Saturday, February 28, 2015

Starting again ! A blog a day...

Today.

Ran with a bunch of spirited runners from Bandra. Including 20 odd heart patients who have taken to running because it has helped them cope with life post heart incidents much better.

#IgniteMumbai reflected once again what the city really is like. Always there for each other.


Sunday, January 04, 2015

Why Virat Kohli needs to change for the good of Indian cricket



Virat Kohli is in the form of his life. After laying to rest doubts about whether he would be able to standup to the Aussie attack, his elevation to test captaincy is being heralded as the best thing to happen to Indian cricket. Perhaps rightfully so. He has played the series so far with a typical firebrand dash of aggression both on and off the field and he has every right to think that he has conquered the opposition. 

Except that our team is down 0-2 in the series. Except that this was the weakest Australian team to have faced India and yet we've surrendered the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with a test to go. 

At this stage, Virat as the grand beacon of hope for Indian cricket can go into the Sydney test thinking he has done no wrong so far and go all out both on and off the field in sledging the Aussie team, targeting specific players and making them feel how he conquered the kangaroos in their own backyard. 

Or he can reflect on what his real contribution to this series has been so far. On one side he will see the mountain of runs he has scored but if he cares for Indian cricket, he will also see a pull shot that he hit in the air in Adelaide with India 60 runs away from victory with only the tail for company. He would see himself chasing a delivery wide outside off-stump in the last over of the day in Melbourne. From a position that could've put India in the lead, he should see that the team crumbled to hand the Aussies a reasonably significant lead. He should also see a very grumpy version of himself who came out to bat in place of Shikhar Dhawan in Brisbane and didn't quite look like he was in the mood to fight. There will be large quarters among fans who will see these instances as nitpickings but Test Cricket is harsh and a 40 minute passage of play can make the difference between surrendering a trophy and retaining one. 

Now, the Indian team with a new Team Director in Shastri look set to be in a mood to pay back Aussies in the same coin. Shastri on national television spoke about how he 'cares two hoots' about the scoreline. The team thought they've done a marvelous job in drawing at Melbourne. When Manjrekar quizzed Shastri about the areas to improve, he belligerently evaded the specifics and mentioned in 12 months this team will be a "bullet team". The team missed an all-rounder he said. Everything else he was happy with. 

The foundation of successful teams lies in an honest assessment of their current state of affairs. I doubt if John Buchanan were asked what the team needs to improve at the start of  Australia's staggering run of 17 test wins, he would've responded with such perfect acceptance of how good the team already was. Closer home, we have never heard Gary Kirsten talk about not caring about score lines. People like Steve Waugh and Brian Lara whether in moments of weakness or strength were always the first to point out what they could've done better. Like Gavaskar rightly pointed out in the post match analysis, "Test match is not a finishing school." and if Shastri is not the person to lead the team into thinking that they screwed up a golden chance in Australia, Virat has to be.

And if Virat does go down that path of reflection, he will find numerous examples of people like Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman batting with utmost responsibility to see the team through. He will remember Laxman coming out to bat at #3, against his normal position of #6, on a follow-on in Kolkata and deliver a 281. He will see Dravid opening in a test match in Perth against a much touted Shaun Tait and laying a solid foundation for the team to eventually register a win in an ill-fated series. He will see VVS batting with the tail in Mohali, Durban, Colombo, in fact all over the world and seeing the team through to strong positions. In none of these situations, did these players consider battling with the opposition verbally as their prime objective. 

One sees Virat Kohli now on-field and knows that there are two battles he is currently fighting, one is for the team and the other, much needless one against the likes of Haddin Warner and Mitchell Johnson. He can very well do with just the former. Irrespective of the tough facade that he wants to portray, make no mistake, Kohli was indeed rattled and edged Johnson and then mistimed a pull that could've ended his innings, right after that little ball-hurling incident at Melbourne. Mitch apologized and Virat should've just let it be. He was lucky he survived as did India.  Lets also not forget it wasn't the Aussies this time around that started the verbal duels. They were in a tough spot coming into the series after Phil Hughes and were surprisingly well behaved until our very own Rohit Sharma took that step when Mitch Johnson came out to bat in Brisbane. 

If Kohli is the best captain for Indian test cricket now, he needs to take a leaf out of these great batsmen of the past and do some soul-searching about what he could've done better in the larger interest of the team. He needs to understand that a certain Sachin Tendulkar eschewed the cover drive completely over the course of two days in Sydney to guard his wicket coming in at 128-2 and compile a monumental (and unbeaten) 241. If Virat speaks to the great man, Sachin will also perhaps tell him that the Chennai test was the most painful of this test career because in spite of his much vaunted hundred, the team didn't win. Whenever quizzed about the Chennai ton, Sachin downplays it because if the team doesn't win, there's no point in amassing those runs. And irrespective of whatever happened on the field, one never heard any of these great batsmen crib about what they were sledged about on-field in post match press conferences. 

Before donning test captaincy, Kohli could've still walked that thin line but as an ambassador for Indian cricket, as an example to millions of young kids who want to emulate him, he needs to change his ways of dealing with the opposition. That's why we need our captain to go to a Rohit Sharma and ask him to get some runs on-field rather than get under someone's skin. Because that's not the job description of a middle-order bat. Mathew Hayden commented during the series about the fact that its not all body language and swearing that conveys aggression. "If you want to see aggression, look at Dravid's eyes", he said. Virat needs to be the one to lead the Indian team into thinking on those lines.  

Brian Lara went to Sri Lanka in 2001 - just at the time Murali was peaking and stamping his class across batsmen the world over. He scored 688 runs in that series. Yet amongst all of Lara's achievements, this number is a footnote. His 153 not out at Barbados counts for more. Much more. 

For the sake of Indian cricket, let's hope Virat Kohli isn't trying to sell us a dummy story about how because the Aussies called him a 'spoilt brat' and because he could still score 500 runs against them, he really came out a winner. He would do well to remember that the larger battle at the end of the day is the scoreline at the end of the series. Nothing else really matters. Let's hope Virat is the man who isn't going to fool us into thinking, that it isn't. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My tryst with Pete


It wasn’t ordinary, was never meant to be.

But the buildup paled in comparison.  This was a congregation of the gladiators of tennis and yet the marketing of IPTL ended up being similar to that of a Vividh Bharati song request show.  

It didn’t matter to me though. Getting to see Pete Sampras justifying his moniker ‘Pistol Pete’, with that delicious pause just before tossing for the serve, I knew, was clearly going to be special. It was that posture of his that ran past my eyes when I doubted if these tickets tagged with a five-figure sum are going to be worth it.

“ Let’s pack those bags. ” my tennis elbow screamed.

After all, Sampras occupied a lion’s share of the tennis coverage that came my way while growing up. Nirmal Shekhar and Rohit Brijnath waxed lyrical on the pages of Sportstar and Hindu about his brand of tennis. It was sometimes about his imperious one-handed backhand, and sometimes about his pistol-cork of a serve. On other occasions it was about his serve and volley game and then on days when they got bored of it all, they talked about his leaping overhead smash. The worst they ever said about him was about his personality- boring, they said. No sex appeal apparently.
But his tennis was above board, exquisite and charming.

So there I was cheering his entry as his name got announced at the stadium. The crowd knew their tennis and gave him a rousing welcome. He hadn’t even picked up his trusted Wilson and yet I somehow felt I had got my monies worth already. Hunched, casual, and walking about that rectangular arena that defined his life, he still looked like he meant business.

By the time he got ready to serve against Pat Rafter, I was salivating.  There was significance here, this was a big rivalry back then and Pete had rolled over Pat on most of their meetings. Not this time though, as Pete struggled for most of the set and lost 6-2. It was some lovely tennis by Rafter that settled it and Pete just couldn’t get going on all cylinders. He did get a couple of clean aces and just about brought back memories of yore. In the meanwhile, in my thoughts, I had already raced ahead to the next day’s game- Sampras versus Ivanisevic.

While I read about their matches in school, I never imagined I would see them both on a tennis court. Back then as a student, you only think about these players living in a different world. They’re supposed to make headlines in sports pages and you’re only supposed to be reading them and wonder how good they would be. No other relationship is possible. It’s a distant galaxy they inhabit.

In 2001, I read about the giant Croat’s miraculous achievement in the papers of winning the Wimbledon in his fourth attempt as a wild card.

In 2014, I was looking right at him getting ready to receive a serve from Sampras. All I needed now was a dogfight between their racquets.

But there had to be a twist in this surreal world of mine and it came quick. Sampras was down 4-1 in less than 15 minutes.  His next two plays got him to 0-30 down. His serve betrayed him. Worse, his next serve at that score, was a fault.

Sampras’ team captain called a timeout. It was a new format after all. His team circled around and we could see Fabrice Santoro the coach, talking animatedly. By the end of that huddle Sampras placed his racket slowly over by the courtside player bench. He quietly wore his track jacket while Fabrice came on-court as a substitute to replace Sampras.

Sampras had just got substituted because he wasn’t good enough. On a tennis court.  

I couldn’t take my eyes off him for the next ten minutes. Sampras mildly cheered for his teammate in a typical nonchalant manner from the bench. He was trying to fit in as an audience. I was trying to come to terms with it. He was better off with those leaping smashes. I was better off reading about them. 


That evening I was to meet him at a dinner, thanks to a friend who offered to organize it. I didn’t feel like it. I am sure, he didn’t either.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

When words failed


I am writing again after more than a year. Such was the mind-numbing sight that I wanted to get rid of.  To transport or even merely tuck it, perhaps in all futility, to a world of words, remains the only resort.

At PUMA, twice a year, we go through our seasonal product launches in a small town in Southern Germany. In a room that resembles a big badass IMAX theater, close to a 1,000 people assemble, as the key product highlights are unveiled. This season wasn’t meant to be any different except that less than a couple of minutes into the presentation, we were told that Lothar Matthaus is attending this too, seated on the first row.

Well, he calmly stood up and gave us that nice, polite ‘Hey, I-know-I-am-famous and-you-know-it-too’ wave.  Now, for people of my generation who were less than 10 years old when 1990 happened, Matthaus was God. Period.  And he was a captain- one who led like a rock, with a solid wall of defence that couldn’t be breached by a whole bunch of mischievous (and bratty) Argentinians including that guy Diego. Of course, with the rise of attacking players like Klinsmann and Ballack, Matthaus relegated from popular public memory but this was someone who had appeared in “more” World Cup games than any other player in the most popular sport in the world. That’s big, right. So hey, I already had my time’s worth. I mean, I could call my uncle and Dad right then and tell them I was in the same room as Lothar Matthaus. They’d easily remember. How cool was that? Instantly, he became the most famous man I have ever shared a room with. That’s a BIG one, right? Yes it is.

And then appeared Usain-fucking-Bolt on stage. Casually, walking up to extend his PUMA contract with our CEO. Now, if Matthaus was Christ, Bolt was resurrection.  Forget the people, every single strand of hair in that room, stood up to give this man an ovation that would’ve rung even in the ears of Beethoven. Matthaus and Bolt in one room? This is madness (or Sparta). Some talk ensued and appropriately so but all the eyes in the room were glued to the motions of this one man. How tall, how bloody perfect, how fast must he be, will he run to his chair to sit, will he get there before we blink? Let’s keep those eyes open for as long as he is in the room. It’s ridiculous, did we just share the room with him? Yes we did.

And then walked in Boris Becker. That irascible, unrelenting chap who won everything there was to win in the face of McEnroe, Connors, Lendl and Sampras. Is this is a scam? This is getting hard to digest. Someone shove this down my brain to fathom the sheer audacity of talent that’s gathered here. Oh wait, take some pictures right now. Who is going to ever believe this was happening in an IMAX theater? Pinch. 

But this was just halftime as Linford Christie jogged his way in. That world-record holder who kept winning sprints as easily as we chewed gum, all the way till he was 33. At which point Bolt stood up from his seat, to the sound of ear-splitting roars from the audience, nodding negatively, swaying his head, gesturing that Becker and Christie were not fast any longer and that he was the fastest. So here we are, not even scraping the skin of the enormity of what is unfolding and this man wants to joke about? Someone call an ambulance, this is a cardiac arrest. 

And it wouldn’t stop there. In walked a man called Thierry Henry who once happily worked on the principle of “Have-ball-will-score”.  And then this man, who led the charge for his team for so many years including the only season in over a 120 years of top class football, that a club didn’t lose a single game, started dribbling on-stage.

And then there was a break and I went to relieve myself from all the mayhem. And in came Boris, right next to me, doing what men do in between breaks- take a fucking leak. Off he goes and near the hand wash section I say, "After you, Mr. Becker".

Fuck it. I can’t even write anymore.

After the break they all split onto a small soccer field into teams. And they played a game. Henry’s team won 4-3. I really can’t write this anymore. This writing thing proved to be as nerve-wracking as that afternoon.

I have firmly believed that almost every great experience you go through in food, travel, women, sports, movies, plays, it eventually dawns to you, was over-rated. You thought it was superb at one point of time and then something better drew you or you just forgot what it was anyway. Part of this sentiment is echoed well by Woody Allen. He often describes life as a grim and depressing affair that we all go through, and that sometimes all the happiness you experience is a thinly veiled delusion that takes you away from the suffering that life is.  

And as far those thinly veiled delusions go, this was not bad.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

#278: Barfi


Its quite evident that over the last five years or so Indian filmmakers have pushed themselves to make movies that they wouldn't have the courage to dream of in let's say the 90s. For somewhere in the creative filmdom of present day Bollywood fueled by the Dibakars and the Kashyaps,  a bunch of writers decided for themselves that they'll not stick to norms of the song-and-dance, college romance, poor-boy-meets-rich girl formulae and think of new stories. Thus came a Vikramaditya Motwane with an Udaan, a Zoya Akhtar with a Luck by Chance and an Imtiaz Ali with a Jab We Met. They were of course the big names but strugglers like Rajat Kapoor, Pankaj Advani, Onir also mushroomed. And what happened collectively was that the taste of the average Indian audience elevated itself. And it is this slightly more evolved taste that a film like Barfi caters to.

Its leading cast could walk any international ramp and look good but the filmmaker doesn't let you see that side of his actors in the film. You could've walked out of the theater for lack of the usual pyar mohabbat rhetoric dialogue but you don't. Words are rendered meaningless as Anurag Basu takes that one courageous leap to make a movie without dialogue for most parts. He fills it with a few slapstick gags,  uses a murder of all things as a plot device to move the story forward in a love triangle, sets it in 1970s with no foreign locales, shoots no steamy scenes and yet puts everything together to leave you with a generous smile at the end of the film.

Its as eclectic a Hindi film has got in recent times. It borrows a bit from the Chaplin-Buster Keaton style of cinema and works with some fabulous (and original sounding) music from Pritam to connect with the audience and it works. Ranbir Kapoor brings his pedigree of acting education to the party like in no other movie before and Priyanka matches him frame for frame. She could've so easily overdone it but she doesn't and her last scene with Ranbir will linger in public memory for a long time. Add to it the innocence of the other leading lady Ileana and a superb down-on-his-luck cop act by Saurabh Shukla and you have a perfect score on acting for the movie. Anurag also goes a step beyond and works meticulously on the look of the film, transporting us back to the 70s and bringing us back to present day  effortlessly thanks to some incredible work by cinematographer Ravi Varman. If there's anything that doesn't work for the film, its a drag of a first half as the characters are getting set. Anurag takes a lot more time to work this part of the film out and overall the film could've easily have been shorter by 10-15 minutes.

Not everything about Barfi is perfect, It got me twitching my thumbs restlessly on my Blackberry in the first half with its snail-like pace but then something about it asked me to stay put for the second half. I am glad, I did.  Come to think of it, its as rewarding a Hindi film about romance can get ever.

Well done, Anurag, You've made up for your sin of ripping The Apartment into a 15 minute story.

Rating: 7.1/10

P.S: Its another matter though as I am writing this Disco Deewane from SOTY is reminding me that each of the cliched formulae mentioned above is also alive and kicking. Sigh... 

Monday, September 03, 2012

#277: Expendables 2


Compared to most recent action movies, Expendables 2 stands out with all the acton it has to offer. Compared to its first instalment, Expendables 2 screams out as a classic. Its got that cool quotient that the original tried so hard to infuse that it somewhere got lost on the way.

This one also shows ever so subtly the difference that a good director can make to a normal slam-bang action movie. Simon West of Con Air and Lara Croft:Tomb Raider fame handles this heavyweight cast with ease and ensures there's something in it for all those big names. He of course reserves his best for ringleader Stallone who leads a pack of killers on a mission. Statham, Schwazi, Willis, Norris, Van Damme all have their own moments that can make action lovers go weak in their knees. Replete with an equally carefree soundtrack, Expendables 2 keeps you rooted to your seats with some pretty good fights, humor and class. And one can even say- all in equal measure for it leaves you with that 'just right' vibe.

I had somewhere read that Expendables was meant to be a homage to those action flicks of the 80s. Somehow the first one relied solely on the names of the opening credits to see it through but this one more than makes up for it. In fact this is a lesson on how a homage ought to be paid.

Take a bow, Mr. West. This is a winner all the way !

Rating: 7.4/10

Saturday, September 01, 2012

#276: Sleepers


Sleepers is about friends. Its also about crime. Its about injustice or justice depending upon how one looks at it. Its about moral dilemmas. Its about a true incident or story and characters that did exist at some point. It is about the good 'bad guys' as well and the bad 'good guys'.

But one thing its not about is the big names that roll in the opening credits. Because every star in here plays a role antithetical to what we've seen them as. Brad Pitt is a regular joe lawyer. De Niro is a priest and Hoffman- a slurring druggy alcoholic barely in control of his words. And that's why this movie is so different from any other crime thriller you would've seen. And thankfully so. Spanning a period of 15 years, Sleepers is one movie I would pay to watch with my friends because it celebrates friendship like very few movies have in history.  A good old American classic and one of the finest works of a very fine director - Barry Levinson..

Rating: 7.6/10