Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sachin Tendulkar - Baptism by Fire

Tomorrow, the 24th of April, is Sachin Tendulkar's 35th birthday. What follows is an essay I wrote on his 30th birthday. It's something I've been mailing every year on this day, to everyone in my address book. (With replies along the lines of, "I'm listing this as spam. Isn't this the same stupid thing you've been sending for the past 5 years?") Now that I have a blog, no more spamming.

Disclaimer:- "I detest cheap sentiment," said Margo Channing. But Tendulkar has been my hero since early childhood, and you have no greater heroes than childhood ones. And I'm probably past the age for new "heroes". So do forgive me my occasional hyperbole and cheap sentiment. One other thing. I haven't been able to verify the "successive boundaries" bit in the anecdote below. Five years is too long to remember all your sources. In case it's inaccurate, much as I hate John Ford, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend" is my defense.

Baptism by fire

1989. The Indian squad, on its tour to Pakistan, had this 16-year-old kid from Bombay. This was no ordinary kid, though. For a few years prior even to this startlingly early debut, he had had the eye of senior Indian cricketers and officials on him. He began his first-class career with a bang a year earlier - centuries on debut in each of the 3 major tournaments. At the age of 15, Sachin Tendulkar was already the next big thing in Indian cricket.

And so, after barely a year of first-class cricket, it was on to Pakistan. At the age when most of us were just beginning our Plus One, Tendulkar was to face Abdul Qadir and the pace trio of Imran Khan and his young finds - Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, a pair that would go on to terrorise batting line-ups for long, and stamp their class as one of the greatest cricket has known (until injury reduced Waqar to half the bowler he once was, that is).

He got his opportunity in the first test at Karachi. Remember, this was a boy who'd not even played Ranji Trophy for much more than a year, much less faced one of the best bowling line-ups in the world. The genius was always there, but not the technical perfection that makes us call him the Little Master today. Things got bad pretty fast. In his own words, he'd never faced bowlers of such pace before. The ball, more often than not, would thud into the keeper's gloves even before he finished playing his stroke. As he admitted later on, he thought that his first match in international cricket would turn out to be his last.

From the next test on, however, he vowed to stick around and see what happened, no matter what. In the words of Wasim Akram, "He never took a backward step." In the fourth test at Sialkot, India found themselves in more than a spot of bother, with them playing for a draw and a good deal of time left in the test. And then it happened. A Waqar snorter went through the grill of Sachin's helmet and smashed into his nose, bringing down with it the boy a nation was praying for. The sight of blood on the pitch had the non-striker waving frantically towards the pavilion - the medics were out and so was the stretcher. The trouble was, the young batsman didn't want to leave. For the kid with the blood-soaked shirt, retreat was just not an option. Waqar's next ball sped to the boundary. So did the one after. Tendulkar went on to score 50 odd - more importantly, he faced 190 balls. The match was saved. Thus began the legend.

Tendulkar made his international debut when I was 7 years old. I discovered him a year later, while playing with those bubble-gum cards, in the backseat of the van, on the way home from school. My next memories are of watching match after match, praying for three quick Indian wickets, just so that the dashing #5 would walk in and play those strokes no other could play. I've had no greater hero ever since. Right through all the years of school and college - from Enid Blyton to The Hardy Boys to Alistair Maclean to Arthur C. Clarke, from wanting to be a pilot, to being a scientist (until I encountered something known as Plus-Two Physics) - my flavour-of-the-month kept changing. But Tendulkar was always at the top. Always.

It isn't difficult to see why. To watch Tendulkar bat is to... (I've never been much of a poet). But I say this. Whenever he plays one of those magical innings that only he can play, the world seems a better place. You may have failed in maths, physics and chemistry (all in the same term); you may be in bed with chicken pox (with you resembling, more or less, a dart board after a particularly tough day in the office); your cable operator may be boycotting HBO the same month they're showing "The Untouchables" and "The Godfather II" - you may be suffering from any number of physical or mental ailments, but come a Tendulkar classic, and the picture brightens. Black-and-White turns full colour. You see larks where previously vultures seemed to hover. And you sing, "What a wonderful world". If a man can do this for millions of people over a period of 14 years, what more can you ask for? And sport is "just another form of entertainment"?

Genius, though, is not without its pitfalls. You're often judged by standards impossibly high - standards applicable to no one else. How else would you explain the labelling of a man who has an average of 51 (his career average being 44) in the grand finals of all tournaments he's played in (as shown in "Taking Guard" on the morning of the World Cup final) as somebody "who doesn't perform when the team needs him"? Wasn't it Harsha Bhogle's comment that if you woke up Tendulkar in the middle of the night on an overseas tour, he'd wake up asking, "Is it 20 for 2, or 30 for 2?" Yet, he has an overseas test average in the 50s, when an overall average in the 40s is considered a sign of a very good player. What about having top scored in no less than 2 World Cups, and also the distinction of being the player with the most number of "Man of the Matches" ever?

It isn't just about statistics. Things are changing for the better now, but was it that long ago when he carried the entire batting of this nation of a billion people on his shoulders; when he was India's "One-Man Army;" when people switched off television sets the moment he got out; when the opposition considered the match as good as won at the fall of the great one? The quality of any sportsman is best appreciated by his opponents, for it is they who meet him in battle and pit their talents against his. And it is here that Tendulkar can count some of his biggest admirers. The great bowlers of this generation - from Wasim Akram to Allan Donald to Shane Warne - have only one name to mention, when asked that question they've probably grown weary of, "Who's the best batsman you've ever bowled to?"

So carry on, Sachin. Delight us, entertain us, awe us. Craft ever so elegantly even more reasons for people to carry signs like this to cricket grounds all over the world, "Commit all your crimes when Sachin Tendulkar is at the crease, for even the Lord has eyes just for him." But the day must come when the great man scores his last run for India, and that thought is nothing less than terrifying. For a whole generation, introduced to the game by the Little Master, "Cricket" and "Tendulkar" are synonyms, and it is to him, and him alone, that Number Four in the Indian line-up belongs to. An Indian batting line-up without Tendulkar? To be two-down and watch a mere mortal walk in to what had once been the abode of a God? Unthinkable! "Where have you gone, Sachin Tendulkar? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you." Rahul Dravid once said, "On the off-side, first there is God, then there is Ganguly." And we all know who that God is - on the off-side, on-side, behind the wicket, straight down the ground; any damn spot on the cricket field. As a fan put it, "Who says there's no God? I've seen him. He bats at Number Four in the Indian test team." To those who know me, soak up all these references to the divine, for this is as religious as I'll ever get. Worshipping others' petty tools for power is not something I have time for, but a real God is an altogether different matter - and that is what Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar is.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Movie Turn-Ons, Part 1

I thought I'd have a post listing out my movie turn-ons - with about three, maybe. Why three? Because the Ramans do everything in threes. Once I started writing, it was clear that there was no way I could fit it all in one post - especially after some rather strong words, recently, from a couple of friends, on the length of my posts. Besides, I'm not a Raman. So what I'll do is, have a series of posts on the topic, each with one turn-on.

To start with, here's my all-time favourite. A shortened version was on my Orkut profile for a while, but I had to remove it because the length of the bloody thing meant that I wasn't able to add any more movies to the list. Here goes...

Any comedy set in a gloomy, scary, forbidding castle built on top of a hill. Well, it doesn't have to be on top of a hill. Or be a castle, for that matter. Just any big house will do. Ok, a house of any size, even. Hell, it doesn't even have to be a comedy. It could be "Saving Private Ryan", for all I care. So long as the scene itself isn't a completely serious one. The heroes may be in deadly danger, a la "The Temple of Doom". Or the whole set-up may just be vaguely spooky, a la "Young Frankenstein". An element of danger does add a certain something.

The characters having to wander around in the darkness, is a must - holding those huge candle holders with more than 3 candles. This, of course, means that if the movie is in the post-electricity era, a power cut has to be worked in. Either that, or the secret passageway (see below) has to be dark. It just doesn't take, otherwise.

A big, big plus would be if it were to be played out in a bedroom. One with one of those giant ornate beds. And a secret passageway from behind a secret door. Ah, now I remember why I mentioned "castle" and "big house". Small houses don't have giant ornate beds. Or secret passageways. They can, but it looks odd.

All the better if there are two characters. A guy and a girl. Near the giant ornate bed. With the candle holders. Those of you who don't know me must be starting to wonder whether they're reading the online journal of a porno director. As opposed to others who know, and therefore, don't wonder. But really guys, don't worry. This is a family blog. In fact, my earliest memories of The Scene are of Laurel and Hardy terrified to death in a spooky house (with candles and ornate bed). Sadly, I don't remember the name of the movie. Laurel and Hardy. What could be more U-rated than those two?

Over the years, between Laurel and Hardy, and "Young Frankenstein" (my most recent watch with one), countless are the films that have enthralled me with The Scene. But I never tire. Every time I see one, it just seems so fresh and full of possibilites. To those into that sort of thing, you could compare this with watching the sun rise, or a bit of stargazing. Whatever.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Film Makers in a Box

Sunday afternoons are the worst. Saturday nights being Saturday nights, I usually end up sleeping at something like 3 or 4 in the morning, and waking up around noon on Sunday. This throws everything off. I feel listless getting out of bed. Getting ready for the day is a pain. And then there is the question of lunch. In Pune, if you don't have your lunch by 3, you have to stick to burgers or pizza. Or skip lunch altogether. You could, of course, cook something, but that has never been my forte. The trouble is, when you have breakfast at 12, it's difficult to work up a good appetite before 3. Tired and grumpy, I feel all alone in the world. I usually have a bite of breakfast and go right back to bed, knowing full well that this means the night's sleep is going to be pretty much screwed, and that the following day at work will be about as productive as a session with an out-of-form Rahul Dravid at the crease. (But then again, on Mondays, there are lots of out-of-form Dravids in office.)

But not last Sunday. No sir. Up till the "feeling all alone in the world" bit, it was business as usual. And that is the perfect mood in which to watch Wim Wenders' "The End of Violence", which was shown on Zee MGM at 3, as the inaugural film of their "Sultans of Cinema" series. Well, maybe not quite the perfect mood. It's the sort of film where being a little drunk also helps. The title is about this system that is supposed to bring about an end of violence by video surveillance of all public places. But to achieve this end of violence, They have to go about killing whoever asks questions about the potential abuse of such a system. Some kind of irony, I suppose. (Don't think "Enemy of the State". These 2 films are about as alike as are, say, "Star Wars" and "2001: A Space Odyssey". ) At least, I think the plot was something along those lines. (There was a brief power cut, I was a little drowsy, and I switched back too late after ads on occasions. I really can't stand ads in the middle of a movie. Wasn't it Herzog who said that future generations will wonder how we could ever allow something as precious as the telling of a story to be smashed into smithereens by advertisements?) Anyway, it's not important. The film's more about these alienated souls who wander a gorgeous Los Angeles landscape.

And that got me thinking. This is the kind of movie that, with its pacing, allows - no, encourages - you to think random thoughts. How about putting directors in a box? Mind you, I'm not talking of stuff like "Generally, he..." No, it has to be, "In ALL his movies..." Of course, it helps if you've seen very few films of a director. The more movies you watch, the larger is the box - less things to pin on him. For instance, for many years, my box for David Lean was, "Likes to shoot an Arab-robe clad Peter O Toole in the desert." Not quite accurate. But, what the hell. We're all frogs in wells. At least, I am. Therefore, so are you all.

"Paris, Texas" had even more alienated souls wandering an even more gorgeous Texas landscape. "Wings of Desire" was about... well, maybe not alienated... but definitely lonely angels who've just about had enough of immortality (see post script), and also of people walking through them, sitting on them, not acknowledging their presence and what not. The humans in the film - definitely alienated. The mostly black-and-white Berlin of the film is a little bleak, but it's still exceptionally well shot. I've seen only these 3 films by him. So off goes Wim Wenders in the "alienated people in breathtaking landscapes; has a way with photographing beautiful man-made structures; minimal plots; characters (at least some of them) reconnect with the rest of humanity by the end of the film" box.

I think I'll put Antonioni in the same box - except that I'll remove that last "reconnecting at the end" bit, and put in a "can bore you to tears sometimes". (I'm thinking 'Red Desert'. And I know I'm violating the ALL films rule here.)

Who else? Werner Herzog. Well, I've seen 7 films by him. 6 films from the Herzog-Kinski box set + "Grizzly Man", which they showed on Discovery Channel last week. "Bleak world view; certified lunatics as lead actors; awe-inspiring photography of nature at its wildest; lead characters a combination of bravery, incredible ambition, equally incredible stupidity, massive egos; Nature hands Man's head on plate." This is harder than I thought. I had to develop selective amnesia to get in some of those points for the Herzog box.

Hitchcock. "Wizardry with the camera; people die; morbid humour."

John Ford. "Fantastic photography of John Wayne striking macho poses in vast open spaces; maudlin; specialises in moralizing that is as subtle as a sledgehammer; makes you want to throw a shoe at the screen whenever characters so much as open their mouths." I suspect, no matter how many films I see of him, this box is unlikely to change. "The Searchers", for instance, was one of my all-time favourite films when I saw it the first time. Each subsequent viewing makes me like it a little less, as I see past the stunning cinematography, and start listening to the characters. I still like "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". But then again, I've only watched it once. I have a special grudge against this bloke. Such is his reputation that I thought nothing of splurging on an 8-movie box set of his. That was about 2 years back. So far, I've managed to watch about 3 movies, and the set is now stuffed somewhere at the back of a shelf - where I have to see as little of it as possible.

Brian De Palma. "Nudity, sex, violence; uses the camera like V.V.S. Laxman uses his bat - a wand."

I think I'll stop now. There are other directors I'd like to try this exercise on, but it's getting more and more difficult to put them in a box - I've watched more than a handful of movies from them. For instance, the "nudity and sex" bit as a box for ALL Brian De Palma films is a flat-out lie. I just didn't want a box with only one point.

By the way, in case you were wondering how my Sunday went, it went very well. Right after "The End of Violence", I got to watch the Bahrain GP, that saw Raikkonen driving to the lead of the championship. The highlights of the race, though, were the snippets of an-obviously-under-strict-instructions-to-hype-Force-India-whenever-possible Steve Slater talk of the "tremendous acceleration of the Force India cars from corners", while the other commentator was trying to point out that that was more a reflection of the problems of the McLaren behind, which, in any case, managed to get by after 3 laps. That, though, was nothing compared to this. There is exactly one line about the winner of the race (at the end of the article). The rest is breathless excitement for a team that finished 12th and 19th (out of 22 cars, minus retirements). Anyway, where was I? Yes, a film that makes alienation look so beautiful, and a good day for a superstar who drives things around in circles at great speed, who has nothing whatsoever to do with my life, and who is one of the richest people on earth, made me feel all happily connected with the rest of humanity. :)

P.S. - About the boredom of angels in "Wings of Desire". You see, these angels are not like the angels of popular imagination. We romanticize them too much. Wim Wenders' angels are nothing but celestial bloggers. They just sit around, observing the things around them, and noting them all down in a white notebook. And they have all been assigned locations. For instance, the angels in the movie are posted in Berlin. But you see, they were not posted there after the city came into existence. They were there on that piece of land even before life formed on earth. Luckily for Damiel and Cassiel, a city grew up around them. Now, spare a thought for the ones posted on the Poles, or maybe the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A few billion years of sitting around twiddling thumbs. And then civilization rises. Their colleagues get to watch laughter, tears, joy, wars, pain, death, sex, Bunuel, etc. And here they are studying patterns of currents, or watching glaciers melt. Wonder what the suicide statistics for angels are...