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Friday, March 30, 2007

Bollywood's Cassidy and Sundance

Okay, so you probably think all I do is watch cricket and movies; more hindi movies than English, too.

You're right.

While sitting at work entering some tour diaries and covering the latest update in the Woolmer murder, one of the production chaps chose Sony Max to try out some new video recording stuff, and mixed work with pleasure by recording the better half of Ram Lakhan. A classic Subhash Ghai (no, I'm not a fan of his, this is just coincidence) potboiler from the Eighties, this movie had it all. This was the biggest hit that the Anil Kapoor-Jackie Shroff combo had, though they combined for many better movies.

Watching the two of them, young, handsome, fit and in their prime as heroes, made me wonder about their longevity. Both debuted well over 25 years ago (Kapoor in '79 with a bit role in Hamare Tumare, Shroff in '82 with a similar role in Dev Anand's Swami Dada) and are still ticking in 2007, though in very different modes.

Kapoor is at the top of his game, while Shroff has been reduced to cheesy roles in small budget films and the odd decent production. Kapoor is fit, healthy and hasnt had to do any dance appearances or flaky kid or C grade movies. Shroff is overweight, wears awful clothes, drinks a lot, had a couple weave jobs, his financial situations have been off the Richter, and never does he reveal his baggy eyes - he's always under the protection of shades.

Kapoor has stayed clear of controversy, too.

Career-wise, he's put in some of the best performances of his career in the last seven or eight years. Check out Taal, Armaan, Om Jai Jagdish, Calcutta Mail, Bewafaa, Musafir and, to me his best work to date, My Wife's Murder. Barring the last, none of these are excellently written or directed movies, but without Kapoor, they would have been terrible. He's matured as an actor. He can restrain himself superbly (Om Jai Jagdish, Bewafaa), ham it up (Taal), emote (Armaan), and encapsulate a gamut of expressions and emotions without going over the top (Calcutta Mail, My Wife's Murder).

He's proven quite a hit at comedy, the most striking achievement over Shroff. Films like No Entry and Biwi No. 1 have shown this, and he's been decent at action in latter years.

Let me get back to My Wife's Murder for just a second. This is very well-made, taught movie. Very engaging. Debutant director Jiji Phillips did a damn good job. But Kapoor - wow. In this role, he conveys the various shades - trauma, ordeal, despair, depression, anxiety - with such precision. A film that attempts to explore the mind of a common man who accidentally murders his nagging wife was a first in Indian cinema, and Kapoor a perfect choice for the role.

In another 'hatke' movie, Musafir - a rip-off of Oliver Stone's U-Turn, Kapoor does Sean Penn's character Indian justice when you understand the parameters of Bollywood. The film is his, start to finish. Its an authoritative performance, and this time around the casting is daring. Its a role that Kapoor was used to pulling off in the Eighties - the rugged, stubbled, I-care-a-damn petty thief - but to do it at this age, when expectations have soared and in a camp that he was new to, Kapoor is brilliant. Second just to My Wife's Murder as far as his roles go.

He's been offered a range of roles in recent times, and never disappointed.

Now, to Shroff. His recent movies include Eklavya, Bhagam Bhag, Bhoot Unkle, Mera Dil Deke Dekho, Naksha, Apna Sapna Money Money, Divorce: Not Between Husband and Wife, and Kyon Ki. Seen, or heard of any of these? I've seen four, and barring Eklayva, which he only got because of his long-standing friendship with director Vidhu Vinod Chopra, they were useless, unfortunate roles in very mediocre movies. While Kapoor was done films with Nikhil Advani, Dharmesh Darshan, Sudhir Mishra and Indra Kumar in the last few years, Shroff has had to work with Aneesh Arjun Dev, Rohit Kaushik, Sachin Bajaj, and MJ Ramanan - who??? - to name a few. True, there was a good role in Rituparno Ghosh's Antar Mahal in there somewhere, and Nagesh Kukunoor's Teen Deewarein, but thats two decent directors he's worked with in a long, long time. Count the number of films he's done with Mithun, and you feel sad for a man who was a box office draw in the 80s and early 90s.

There were some good roles along the way, don't get me wrong. He carried the misinterpreted Dobara tremendously - I'm going to put this role up their with Kaash and Parinda - restrained himself commendably in Samay, and emoted well in a clanger like Yaadein. Unfortunately, he made a mess of the role of Chunnilal in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's adaptation of Devdas, going way over the top and taking hamming to a new level.

It's sad to see him playing buffoons in films like Naksha and lost in comic capers like Bhagam Bhag. He doesnt do comedy, and wasn't ever meant to. His forte was always drama and action. He became a star with Ghai's aptly titled Hero, and was meant to be one. I don't know the reasons for his choosing all these rubbish movies in the last decade, and I don't want to speculate, but its clear he's made bad, bad decisions.

Interestingly, Shroff and Kapoor were a star pair in the 80s and 90s. Shroff's third movie, the 48 Hours-inspired Andar Bahaar, was the first time the duo acted together, then there was Yudh, then there were Ghai's blockbusters Karma and Ram Lakhan, and the best film they both starred in, the superb Parinda. Thinking of this movie, maybe the two should seriously be brought together. It would make for quality viewing, and having Kapoor opposite him might just inspire Shroff to turn in the performance many have been waiting for.

After Parinda, Kapoor and Shroff did Kaala Bazaar in the same year, 1989, but then didnt come together until four years later, in the mega flop Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja. The chemistry was there, but the two were different towards each other. Chopra brought them together in 1942: A Love Story in the same year; then they did together was Ghai's production Trimurti, which sank without a trace; their last film together was Priyadarshan's confused Kabhi Na Kabhi in 1998, if you dont count Rajkumar Santoshi's Lajja in 2001, in which they didnt share screen time.

Some people suggested Shroff got sick of playing the secondary hero; there was a sick rumour doing the rounds at the time of Parinda that they were more than good friends; other say they couldnt cope with the pressure of acting opposite each other.
Whatever the reasons, I'll always remember the two for their memorable films and intense camaraderie.

If only Shroff was playing his A game like Kapoor was today. It would've made for an intense rivalry all over again, viewers could've been treated to more quality films, and some of the upstarts calling themselves heroes these days would've fallen flat.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

An interesting piece in The New York Times about the Red Sox's signing up Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Malinga, Malinga! [or How South Africa nearly choked again]

Chasing 210, South Africa need four bleeding runs from 32 deliveries with five wickets in hand. Jacques Kallis batting on 85.

Would a fool bet on them to win?

Probably. Enter Lasith Malinga, who'd bowled seven overs for close to 50. Over 44.5, he slings a slower one that pegs back Shaun Pollock's leg stump. Okay, no sweat, Andrew Hall is in, he's got a Test hundred to his name. 44.6, another slidey, slingey, slowey thing, that Hall lobs straight to cover. Hmm. Heart rates increasing in the South African dressing room?

Over done, the South Africans manage one run from the next over.

Back to Malinga, on a hat-trick. Kallis on strike. Three runs to get from 24 balls now. Easy. The ball is full and furious outside off stump, Kallis goes for a square-drive and nicks it behind. A loud appeal. Kallis stays rooted. An even louder appeal follows and umpire Daryl Harper raises the fatal finger. HAT-TRICK.

Just two wickets left. Sri Lanka on fire. Hang on a second, they can actually win this...no, perennial chokers South Africa can surely lose this. In lopes Makhaya Ntini. Yorker, anyone?

You frikkin' bet your ass its a yorker. A screaming one, no less, which Ntini plays all over it and ball crashes into the middle stump. Malinga is slinging down magic deliveries and South Africa are nine down. Four wickets in four balls. History is made.

Charl Langeveldt survived a caught begind appeal, and another full, swinging delivery misses Robin Peterson's off stump by a whister...no, I think it actually brushed it!

As hearts fluttered and Graeme Smith aged from 26 to about 40 in a few minutes, memories of Edgbaston 1999 and Durban 2003 flashed. South Africa really f***** this one up. How can you lose four wickets for two runs?

As it turned out, Peterson edged Malinga to third man for the winning runs, clipped his heels, bashed out the nonstriker's stumps in celebration, and every man in green ran out from the dressing room cheering, and thanking their stars.

I don't think they've done anything to dispell doubts over their chokers tag.

The Shotgun Show


At 2:48 in the morning, one of my flatmates bangs on my door like the Chinese have invaded, all because Lasith Malinga took four wickets in four balls. Lovely stuff, except I couldnt get back to sleep. And I had to be at work by 8. Ended up staying awake.

Anyway, another surfing session brought me to the opening scene of a film called Vishwanath on Sony Max. Its probably the first Shatrugan Sinha flick I've sat through. Its a decent film, veteran film-maker Subhash Ghai's second. Apparently it was a big hit when it released in early 1978.

Ghai has always turned out potboilers, with big stars, lavish sets and hit music. It proved to be his downfall as a director as the years turned over and Indian cinema awoke to the benefits of technology and professionalism on the sets. To sum up, Ghai realized this too late and his last few films have been pathetic. He was a master of the VHS era; he couldnt keep in touch with the DVD generation. In 2005, he opened a center called Whistling Woods International Institute for Film, Television and Media Arts, but I dont think thats going to have any effect on his own film-making skills.

But back to Vishwanath. Considering that Ghai's only film before this, Kallicharan, was made without any directorial experience, this movie wins on a few accounts. First, thought its fairly stereotypical of the era it was made in - there are devilish villains, there's a rape scene, murder, the oppression of the poor, the corruption of the law and its upholders - thats all in keeping with the plot. And Ghai doesnt give you an overdose of it all. Its weaved in well, probably because it was his second film and he the fame wasnt to his head yet. Sinha plays the title role, an honest lawyer implicated and imprisoned by the influence of a powerful don and his cronies. Vishwanath gets out and tries to take revenge, but cant beat the corrupt system, the same system he fought for. So he changes his identity, forms a band of vigilantes - read assassins - he befriended in the slammer, and plots revenge. However, he loses his girlfriend, his widowed mother is killed, and he becomes a wanted man.

Second, it dares to take a very unconventional face like Sinha's and turn it into star material. On the wrong side of the law, Sinha gives glimpses of what would become his trademark style - thankfully, he doesnt get to the "Khamosh..." and "Abe Chapadghanchoo" level - but in the initial reels of the movie, before his conviction, is where Ghai manages to underplay him. It works out well too. There's no hamming, no lengthy dialogues. Sinha restrains himself and sets up the contrast for the second half. As the man carrying out his vendetta, Sinha doesnt go overboard, despite the loopholes in the script.

As a revenge story, the violence is limited. Comedy is interspersed with Pran's antics, but doesnt interfere with the plot. The songs slow the film down and have no scope in the plot, but then its Indian cinema and its the late 70s. Most people ham, the background score is typically heavy, but the camerawork is impressive for that era. The editing, done by the legendary Waman-Bhosle, is pretty slick.

Its not a great piece of film-making by any regards, but I think it would've stuck out at the time of release, and riding on Sinha's shoulders was probably a different movie to watch back then. It proved that you dont need big stars to make a hit film. There were much bigger films, made by establish names and with established stars and music by top composers, that failed to rake in the big bucks in 1978 - Shalimar (Dharmendra, Zeenat Aman, Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand's Des Pardes, Raj Kapoor's Satyam Shivam Sundaram. That Vishwanath raked in the same kind of money as the Amitabh Bachchan classics Don and Muqaddar Ka Sikandar in the same years says something about this relatively small-budget film. This isnt the only such instance of a smaller film trumping the hyped, big-budged, multi-starrers. Think November 1991, when Yash Chopra's magnum opus, Lamhe, released simultaneously with the unheard of Kuku Kohli's Phool Aur Kaante, starring two debutants, Ajay Devgan and Madhoo.

And yeah, Vishwanath kept me awake till dawn.

Let me leave you with a filmi line from the film:

"Jali Ko Aag Kehte Hain
Bujhi Ko Raakh Kehte Hain
Jis Raakh Se Barood Banen
Usse Vishwanath Kehte Hain"

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Apocalypto


Just watched Apocalypto. Stunning movie, visually and aesthetically. Gruesomely violent, but that’s how life was back then, you're meant to believe. Many will say Gibson loses credibility when he tries to manipulate historical facts to prove a political point. That’s what critics are there for. And come on, its an unabashed story, not a factual documentary.

I left the theatre disgusted on some level but stunned on another. The film may be growing on me.

The film is, to put it bluntly, pure adrenaline. The action sequences are stunning. Rudy Youngblood, who plays the main character, Jaguar Paw, is really a find. The other actors don’t get much scope – in fact, there’s a lot of grunting and growling, and the native characters aren’t as deep as the ones in say The Last of the Mohicans - but its not a movie relying on histrionics. It’s raw, and has to be, given the brutality inflicted on the villagers and in the insanity that plagues the massacring tribe. You’re made to feel the shock and pain of women being raped, but not shown it.

There are many stunning scenes that stick in your memory. The massacre of the village, the sacrifice, the sick girl prophesizing, the waterfall scene, the breathtaking jaguar chase, and the last one, where the protagonist takes his wife and children back into the forest, as sees the Europeans dock on the beach. Maybe he sees what is coming, and knows its best to go back to nature, his home, his village, rather than meddle with the strange white men and put himself and his family in further danger.

There are stereotypes and a couple flaws; what happened to the children left behind after the pillage of the village and capturing of the adults?

You need balls to make a film like this. The language, the scale, the cast, the locales. Probably only Mel Gibson could’ve pulled this off. The last such movie was Terrence Mallick's The New World, which was just drawn out and dull, despite the National Geographic-style visuals.

Gibson is a tortured man on some level, but misunderstood, most likely. If the Passion of the Christ was his way of handling, or tackling, even questioning, his religious beliefs and demons, then Apocalypto is him screaming out at today's political and economic grip - read globalization, corruption - that has driven men to war with neighbors and geographically distanced countries like Iraq.

This is the guy who also made Braveheart, a masterpiece. And here he’s created a work of art that draws the finest of lines between fact and fiction. I’m not going to comment on the language used, as I’m no expert on Mayans, Aztecs and Incas. Some translations weren’t realistic, but that can easily get lost in translation.

As with most of Gibson's movies along the lines of Apocalypto, there are going to be those who form their opinions based on the profit-making theory.

Give the film a chance, and a look-see, and then form an opinion.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Cricket buzz

A round-up of feedback to the happenings in the World Cup:

Pakistan fans struggle to make sense of World Cup tragedy

Why India's likely exit from the World Cup is not a bad thing

Harsha Bhogle: 'I’m not sure if playing four bowlers is the way to go'

Lets play ball

And so, with a lack of interest in the World Cup - barring, of course, my ranking in the office Super League standings - I turn back to baseball and the Red Sox.

Down in Ft. Myers, Curt Schilling had a good outing in a 3-2 win over the Orioles, Jason Veritek hit his first homer of spring training, and Jonathan Papelbon will return as closer for the coming season. Schilling tossing hard in seven innings, in his most extended start of the spring, is a great sign for the Sox.

Varitek, who turns 35 on April 11, ended an 0-for-17 drought and has stated that he wants to go back to a more simplified approach that helped him rise to All-Star status in both 2003 and 2005. More power to him.

Remember, Papelbon suffered a serious shoulder subluxation last September, and at the end of last season, the Sox announced that he'd be best suited, at least in the short term, to go back to starting. Thankfully, he's progressed faster with his conditioning program than the club expected.

And then there's the highly rated Japanese import, Daisuke Matsuzaka, who's every mov e at the Sox camp has been captured by the media, local and Japanese. When this kid made his spring training debut last month, he was greeted by screaming young fans, along with 200 reporters and photographers watching each pitch. If he's as good as he's hyped up to be, Boston have a great shot at making the playoffs.

The Sox are currently 11-10-2 in the Grapefruit League. Eight days remain till opening day. Go Sox!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Bye bye blues

So this is what Greg Chappell's 'Vision of Excellence' came down to.

India out of the World Cup. Two innings and not one score in excess of 200.

Sri Lanka crushed an Indian side miserably low on confidence. The two crafty veterans, Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan, ripped the heart out of a brittle batting order.

Pretty numb right now.

Just hope all the ads stop. No Sachin selling glucose biscuits. No Dravid riding mobikes. No Zaheer and razor blades.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Rabbi da jawab nahin

I first heard Rabbi Shergill over a year ago, when I came across his "Bulla Ki Jaana" on B4U one night while surfing the channels at some ungodly hour. The video was interesting, and the music was sufi-ish, but sung by a Sardar, which I'd never seen before. Interesting, I thought. I don't speak Punjabi, but having listened to so many different songs over the years and admittedly, having gone through a Sukhbir phase - there, I've said it - know enough to get the jist of what's being sung. There was a reference to Bulle Shah, who I've always been intrigued by, which I suppose also drew me to the song. And the video was pretty neat, with scribbled words flashing roughly across the screen while this sardar, clad in white, travelled through Bombay.

Anyway, I think I downloaded the song later on, but that was it. Then, when in Mussoorie, by good friend Tashi asked me if I'd heard Rabbi. I said I had, and he asked me if I'd heard a song called "Tere Bin". I hadn't, so he duly flipped out the audio tape and played it, some 349 times (yes, alcohol was being consumed). I liked this one, too. Again, I understood pretty much what Rabbi was singing about.

I heard the song again a few weeks later, on the radio, and downloaded it. Its really a beautiful song, better than "Bulla". And it can be translated into an ode to a lover, best friend, father or mother. There's just something about this song that's very endearing.



Here, shamelessly taken from someone's hard work on Wikipedia, are the words to "Tere Bin".

tere bin / besides you
sanu sohnia / my love
koi hor nahio labhna / i shan't find another
jo dave / who'll give
ruh nu sakun / peace to my soul
chukke jo nakhra mera / and indulge me
ve main sare ghumm ke vekhia / i have gone and seen it all
amrika , roos, malaysia / america, russia, malaysiana
kittey vi koi fark si / there wasn't any difference
har kise di koi shart si / they all had some condition
koi mangda mera si sama / some asked for my time
koi hunda surat te fida / some were fascinated with my face
koi mangda meri si vafa / some demanded my fidelity
na koi mangda merian bala / none wanted my demons
tere bin / besides you
hor na kise / no one else
mangni merian bala / wanted my demons
tere bin / besides you
hor na kise / no one else
karni dhup vich chhan / shall shade me in the sun
jiven rukia / (the) way you paused
si tun zara / slightly
nahion bhulna / i shan't forget
main sari umar / all my life
jiven akhia si akhan chura / you said, looking away
"rovenga sanu yad kar" / "you shall weep in my memory"
hasia si main hasa ajeeb / i laughed a strange laugh
(par) tu nahi si hasia / but you didn't
dil vich tera jo raaz si / you had a secret in your heart
mainu tu kyon ni dasia / why didn't you tell me
tere bin / besides you
sanu eh raz / none shall tell this
kise hor nahion dasna / secret to me
tere bin / besides you
peerh da ilaaj / what druid
kis vaid kolon labhna / has the cure to my ills
milia si ajj mainu / i found today
tera ik patra / a note of yours
likhia si jis 'te / on which you had scribbeled
tun shayr varey shah da / a varis shah couplet
park ke si osnu / upon reading which
hanjnu ik duliya / a teardrop fell
akhan 'ch band si / what was locked in the eye
seh raaz ajj khulia / was revealed today
ki tere bin / that other than you
eh mere hanjnu / these tears of mine
kise hor / won't be kissed by
nahio chumna / none else
ki tere bin / that other than you
eh mere hanjhu / these tears of mine
mitti vich rulnha / will wither in the dust


I think what I liked about Rabbi - as happened with Silk Route and to an extent Lucky Ali - was that he just sang about whatever he had a passion for and that his videos had no scantily clad women in them. It was just him, his guitar and some soulful music. More than the two artistes I've mentioned, his music is more political. "Jugni", another good track, talks about a lonely girl's travails as she wanders from place to place in India, looking at the poverty, destitution, political turmoil, all the while praying for sanity to take hold.

Rabbi is also deglamorized, which is very refreshing to see. Interestingly, he has read the scriptures and understands the concept of Sufiana.

He publicly said, a long time back, that he wouldn't "sell himself" to Bollywood soundtracks for one item song - he even turned down songs in Paap and the "Allah Ke Bande" number - but has just composed the entire music for an upcoming movie, Delhii Heights, which is a so-so effort. Barring the title track, "Dilli", which leans heavily towards a U2 base, and Sonu Nigam's "Kitni Der Tak", the songs are experimental and different, but I didn't take to them. He's thrown in "Tere Bin", which should boost album sales some.

But anyway, I love "Bulla Ki Jaana" and "Tere Bin", and I encourage you to listen to these two songs.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Woolmer's death 'is suspicious'

To feed the appetite of those who think Bob Woolmer's death was more than what it seems, comes the news that the Jamaican police are treating the unfortunate incident as suspicious.

Mark Shields, deputy commissioner of the Jamaican police constabulary, said there was sufficient information to continue a full investigation into the death.

The Pakistan team are now discussing whether to pull out of their World Cup match with Zimbabwe, a spokesman said.

When the investigation is completed, Woolmer's body will be taken back to his home in Cape Town, accompanied by team trainer Murray Stevenson.

The ICC is expected to hold a press conference later today.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Bob Woolmer is no more. The former Kent and England Test batsman, and recent Pakistan coach, was found unconscious in his room at the Pegasus Hotel in Sabina Park yesterday morning, a day after Pakistan's World Cup defeat by Ireland, and was immediately taken to a nearby hospital but he did not recover.

The cricket world mourns his loss.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Still sick, still wrong

The loss to Bangladesh has given India a major headache and highlighted the frailties plauging this side. It didnt' hit me until a few hours back, when I observed a few friends reacting and dissecting the game, how pathetically India had played, and how it would effect the World Cup, and their interest.

As my colleague and friend Anand Vasu pointed out today, here's what India need to do to stay alive in the tournament. Have a look, it makes for painfully interesting reading.


















The immediate task at hand is to beat Sri Lanka on Friday. Then, they have to beat Bermuda by a heavy margin - I'm talking thrash/pulverize/decimate them - to improve their run rate. Assuming India achieve even that, the passage to the Super Eights is still not assured; all eyes will then turn to Bangladesh-Bermuda match on March 25. That's the last match of the first round of the World Cup. Who'd have thought so many people would pay attention to it?

Meanwhile, you can hear the knives sharpening above the heads of coach Greg Chappell and captain Rahul Dravid. When Chappell was appointed coach back in mid-2005, much of his task was centred around the World Cup - Vision 2007 - and in that aspect, India haven't progressed one bit. For all of Chappell's experiments, innovation and focus on 'Marquee players', India's World Cup squad alarmingly resembles the one that flew to South Africa in 2003. Of the prospects unleashed during Chappell's tenure, only Munaf Patel, Sreesanth, and Robin Uthappa made the trip to the West Indies. Sourav Ganguly and Zaheer Khan were recalled, Anil Kumble was handed a limited-overs lifeline, and the seniors are all still there. Even Mahendra Singh Dhoni was blooded under John Wright's time as coach.

The others have all fallen by the wayside; the highly over-rated Suresh Raina, Venugopal Rao, and so on.

Under Chappell, India have played 60 one-day internationals, winning 31 and losing 26 for a success rate of 54%. After 60 matches with Wright as coach, India had won 34 and lost 23 for a success rate of 60%. There isn't much in the numbers, but Wright was on the way, with Ganguly as captain and colleague, to rebuild a side trying to move out of the match-fixing scandal and invest in youth.


I'm not advocating Wright as a better coach; I'm just trying to figure out what Chappell has done since taking over as coach.

He's successfully killed two of the brightest stars unearthed in India for a long, long time - Virender Sehwag and Irfan Pathan. In a side that's become fit, with a premium on exercise, how Sehwag has been allowed to put on weight is beyond me. And Pathan, who burst onto the scene with genuine ability to make the ball, new or old, talk, was blossomed into a batsman only for his bowling to detiorate to unfathomable levels. Experimentation, they called it.

Going into the 2003 World Cup, India had just been hammered 5-2, and despite a thrashing at the hands of Australia in their first game, they won eight games in a row en route to the finals. In the Test arena, they beat a seemingly invincible Australia at home, drew with Australia in Australia (something no side had or has achieved for years), and beat Pakistan in Pakistan for the first time. And there was the Natwest win at Lord's. True, India lost a countless numbers of ODI tournaments under Wright as well.

Under Chappell, India have just a historic Test win in the West Indies to show (there was a Test series win over a They lost the Test series in Pakistan, and drew with an inexperienced, injury-hit England at home. They lost the ODI series in the Caribbean, and did badly in the Champions Trophy last year.

Now comes this rude World Cup awakening. Too many tactical errors cost India dear. There was something in the wicket, for the new ball, and to have a bat on a new pitch was critical. Then, to have Sehwag open in place of Uthappa - what were you thinking? You can't throw a man batting like him up the order. It would have been much wiser to let him come lower down.

There's a lot of emotional attachment to the game in India, and if India don't make it to the Super Eights, all hell will break lose back home. It's not such a bad thing; this hype needs to come down, the ads need to be taken off the television, and these heroes need to come back down to earth. Dravid has been far from inspirational as captain, and he has to held accountable for much of this dismal effort AND, very importantly, he has to take the flak for picking Sehwag for this last game, AS OPENER, despite failing in the warm-ups; Sachin Tendulkar needs to sit himself down and ask himself just where his career is going; Sehwag has to have a look in the mirror - honestly, I don't see him getting many more chances - and I think after the World Cup, all Chappell has to look forward to is a quieter life in Australia.

Khalbali hai khalbali!

On the very day that Ian Chappell criticized the World Cup participation of minnow countries, in his column for Cricinfo, Ireland knocked Pakistan out of the World Cup and Bangladesh shocked India in their first game with a five-wicket win.

Bangladesh aren't minnows anymore, as wins over India (twice), Australia, and Sri Lanka prove, and the dedication with with they approached yesterday's game was immense. Its a telling statement on the hard work done by the untiring Dav Whatmore.

You had three kids - 17, 18, and 19 - scoring valiant half-centuries. You had Mashrafe Mortaza, 2006's highest wicket-taker, bowling some great deliveries and getting four; you had Syed Rasel backing him up in an unbroken ten-over spell; you had the great Mohammad Rafique, getting Rahul Dravid with his first ball; and you had the ever-improving Abdur Razzak, teasing and turning the ball. This was the best I've seen Bangladesh play.

Before this game, they'd only once beat India in 14 meetings. At the 2003 World Cup, they didnt' even win a match. But they came into the game with 17 victories from their last 20 matches, albeit against lower grade opponents, and brought their A game with them. They've shocked many inside the cricketing fraternity, and left India with a damn hard job to do.


And Ireland - come, let's cheer for them. Understand for a moment that the Ireland side is made not of centrally contracted, full-time professionals; no, they are a heary group of individuals with jobs who play in their spare time, for the sheer love of the game. Put that into perspective, and the beauty of their win over Pakistan, the fourth-ranked side in the world, with an years of international experience, a successful (but soon to be sacked) coach, and access to top-class fitness and training opportunities, not to mention a very good amount of money.

What joy they felt as they lapped Sabina Park, heroes for all to see, cannot be understood. St. Patty's Day couldn't have been sweeter. It was a day that each of those guys will retell countless times, to friends, family, grandkids, whoever.

These two wins have changed the complexion of the World Cup. Pakistan, who looked like crap, are gone. Bob Woolmer continually stressed that he had a good enough side to be very competitive at the World Cup, but the truth told in the end.

India, who played pathetically, now need to win their remaining two games to make sure of advancing, with the clash against Group B favourites Sri Lanka on Friday looming a virtual semi-final.

Much fun.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Okay, so I'm clearly not getting around to blogging about the World Cup everyday. One reason is that the interest just isn't there yet. Odd, I know. India hasn't played yet, so that's one fickle reason. But just seeing the size of those ridiculous grounds in the West Indies, and the number of minnows, and Australia, just dampens it all.




Still, a round-up of the first week's games is a must. The West Indies beat Pakistan comprehensively in the Cup opener; Ricky Ponting scored another hundred as Australia overpowered Scotland; captain Steve Tikolo led by example as Kenya began their World Cup campaign with a comfortable seven-wicket win over Canada; a ruthless Sri Lanka beat Bermuda by 243 runs, the second biggest margin of defeat in World Cup history (and big man Dwayne Leverock so wasn't worth the hype, despite breaking into a little jig after a wicket); then we had a tie, as Ireland marked their first World Cup appearance with a come-from-behind salvage effort against Zimbabwe in Jamaica (three wickets fell for one run and nine were still needed from the final over...requiring a single to win off the last ball, Ed Rainsford was run out!); New Zealand brushed aside a lacklustre England; and then there was that bloody match, South Africa versus the Netherlands. Yuck.

353 for 3, with three 100-run partnerships - the first time such a thing has happened in the 2537 one-day internationals that have been played in the history of the game - 18 bleeding sixes (another record), a Jacques Kallis hundred, a Mark Boucher blitzkreig, and Herschelle Gibbs making history by smashing six sixes off a Daan van Bunge over. Poor little sod didn't know what hit him as Gibbs went ballistic. I know everyone loves a little slog to get the blood rushing, but this was just cruel punishment. Sick and wrong to have these small associate teams in the World Cup.

Best part about the week has been the Fantasy League we've got going on at work. Superb fun. If it wasn't for that, I'd have zero interest. 576 points and counting, though its still some distance away from Shinde, with 1056. Bugger.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Warm-up woes

The best thing to happen ahead of the World Cup was the five consecutive defeats Australia suffered at the hands of England and New Zealands. It broke the aura of invincibilty that surrounded them.

Warm-up games, especially those against minnow nations, don’t tend to be taken too seriously but we’ve been given a glimpse into how things will pan out in the World Cup.

India beat the Netherlands and West Indies, but Virender Sehwag still hasnt impressed one bit. He would have been tempted to have a bit of a biff against Holland's unthreatening band of slow medium-pacers and spinners, but he restrained himself only to throw it all away. He got a duck against West Indies, chasing 86 for victory.

Then there's Irfan Pathan, who hasnt bowled anything out of the 105-115 kmh range. Against West Indies, he sprayed the ball around, overpitched to the extent that some balls bounced well past the stumps, and generally, appeared to do his cause no good. India have some worries.

There was plenty to look out for in the other warm-up games. Mahela Jayawardene needed runs, albeit against a minnow nation, to overcome his recent rut and get some confidence. He cashed in, as expected. Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen just needed time at the crease; Vaughan got 62 against Australia, KP is still struggling. And then there was the curious case of Marlon Samuels, in his first at-bat since the match-fixing scandal broke in India recently.Samuels chose the Kenyan opposition to make a round 100, a firm statement give all that has plagued him in the past few weeks.

Bangladesh shocked New Zealand by two wickets, before the Kiwis came back to stop Sri Lanka in their tracks. The win was tarnished with the news that Peter Fulton had broken the little finger of his left hand in taking the catch. Injuries continue to plague the Cup.

On a dubious pitch at Trinidad's Frank Worrell Stadium, Pakistan beat South Africa by seven wickets. South Africa didnt like the treacherous nature of the surface - coaches Mickey Arthur and Bob Woolmer discussed the pitch with umpires Peter Parker and Ian Gould, causing a delay - but teams better get used to such unpredictable stuff in the West Indies.

None of the Associate members pulled any surprises, and wont going further.

And elsewhere, Australia rectified some issues with a five-wicket win over Australia.

Appreciating Amitabh Bachchan

I just saw Nishabd while in Hyderabad, and was again impressed by the range of Amitabh Bachchan, at this age and in this phase of his career. It’s a sensibly handled movie, with Bachchan towering above all else. The complete understanding with which he essayed a 60-year-old man infatuated with an 18-year-old girl was excellent. You don’t need to understand his character’s nature, or the details of his 27-year marriage, or why his passion is photography.

Critics have panned the film’s abrupt ending, where we see Bachchan’s introverted character lost for all good; the man has severed ties with his wife and daughter, cannot erase the girl from his memory and even contemplates suicide. He just wants to live out his days thinking of the tender moments with the girl. The story ends on that note. What, did you expect his wife and daughter to accept him back into their hearts? No, he went through some emotions that were never going to be understood by anyone but himself, he made a mistake and was man enough to accept it.

But I’m not here to write a film review. Hats off again to Ram Gopal Verma for tackling an issue which people don’t want to talk about publicly. And to Bachchan for again leaving us blown away. Watch the film just him, and the stunning cinematography (has Munnar eve looked so haunting?)

Bachchan has come a long way in his career. His career has seen so many phases - the Anand-Bombay To Goa days, the post-Zanjeer glory days, leading up to a fatigued Khuda Gawah, and the post retirement phase, which included embarrassing horrorfests like Mrityudata and Laal Baadshah but was resurrected by a supreme Kaun Banega Crorepati?.

One of his best works was in Anand, but the image that came from blockbusters like Zanjeer, Deewar and Sholay is indelible. Bachchan has portrayed many diverse roles in his illustrious career: the aforementioned four movies aside, think Abhimaan, Trishul, Amak Akbar Anthony, Sharaabi, Don, Aakhree Rastaa, Agneepath from the pre-retirement days.

Indian cinema has changed since Bachchan started out: the budgets, the technology, the mindsets. Today the veteran is going through the best phase in his career, with roles offering him scope to go beyond the stereotype.

The estranged, bitter bodyguard in Ek Anjabee; the grieving father fighting for his murdered son’s justice in Viruddh; the Mumbai godfather Subhash Nagre, at the nucleus of a vortex of crime, greed, family relationships and revenge in Sarkar; the eccentric, alcoholic school teacher suffering from Alzheimers in Black; the determined DCP in Khakhee; the title role of the faltering old guard carrying a deep secret in Eklayva; and even in the under-rated Bunty aur Babli, the inspector chasing the two cons, where his comic timing is superb.

In this phase, let’s celebrate Bachchan the actor for choosing his roles.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Cricinfo article update

Due to increasing complaints about what a pain it is to search Cricinfo for stuff I've written, here are links to some articles. Lazy asses, all of you.

Beams, binges and busted fingers

Small piece on Warne, circa WC 99

And one on Shoaib, also WC 99

Match fixers, match makers, and match disrupters

Fielding and the ground realities (piece on India's Achilles Heel)

Yuvraj Singh - Electric as ever

India v West Indies match report

Piece on Graeme Smith

Piece on Sourav Ganguly's comeback

The Old Monk fan club

Rum is good. Old Monk rum is very good. Seriously, leave the beer, gin and bloody marys be - this stuff is the best. You're going to have your white rum gang - Bacardi is good now and then - but for sitting around and doing jack, or to get the convo going, stick to the Monk. Its just got a different taste. (FYI: its the world's third largest selling brand of rum.)

I've tried various types of Bacardi, as well as Royal Stag and Captain Morgan's, and though I like some Jameson when I'm in the States, my loyalties lie with Old Monk. After I first tasted it, there was no going back. Its a religion. If straight up's your poison, drink up, but a little Thumbs Up or Coke ain't bad. Pepsi, nah. Too sweet. If you're up in the hills during winter, have it with hot water. If you're adventurous, add a drop of lemon squash. Nice.

I just recently came across a more expensive and better quality type called Old Monk Gold Reserve. Good stuff.

Whenever I'm up in Mussoorie, its the usual routine: get out the Monk, add some ice cubes, and a little cola, and chill. Sitting by the hearth, watching the flames dance and flicker on the orange-red coals lapping against the black stone, as the ice crackles and slips from its perch in the glass in your hand, your fingers tighten just that much...bliss.

Thats all I have to say, as I go pour myself another. Cheers.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Mussoorie

Just got back from a very, very short break in Mussoorie. Went up with three friends from work - Sriram, Sid and Monga - and an old friend from school, Ronjoy, and his girlfriend, Farrah.

Had a great time. My cousin Shibani was up there as well to add to the madness. Weather was nice and cold, it rained too, and we did nothing but eat, drink, play cricket, gamble, hit the old haunts, and eat at char dukan every day. Awesome.