, the direction assured, although it is Dahake’s debut. The film is not all-sweet. There is a serious undertone throughout, with the Emergency and a suicide being thrown in the picture too. But the story never diverts from the crux that is Mukund’s life and his growing-up. It reminds you of To Kill A Mockingbird which took a serious issue like racism and told it from a child’s point of view.

All the child actors are perfect in their roles. Each stereotype is present here. The science geek, the bully friend, the gossip mongers, the lovebirds, the class-traitor, but the magic lies in how Dahake and his writer Avinash Deshpande takes these outlines of seemingly familiar characters and make us want to go to school with them. He would not have succeeded if the child actors weren’t so good. They were also helped by the senior actors especially Nandu Madhav who plays Mukund’s father and Santosh Juvekar who plays the History professor.

The camera is a silent spectator, helping us grab each nuance of childish mischief and innocent longing among the ‘actors’. At the same time, I had a little problem with the clarity during the establishing shots of the town; which could have been due to the screen I watched the film at. Otherwise, Diego Romero’s cinematography was some of the best seen in recent times. The score by Alokananda Dasgupta deserves a worthy mention here for its subtle, sublime effect. And yes, do not miss the opening credits: a fully animated section based on the Belgian ligne-claire method of animation.

When Shala ended, what I felt was something that I could compare only to what I felt after watching Udaan. Quite a coincidence because Udaan too featured a Jim Morrison lyric from The Doors song Break On Through: “You know the day destroys the night, the night divides the day. Try to run, try to hide; break on through to the other side.” And I couldn’t help thinking how Mukund too, at the end of the film, has to now cross over to the other side, the side of adulthood, sometimes harsh and, yet, inevitable.

Written by Runcil Rebello.

My Musical Discoveries of 2011

Personally, 2011 has been a disappointing year for me with respect to the music. I have reached the end listening to a lot of new stuff, but my ‘favourites’ list is mostly still the same as that from the end of 2010. Of course, there are a few additions, but they are not necessarily from the year 2011. May of the songs which I can now add to my ‘favourites’ list are old ones. But there were a few great musical pieces from this year too, (key word: few) which I will outline here.

From the year 2011:

1. Alex Turner’s soundtrack for the film Submarine – I don’t like Arctic Monkey‘s music. It just never hit me at the start, neither did it grow on me. It was, hence, a surprise when I watched Submarine and liked the music so much. He uses minimal instrumentation in creating a 6-track soundtrack which I know should get recognition, but which I know will not. Standout tracks include Stuck On A Puzzle (featured below), Glass In The Park. Actually, everything. (P.S.: Watch the film too.)

2. Red Hot Chili PeppersI’m With You – Come on! Knowing that I am a RHCP fan, did you guess this album wouldn’t be on this list? I know it wasn’t as strong as By The Way or Stadium Arcadium; I know Frusciante’s riffs were sorely missed. But the Chilis, with this album, finally grew into a unit where I could see an equal contribution from all. Chad Smith never sounded better on the drums, Flea was in immaculate form with his bass, Kiedis’ vocals took a turn for the better (and his songwriting too, for that matter), and new guitarist Klinghoffer isn’t as bad as everyone makes him out to be. Listen to the songs clearly, that guy has great potential. Standout tracks: Brendan’s Death Song (featured below), Did I Let You Know, Factory Of Faith, Police Station & Even You, Brutus?

3. Rihanna – Now I’m not much into Rihanna’s music. I liked Umbrella and Russian Roulette, and I can listen to the others, but that’s about it. This year, she appeared in two songs I liked. The first is her own We Found Love in which she had some help from Calvin Harris in creating a lovely dance number. The second song is one in which she’s featured: Coldplay’s Princess Of China (featured below). Most Coldplay fans hated the song; they hated their new album too. But I think Princess Of China was a nice little experimentation by Coldplay that went right; Rihanna’s vocals were the cherry on the cake.
P.S.: Coldplay’s Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall is a nice song too.

4. The Dewarists – When Indian music is finally on the world map majorly in a few years (and it isn’t far away), 2011 will be seen as a turning point for us. MTV put the music back in their channel name with Indian versions of famous shows like Unplugged, Coke Studio and Roots. But it was The Dewarists that took everyone by storm. From featuring famous international artists to well-known Indian ones and lesser known ones too, The Dewarists managed to cover so many genres. Rock, hip-hop, dance, electro, Bollywood; you name it, they had it. Standout tracks included Papon and Rabbi’s Khule Da Rabb (featured below), Zeb & Haniya, Swanand Kirkire & Shantanu Moitra’s Kya Khayaal Hain, Midival Punditz & Humble The Poet featuring Monica Dogra’s No I.D. Required.

5. Adele – Frankly Rolling In The Deep is a 2010 song, and I really think her earlier song Chasing Pavements is better than Someone Like You.

6. Hindi Film music – Amit Trivedi really is the reliable Hindi film composer. His work for No One Killed Jessica and in I AM (featured below: Baangur from I Am) stood out. Shaitan and Delhi Belly ran through genres and gave us some eclectic music. Rahman in Rockstar showed us why he’s the best in town. But other than these, there was hardly anything to rejoice about.

7. Others – A few other brilliant tracks that I heard. The DecemberistsDown By The Water, I4U & U4Me and This Is Why We Fight, Fleet FoxesHelplessness Blues, Bombay Bicycle Club‘s Shuffle and Lights Out, Words Gone, Pentagram‘s Lovedrug Climbdown (lovely video too), PJ Harvey’s The Words That Maketh Murder, Middle Brother‘s Someday, Typhoon‘s The Honest Truth.

Three songs that make it to my favourites playlist from years before 2011 are:

1. OasisLive Forever – If I had to make a list called ‘Songs I Wish I’d Written’, this song would top. Such a happy, hopeful, carefree song.

“We’ll see things they’ll never see. You and I are gonna live forever.”

2. Porcupine Tree‘s Lazarus – The piano, the piano…

3. The RomanticsWhat I Like About You – Suggested to me by good friend (and fellow blogger) Shubhra Rishi, this short 3 minute jive number is something I couldn’t stop listening to for days. This song deserves to be on Goan weddings’ list for the Jive Session. Bonus: The drummer is the lead singer.

4. The DecemberistsOceanside – There are certain songs that come along once in a while that just transport you to another place. A place from where you do not want to come back. I found that solace in this song. Thank you Vismitha Katyayani.

So this was my list. Tell us what did you enjoy and discover this year. And here’s to a wonderful 2012 in music.

Written by Runcil Rebello.