Monday, February 23, 2009

Prime Obsession

Book Review : Prime Obsession
Author : John Derbyshire
My rating : 5 out of 5 stars

Don't get deceived by the shortened title - this is not a B-grade movie. The complete title of the book is "Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics".

The Riemann Hypothesis is one of the most famous unsolved problems in mathematics. It was one of the problems in Hilbert's list and today carries a prize of one million dollars for proving it. Now that Fermat's Last Theorem has been proved, maybe this is the greatest unsolved problems in math as the title says. But the problem (NOT the solution) posed by Fermat's last theorem is very simple to understand. The Riemann Hypothesis is quite another story.

I am no mathematician. So I do not even understand what it means when I read "All non-trivial zeros of the zeta function have real part one-half." Much less the deep relationship about the distribution of primes. That's where John Derbyshire's book comes in. It does a fabulous job of explaining what the heck that means and why is it even related to the prime numbers.

There is a lot more to like in this book than just that. It may seem impossible, but this book about math reads like a gripping mystery novel and is as much a page turner as any fiction I have read. I simply could not put it down. I found myself reading this late into night and getting up early the next morning, looking forward to continue reading. For a book to do that - especially when it is about an intricate mathematical conjecture - is truly amazing.

The book is presented in an interesting format. It is as much about the actual mathematics around the hypothesis as it is about the history, story and lives of the mathematicians who have worked on the Prime Number Theorem. So Derbyshire neatly divides the math and history in alternate chapters. Anyone who does not have enough inclination to go through the mathematical material can simply skip alternate chapters and still enjoy the book. But I would not advice doing that even though the math is quite involved. You need some math background and willingness to work on it. But Derbyshire starts from very basic concepts in algebra. Even if you have forgotten some simple stuff like logarithms, he walks you through it. Taking one step at a time. For anyone who used to love math, the efforts will be handsomely rewarded. And believe me - it is this series of mathematical chapters that reads like a hard-to-put-down novel.

The historical chapters are amazing as well. The book introduces the reader about the lives and times of Euler, Gauss, Hardy, Hilbert and many other mathematicians including of course Riemann. This series of chapters is very moving because the author's obvious affection for the great mathematicians and passion for explaining their achievements.

I highly recommend this book. There are a lot of good books that explain high level physics to a layman. Math is completely abstract. Hence more difficult to explain. Derbyshire took on a very ambitious project. It's one thing to talk about the number pi - but making Riemann Hypothesis accessible to a layman is a great achievement. It deserves a place on any list of "must read" books.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

They really said it ! [1]

Some quotes are unforgettable.

In 2005, I remember reading this with complete shock. I know it's easy to say this now, but these types of claims are so shockingly anti-common sense that it's easy to call them BS on the spot.

Let me direct you straight to the paragraph (free registration required.)
I asked Toll what our children - my kids are both under 8, I told him - would be paying when they're ready to buy. "They're going to live with us until they're 40," Toll said matter-of-factly. "And when they have their second kid, then we'll finally kick them out and make them pay for the house that we paid for. And that house will cost them 45 to 50 percent of their income."
I grew alarmed. Was he kidding? He assured me he was not. "It's all just logic," Toll said. "In Britain you pay seven times your annual income for a home; in the U.S. you pay three and a half." The British get 330 square feet, per person, in their homes; in the U.S., we get 750 square feet. Not only does Toll say he believes the next generation of buyers will be paying twice as much of their annual incomes; in terms of space, he also seems to think they're going to get only half as much. "And that average, million-dollar insane home in the burbs? It's going to be $4 million."
The reason that this is not a case of 20/20 hindsight is also found in the same article.
The slackening demand for homes in autumn would drop more drastically if the larger economy were to slip into a recession. Or it could drop, as the Yale economist Robert Shiller has pointed out, if investors lose their "irrationally exuberant" conviction (unjustified by historical data, in his view) that their homes will undoubtedly appreciate for the foreseeable future.

The arguments for the existence of housing bubble and its enormous destructive impact were argued far more logically than the claims based on wishful thinking. Shiller, Calculated Risk, Mish, Bill Fleckenstein, Jim Grant and countless others had been cautioning about the coming storm. Like it happened in all other bubbles in human history, the nay-sayers were ignored.

As is always said and always ignored - those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

But I won't complain - I am willing to sell my house to Mr Robert Toll for 4 million now ;-) I am sure he has some cash lying around. As he had sold a huge bunch of his company's stock when he was making such claims.

Michael Phelps : Still a role model

Now that Michael Phelps has shown himself to be yet another idiot celebrity athlete, he is winning some great supporters.

Their argument ?
"Kellogg's had no problem signing up Phelps when he had a conviction for drunk driving, an illegal act that could actually have killed someone," said Rob Kampia, the group's executive director. "To drop him for choosing to relax with a substance that's safer than beer is an outrage, and it sends a dangerous message to young people."

Yeah, right. The better message for young people - according to this argument - is "stop drinking beer, relax with marijuana instead". How about teaching them that both alcohol and drugs should be avoided ? Of course that would be so old fashioned.

I am not at all surprised that a celebrity is smoking pot. But putting himself in this situation - after a drunk driving conviction - is still perplexing, in spite of being typical.

At least Phelps should be relieved. Not everyone is dissing him - he is still a role model for some !

Monday, February 9, 2009

Gandhi Dynasty : Weird Conspiracy

This has been circulating as email - I received it from 2 sources. It is also presented on sites such as this site proclaiming to be a about Sikhism.

The claims and speculations in that article are preposterous. Ironically, almost all the zealously religious sites - regardless of the religion they represent - have a completely different idea about what "truth" is. This seems to be of no exception. Here are some randomly picked gems

  1. Sanjay Gandhi's real father was a Mohammed Yunus.
  2. Feroze Gandhi's father was also a Muslim.
  3. Mahatma Gandhi was against Indira marrying Feroze.
  4. Feroze Gandhi used to blackmail Nehru for money.
  5. Nehru had produced an illegal son - but no one knows where he is, even the son doesn't know the truth. (But the author of this claim knows that this has happened !)
Oh well.

I am no fan of the Gandhi dynasty. I have always maintained that Indira Gandhi was net-net a big negative for India. In particular the negatives like complete disregard for democracy and culture of corruption that started in her "regime" outweighs any positives by a wide margin. And that's without even considering the "Emergency Rule".

It's hard to find what is the worst speculation in that article. Not everything is false, mind you. But for most claims, there is no evidence or any proof offered. Just wild baseless speculations.

I do want to point out that Feroze Gandhi was quite respected in his time. As a member of parliament, he had the courage to speak against his father-in-law and expose corruption within the cabinet. He was so unlike the Gandhi dynasty that got it's name from him !

Internet is an interesting source of information !

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A new sweepstakes scam

This is a new scam that I have come across. I received this letter via USPS.

Along with the letter was a check

Their idea seems like this. When you deposit the check for amount 4987.85, it won't be honored by the "US Federal Credit Union". There really seems to be a bank with that name. Maybe the scammers get your account information - as part of returned check. I don't know.

But the main scam might be the "tax money" that needs to be paid. As the letter says, you have to pay the tax to the "tax agent" via Western Union or Moneygram. You can kiss that money good bye if you actually fall for this.

I have not called them to see if the number or the name of the person is genuine. I do not know if the addresses on the letter are genuine or fake.

The scam seems to simple to fool anyone. Well, you cannot blame the scammers for not trying ;-)

Review : Dil Se ...

This review was posted on rec.arts.movies.local.indian in 1998.

After seeing "Dil se ...", the latest film directed by Mani Ratnam, my main reaction was, "What a superb film ... it could have been".

There are many reasons why this could have been another feather in Mani Ratnam's cap, and there are many reasons why it fails to do that.

The movie has all the basic ingredients it takes to make a very good or even a great film. The director is well known for striking the balance between artistic achievements and commercial success. The actors esp. Shah Rukh and Manisha, are among the finest we have today. The music director A.R.Rahman is arguably the best one can have right now. Lyrics are by the talented Gulzar, and among other names one can see in the credits are those of Shekhar Kapoor and Ram Gopal Verma as executive co-producers. Not a bad team at all.

But what's more important, is that the film has a fertile story line. It's a story of an AIR newsperson who is reporting on insurgencies in various parts of India. In the very beginning of the movie he falls in love with a girl who is elusive and mysterious. Their lives intersect many times in a short span. She understands his love but has other priorities. He is a son of an army officer who has apparently died while serving the nation, whereas she is a terrorist seeking revenge for the wrongdoing of the Indian military. To him, love is everything, to her, there are more important goals. He never learns a great deal about her, and finally resigns to the fact that he has lost her forever. Decides to get married to another girl, a family friend, and as fate would have it, she surfaces, seeking shelter in his house, on the day of his engagement. Why does she come back ? What exactly is she trying to accomplish ? What will happen to his planned marriage ? How would they and all others cope with the challenges this situation places upon them ?

Now this is a plot that offers great opportunities to the scriptwriter and the director to show their artistic creativity. It isn't entirely novel, but it's full of possibilities to prepare a fantastic mix of conflict, betrayal, suspense, revenge, love, action and such other things. In addition, the plot sits on the thin borderline of reality and fantasy. It gives a chance (not unlike Roja and Bombay) to create a movie that is both socially responsible and an intense love story. And again like Bombay and Roja, the plot of "Dil se ..." can serve as a vehicle to offer both sides of the arguments.

Unfortunately, the final product seems half-cooked. And if I have to pick one singular factor to blame then I would choose the script. It's weak, it leaves too much to the viewer's imagination. It's loose, in the sense that it doesn't glue consecutive scenes in a cohesive manner. And it just fails to make the viewer feel the emotions of the various characters. All these are not uncommon attributes of an Indian film, but coming from Mani Ratnam, one has higher expectations.

The film is not without a plus side. The camerawork is excellent. Choice of locations is fabulous. Some scenes are brilliantly picturized. The chase in Delhi's Connought Place is very realistic. Song picturizations are very imaginative. The first song, picturized in a train, is a pure pleasure to watch and is certainly a feat if you start imagining the difficulties that can come while shooting it. The tunes are nice and catchy. The last song, "diya jale ..." sung by Lata Mangeshkar is probably the best. Picturization of the second song, the title song, is technically awesome, but artistically the symbolism is a bit overdone. It takes me a while to make out the lyrics of A.R.Rahman songs, so I really cannot comment on the quality of the lyrics, except that the repeated usage of a GHalib's sher in one of the songs, sounded stupid.

The movie doesn't take any sides, and doesn't show military in only a bad light or a only a good light. It effectively shows the atrocities committed on Manisha's people without being cheap. And it thankfully doesn't preach nationalism and patriotism in a holier-than-thou attitude.

The performances are really good. I am not a fan of Shah Rukh, but I liked his acting. Manisha is best in such roles, where she has to say a lot without actually saying it. Having one of the most expressive faces, she looks great in simple costumes and does well everything the role expects her to do. Zinta, who acts as Shah Rukh's fiancee does a remarkable job. Other supportive performances are good too.

The flaws are too numerous to list. Apart from the script, the dialogues have nothing to write home about. At many places they seemed out of context or unrealistic. Especially in the scenes when Shah Rukh gets beaten up by the terrorists (in the early part of the movie) he keeps on saying things even a person with below average intelligence would know to avoid. So do the marriage related discussion between him and Manisha while hiking in Ladakh sounded totally out of context to me. In many scenes it's all very confusing, and hardly convincing. The two best dialogues that I found was Manisha's "Mere pas samay nahiN haiN" as an answer to Shah Rukh's love stricken pleas and Zinta's question to him in their pre-marriage discussion ... "Are you a virgin ?". And as you can see, that's not saying much about the dialogues.

Editing wasn't very good too. The songs were too randomly inserted, but there is a real lack of continuity throughout the movie. As a director, scriptwriter and screenplay writer, Mani Ratnam should get a lion's share of all these blames. He doesn't tell us which parts of the India he is talking about. The details of the plan of the terrorists is at best vague. He also scores poor on portraying the relationships between various characters. The terrorists don't look like comrades, they don't look like friends among themselves, they don't even look like very dedicated soldiers. They look like simply some individuals who happen to be part of a conspiracy. In short, they are very unconvincing, like most of the movie.

The end is certainly novel, swift, sudden and shocking. But without any good foundation and convincing series of previous events, it looses all its desired tragic impact and becomes a hollow anti-climax.

When I heard the title "Dil se ...", it sounded kind of incomplete. The movie certainly does justice to that part of it.

Rating (on a scale of 1 to 10) : 5

Recommended :
Only if you are interested in Shah Rukh / Manisha / song picturizations.

Avoid :
If you expect a movie of Mani Ratnam's past standard.

Bandini : A review in retrospect

This review was posted on rec.arts.movies.local.indian in 1998.

Bandini : 1963, Black and White, Bimol Roy Productions
Producer and Director : Bimol Roy
Music Director : S.D.Burman
Lyrics : Shailendra, Gulzar
Cast : Nutan, Ashok Kumar, Dharmendra, Raja Paranjpe

"Bandini" is perhaps the last complete motion picture directed by Roy. Is it his best ? I avoid such questions, but Bandini is certainly a candidate. And considering that Roy is one of the best directors from India, "Bandini" is arguably the best of the best. It can certainly be considered as a classic case study of the genre - Indian social drama.

Since it's such a well-known film, most of us would have already seen it. So I am not going to worry about avoiding any spoilers so to say. If you haven't seen the movie, you may want to see it before reading further.

On the outset, "Bandini"s storyline is not complex. A young, simple woman (Kalyani, played by Nutan) is serving for murder in a 1934 prison. There she comes in contact with a doctor, (Deven, played by Dharmendra) who wishes to marry her. She respects him, but is afraid of her ill fate, the society etc, and declines his love. The jailer, who is a family friend of Deven tries to persuade Kalyani. She then tells him the story of her past. Kalyani comes from a family in which "simple living, high thinking" is not just an empty slogan. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, she has to become a messenger for a freedom-fighter. Only once. But a friendship develops between her family and him, (Vikas, played by Ashok Kumar). Vikas and Kalyani love each other and due to a difficult situation Vikas has to proclaim Kalyani as his wife. Before the actual ceremony can take place, he has to leave the town, but promises to come back. But he doesn't. Naturally, the family has a difficult time in a small village, and Kalyani finds no option but to leave her home. She starts working in a hospital, where she learns that a difficult woman patient she is serving, is actually the wife of Vikas. This happens on the same day of her father's death. Unable to cope up with such extra-ordinary circumstances, she thinks of the woman as the reason of all her troubles and kills her. And hence finds herself in the prison. After reading this story, Deven's mother decides to accept her as daughter-in-law. Kalyani gets an early termination of her sentence. On her way to Deven's home, she meets Vikas, who is terminally ill. Vikas's friend tells her about Vikas's life and how he had to marry someone else etc. In the final climax, she decides to go with Vikas.

Melodramatic ? May be. Predictable ? Possibly. It's still a strong plot and the treatment from the director just takes it to a level not attainable to mediocrity. The secret of this treatment lies not in the technology, (found in any Hindi cinema today) but in the technique, which is rarely found. A technique strong in simplicity and subtlety.

Through out the movie, Roy avoids cliche. He doesn't burden any scene with heavy symbolism. There are many places where an ordinary mortal would have given to the temptation of overusing the prison metaphor, the plight of women, a preaching about patriotism. But Roy avoids such pitfalls and maintains a strong focus on narrating Kalyani's story in an often silent way and most undoubtedly in an unhurried style. This is a style which is almost impossible to find these days, and one yearns for.

A strong focus does not mean absence of subplots. There are some. There is after all Deven's love, with which the movie begins. There is a mention of Kalyani's brother, his life and his death. There is a freedom-fighter in the prison who is hanged. There is a small recollection of Vikas's part in freedom struggle. Here and there. But all these are secondary and Roy does not let the attention and concentration of the viewer to be diverted. Right from the beginning, the viewer is tied up to the main character. It's impossible not to fall in love with that character, to root for her, to respect her.

Everywhere in the movie, brilliance abounds. There are many frames worthy of praise. The obvious are the scenes where a jailer cuts the flowers of a plant and one can see Kalyani in a small angle. Or the one when Deven's horse-carriage is going away outside the prison and Kalyani follows the sound from the other side of the wall. My favorites include the brief long shot of Kalyani's friend trying to persuade her. And the one in flashback where Kalyani is watching ducks in rain. Pure brilliance. Some choose a flipping calendar to show that days are passing by. Roy chooses a Kalyani with an empty stare and a few ducks in the rain to show that days are not easily passing by. Of course, there are many great scenes, and one has a rare freedom of choice to pick the favorite one. How about the scene where the jailer, when he receives Kalyani's notebook, instead of just opening it and starting to read, keeps it aside and reads later ? How about the scene where Deven comes back home, sees his mother busy in 'pooja', and turns away, and his mother still hears him, talks to him briefly and tells him she will be right with him after the 'pooja' is over ? That's what I meant when I said the style of narration is unhurried. There is no rushing in. There is absolutely no rushing in.

The movie is certainly not short on talent. How it can be ? One measure is to say that two people later pronounced as genius by their fans were assistants here ! I am talking about Gulzar as an assistant director and R.D.Burman as the assistant music director. Music of "Bandini" deserves a review of its own. Is it S.D.Burman's best ? As I said, I avoid such questions, but it's certainly a candidate. "o panchhi pyare" and "ab ke baras bhej" by Asha Bhosle and "mora gora rang" and "jogi jab se tu aayaa mere dware" by Lata Mangeshkar are enough to put the music of this movie on a higher pedestal.

The lyrics of all but one song are by Shailendra and ably support the movie. A well known trivia is, Gulzar wrote his first lyrics. As another trivia, there is a flashback within a flashback in this movie. Is this a first such instance in an Indian movie ? I do not know. But perhaps a not so well-known trivia is, the actor who played Kalyani's father is Raja Paranjape. A director himself. Undoubtedly, one of the best of Marathi cinema. He also acted in many of his movies.

That brings us to the acting. Almost everyone gives a good performance. Ashok Kumar, Tarun Bose as the jailer and Dharmendra as the doctor. Dharmendra is not a great actor, but does remarkably well in such roles. "Satyakam", "Naya Zamana" for example, where he again plays a high-principled man.

But as everyone knows, this is Nutan's movie. It's difficult to praise such acting without using the overused phrases. "It's worthy of many Oscars", "She outshines everyone else" and so on sounds too trite. It seemed as if she is not acting, she is living Kalyani's character. The way a flicker of an expression comes to her face and she tries to control it is absolutely amazing. I am talking about the scenes when she hears the bad news about her father, or the last scene when Vikas apologizes to her. The way she sits on that bench, the way she walks after meeting Vikas in the final scenes is an ample proof of her natural talents. Such artists are born great, one cannot learn it. Nevertheless Nutan is a school of acting which every aspiring actor/actress should attend by watching her, by studying her.

In short, Nutan plays this character perfectly in this perfectly crafted movie. I am not saying this movie has no flaws or no goofs. But I don't believe such a movie has been made. In practicality, this is as perfect as a movie can get. One obvious complaint can be that, most of main characters are too nice, destiny being the real cruel villain.

And that's the theme. The title "Bandini" actually refers to a person who is a prisoner of her fate more than the man-made jail. She is just tossed from one situation to another by her destiny. She has very little control and is just going along with what life demands from her. She is a "bandini" of her fate, of the decisions made by people around her. But in the final moment of climax, when Shailendra's poetry strikes in the magical voice of S.D.Burman, during my best song of the movie, ... "maiN bandini piayaa ki, chir-sangini huN saajan ki .." comes the moment of realization. She can take matters into her hand, and she can refuse to be just a prisoner of fate. So she decides and chooses to go with Vikas. She again becomes a prisoner, a prisoner of her lover, but a happy one, and by her own choice, by her free will. That's the true "Bandini".

Rating (on a scale of 0 to 10) : 9
Alternative rating (* to ****) : ****

Recommended highly to all the cineastes.

- Abhay.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A fArt Movie

This article was posted on in 1993.

  1. This is a very long article. Over 300 lines.
  2. It has nothing to do with music.
  3. It has no explicit ;-) :-) etc. after this sentence.
  4. It is written by me.
The most famous Marathi author P.L.Deshpande has written an unbelievably hilarious article "Ek Na-Natya" on the Marathi Modern Theatre, aka "Nava-Natya". Any similarity between his article and this article, is purely INTENTIONAL.

A fArt Movie

It was almost 12 noon when I reached the theater. It was a Sunday and the rest of the India was busy watching Mahabharat, esp. as it was known that Madri would be taking a bath a la Mandakini. Now why I was not watching it, is a long story. Suffice it to say that I was fooled into buying this Rs.20 only ticket by a girl who had a great Closeup smile and was doing a social service of promoting fArt movies. It was also my curiosity, my love for adventure which took me there.

There were around 25 people there. It was so silent there and they had such a look on their face, that I thought for a moment that they were mourning somebody's death. Then I noticed that many were discussing something in very low voice and I heard worried phrases like "future of cinematography" and "significance of 'shadow' in Frickmann's movies". I got an idea of where I have landed and my heart sank a little. Some of them looked up at me and ignored me effortlessly.

I looked around and found a person I knew. Oh no, it was this guy Albert Pinto. He has a habit of getting unnecessarily angry. Hesitantly I walked up to him and said "Hi". The silence was broken and all others looked at me disgustingly. Seemed like the fArt movie viewers don't greet each other.

"Oh, and what are YOU doing here", he replied. It was obvious that he was trying to disassociate himself from me.

He continued, "This is not one of your THOSE movies, which are meant to just attract public, which are meant to just gross money". That's why the ticket is 20 Rs., I thought.

He continued, "Those are insult to the art of Cinema. I doubt whether you will ever understand this movie".

He was immensely successful, others looked relieved and went back to their mourning.

"I want to, I will try", I stammered.

"Oh really, but this is true fArt movie, you know", he smiled.

"Yes, may be. I want to ask a beginner's question." I said. "Why this movie is being called a fArt movie ? I mean, it's slightly ... "

Again everybody looked up, the same disgusted expression on their face.

Quickly a bespectacled, thin person came walking towards me. He took me to a corner.

"I am Mohan Joshi", he introduced himself, in "main hazir hun" tone.

He pushed a pamphlet in my hand. "I have written this. It will give you some idea about the greatness of this fArt movie. BTW, I have written 4 books on this subject, each costs just Rs.50. A small amount for you, sir. If you buy all 4, I will give you for 100 Rs.".

The look on my face told him something, and he added, "Oh, this pamphlet is free of cost. Behakani himself published it. Please read."

I said "thank you", excused myself and took one of the plenty empty seats and started reading.

"Aanewaale kal ki puraani yaade :- A fArt movie by Behakani "
I cleaned my glasses and started reading further.

"Lichtenstein is world famous for two things. It's the smallest country in the world and secondly, most important, it is the birthplace of the great late Frickmann, the father of fArt movies."
I didn't know I was such an ignorant man. Everything was a news.

"The medium of pure Art Movies was clearly insufficient, for a talent such as Frickmann's. So he single handedly invented this new technique and to shock the bourgeois, he named it 'fArt movies', an acronym for 'fine Art movies'."

I saw 'danger ahead' signs in my mind.

"He has written, produced and directed around 7 movies, but only 2 were released. An inevitable fate for any great Director. The legend is that Frickmann himself ever wanted to make all his work available to the ignorant masses. But his first movie 'Old Memories of Tomorrow' took the entire world by storm."
The storm definitely spared my house.

"Now Behakani, the living legend of ultra-centrist-modern-theatre has set his foot in the world of Cinema and his first movie is entirely based on Frickmann's First Fine Art movie."
So, this is a fffArt movie ?

"A fArt movie, unlike other movies, doesn't rely on cheap things such as songs, background music etc.. The aim is to bring out the sublime trans-variations of the ulterior cosmic lifeforce behind every human action and objectively study it from a point of view, which is quite opposite to that of Freud, and while maintaining ... "
I decided to do something else.

I started looking around, and I saw Him.

I know Him and I don't know Him. You can find him at many places such as, any ultra-modern art paintings exhibition at Jehangir Art Gallery, at Jazz Yatras, at the hyper-modern-literature-conventions ; just about all those arty things which you won't understand in million lives. His presence here, signaled similar dangers. He has many names, many faces but "He" is essentially same. Bald, Socrates beard, sunglasses pushed over forehead, wearing brown khadi kurta, faded Wrangler jeans, Kolhapuri chappals, carrying a Shabnam bag and not to forget the pipe. He never smokes cigarettes, it's always a pipe. He will talk only on topics such as "impressionist paintings movement", "a comparison of Latin and Victorian English" etc. He will never fail to give you an inferiority complex, that's for sure.

Scared to death, I went back to the pamphlet.
"What comes out is a surrealistic dream ... "
God ! This is no better. I inhaled deeply, and again hopefully looked around.

A fat man with is very fat wife came in. I was surprised to hear him talk so loudly, but as he was explaining Frickmann to his wife, other didn't seem to mind.

It was 12:30 and doors of Auditorium opened. The doorkeeper didn't take the trouble to check the tickets, and went to have his 'paan'. I still think that he was sadistically smiling to himself.

We all entered and before I could find a seat away from everybody, the lights went out and 'darkness fell upon' me.

The movie immediately began.
There were no titles. Cheap things, I suppose.

"What a symbolism ! Behakani is avoiding the routine colours and going in for a black and white movie !! How daring !" I turned back. The fAt couple was seating behind me, and the man had started exclaiming even before the movie had really started. It's going to be tough, I thought.

It was quite dark on the screen, I could hardly see anything. There was a sound of footsteps, and a man came in view.

"What an entry !! That's the way to pierce through vacuum, I say." This fAt man was making me nervous, I say.

A few minutes went by. The man on the screen just kept walking. Then he started climbing a staircase. Luckily there was a lamp in the corridor and funny, it was on too.

I could see his face, who is this actor ? Then I remembered, he was this "Suckkaj Bhapoor", who used to do side roles a few years ago. Then he got a role in an Anglo-Indian movie about something in British-Raj by some Sir XYZ. The movie was never released in India. This Suckkaj, who played one of the many dead bodies in the movie, decided that he was too good for Indian cinema, and never acted again. But Behakani is perhaps an exception.

Suckkaj kept on climbing. Why is he not using lift, I thought.

An invisible person shouted at him, "Sharma-ji, aaj jaldi aaye ?", Suckkaj ignored the question.

"What a cameo ! It's Behakani's voice, I tell you." Behakani's fAt fAn had no intention to speak in low voice.

Suckkaj had finally stopped, and was knocking a door. After another agonizingly long period, an elderly looking women opened the door.

"Rony Sazdan" ! Whose forehead is long enough to consider her bald. Only one particular director takes her in his films because ... Well you know, I hate gossip. But how come Behakani took her ?

"Mere shakkar ke laddu, mere mithe dil, tum aa bhi gaye ?" She was saying.

What ? What does this mean, eh ? Mere shakkar ke laddu ? This Rony looked aged enough to be laddu's mother. And what is "mere mithe dil" ? .... Oh, "my sweetheart" ! Behakani didn't look like a good translator.

Suckkaj wasn't in a mood to say anything. He just entered and sat on floor, staring blankly at the ceiling.

"Aaj bhi kuchh nahi hua ?", Rony asked him after 3 minutes 54 seconds. After 2 minutes 19 seconds he said "No".

"Oh mere shakkar ke laddu, mere mithe dil, udaas na ho, kabhi na kabhi to koi na koi kaam milhi jayega", She said.

Oh, so unemployment was their problem. Very arty indeed.

She was saying, "Oh mere shakkar ke laddu, mere mithe dil, mere dimakh ke mahaa-samraat, khargosh jaisi pyari muchho waale mere pati, agar shifaris hoti to tum ek hoshiyar pandit, ya sundar gaayak, ya supreme court ke judge, ya akhand hindosthan ke senaapati ya Pope ke varishtha mantri ban jaate. Koi bhi kami nahi hai tum me !"

Behakani, you named this character as "Sharma" and you make his wife expect him to become "Pope ke varishtha mantri" ? Oh my kind Pope John Paul II, forgive him, he knows not what he writes.

"Haan, tum thiik kehti ho", Suckkaj said.

Some modesty !

"Aur tum", he continued, "tum to bina shifaris ki ek jawwan kabootar ke tareh awaaj waali, ek nanhisi untani ki tareh daaton waali aur ek pyaarisi morani ki tareh chaal waali ho, tum mahaan ho".

"Kyon mazaak kar rahe ho apani laadli se ?" She "Sharma"ke said.
"Main such keh raha hun".
"Nahi, nahi, ..."
"Haan, haan, ..."

This went on for a while. Get on with the story guys, I said.
But they were enjoying praising each other.

"What bearing ! Look at their age and how aptly they are acting the roles of young people". The fAt man ! Now this was too much, I got up and sat a few seats away.

"Kya din aaye hai, aur wo kya din the !" Suckkaj wan saying.

"Tumhe yaad hai ? Hum Marine Drive pe chal rahe the, aur achanak jorse barf girne lagi."

Snow on Marine Drive ? Yeh kya ho raha hai Behakani ?

"Haan, kyo yaad nahi, Diwaali ka din tha aur usi din to tumne mujhe ek Diwaali ke ped ke saamane 'fur' ki saari leke dene ka waada kiya tha, jo tumane mujhe abhi tak leke nahi di hain."

Err ? Diwaali ka ped ? 'fur' ki saari ?

"Haan, par ye mat bhulo, ki maine usi din tumhe Shankar Chacha ki dukan par garam garam wine pilayi thi".

That's it ! That's it ! This Behakani was drinking perhaps the same wine while writing the script. The snow of Lichtenstein falling in Bombay, X'mas becoming Diwaali etc. Behakani, whose enemy you are ? Frickmann's or mine ?

She continued, "Aur tumane us Shankar Chacha ko akhir tak paise nahi diye. O mere shakkar ke laddu, mere mithe dil, mere dimakh ke mahaa- samraat, khargosh jaisi pyari muchho waale mere pati, agar shifaris hoti to tum ek hoshiyar pandit, ya sundar gaayak, ya supreme court ke judge, ya akhand hindosthan ke senaapati ya Pope ke varishtha mantri ban jaate. Koi bhi kami nahi hai tum me !"

And again they started praising each other.
Then there was a silence for a while, they were obviously tired.

He started again, "Usi Diwaali ke baad to sab hua. Aur jab saare Bambai shahar me Vasant-ritu aa gayaa, tab Kamala Nehru Park ke us Cherry ke ped ke neeche hum baithe the, aur ek gaanewaalaa aa gaya."

"Haan, aur usne jo Mozart ki prasiddha raag Saarang ki rachanaa - ek chhotasa nisha-sangeet - gaayi, to main hanso ki tareh jhoom uthi".

Behakani didn't spare even Mozart. "Kleine Nachtmusik" became "ek chhotasa nish-sangeet", that too in an afternoon raag Saarang. And on top of it somebody sang it ! Bravo ! The "hansa" was perhaps a reference to "Swan Lake". I was beginning to understand it after all.

He was saying, "Aur phir maine tumhe Multaniji ki dono Sunitaye - 'Swarg kho gaya' or 'Swarg Dubara Mila' sunayi."

I got it ! I got it ! 'Multani ji ki Sunita' is nothing but 'Milton's Sonnet'. It hardly matters that neither 'Paradise Lost' nor 'Paradise Regained' has anything to do with Sonnet. I got it anyway ! Behakani, you can't beat me now.

She exclaimed, "Haan mere shakkar ke laddu ... shifaris hoti to .."
He added, "Aur tum bina shifaris ke ... "

Again and again Behakani/Frickmann was coming back to sqaure one.

"What timing", the fAt man shouted. This time I didn't change only seats, I also changed rows to get away from this guy.

Then suddenly lights went out in their house. Rony lit a candle. Very predictably Suckkaj's half face was lighted, other half was dark.

And very predictably the fAn man shouted "What direction !", and very predictably I changed a few more rows.

Then they started discussing their marriage.

"Pitaji Janardan to mahaan gyani the. Portugese Church ki paheli aarati to hamesha wohi shuru karate the. Hamaari shaadi me bhi, unhone sara Upanishad itne acchese padha ki, sab log uthkar 'Amen' kehne lage."

Manmohan Desai effect - on Behakani ? Father John becomes Pitaji Janardan ! Yes, Amen !

"Aur wo Pandeji ? Sharaab pi pi kar naach kar rahe the ... "

To, Sharma-ji ki shaadi me sharaab mil rahi thi ?

Suckkaj said "Haan, muze pata tha, ye log muft ki daru bahot peete hain. Isiliye to maine sasti waali mangayi thi."

Rony thought it as very ecstatic. And she again took off "Kitne hoshiyaar ho mere shakkar ke laddu ... shifaris hoti to .."

After such a lively discussion suddenly lights came back.

I covered my ears to save myself form another comment. And this time I was successful ! The fAt voice couldn't enter my ears !

Now they were blankly looking at each other.

"Kal kya karenge ?" Suckkaj asked.
"Aise hi, puraani yaadon ko taazaa karenge." She said.

And the movie ended ! Really !!

It had lasted for just above an hour. I didn't know, how to react. I just sat there for a few seconds, wondering how to make any sense out of this trash. It had really ended, not that I was particularly unhappy about that. I wondered who is bad ? Is it Behakani or is it Frickmann ? I decided that both of them are bad.

The lights came back, and I blinked a few times to adjust my eyes to the new light. (Isn't this arty ?).

Slowly I walked out of the theatre. Others were again displaying the mourning expression on their faces. They were very seriously discussing the greatness of the movie. I couldn't control myself, and just burst out laughing. Others started staring at me, totally shocked ! During those moments I lost all my inferiority complex.

Albert Pinto came walking towards me and asked, "Hey what happened ?".

I said, "Yes, you were right. This is a real fart movie."

He obviously got very angry and I walked off, laughing like mad.

That Sunday evening I enjoyed a stupid movie on Durdarshan as I have enjoyed no other movie.

- Abhay.
Coming soon to your favourite newsgroup :-
Frickmann's second fArt movie - brought in Hindi by Behakani.

Refuge ...

This completely fictional story was posted on around 1995.

"Tu to saale bachpan se hi 'buddha baba' hai !" came the comment. I knew it was going to come, but still it hurt. It hurt not only because a typical Gulzarish phrase was used to insult me, but because everybody around laughed, including the members of the opposite sex. Married or not, every male suffers a blow to his ego, when he becomes an object of mockery in front of the better sex. Oh, but that's not what I wanted to tell you. So back to the comment, and why it was made.

It was a perfect Diwali. All relatives, near and distant, old and young, good and bad :-( had come together to celebrate. It's not that we all love each other, but thanks to the mysterious power of the vanishing concept of 'joint family', we do come together on such occasions. Apart from the human members, one nonhuman entity also becomes a part and parcel at such times. The perennial 'Idiot Box' aka TV.

This small little cubical gadget has a tremendous power. A few years back, just a couple of years back, a popular program was a bliss to people like me who have no interest in listening to the heated debates on how to solve the Kashmir problem. Not just these debates but even the female gossip also used to disappear for that particular duration ! :-) What more can one you expect ? It's a perfect Nirvana !

But it was this same TV, that became the root cause of all my troubles. With more than 25 channels being 'aired', it's most unlikely for every one to get satisfied. I was happily watching Anari" on 'Zee Cinema'. Oh, oh, I mean Anari *ing Raj Kapoor and NOT the new one *ing his (un)grand-daughter, who goes to any length (or should I say 'shorts') to milaao his khandan ki izzat in mitti.

Just when the sweet duet, (music by Shanker-Jaikishen, I must add :-)), "dil ki nazar se, nazaroN ki dil se" started, the MTV generation kids stormed into the room.

"Hey bhai, ye kya bakwaas dekh rahela hai ? Aapun ka favourite 'Superhit Muqabala' aane waala hai, kya ! Channel badal dal, jaldi." ordered Nishank, my cousin.

Ever since he watched 'Rangeela', he has started speaking like Amirkhan in that movie. Not that he has to try very hard, for he is from the St.John School, and like most of his friends, he is very proud of his atrocious Hindi.

"What", I exclaimed. Even in that surprised state, my first instinctive reaction was to grip the remote control tightly. "You watched that idiot 'BPL Oye' in the morning, then the ever stupid 'Philips Top 10' in the afternoon, and now you want to watch the same set of 10 songs again in the evening ? Don't torture us any more, we have had enough".

"Abe o", he started. "It's much better than watching the same old songs for 25 years, like you do. Every week, it's the different song at the top of the charts. There is always this suspense, which one will it be this time." I tell you, I really hate all this MTV jargon.

"Oh yes, I forgot, your loyalties change every Friday", I taunted.

"Of course not", he protested. "Ever since Kumar Sanu has come, I am his most ardent fan."

It was quite well known to me, that he considers Kumar Sanu to be better than Amitkumar and Amitkumar to be better than Kishorekumar ! Rafi is not worthy enough to be considered for him. And what he has to say about Mukesh is ... well, forget it.

"Oh, common now, don't mention that insult-to-music in front of me", I said and won more enemies than supporters in the room.

Everybody jumped at my throat. Nishank was furious. He shouted, "You are getting senile, bhai. How can you say such thing about the singer who has won 4 Filmfare awards in a row ?"

But the Brahmastra was fired by Nehali, another cousin of mine. "If Kumar Sanu was so bad as you say, then why did YOUR RDBurman used him in 'Ek ladki ko dekha' ?"

The stress on 'your' was impossible to miss. But even before I could think of any good retort, another Brahmastra struck me. This time it was more powerful. "And why then," she continued, "YOUR so honourable Naushad requested him to sing that 'daddy se puchh lena' song ?".

"Requested ? My foot !" I screamed. "I am sure Kumar Sanu must have blackmailed Naushad by kidnapping his son or something".

But in the anger I had thrown the remote control towards her, she just grabbed it, and changed the channel. I knew that the battle was lost and over. And I also knew that, it was not just losing the remote control, which made me accept my defeat so quickly. It was more than that.

The program 'Superhit Muqabala' started, and the nalayak face of the popular (!) VJ Baba Sehgal came on the screen. He was saying,

"mammi mujhe kyuN daTati hai, papa mujhe kyuN daTate hai,
mere chehere pi kitni pimples hai, Baba kitna simple hai".

"What a despicable joker !" I exclaimed and started to go out of the room.

Nishank did not miss this opportunity, and asked me "Yes, I knew this. How can you like the latest Pop Star Baba Sehgal ? I am sure, Abhay will say that, he is a fan of K.L.Saigal, ha, ha, ha".

"But, I am ! I do think K.L.Saigal was one of the greatest." I sounded almost apologetic.

And then came that 'bachpanse hi buddha baba' comment. Everybody laughed aloud, including the kids, the uncles and the aunties and everybody.

Dejected, I walked out of the room.

It was not the first time that I had lost such an argument. But this time it was too quick. The Brahmastra, too powerful to handle.

During that one hour, when 'Superhit Muqabala' was being watched by everybody, I sat alone in another room, lost in my thoughts. I was sure that I was born at the wrong time. I was suddenly jealous of the previous generation, who were young to enjoy the 'Golden Era' of Hindi film music. What fantastic time they must have had ! When all those great Music Directors, Singers, Lyricists existed at the same time. Producing one marvel after another ! Lucky people.

I heard Sunil shouting for me. "Come Abhay, it's over and we can watch Anari once again".

He was the only one of all my cousins, who shared my tastes about Music. I got up. He had changed the channel, and the song had started - "tera jana, dil ke armanoN ka loot jana".

I stopped. Not because of Lata's voice, nor because of SJ's amazing tune. "Yes", I thought, "this is how the previous generation of Music lovers must be thinking about the 'Golden Era'".

And I was no longer jealous. If _I_ feel so bad, what must they be feeling ! And they don't even have a place to turn to, in such depressing moods. But I do have one such place !!

I have never been so eager to return to office. After Diwaali, I reached office much earlier than I usualy do. I switched on my workstation, entered 'trn' and went straight to "", my Refuge !

And I felt once again delighted. As long as this place is free of the Nishanks and the Nehalis, I have nothing to fear. There ARE a few stray Nishanks scattered around this place, but the "buddha babas" are in a clear majority. And they are still talking about Rafi and Kishore and SDB and Madanmohan, and I am sure they will do so for a long time. As almost all these "buddha babas" are still very young. Like me :-)

- Abhay.
God save the Refuge !

Monday, February 2, 2009

The day I became "old" ...

This completely fictional tale was posted on in 1993

"Hey bhai, you should move on with time, you know." Nishank, my cousin, 5 years younger than me, was giving me lectures in Philosophy. The reason ? Simple. We were debating, (we never quarrel), which movie to see.

It all started on a hot afternoon. We were all together to attend a marriage. After heavy lunch the "old people" were busy eating paan, or enjoying a nap. We the "young ones" decided to see the first show in a nearby cinema hall. It was a twin theater, and so naturally there were two movies running. And therein lay the whole problem.

Nishank, wanted to see the Anil Kapoor movie Jamairaja, released recently and I wanted to see Don, running "on popular public demand". We, as usual, had very strong opinions and quickly started an argument. Others were silently enjoying.

"What do you want to see in Jamairaja ?" I demanded.

"And what to you want to see in Don ?" He retorted.

"What do you mean ? It's an Amitabh movie, and that's sufficient."

"Of course not. It's an old movie, and we all have seen it. Where Jamairaja is new, just in it's second week. None of us has seen it. And it stars Anil Kapoor."

"Of course we have seen it, but we won't mind seeing it again, do we ?". I looked around, and saw the look on the face of my other cousins and my legs trembled a bit. Among all my cousins only Sunil was on my side. Others just murmured something. But I was not to give up so easily, I mean after all the argument had just started.

I carried on. "And you want to see that Anil Kapoor for 3 Hrs ? That Anil Kapoor whose definition of acting is to just shout and shout as loudly as he can. You want to spend 9-10 Rs. just to see that mongoose-faced ?".

"How dare you ?" came the piercing shriek. I turned around.

Oh, Nehali, another cousin of mine. Who else ? Who else can have a shrilling sound that is octaves higher than that of Lata in the song "Main hun khushrang Henna". I also wanted to shout to give a fitting reply. Alas ! I don't have a voice like Mahendra Kapoor to shout like he does while saying "Mahaaaaabhaaarat". But even before I had a chance, she continued.

"How dare you say such things about Anil ?" (I didn't know he was on first name basis) "He is the most handsome actor in the film industry. So manly he is !". She sometimes talks like Pooja Bedi.

"Handsome ? Anil Kapoor ? He is the most hairy person in tha phillum idoostaaree. More hairy than Vinod Mehra." I laughed.

"That is his sex-appeal you nut. And your Amitabh aka Vijay ? He has the most improportionate body for a hero."

I felt the blood temperature in my body rising. "What crap ! He has the Personality. And we want to see ACTING ! Not just a statue of some Greek God ..."

But she had clearly gone to the opposition camp. "NO, NO. NOOOO. We are seeing Jamairaja or not seeing any movie."

I realized how untactful I have been. I should have known how the girls feel about their Anil. Even though I KNEW :) that Anil Kapoor has a face like a mongoose, I shouldn't have said it. But when had I been tactful ? Had I understood how a girl feels, wouldn't I have been able to patao that most-beautiful-girl-ever-to-have-walked-on-the-face- of-earth-and-who-lives-in-the-next-building ? But I digress.

Nishank continued, "Hey bhai, you should move on with time, you know. Anil has come, Amit is going." In his poetic best, Nishank looked like a devilish combination of Madan Puri and Ajit.

I slowly began to understand that I am fighting a losing battle. But I don't give up so easily. I looked at Sunil. His face was full of sympathy. After all, as kids, we had sung "Yeh dosti, hum nahin chhodenge" many times together. We used to imitate all the scenes in that Hera-pheri, I always acting Amitabh. He was the only one of my age. Others were a lot younger to us.

He came to me, put an arm around my shoulders and said a sentence that made me accept my defeat immediately. He said, "I guess we are getting old, Abhay".

Getting old ? OLD ? Not so soon ! In Bombay when you are walking on the streets near Shivaji Park, suddenly a ball comes rolling to your feet. Some Gavaskar or Tendulkar has hit an off-drive. The kids call out to you for their ball. I have now got used to their cries "Uncle, uncle ball de do na". My becoming "uncle" like this does not make me angry nowadays. I have come to accept the fact that I "look" old. But I "am" not old ! I mean reaching quarter century doesn't make you "old".

But as Sunil said, we were perhaps too much stuck in the past, as far as the Hindi films go.

Sadly and silently I went along to see Jamairaja. Wondering whether to adjust myself to Anil Kapoor era, or to get "old". I decided to get "old".

The only consolation was that, the tickets of Jamairaja were easily available, and Don was selling in black.

- Abhay.
"Budhdha mil gaya" could be my wife's favourite song.
But I prefer not to ask.

How to write lyrics for Hindi movies ...

This pair of articles was posted to newsgroup around 1995

Sameer's Guide to
How to become a Lyrics Tycoon

Abhay Avachat

Once upon a time in a village in England, a poet called William Wordsworth William Shakespere said - poetry is "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings". How true it was then, how false it is now ! Time changes, and with it almost everything. Sometime the change is slow evolution, but sometime it is a revolution. We are in the age of witnessing one such revolution in Poetry and for this we must thank the main crusader of it -- Sameer !

Sameer a well-known lyricist of today's Hindi films, is the son of another lyricist Anjaan. At a time he is usually working on 30-40 films simultaneously, and charges 1 to 2 Lakhs per film. But we are not going to discuss his such secondary achievements, but his main gift to the art of poem writing. Also we are not discussing the vulgarity of lyrics, but rather the METHOD by which he writes lyrics.

No longer you need to have "powerful emotions", but you need to know a set of words that rhyme mutually. Then you group such pat- terns according to the theme you want, and you have a NEW song ready. This is what I call "Lyrics Factory", and Sameer is sure a multi-millionaire in it. Follow his footsteps, and you will be sure successful !

Consider eg. - you have to write a "rainy" song. What is rain ? Yes, it's "saawan". What does it do ? Yes, "barasataa hai". Now what does rhyme with this ? One word is "tarasataa". Kyaa tarasa- taa hai ? Of course "dil". So we can start with the "mukhada"

jab jab saawan barasataa hai
tujhse milne ko dil tarasataa hai

Simple ? Yes, it is. That's why we should thank Sameer. His new and original method creates songs, which are not arbitrarily worded, and most imp. - are easy to give tune to, even by Nadeem-Shravan.

Here are some more examples.

Do you want a romantic song ? Here is one of the many possible

main waadaa karataa huN, ke tumse pyar karataa huN
tere liye jeeta huN, tere liye marataa huN

With this "mukhada", many stanzas can be created which end in "darataa", "harataa", "phirataa" etc. This is left as an exercise to the nettor.

Do you want a village song ? OK. Think of some rural Hindi word. Yes, one is "saiNyaa". Great. Now it is a matter of few seconds to come up with

O saiNyaa, mere saiNyaa, pakdo na meri baiNyaa, padu main paiNyaa

Want a Urdu-like song ? Best options are "gulaab", "sharaab", "jawaab" etc. Here is one example

chaman me tujhasa gulaab nahiN, tera dildar koi jawaab nahiN

Note the usage of "dildar". You should have a reservoir of such _fillers_ like "jaanam", "jaanu", "yaaraa" etc.

So friend, all you need to know is what you want. Everything is straight forward afterwards. And Nadeem-Shravan and Kumar Shanu with Alka Yadnik are always there for you to sing these songs. No longer you should have new ideas, new style of presentation but you should have ready made components on the shelf.

In short you should have a "Lyrics Factory" to become a "Lyrics Tycoon" like Sameer.

- Abhay.

A tribute to "Lyrics Tycoon" - Sameer !

An application of above technique


How much effort is needed to construct lyrics of a Hindi Film song ? Hardly any. Forget for a moment Sahir/Gulzar/Majrooh. Just suppose, that all we want to do is come up with a song, which will fit into any movie. Also we don't want to write something like, "Romeo mera naam, chori mera kaam". We don't want to be THAT stupid.

I claim that, even for writing a song, with a rhythm, flow etc. not much effort is needed. I came up with following song in 10 minutes. And I am very proud (!) of the fact, that NOT a single, I repeat, NOT a single line has any original idea ! :-). All this "jaan luta dena", "duniya ke rasmon ko thokar maarna" etc. have been used ad infinitum in songs. But still one can combine them, and come up with a new song, which deceptively looks like a not- too-bad song. This trick is not as well known as what our directors do to come up with new movies.

But here is the proof ! Note how words like "jaaneman", "sanam" etc. have been used as fillers.

-: = :-
kya kahe kitana pyar tumse hai karate
bahut jaaneman hum, tum pe hai marate

dil lutaya hai tum pe hamane, jaan bhi lutaa denge
beeNch me jo aayengi wo saari, deewaare hataa denge
waadaa ye tumse aaj, sanam hum hai karate ...

muhabbat me ek duje ke, nayaa jahan basa lete hain
duniyaa ki rasamon ko, chalo thokar maar dete hain
zammane se dilwaale nahin hain darate ...
-: = :-

Not a single line is new, but the song is new !!
This can fit in any movie ! Oh, why, I can hear Kumar Sanu singing it, the MD is of course Nadim-Shravan :-)

Friends, if any one of you is going to make a movie, or has any connections at right places, please don't forget your fellow RMIM-er Abhay. I can write dialogues too :-)

- Abhay.
Shayari ki duniya ka ubharata sitara !

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Definition Of GHazal

I had posted this article on in or around 1993. It has been copied and pasted on many blogs, sites. It was originally archived here and also some other web pages that may not be alive anymore. It was used as a reference here. On other pages, most of the times, due credit was given. But if you search for "Classical Definition Of Ghazal" on Google then you will find some sites that have the text verbatim without any credit.

As I have written in the article, it is based on the essay in the book "Aaina-e-ghazal", so I am not claiming any credit for that part. But I did make is accessible for average readers with examples from Hindi movie songs. What I did add on my own was "What is NOT GHazal".

What is GHazal ?


After my article on Madanmohan and Khaiyyam, some nettors asked me to clearly say, which poem can be called Ghazal. And also because of some statements I made in that article, I think it's my duty to give the 'definition' of Ghazal. Although, many would be knowing this, for some this information can be new, for some this will mean precise description of some general terms. This article has become "technical", but I hope it's not boring. And I also hope, this is helpful for the Ghazal fans.

Instead of giving my personal views, I thought of quoting somebody who is an authority. There is book/dictionary/colection of Sher's titled "Aaina-e-ghazal", which IMHO is a treasure for every Ghazal fan. In this there is a long essay - "Ghazal kya hai ?" by Dr.Arshad Jamaal.

The essay is written in Hindi, and is about History of Ghazal, its development, its milestones, important Shayar's etc. One part of it describes the definition of Ghazal. The following is loosely based on that. The essay talks only about what IS a Ghazal. To that I have added in the following, what is NOT a Ghazal. So any mistakes in these parts, are mine. [ These are enclosed in square brackets like this. ]

Also one thing should be kept in mind that, this is not mathematics. So "preciseness" of the "definition" should not be questioned.


Classical Definition of Ghazal

Ghazal in short, is a collection of Sher's which follow the rules of 'Matla', 'Maqta', 'Beher', 'Qaafiyaa' and 'Radif'. So to know what Ghazal is, it's necessary to know what these terms mean.

To understand these terms easily , we will take an example.

1. koi ummid bar nahin aati
koi surat nazar nahin aati
2. aage aati thi haale dil par hasi
ab kisi baat par nahin aati
3. hum wahan hain, jahan se humko bhi
kucch hamaari khabar nahin aati
4. kaabaa kis muh se jaaoge 'Ghalib'
sharm tumko magar nahin aati

What is a Sher ?
It's a poem of two lines. This definition is deceptively simple. Please note that, every Sher is a poem in itself ! A Sher does not need, anything around it, to convey the message. All the 4 stanzas in our example are independent poems, Sher's.

So Ghazal is necessarily a collection of two-line-poems called Sher. [ So the Rafi solo "rang aur noor ki baaraat kise pesh karu" is NOT a Ghazal, as every stanza is of 3 lines, and not 2. ]

What are other restrictions ? Many, and important ones.
[ Any collection of Sher's is not Ghazal. Some good examples are ; the famous Mukesh song from Yehoodi, "yeh mera deewaanaapan hai" ; and the title song of "dil apana aur preet parayi". Each stanza in these songs can be considered as an independent Sher, but they are NOT Ghazal's. To understand, why, we have to wait till 'Qaafiyaa, 'Radif'. ]

What is 'Beher' ?
'Beher' is the 'meter' of the Sher's. It can be considered as the length of the Sher. Both the lines in the Sher *MUST* be of same 'Beher'. And all the Sher's in one Ghazal *MUST* be of the same 'Beher'. There are 19 (!!) kinds of 'Beher'. But in simple terms, 'Beher' is categorized in 3 classes. Short, medium, long. [ The examples in [] are my additions, from Hindi Films. ]

Small :
ahale dairo-haram reh gaye
tere deewane kam reh gaye
[ Also Talat song, "dil-e-nadan tuze hua kya hai" ]

Medium :
umr jalwo me basar ho, ye zaruri to nahin
har shab-e-gam ki seher ho, ye zaruri to nahin
[ And by Gulzar, "ruke ruke se kadam, ruk ke baar baar chale" ]

Long :
ai mere humnashin, chal kahin aur chal, is chaman me ab apanaa guzaaraa nahin
baat hoti gulon ki, to seh lete hum, ab to kaaton pe bhi haq hamaaraa nahin
[ The filmfare winner, "Manzile apani jagah hai" !! Yes ! It IS a Ghazal. And the Shayar is Prakash Mehra !! surprise , surprise !! ]

So Ghazal is a collection of Sher's of SAME 'Beher'.

What is 'Radif' ?
In a Ghazal, second line of all the Sher's *MUST* end with the *SAME* word/s. This repeating common words is the 'Radif' of the Ghazal.

In our example, the 'Radif' is "nahin aati".

[ Sometimes, the Ghazal becomes known by its 'Radif'. eg. "zaraa aahista chal" sung by Pankaj Udhas. On RMIM we all know one Ghazal by the 'Radif' as "aahista aahista", don't we ? or is it 2 or 3 ? :-) ]

What is 'Qaafiyaa' ?
'Qaafiyaa' is the rhyming pattern which all the words before 'Radif' *MUST* have.

In our example the 'Qaafiyaa' is "bar", "nazar", "par", "magar" etc. This is a necessary requirement. Something which is followed even in the exceptions to all these rules.

So Ghazal is a collection of Sher's of same 'Beher', ending in same 'Radif' and having same 'Qaafiyaa'.
[ That's the reason, why "yeh mera diwanapan hai" etc. are NOT Ghazals. There is no common thing which can be called 'Qaafiyaa' and 'Radif'. ]

What is 'Matla' ?
The first Sher in the Ghazal *MUST* have 'Radif' in its both lines. This Sher is called 'Matla' of the Ghazal and the Ghazal is usually known after its 'Matla'. There can be more than one 'Matla' in a Ghazal. In such a case the second one is called 'Matla-e-saani' or 'Husn-e-matla'. In our example, the first Sher is the 'Matla'.

What is 'Maqta' ?
A Shayar usually has an alias ie. 'takhallus' eg. Mirza Asadullakhan used 'Ghalib' as his 'takhallus' and is known by that. Other examples are 'Daagg' Dehlvi, 'Mir' Taqi Mir, Said 'Rahi', Ahmed 'Faraz' etc. There is a Sher in a Ghazal, the last one, which has the Shayar's 'takhallus' in it.
[ A Shayar, can use the 'Maqta' very intelligently. He can "talk to himself" like one in our example. I have lots of favourite Sher's which are 'Maqta' of some Ghazal. Some gems are
koi nam-o-nishan puchhe to ai kaasid bataa denaa,
takhallus 'Daag' hai, aur aahiqon ke dil me rehte hai
jab bhi milte hain, to kehte hain ke, "kaise ho 'Shakil'",
iske aage to koi baat nahin hoti hai
The first one uses the meaning of the 'takhallus' to create the magic, and the second one is just simple, simply beautiful. ]

To summarize, Ghazal is a collection of Sher's (independent two-line poems), in which there is at least one 'Matla', one 'Maqta' and all the Sher's are of same 'Beher' and have the same 'Qaafiyaa' and 'Radif'.


1. Ghazal is just a form. It is independent of any language. eg. in Marathi also, there can be (and there are) good Ghazals.

2. Some Ghazal's do NOT have any 'Radif'. Rarely. Such Ghazal's are called "ghair-muraddaf" Ghazal.

3. Although, every Sher, should be an independent poem in itself, it is possible, that all the Sher's are on the same theme. What famous example can be other than "chupke chupke raat din aasun bahaanaa yaad hai".

4. In modern Urdu poetry, there are lots of Ghazal's which do NOT follow the restriction of same 'Beher' on both the lines of Sher. But even in these Ghazal's, 'Qaafiyaa' and 'Radif' are present.

5. The restriction of 'Maqta' is really very loose. Many many Ghazal's do NOT have any 'Maqta'. [ I think 'Maqta' was used in the earlier times, as a way to keep the credit. But since this is traditional, many Ghazal's do have a 'Maqta' just for the sake of it. Sometimes the name of the Shayar comes unnaturally in the last Sher of the Ghazal. ]

6. (UPDATE) I forgot to add that it was a custom to have odd number of shers in the GHazal, with at least 7 shers. But it is very common to see this custom NOT being followed.


So that's my long essay on Ghazal :-) I hope it helps in clearing some doubts, and I also hope that atleast for some, the information was interesting and new.

- Abhay.
Ghazal rudaad hai naakaamiyon ki,
Ghazal mehrumiyon ki daastaan hai |
Ghazal riste hue zakhmon ka marham,
Ghazal ek chaaraa-e-dard-e-nihan hai |
Ghazal ka husn hi hai, husn-e-aalam,
Ghazal ka noor hi noor-e-jahan hai |

- Jagdish Bhatnagar 'Hayaat'

ASAD Archival

The new year resolution of archiving ASAD articles is complete ! I still haven't found the 108th article that I am almost sure I posted. If I find it, I will upload it.

I don't really have any plans to restart ASAD. Definitely not on an every-day basis. But once in a while I will try post an article about GHazal or Urdu poetry in general.

I will also archive some other articles that I had posted on newsgroup.

ASAD - 107

Originally posted on in 1997

Today, a quick mention of "sharaabi" shers by Jigar. These are not my favourites, but without these, discussion on Jiagar remains incomplete.

In all these shers, "sharaab" need not be taken literally !!! That's certainly one of the good things about these shers.

zeest = jeevan

pahale sharaab zeest thi, ab zeest hai sharaab,
koi peela raha hai, piye jaa rahaa huN maiN

This was not bad ! Similarly this one ...

beqaif = without 'nashaa'

beqaif dil hai aur jiye ja raha huN maiN
khaali hai sheesha aur piye ja raha huN maiN

But the follwoing two are much better ...

zaahid = puritan
shokhi-e-rindaana = mischief done in intoxication (?)
rahamat = divine mercy

zaahid, meri shokhi-e-rindaana to dekhana
rahamat ko baatoN baatoN me bahala ke pee gayaa [ :-) ]

daste-shauq = ichchha/utsaah_waale haath

ek jaam aakhari to peena hai aur saaqi,
ab daste-shauq kaaNpe ya paaNo ladkhadaaye !

The last one is really good ! To be used before saying good-bye to anything - even life.

- Abhay.
ASAD _also_ stands for "A Sher A Day" !

ASAD - 106

Originally posted on in 1997

sab_ko maaraa 'Jigar' ke sheroN ne
aur "Jigar" ko sharaab ne maaraa !

What kind of image the word "shayar' evokes in your mind ? I would say that there are 2 most common answers. One, well-dressed polished person, who often uses poetry in his talk, full of "adab" etc etc. Another is, a drunken, heart-broken, bitter person - a la "Pyaasa".

The second image fits Jigar. Unkept hair, short built, dark complexion, smallpox scars on the face and always carrying a bottle. Even at the mushaira's, he used to go drunk. He used to dismiss any comments about his appearance by saying, "koi achchha insaan hi shayar ban sakata hai".

Many young poet-wannabes followed his footsteps and started drinking. Needless to say, drinking doesn't teach about poetry. Nor does "Pyaasa" like appearance. As the Pakistani poet Mehboob KHizaaN says ...

baat yeh hai, ki aadami shaayar
ya to hota hai, ya nahiN hota !

But Jigar himself always gave good advise. To one of the famous poets, who was young then, Jigar said - "Achchha sher zarur suno, lekin uski naqal mat utaaro. Jo dil me banati hai, use kaagaz pe utaaro. Apana ustaad khud bano". This one went on to become Majrooh Sultanpuri !

In his later years, Jigar gave up drinking completely. Still, wine remains an important part of his poetry. So let's take a brief look at such shers tomorrow, before concluding our discussion on him.

- Abhay.
ASAD _also_ stands for "A Sher A Day" !

ASAD - 105

Originally posted on in 1997

Jigar Muradabadi was born in Muradabad, obvious :-), in 1890. I do not know much about his life except that at one point of time, he used to sell eye-glasses on railway platforms !

Simplicity with the ability to touch your heart was his magic. Get it straight. No complicated metaphors, no philosophy, no vague similes, no socialist musings. Just about love and love and love. If you don't like poetry of love, I am sorry for you ! And if you like ishqi'aana shaayari, then Jiagr is the poet for you.

Also present is the unquestionable music in his poetry.

Just look at the following shers. Written in a very conversational way. but still full of rhythm. This is - Jigar touch. Touch of class.

wo kab ke aaye, aur gaye bhi,
nazar me ab tak samaa rahe haiN
ye chal rahe haiN, wo phir rahe haiN,
ye aa rahe haiN, wo jaa rahe haiN !

I love this sher ! What a musical way to say that - all I see is her !

Another highly musical one from the same GHazal ...

shabaab = youth
jammal = beauty

shabaab rangiN, jamaal rangiN,
wo sar se pa tak tamaam rangiN,
tamaam rangiN bane hue haiN,
tamaam rangiN banaa rahe haiN

Very cute word play ! I like this one for its meaning too.

- Abhay.
ASAD _also_ stands for "A Sher A Day" !

ASAD - 104

Originally posted on in 1997

Sikandar Ali was his real name. But he is better known as ...

Jigar Muradabadi !!

A bit of diversion before we proceed. All this suspense thing was not done to test your knowledge. It was mainly to stress the importance of this great poet and also for some fun. As I said in the very 1st article I know it wasn't such a big suspense. :-) ... Still ... I will emphasize that, there is NOTHING terrible, if it was a suspense for you.

Because some shers are so famous, that they are routinely used as idioms or "muhawara"s etc. and we often do not know the names of the creators. So just because you didn't know the name of the poet who wrote one particular sher, doesn't mean that you have a long way to go etc. Anyway. Back to Mr.X ...ooops... Jigar :-)

Now that we have observed Jigar to be the creator of many famous shers, let's turn our attention to other achievements by him.

Musha'ira is a very important thing for poets and lovers of poetry. And Jigar's impact was on the Mushaira too. He is also famous for his GHazal recitation. To understand what impact a good recitation can have on the audience, you have to attend a mushaira. A sher like ...

yuN zindagi guzaar rahaa huN tere baghair,
jaise koi gunaah kiye jaa raha huN maiN !

can get the entire crowd on its feet, if recited by someone who is good at it. Here the stress is on "gunaah". Story goes that, people tore away their shirts in frenzy, when Jigar presented such delicate shers in the Lakhnow mushaairas.

The following sher too can evoke the cries of "once more" many times, due to the sheer beauty of thought. And also because it's so subtle.

lutf = fun ( "mazaa" )

kya lutf, ki maiN apanaa pataa aap bataauN,
kije koi bhooli hui, khaas apani adaa yaad !!

What's the fun if I tell my 'pataa' myslef ? Why don't you remember your own special 'adaa' which you seem to have forgotten ? Aisi hi ek adaa par to maiN apane aapko kho baTHaa thaa ! Ab mera koi pataa nahiN ! Puchhanaa hai to apani hi kisi adaa se puchho ! (Any other interpretations ? Please share them if you have.)

- Abhay.
ASAD _also_ stands for "A Sher A Day" !

ASAD - 103

Originally posted on in 1997

To begin, let's complete the last sentence of yesterday's article.

According to many, when it comes to GHazal, the name after Ghalib and Meer is ..... Sikandar Ali !

As I said in the 1st article on him, he is one of the most often quoted poets of Urdu Shayari. Probably next to Ghalib himself.

This sher by Ghalib is very well-known ...

ishq_ne 'GHalib' nikamma kar diya
warna ham bhi aadami the kaam_ke

Also well-known is this sher by Sikandar Ali, but opposite in meaning -

ruswa = badnaam

ishq jab tak na kar chuke ruswa,
aadami kaam_ka nahiN hota !

That reminds me of another famous sher of his ...

zindagi, tu hame kahaaN laa'i ?
ek muhabbat, hazaar ruswaai !

And another from the same GHazal of the above sher ...

naagaah = achaanak
shanaasaa'i = parichay

do dil is tarhaa mile naagaah
jaise barsoN ki ho shanaasaa'i !!

Isn't the last one wonderful ? This is a little bit similar to the line "beqaraar dil is tarha mile, jis tarha kabhi hum juda na the" by Kaifi. I like the sher by Sikandar Ali more. It's so short and effective. Also the important word is "naagaah". Love happens. Just happens.

Oh yes ! :-) :-)
Sikandar Ali was his real name. But he is better known as ...

- Abhay.
ASAD _also_ stands for "A Sher A Day" !

ASAD - 102

Originally posted on in 1997

Those were the days before independence. The atmosphere in the country was of freedom-struggle. Naturally, this was reflected in the poetry too. Iqbal, Chakbist, Josh and others wrote poetry on these aspects. The soul of GHazal then - ishq - was sidelined. In fact, even GHazal as a form of poetry was not anymore in vogue.

It seemd that, GHazal is in its last stages. The end was near. The fact, that it didn't, is mainly due to a few handful of poets, one of which is the Shayar under discussion.

His poetry was mainly about prem and pyar, some times about ishq and muhabbat and otherwise about love. :-) That is about love and love only.

By writing such poetry, he gave a rebirth to GHazal.

And probably that's why he said in another ultra-famous sher ...

arbaab-e-siyaasat = politicians [ political scientists ?? arbaab = lord and siyaasat = politics/deception(!!!) ]

unka jo farz hai, arbaab-e-siyaasat jaane !
mera paighaam muhabbat hai ! jahaN tak pahuNche

Maybe he addressed it to the poets who wrote about politics, or maybe he simply meant masters-of-deception literally.

In any case, people loved this rebirth of GHazal. And the work of this poet became "Classical Literature" in his own life-time !

So ! Those of you who thought, it's Iqbal we are discussing now know that it's not so. :-) Iqbal, although one of the greatest poets, is primarily a poet of Nazm. According to many, when it comes to GHazal, the name after Ghalib and Meer is .....

:-) :-)

- Abhay.
ASAD _also_ stands for "A Sher A Day" !

ASAD - 101

Originally posted on in 1997

It's incredible that the series has completed the 100 article mark ...

Don't you frown and start doubting my modesty :-) let me complete ...

It's incredible that the series has completed the 100 article mark ... without devoting a single article to a Shayar, without whom any discussion on Ghazal would be incomplete !

Hence let me devote a few articles on this great personality of GHazal. Usually, I discuss a poet only for 3 consecutive articles. To remedy the lack of discussion on this Shayar till now, I will devote more than 3.

I would begin with a sher by him, which is used in the begining of the titles of many (all ?) films produced by Nasir Hussain.

kya husn ne samjha hai, kya ishq ne jaanaa hai
hum KHaak-nashinoN ki, THokar me zamaanaa hai !

A thundering sher, no doubt ! It's also one of the many many many famous and often quoted shers by this genius. Come to think of it, I think, only GHalib would outnumber him in that aspect.

Many of you must have guessed the name of the shayar. This is such a famous sher. But it's possible, that some haven't ! For them, let me build the suspense :-) See you tomorrow friends .....

- Abhay.
ASAD _also_ stands for "A Sher A Day" !

ASAD - 100

Originally posted on in 1997

Another milestone in the series :-) And once again, keeping with the tradition (!) it's time to look at a sher by GHalib and also a sher about Ghalib. Cool ! No problem. :-)

Before presenting a sher, thanks to all who have supported the series, sent their comments, suggested other interpretations, pointed out mistakes, added their knowledge and all such things. Thanks a lot !

How would one describe Ghalib ? I am sure different people will have different ideas about it. One of the main qualities I absolutely adore in his Poetry is his use of Logic ! No other poet can come close to him, in that aspect. In fact, if there is any candidate from the world of poetry to be included in Douglas Hofstadter's Eternal Golden Braid, then it has to be Ghalib. As Ansari Mohsin said in his mail, "The man is incredible. A lesson in logic, creativity, and magic". Very apt !

Logic leads to philosophy. And philosophy requires questioning. Which, too, is abundant in GHalib's poetry. I could go on and on, but to illustrate this nature of Ghalib's poetry, let me present a sher by Ghalib himself.

It's a prophecy which came true ...

hui muddat, ki 'GHalib' mar gaya, par yaad aata hai,
wah har ek baat par kehna, "ki yoN hota, to kya hota ?" !

How do I praise this Sher ? How do I ?
Isn't this sher true ? Isn't it SO TRUE ? Hasn't this very ability to question made AsadulaakhaN into Ghalib ? Don't we remember him as a "philosopher poet" ? I have no words to describe what I feel, when I read this sher again and again. Again and again.

Ghalib has captured his entire poetry - his self - into just one sher !

With these feelings of devotion, we complete the century of this series.

- Abhay.
ASAD _also_ stands for "A Sher A Day" !
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...