Irreverent but poignant
May I hebb your Attention pliss Arnab Ray HarperCollins, 2010, pp 237, Rs 199
The preface has funny testimonials on why you should be reading the book, in a tone reminiscent of tele-shopping commercials that tell you why you should be using a sauna belt. So, there are takes on everything that was part of the popular culture from the late 80s and 90s. Contemporary pop culture is also very much part of his radar. Politics, cinema, Internet, management institutes, customer service, marriages, reality television, everything is ripped apart here. Take the chapter on the 90s for instance. If you have grown up in that decade and have seen first-hand what liberalisation did to us on the social, economic and political front, this chapter will make for delightful reading. Especially the bit about the Internet. Expensive and low-speed Internet, why and how youngsters became “proficient in code-hacking skills”, and the circumstances under which “they spent hours tinkering with C and Java”, only to look at “dirty pictures” late at night.
Then, there’s the chapter on Bollywood, the most entertaining one, personally. Arnab Ray’s take on the changing code in a typical Bollywood movie, and how he doesn’t get “the new internationalised wannabe Bollywood, a world of burgers, fries, Coke, tank-tops and faux-accented American English.”
Tongue-in-cheek, he talks about how he misses Hindi films where the hero (in white sweater, white trousers and white shoes) and the heroine (in a skimpy apsara sari) dance on the side of a green hill while an avalanche of a thousand lemons rolls down the slopes. Where are the endearing cliches, he asks, and sighs, “Aah heaven”. Indeed.
And so, there’s a section on ‘Alternative Bollywood’. How the “great Mithun Chakraborty left mainstream Bollywood for the Shahrukhs and the Aamirs and migrated to Ooty, and built an alternative centre for quality Hindi movies.” How Diya aur Toofan starring Prabhuji (Mithun) and Madhoo, a product of alternative Bollywood, tries to put science back on the centre-stage. And the greatest of them all, Gunda, the “baap of all baap movies.” How critics have no problem acknowledging Fellini’s La Strada, but are unwilling to put away their realist sensibilities while evaluating Gunda.
All tongue firmly in cheek. Even as you read this, you will be amazed by the author’s capacity for pop trivia. The year Gunda was released, what the names of characters in Loha are etc. The chapter titled ‘1-900 Hotties’ is another funny take on an Indian student doing his masters degree in what else, computer science in the United States, trying to call a number for phone sex, only to realise that the call is routed to India and the girl with the thick Southern Texas accent was actually Kokila Aunty from back home, Baroda! While it is funny, it is also poignant in a sense. One also understands the sub-text, that of call centres and how even middle-aged housewives took to working there.
Meanwhile, I’ll try and see if I can get a copy of Gunda, somewhere, now!