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Read. Suffer. Try to Enjoy.

Memoirs Deluxe

Thursday, August 30, 2007
There come times in a man's life when faced with an overnight journey, he chooses to travel by bus. After a good 5 years. Various factors could shape this decision. Economic, preferential, or maybe, just because the bus ticket office is nearer to home, doesn't involve a travel agent/filling forms and is a lot less crowded and hassle-free. And it doesn't have touts trying to throw in an apartment free with the 'ticket'.

Takes me back to when a bus journey was a really big deal, to be looked forward to with a lot of anticipation. After all, we would be going to our 'native place' (which was usually good old Dharwad) come vacation time. A little reminiscing is in order here...

Reclining seats:
These are very comfortable at first glance. Only, they come with a major hitch. People boarding the bus at 6 pm, are tempted for pure 'paisa vasoolne ka' reasons (amongst other mystic ones) to start tilting them backwards from 6.01 pm onwards (ONLY because it takes a minute or so to stash in the luggage in the overhead shelves...). You watch with growing horror, as the seat in front starts to invade your personal space, inch by ghastly inch, listening to your kneecaps crunch and crackle. Till the guy in front is sleeping like a bucolic baby, and you start recollecting that Spidey kiss. Uncomfortably so.

The pee factor:
This is a major problem, compounded in the case of an AC Bus. Considering (of course) that there are no loos in the bus. The bus guys usually stop at joints along the highways, precisely for the same reason. Sleeping usually becomes a problem, if you're not a regular, as you feel your kidneys do their stuff a little more diligently than at home (the sadists, they KNOW you’re traveling, and this is their chance to have some fun with you. Mind, the master. Pah.), and grow edgier and edgier till the bus guy stops. If you have a suitable quorum with heavy groins, then you can force a halt by the roadside, where the assorted shrubbery can get their fix of urea nutrients. Now, where they stop? Up next.

The stops:
These are pretty much one of the reasons I look forward to travelling by bus. Apart from the point above, there's something wonderfully weird about a lone chai/cigarette joint usually adjoining a petrol pump, as brightly lit as a ‘French Polish’ connoisseur in the middle of nowhere, blaring a flavour-of-the-season song in whatever region ka language applicable to your co-ordinates, at say 3 am in the morning. Needless to say, the volume is high enough to wake you in spite of the air conditioning. But a little artful dodging to avoid the puddles, engine oil and fuel slush (this is always present, irrespective of weather) outside, does ensure that you are out of the sound fury range - they don't have surround speakers. Yet.

The food is another story. Fried god-knows-whats scream out to you from glass cages with bulb displays. Chips and colas manufactured exclusively locally, with dirty stares dished out at you, if you happened to ask for 'branded' stuff. (Parle-G however is ubiquitous. Some distribution network, that). Plastic/formica furniture, with plastic water jugs and plastic glasses. The travel guys usually have their 'standard' hotels at which they stop, which manage to serve some incredibly stale food, and 'service tea' and 'Nesscoffee'.

The in-bus entertainment:
The highlight. 30% of the ticket cost. There is a certain juvenile pleasure in predicting what exactly the bus guy is going to inflict upon you. Think of the weirdest movies you wouldn't have a chance in hell of seeing. And rev it up a notch. For eg, "Game" (when I was a kid), "Good Boy, Bad Boy" (on my lastest trip). I rest my case. But you resign to it once you realize there's nothing else to kill time in the darkness till the next pee-stop. That said, even the omnipresent pesky kids shut the **** up come movie time. For you, it's just a matter of choosing one form of screechy audio over another.

The drivers:
When I was a kid, they were these hard drinkin', mountains-of-rice and dozens-of-chappatis eating, hard workin', dark-red-blooded dudes in holed banians, who lived off the nutty thrill of overtaking every vehicle especially on hairpin bends, only to happily to douse the overtaken(trucks specifically preferred) with a huge blast of pure evil, black fumes. Jammed gears, kaput indicators, and steering wheels with limited turning radii were hardly of any concern – to be treated as disdainfully as the bicycle riders/tractors they’d scare the sh*t out of. They could do ANYTHING. They were bus drivers, who drove all night dammit. What CAN'T they do?!

Small wonder then that all one of my cousin brothers ever wanted to be when he grew up was a bus driver. He'd drag us to the village bus stand, and almost get off on the buses which would pull in and out. The guy was so obsessed that on meeting, the first thing he'd ask was "Which 'travels' did you come by?", even before the customary, friendly cuss-word greeting (which would be usually on the lines of “What’s up, mad dog/filthy pig?” – A lot funnier when said in Kannada. And when you are 10). Once, he got a ride in the driver's (god-ka-idol-with-LED-and-plastic-flower-garland and heroine-poster-from-Mayapuri adorned) cabin, because of an 'overbooking incident'. He couldn't stop raving about it ("I drove the bus for an hour when the driver was tired") when he met us. We were very happy for him. And proud. That's a pretty big thing to achieve when you are eight. Right.

The scenery:
If you are lucky enough to get a window seat, the scenery factor can be amazing. The towns whizzing by in the dead of the night, roads alternately cloaked in yellowish light and stretches of inky blackness, with the deliciously chilly air hitting your face. Till somebody barks at you to shut the window, cos it’s too freaking cold. The mountain roads do scare you a little, listening to the bus machinery moan as it negotiates whatever the mountains throw at it, and generally staring into nothingness. Half asleep, lurching and heaving, the first rays of dawn filtering in through the windows kind of makes you forget the agony for awhile, as the day breaks. School kids on the way to their grind, road-side shops opening up for the day, cattle herders getting busy, women collecting water and firewood, and no one defecating on/by the roads. Heaven.

The quality of the buses is pretty reflective of our India story. Time has ensured that the creaky, wheezing buses in the private segments (including the Deluxe, Luxury, Super Luxury, Super Deluxe, Ultra Deluxe, 2x2, 1x2 ones) have all but fully been replaced with spanking new 'Volvo' fleets, which boast of maddeningly silent engines (not even a gurgle, leave alone a wheeze), good aircon, and good seats. The seats are fixed in number. No stashing 2 additional guys into the cabin, or conjuring up 'improv seats'. What 'improv seats'? Coming right up.

Improv Seats:
These were incredible. Imagine, you are snug as a bug in your 'luxury' bug-infested bus seat with tattered fabric covers, and it's about 2 am. You have an aisle seat. You are generally conscious of somebody next to you, and it is NOT the lucky bastard with the window seat. There's a gentle creaking, followed by a thump, followed by swearing-under-breath and deep breathing. You wake up, look around and lo and behold. There's a guy actually sitting right next to you, in the aisle, perched as grandly as allowable under the circumstances, on a seat with no back rest which was folded up against your aisle seat. So on inclines or especially sexy turns, he gratefully grabs your arm for support. And you all but coo back at him. So, an extra 10 seats or more would bring in good money to the bus guy, especially during holiday season, when people just wanted to get to wherever they wanted to. Miserable apology of an ass-biting rexine cushion be damned.

Coming back to the present, the 'wheel seats' and the 'last seats' are no longer viewed like pariahs now, they have a legitimate standing with the rest of their brethren, considering the superior suspensions. Every seat is almost the same in terms of comfort. The eating joints have come a long way too, with 'food plazas' selling the same fried stuff, at a markup, and a little semblance of hygiene. And you get branded stuff there (Parle-G too, of course). The drivers are tee-totallers now and uniformed, and the stops are kept to a bare minimum. You get blankets and a bottle of (branded) mineral water too. Complimentary. The ‘ordinary’ bus fleets are there still, but the Volvos are first preference for a lot of junta now.

But some things never change. Like at least one traffic hold up on the highways, or the over-enthusiastic gourmands who stuff themselves silly, and start to assault your nostrils periodically (one more problem which the AC compounds). Or the all too familiar numbness in your lower back, and stiff neck as soon as you get down, which reminds you that you really couldn’t sleep, 80 degree reclining seat notwithstanding. But wait, they have ‘sleeper buses’ too nowadays. Which is definitely not quite the same thing. Sleeping kills all the fun.

posted by Tapan at 10:45 AM

The Commando Movie Review

Monday, August 06, 2007
There is something irresistibly appealing about the idea of serving in a nation's armed forces. The sheer rigours of military life, the iron discipline, the relentless, undying love for one's country, the whole ‘brothers until we die’ thing. Not to forget cavorting with the boss' daughter, showing off your mean martial arts and disco dancing skills, fighting a ninja called (of all things) 'Ninja', curing a demented mother, busting an international gang of arms runners based out of 'No Man's Land', and avenging your father's murder. In case you haven't guessed it already, Prabhuji shows how you do it ALL. In a couple of days’ work.

We start off with Prabhuji's childhood exercise routine, which his cop father makes him go through every morning. This includes some truly bitch-ass moves like doing back flips off 'Serve the nation - Join Indian army' advertisement boards and really mean, septum flattening boxing with dad to alleviate the usual do-weird-pushups-and-run-like-cokehead boredom. On one of these rounds, father and son bump into a colleague cop and his daughter (cryptically) named Zoom Zoom (Yes. Poor, poor thing). To his credit, Prabhuji does the proper WTF thing on hearing that name, to be told by the angel, that that's the exact sound she makes while running. Prabhuji buys it, for the moment. (Hold on to that name...)

These guys then are in charge of security at a PM's (Mrs Indira Gandhi) address. This is one of the movie’s (and Bollywood's) rarest 'real' moments, with an actual person being shown. (When contrasted with all those 'padosi mulk' waala swipes).

Time for our villains to make their entry - Mirza (Thatthee Thapooll), Senor Marceloni (Amrish Puri) and (yes) Ninja (Danny D), at their debonair, shamelessly undisguised best. You'd think that they would take a little more effort to conceal their true identities, considering that they were going to attempt to pop the PM, but hell, evil makes men do stranger things (as you will soon see...). Prabhuji's and Zoom Zoom's guv'nors perish in the usual save-the-VIP-kill-my-ass-instead process, the evil trio escape to their own green room, change clothes peacefully, and scoot as if they had just stopped to take a leak by the roadside.

Thus leaving Prabhuji's mom off her rocker, and one confused-as-hell Prabhuji. Cut to running feet, and yep, it's Him in training on an Aarey Milk Colony street. He wends his way to his usual tea joint, and saves a child waiter from a gang of thugs by declaring "Main gareeb ke chiraag ka jinn hoon" to the mandatory "Kaun hai be tu?". Here, he comes to know that he has got a job at an ordnance factory, as a… Commando.

Meanwhile, the three villains fan out thus. Ninja (the only "complete Ninja outside Japan". That explains it all) starts his own ninja training camp, with free form, one-with-Nature, precusor-of-Taibo regimens to whip his forces into killing machine shape. Marceloni with a suitably spaghetti soused accent to go with the name, safely ensconces himself in No-Man's-Land to plot the nation's downfall by instigating communal riots, by tying up with Ninja and Mirza for Operational and Ammo support respectively. Mirza works his way up to Chief of Ammo factory, lest you forget.

On reporting for work, Prabhuji runs into the binary loving (Why binary? Cos he only likes his answers in "Yes Sir" or "No Sir") Mirza and his man-at-arms, Diler Singh (played by the mercurial Hemant Birje) who calls Mirza "Chip". (No male bonding there, that's "Chief". Easing your pain, right there. This will soon be over).

Without any kind of induction/training, Prabhuji is thrown into the thick of things (the more I think, the more I see that Bollywood and our IT industries are a bit too closely aligned for comfort, wot?).

The thickest of things are as below:

--> Unknowingly thwarting an arms shipment destined for the Senor, by fighting off Ninja and assorted ninjas as they attempt to get their greedy paws on 'arms belonging to the nation', with the contents of his truck tool box (standard military issue). Now this is not as ridiculous as it seems considering that the best Ninja moves are semi-graceful cheerleader routines (sans pom-poms) off tarpaulin truck tops.

--> Saving the heroine from lusty goons, and falling in love in the process. Here's how.
(After slitting skirt with knife to help her run faster from goons)
Asha: "You idiot!!! I am going to kill you!!!!"
Prabhuji (ever the pragmatist): Going to na?!!! Let's go!!!!
(Her toes curled at this point. I blushed too.)

--> Walking all the way to China, and walking back, with some
help from a hamming guardian angel called ‘Ram Chong’.

--> Romancing the heroine right under the ample nose of the
Manager – Prabhuji's immediate boss (Dalip Tahil) who loves the lady too.

--> Facing professional clusterf*** after personal clusterf***, thanks to points 1 and 4 above. For instance, the Manager insists that he call the heroine as "Asha-ji". Always. Such humiliation.

--> In one such c.f., He is assigned jeep cleaning duty for his supposed sedition. Here he is taunted by Diler Singh, and a provoked Prabhuji whoops his ass proper, with the highlight being when out of the blue, He suddenly wears a bucket on his head, and fights Diler 'blind'. Diler Singh and the others (Note regarding 'others' - it is heartening to see mostly pot-bellied, unshaved, longish haired fellow 'commandos' here. A refreshing change from the impossible to live up to breakfast-with-glass-flakes, gargling-with-battery-acid stereotype.) know whom they are dealing with and they wisely shut the **** up and align forces with him. Especially when He tells Diler that he 'learnt this (bucket) martial art off the streets'.

A couple of scintillating songs in the snow later, Asha(ji) is kidnapped by Marceloni, and held captive in 'No-Man's Land'. The CBI chief bluntly tells the brave duo, with candour very uncharacteristic of Bollywood.

"Asha ko bachaane ki poori koshish karni hogi hamein. Hamein matlab (obviously) tumhein... (har dee har har)"

He also helpfully tells them that an Indian agent called Zoom Zoom (There. Let go of that name now.) has infiltrated the Marceloni camp, and she dances titillatingly there for his garrison. Prabhuji instantly formulates an RSA/Quantum Cryptography hybrid and declares

"Uska code word hoga Zoom Zoom, aur haamaara code-bhaard hoga Dhoom Dhoom"

Prabhuji and Diler are air-dropped into No Man's Land, and they claw their way through ominous papier-mache mountains and surreal cotton candy like snow, to crash the BDSM-flavoured Zoom Zoom show. In an effortless and seamless infiltration of the enemy camp, He sings out his part of the encryption key and dances for all of Marceloni's soldiers, who don't even realize that they'd never seen Prabhuji before, ever. All that Commando training…

Decryption duly completed, Zoom Zoom lets them into the HQ, Prabhuji disrupts Marceloni's grand share-holder AGM by introducing himself and Diler thus
"Main hoon Senor Mukka-lini aur yeh mera dost, Dhobi-pacha-lini"
They then fry the baddies with lead and Prabhuji kicks the evil Senor out of a cable car on his way back over a 2 feet deep water body.

But before knocking on them pearly gates, Marceloni had ordered Ninja to plug a religious leader, thereby paving the way for communal riots which would ensure that he had countrywide domination.

Will he succeed in his diabolical plan? Will the world be the same again? Will the religious leader like a ballet troupe in pink leotards with a live drummer? Will we finally know who is actually happy in the IT industry?

Cut to breathtaking finale for all the answers (almost all). The religious leader arrives at his function, to be treated to said ballet show, which would have made Nureyev wish (very badly) that he had settled in India while he still had the chance.

Now evidently Ninja had learnt his lessons, and so he arrives suitably disguised for this particular hit. Sure as hell, taxes, and death Prabhuji carpes the diem (sic!), shakes it proper and saves it too. His mother, thoughtfully smuggled in by her shrink who thought the ballet would be grotesque shock treatment enough (the clever, clever SOB), recovers her marbles on hearing gun shots and Prabhuji grins goofily at the camera (I have a feeling that he was amazed too).

The Star Wars theme is used brilliantly throughout the movie, to highlight the particularly space-tastic moments (which is the whole movie actually). Also of special note is the distinctive Prabhuji war cry, which is featured here in practically every move that the man makes. Sample here (and no prizes for guessing whose voice it is... *simper, simper*). Also, the movie has a mysterious way of making sense suddenly, when you are high...

To sum it all up, a line from the PM's speech is very very apt indeed.
"Agar unke paas Atum Bumm hai, to hamaare paas Gautam Buddh hai."
Add "Hamare paas Commando bhi hai." Do you dare argue?

posted by Tapan at 10:46 PM