July 29, 2009

(written in honour of Katpadi Katsa’s upcoming nuptials)

Kitty Aunty has always enjoyed weddings. But in the past few years they have been incredibly important to her. Now that her children have left the house and she no longer teaches junior school, being the centre of all weddings is how she occupies herself. Kitty Aunty has heard of the notion that a wedding is the bride’s special day, but thinks that this is a lie spread by Hollywood movies and American sitcoms. She knows that a wedding is a beast with a life of its own, which will devour the bride and groom if they’re not careful, and that only she can tame it.

And so it is Kitty Aunty who runs the weddings of her extended family behind the scenes. She knows how to negotiate a discount on the bride’s designer lehnga, and where to get equally good dresses at less obscene prices for the mothers and sisters. She knows the caterer who provides the best paneer tikkas. And the ladies who have evening tea at the Gymkhana Club still speak in awed tones of the time Kitty Aunty bargained over the groom’s juttis with a group of young and ruthless saalis, and convinced them to settle for a chaat party.

But the money and the catering and the dresses are just side businesses for Kitty Aunty. The really important job for her is information gathering and networking. For the past many years, she is the one who goes and meets the in-laws and their extended families, discusses how the wedding should be held, and finds out everything about them. The in-laws are always slightly perplexed that they are meeting Kitty Aunty rather than parents. They are also perplexed about whether she is a tai or a masi or a bua or a chachi or just a plain auntyji but they adjust.

And all this meeting in-laws and gupshup over chai leads to the whole point of the wedding. At the reception, if Gungun Mausi wants to know who that boy in the cream sherwani or the girl in the green choli is, only Kitty Aunty will be able to tell her. She will be the only person who will be able to tell Gungun Mausi their names, what they’re doing, any scandals centred around them or their families, and if they’re single and looking to get married. Kitty Aunty never does anything as crude as matchmake. But without her, matchmakers would never be able to operate. She knows this, and takes her function very seriously.

But she is not enjoying tonight’s wedding. The boy and girl have had a love marriage, which is fine by her. And the boy is not Punjabi but that is fine by her too. After all she is liberal and these days it’s better if children do things on their own. But the guest list is driving her crazy.

The bride and groom had gone to college together, and most of the guests are their batchmates and juniors and seniors. Not only do they outnumber the relatives, but very few relatives beyond immediate family have even been invited. Almost three fourths of the guests are the couple’s friends. Worse, they are all each others’ friends. Nobody is asking Kitty Aunty who anybody else is, because everyone knows already. She feels useless and exasperated. She had grown accustomed to being at the centre of all information. Now she is at the periphery. She has to ask guests who other guests are.

It’s fine if a girl and boy who get married don’t have the same caste or background, she reflects. But she draws the line at them having the same friends.

So Much for a Happy Series Finale

May 8, 2009

Moving back to Delhi has meant that I now watch TV that is not Balika Vadhu and Bigg Boss. My mother usually has FRIENDS turned on when I get home. These days, Star World is showing the final season again. And this made me realise…

So FRIENDS wrapped up in 2004, right? And in the last few episodes Chandler and Monica buy a house in the suburbs and move there with two newly adopted infants. Hmmm.

So basically they bought a house in the suburbs at what was almost the peak of the housing bubble. And now the housing bubble has collapsed. It’s possible that their mortgage is underwater and they owe more than the house is worth. Not only that, they have to pay for kids. But even worse than that, look at their jobs. Chandler is in advertising, which is the first thing that gets hit in a recession. And Monica is a chef and relies on people putting discretionary expenditure, which is also just not happening in these harsh times. Unemployment therefore looks very likely. And they live in New York, where health insurance is very much employer-dependent (my uncle is avoiding early retirement for this very reason). So, to summarise:

  • they’re paying much more in EMIs than their house is worth
  • they’re probably unemployed
  • and they have to take care of two small children

Their lives are truly miserable. Which means that there is actually hope for them – they now have a bright chance of getting on to a show on Colors.

Bombay to Bangkok

January 20, 2008

I saw the 2130 show at Rex on Friday night because I didn’t want to endure the traffic on the way home. It turned out to be well worth it.

The hero of the movie is a cook who is on the run from a gangsta-rapper mafioso. He gives him the slip by impersonating a urologist in a medical relief camp in Thailand. He then falls in love with a Prostitute with a Heart of Gold who tells him to keep his morality off her body. Such joy. Oh, and the sidekick is a sardar called Rash.

While I am delighted that the fabulosity of urologist-based humour is being recognised by mainstream storytellers, I am also miffed at losing the first-mover advantage. A month ago, Kodhi and me had decided that it was essential to have a urologist as a recurring character in our sitcom when we got down to making it. Now we’ve been pipped to the post by Nagesh Kukunoor.

The really worrying bit is that fundaes cascade in Indian entertainment. One guy uses a funda, and two months later it pops up in five different movies and TV serials. The most painful example has to be when J-First started calling The Consultant Formerly Known As Gandyman Jignesh. For a year nothing happened. Then Jigneshes started popping up everywhere. There was a Jignesh in Guru. There was a Jignesh in Honeymoon Travels. And while Jignesh did get established as the archetypal Gujew name, J-First lost its exclusive ownership of the Jignesh concept. I fear a similar thing may happen to urologist jokes.

That aside, the movie is to be commended for faithfully sticking to the standard romantic comedy framework. The lead pair makes out after being imperiled, they fight at the eighty-percent point of the movie, and they make up at the climax. The only minor deviation is that the moment of truth and not the make up happens at an airport terminal, but that is okay.

What is saddening is that the movie failed to make use of all possible Thai stereotypes. It brought in massage parlour workers, Buddhist monks, laughing Buddha statues, tuk tuks, and fried locusts, but mysteriously left out ladyboys. Tragic. It came so close to perfection.

The best part of the movie, though, came after actually watching it. An IMDb search for Lena Christensen eventually led to the Wiki page for SARS Wars. Now this is a movie that I have to watch:

Thailand’s leading health official, Public Health Minister Ratsuda, declares Thailand free of the SARS virus and that Thailand’s superior technology and medical research will prevent the disease from occurring in the kingdom.

However, far away in Africa, there has been an outbreak of a mutant Type 4 strain of the SARS virus, which causes sufferers to turn into bloodthirsty zombies when they die. A hornet carrying the virus from Africa is hit by an airliner and lands in Thailand. It flies into the open window of a farang driving a Volvo and stings the man on the back of his neck. The man becomes patient zero in the outbreak of SARS 4. He returns to his apartment building and infects others in his building. Among the zombified creatures is a giant Burmese python named Albert.

Meanwhile, Catholic schoolgirl Liu is kidnapped by a gang led by a transvestite named Yai, who dressed as a sexy woman in a bikini and used a furry as a distraction. Liu’s father, an influential businessman, does not wish to involve the police, so he turns to his old friend Master Thep. Thep, injured from his last outing, assigns his stop student swordsman, Khun Krabii, to rescue Liu.

I love foreign cinema.