To hell and back – Part 1

A decade has gone by. Everyone must have been through one harrowing trip in their lifetime. Well, this is mine.

A trek to Yedakumeri by Seven of us. This trip is a tribute to whoever coined the term lucky 7. Of course, the only proof of luck is that we returned alive, without killing each other.

Jeeva, Aslam, Neil, Bobby, Guru, Bonda and myself. It could probably be the worst assembly of people to embark on this splendid trip that was designed to attract any fuck up including those that aren’t covered by wildest imaginations.

Firstly a brief introduction to the trekkers.

Jeeva: Probably the most heartless, insensitive, pigheaded person I’ve ever come across on this planet. He could probably give Lee Ermey a hard competition as the brutal sergeant in ‘Full Metal Jacket’. His idea of trekking was to trek. Keep walking was his motto. To him, beautiful sunsets, stunning locales, stopping to enjoy the weather were nothing but a sheer waste of time. If you collapsed mid-way, and were waiting for death to take you away, he’d simply cross over you, say a little prayer and walk away, leaving you to deal with your fate. He considered this no less than a mission to Mt. Everest or The Moon. He was there to place his flag in a place where few men had treaded before. And nothing could come in between him and that calling. 

Aslam: He was the vernacular version of Jeeva. However, if Jeeva’s purpose was to ‘Keep walking’, his agenda was to ‘Keep mocking’. He minced no words. He spoke his mind. And just to make sure that it was not lost in translation, he was equipped with the richest vocabulary of abuses in every language possible. And he had just finished his worst engineering exams, and was here to release all the pent-up emotions of the semester that passed by. 

Neil: The philosopher, dreamy eyed fashionista who knew how to cut a short story, long. His stories would start in the morning and end at dusk, where the listener would have promptly switched off after about 17 minutes into the conversation. To him, this trip was an opportunity to enhance his portfolio pictures, to include some against the backdrop of nature.. He didn’t trek. He ramp walked. Tossing his hair to the imaginary cameras flashing around him. He used to take periodic breaks just to brush his long hair, adjust his belt, flex his muscles, and everything else to ensure that he looked his best even in the middle of the jungle. 

Bobby: How do I describe him? I didn’t know him exactly. Actually, noone knew him. He was accompanying us, ‘coz Jeeva had a love interest in his sister. He brought him along in the hope that he would be able to win him over by the end of this trip. Bobby brought his camera along. And Bobby’s camera brought along with itself, a paraphernalia that Prabudda Das Gupta could be envious of. He came prepared like he was covering a feature for Discovery Channel. His complicated camera took about 15 minutes to assemble and 25 minutes to dismantle. This trip got extended by 2 days, because of Bobby’s photographical expeditions. Bobby spoke only English. Not even slang. He never followed anything unless it was English, in the right grammar. Just to make things exciting, this scrawnily scrawny guy suffered from ‘hemophobia’, – the fear of blood. If he saw blood, he would freeze.

Guru: Here, noone knew him except me. No, I did not have any love interest in his sister. He tagged along just because he had nothing better to do. His parents would never approve of a trip like this. Even more so, if they knew the company he was going with. He told them that he was away to his lecturer’s house in Mangalore to seek further knowledge under a banyan tree, that was not possible within the confines of a classroom. His contribution to the trip was that he had ‘Ophidiophobia’ – the fear of snakes. And of course, a small bag that was filled with text books, which made its way all through the trip.

Bonda: No guesses for why he was called that. He was round, huge and walked around concentrating on his walk, so that he would not lose balance. He spoke at the speed of 300 words per minute, mixing 4 languages in it. And he sprayed spit liberally as he spoke. Nobody understood what he spoke. Either because they were too pre-occupied in dodging themselves from his salivating explosions, or because he just spoke crap. There would be exchange of glances every time he spoke, just to see if anyone grasped what he was trying to say. If this process took too long, Bonda would increase his speed of speech till you were drenched with his drool. And Bonda had totalophobia. He feared everything. Heights, water, snakes, blood, darkness, bats, shrubs, snails, earthworms, bushes, trees, birds, human beings and everything in general. 

I guess I need no introduction.

The place we were venturing to, was this abandoned railway station in the middle of a jungle, called Yedakumeri, somewhere on the way to Ghati Subramanya. Once upon a time, Yedakumeri was a tribal village that was soon spotted by civilisation, and Railways immediately connected them to the rest of the world, by installing a railway station. However, the few inhabitants in this area, primarily hunters found no reason to stay connected with the developed world. And the world decided to give them a cold shoulder, and the station was soon abandoned. Once that happened, the few people who were running the station also vacated leaving behind the bushmen and their bushes. So all that is there now is a quaint railway station in the middle of nowhere. It still has its ticket counters, wash basins, boards and benches. But just no people.

Soon someone re-discovered this place, and the word soon spread among a few, and it became a haunt for trekkers who loved renouncing their lives, to spend a few days in blissful isolation. 

The preparations for this trip started about a week in advance. After debating endlessly, we finally decided to make it a 4 day trip, a day to go, 2 days of camping and one to get back. 

We made a long list of stuff needed for survival. Sleeping mats, trekking bags, little stoves, pots and pans, kerosene, groceries and other supplies. We made an elaborate plan of what we would eat for every meal. Since none of us had previous trekking experiences, we narrowed down on meals that were similar to what we ate back home. And soon we had our bags loaded with noodles, rice, vegetables, spices and some readymade mixes like puliyogare mix, lemon rice mix and other fast to cook, good to eat goodies. And then we stuffed every possible inch of space with the miscalculated last minute purchases like alcohol, ciggies, torches etc.

Once we made sure that the bags were at least twice our weights, we buckled them up, till the zippers gave way, and till each and every person’s bag had atleast one object that was strategically placed to jab you on the spinal chord. To give you that needed push on a trip like this. We did a quick cross-check if the torture was fairly distributed across the luggage. However, Bobby’s bag only had space for a few onions, since he was an esteemed crew member who only carried stuff that didn’t demean his persona. Guru landed at the bus stop in the last minute, with his bag of text-books. Since we could not throw them away or find any alternate location, we let it be as an academic burden that was difficult to get rid of.

So after a few modifications, we boarded the local bus that automatically redistributed the burden, forcing us to alter that walking posture we had practised all along.

I had dutifully played my part in adding to the luggage and the confusion.

I had this fascination of making omelettes in the middle of the jungle. Since, none of them displayed the same passion for this dish, I decided to carry the ingredients myself. The problem was eggs. How the hell do I carry them? So I decided to crack this problem myself through some experimentations. I bought an egg rack, placed  the eggs in the them, locked them in by shutting the outer cover, and shook them with all my might. And they all cracked. Well, that was not the way I wanted to crack this. After breaking a dozen eggs in the process, I then wrapped each egg individually with paper napkins and bound them with cello tape, till they sat in the egg rack with no gap around. Finally, I managed to successfully pack in 24 eggs. By the end of this R&D, cooking omlettes in the middle of the jungle had became my new  mission in life, something I desperately wanted to tick off in my bucket list.

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To get there you start from this place called Donigal. And follow the abandoned rail track all the way to Yedakumeri. About 13 kms of walking on a rail track. 

At about 5 am, the bus screeched to a halt, and the conductor screamed “Donigal banthu, hiliree…..bega’. He hurried us out, and the bus sped away leaving us in the middle of pitch darkness, deafened with the sound of a million crickets and frogs.

Bonda said something: ‘what is this machaan…bloody apkndpnapnen apkndnasd’

We knew he was around us somewhere close, as we felt the dampness of his spit on our faces. 

And someone finally managed to locate a pocket torch in the bags lying down. Once the torch was lit, Bonda screamed again. 

‘asdknanne bag apknadnpn bag aknkdnpand bag’

Aslam: Nin akkan, kya re tera problem chinaal ke?’

Bonda: ‘MY…%^&*……BAG…. …….BUS’

Bobby: “What’s he saying?’

Aslam: “Uski maa, usne uska bag bus me heech chodh ke aaya re gaandu ke baalan.”

Bobby: “Oh no! Where did the bus go?”

Aslam: “To Mars. How will I know? Jeeva, yaaro ivana karkond bandiddu? (who the hell brought this chap along)

Jeeva: “Calm down Bobby.

I instinctively knew that this was one of those trips, where my fucked up luck was itching to take over. 

 

To be contd…

Emosanal connecsion

emotional

The pop corn seemed potent. And the coke tasted like neat vodka. Watching Dev D is like going on a dizzy ride into fantasy, rather ecstasy. The thrill is quite similar to screaming together in a rock show, watching the local band belt out ‘cocaine’. The intoxication is so misleading, that you start confusing the cheap liquor inside you to be something of an higher order. 

Fluorescent streaks of colour, crazy camera works, eclectic sound effects transport you to a world that you only hangovered about till now.  

It looks like the director, the cast, the cameraman, the spot boy, the editor were on dope throughout the making of this film. And the censor board was on a overdose  to pass it. 

The film is a narcotic pot boiler (quite literally) of a man who indulges in everything that you only had seventh hand information about. All said and done it was one hellofatrip in the name of modern cinema. All the weed that Anurag Kashyap sowed has reaped off. And it shows.dev-d-0a1

 

 

What distinctly catches your eye in that dark tele cine are a few scenes, infact single symbolic shots, like the sex starved punjabi kudi who cycles away to the some ganne ke kheth with a bed on her carrier, freeing the location from the clutches of Yash Chopra and his disciples, and putting it to better use. 

Or the scene where Abhay Deol walks in slow motion, out of a wine store balancing an entire carton of vodka on one hand, to depict the extent of his misery. Worth learning how to whistle.

Or the scene where the firangi girl turned prostitute, regrets why her father did not pardon her for all her sins, and Abhay Deol pulls her close and gives her a hug, reciting the same lines that she wanted to hear from her father. 

smoking-upYes, there could be people who would argue that this encourages alcoholism and drugs and spreads messages that are against our culture. But again, it is only a movie. Nobody set out to install lightbulbs in villages after seeing Swades. Maybe, movies can only do so much. So, it’s best to leave your moralistic viewpoints aside, and watch this movie for the sheer pleasure of watching good cinema.  

The guts behind getting a local brass band to lend their voice for the lead single ‘Emosanal Attyachar’ says a lot about the director wanting to redefine the tried and tested Sonu and Udit for delivering a hit, or for that matter  engaging a garage musician to score the music tracks.  

Apparently, most of the songs were written by the singers themselves, because Anurag had identified closet poets behind those voices.

This movie actually reminded me of someone closer home who tried what Anurag accomplished, a decade ago. Uppi.satyam42

Yes, if you follow closely, there is an uncanny resemblance to what Uppi set out to do when the audience had still not got their fill with run of the mill stuff (the rhyme happened without my knowledge, sorry about that). Right from the title, Uppi decided to be different, yes just for the sake of being different. Titles like A, Shhh, Om, Upendra, Swastik, H2O and other titles that weren’t as distinct as the ones above. 

However prepared you might have been for unpreparedness, Uppi still had surprises. Surprises that you enjoyed. Fleeting references to situations that you’ve been through in the past. He narrated stories from a place that you left behind to join a group that you actually don’t belong to. He sucked you in, releasing you from the trappings that you have so stupidly got yourself into. He welcomed you back to a world that is loud, unpretentious and mediocre, where appreciation required no additional knowledge or effort on your part. Letting you give in to the unpolished side of yourself, that you sometimes so desperately seek in the world you’ve graduated into. 

Crude dialogues, unpoetic lyrics and extreme performances found a method to creep into plots that made the last benchers of school, first benchers in the cinema hall. Weaved into stories where you willingly reduced yourself to the lowest common denominator. 

 

Sample this dialogue from A…”Indian culture is great, Indian tradition is great, Indian heritage is great….but Indians are not great.” This is juxtaposed against a rape scene, where he steps in to save the victim. Over the top and deshdrohi..ish, but thoroughly enjoyable when you become one with the crowd and whistle along.

The story lines made you uncomfortable in your seat, and the message was conveyed only after tossing and turning in your bed that night. For instance, Upendra was a film that set out to prove that a man can actually have relationships with three different women, one for love, another for lust and the third for marriage, as all the three from one person could be unsatisfying. Or H2O was a story about a Kannadiga and a Tamilian falling in love with the same woman called Cauvery. And just to make it more difficult for audiences used to regular cinema, he made it a bi-lingual film, where the two heroes (He and Prabhudeva), spoke in Kannada and Tamil respectively. What happened was not as surprising as the film. It was promptly banned.

Strangely, I find far too many similarities between these two geniuses of cinema.

I found the cinematic treatment of Dev D slipping into trance, quite similar to Uppi’s introduction shot in Upendra. A technique where still photographs are taken on a trolley that rotates around the subject, and then strung together in high speed, to give you a crazy rush. Apparently, Danny Boyle advised Anurag to use this technique to get the desired effect, while Uppi plainly learnt it from ignorance.  

Or for that matter, the shaky camera that blurs on and off as Dev D approaches his lover after downing a bottle, is quite close to the ‘helkolakke ondu ooru’ song where Uppi in a similar state goes swaggering all over the place, conveniently transferring the buzz in his head on to yours. And made it a universal favorite of every boozard in crowded cheapo bars, when alcohol began to corner them to solitude. Suddenly a lonely victim from under a zero watt bulb would break into this number, slowly drawing the fellow drunkards into his gloomy world. Eventually, the entire bar would echo his sentiments, pour their left over drinks to plastic tumblers and sway down the dark stairway, singing in chorus, bumping into each other and bonding like buddies, finding similarities in the shitty scripts that God  had written for them.

 

Uppi then offered further comfort to lonely love-struck boozards with an optional number in H2O, ‘Dil ilde love maadukke”, repeating his cinematic treatment with lyrics that conveyed feelings for his beloved by comparing them to alcohol, that roughly translated like this ‘If I see you, it is like downing a 60. If you laugh, it is like downing a 90. If you talk to me and laugh at the same time, it is like downing a full bottle.’ These automatically found an emosanal connection with Auto drivers and truck drivers, who paid homage in the form of distorted caricatures of Uppi on truck and auto backs. 

Uppi fused popular advertising baselines like ‘Boost is the secret of my energy’, or ‘Amul, a gift for someone you love’ into his film’s music track of ‘A’. As juvenile and crazy it might sound, it certainly boasted of a newcomer’s guts who gave into his raw instincts without letting them steer away into logic, without processing them till they came back without that spunk of spontaneity.  

Even the posters were eccentric. The poster for ‘A’ had Uppi pulling a handcart with a woman sitting on it. He narrated the script to a local artist, and asked him to paint anything that came to his mind after hearing the story. He then added a baseline under the painting that read ‘For intelligent people only’. The poster for the film ‘Upendra’ had Uppi screaming, with the letters “FRID’ in bold. He later told me that it meant nothing. He wanted to write something in the poster that meant ‘nothing’, just to get people talking about it. And it worked. The public went bonkers trying to decode that nonsense, and even drove them to buy a ticket, just to solve the puzzle. 

He then wanted to make a movie with no title. His distributors who were still clinging on to sanity, requested him to call it something, or they would not be able to list it in the papers. Uppi found an intelligent solution that could keep both of them happy. He gave it a symbol instead, the symbol of Swastik. The posters had nothing but the sign of Swastik. This time, he got people guessing, what the name of the film could be. 

Eventually, Uppi had to catch up with the audience, who had now returned to their regular cinema after that brief stint with insanity, dragging him there in the process.

Unfortunately, Uppi did not have the finesse to elevate his kitschness to an art form, that could be openly appreciated by MG Road audiences of Bangalore. Uppi restricted himself to kannada speaking audiences and failed to transcend beyond these provinces. Nevertheless, it was incredible to see him blend his learnings from world class cinema, suitable enough to an audience that he knew so well. Which after a long time, I now see in Anurag Kashyap, who operates in a language that is more fortunate. 

Sophistication is a curse on mankind, imposed by people who are too jealous of men being themselves. Dev D, Oye lucky lucky Oye, Slumdog Millionaire welcome loud, crass and over-the-top depictions of life into the basket of appreciatable cinema. Restraint and silence are replaced with energy and kitsch. Old fundas of realism in cinema that stretched the ‘thought for the day’ on your school boards to snail paced renditions of unattractive looking people enacting bodily functions like eating and sleeping to painfully long durations, with absolutely no background score, has thankfully been thrown out of the window. Tacky camerawork that masquerade as natural lighting have faded out. Stories on poverty are no longer supported with budgets that are similar. And dialogues that deserve seetis have percolated down to non-starry films. Thankfully, art cinema has progressed beyond serving these self obsessed audiences who take great pride and pleasure being amidst boredom.

Whatever you may call them- multiplex cinema, new age cinema, alternative cinema, parallel cinema or offbeat cinema or any other term, this too shall pass, and there will no longer be the great divide that separates films that are watched and films that need to be watched. The new brigade knows that the audience is there to be entertained, and not to support someone’s mission of picking up a national award. It’s relieving to know that you no more have to be subjected to subjects devoid of entertainment.  

It seems like Indian Cinema never had it better.