Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Indian Idol 4: Piano Round

A week (or maybe two or three) ago, I watched a few Indian Idol 4 auditions.

These were quite amusing - a number of cartoony characters made their way through the show. Contestants were scared witless with tasteless pranks. Some forced camaraderie was established between contestants. Some performed well, others bombed. One guy emotionally blackmailed the judges and then cried incessantly on camera. A girl couldn't bring herself to sing a single line (generally a bad sign) and promptly asked for a "personal" meeting with one of the judges. Standouts, both.

Honestly its hard to judge the quality of the singers during these rounds. But I noted with some satisfaction that the judges were in tremendous self-congratulatory mode after it was all over. "This is the best batch!" they said and patted themselves on the back at having picked such a fine bunch of potential superstars. Heck, they picked a few more than the allocated number of slots. All because there was just too much talent to be ignored.

Excellent, I said to myself. We'll have some good singing and be spared the early round kaan-khajuras of last season.

Thus encouraged, I settled in to watch a random episode of the Piano Round. It was the girls' turn to sing. But Hells Bells - the singing sucked so bad it blew chunks. But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.

II4 is judged by four maharathis. There is Anu Malik, of course, who is an Idol fixture. He seemed to be in fine alpha male form. Fellow judges' opinions' are summarily dismissed by him if they happened to cross his. In fact, once he even dissed the junta for disagreeing with him. Then he pointed out that he was one of the junta himself - thus pulling off the considerable feat of castigating himself for disagreeing with him.

Javed Akthar also carries over as judge from last year. He is his usual low-key self and often picks up the mike with what looks like a heavy heart. He seems to be saying: "Wow, I'm going to have to make up something nice to say about this one too!"

Kailash Kher, fine purveyor of sufi songs and one of the finest talents of our generation, is the judge responsible for providing the singer's perspective. Kailash tries to retain a sunny, encouraging demeanor which he conveys with lines like "Hum prabhaavit hue!" Shades of Mogambo-like grandeur.

When Kailash speaks he acts like he's singing - he waves his hands around his face with the palm cupped upwards - like he's half-heartedly trying to catch a ball. He is also Anu Malik's nemesis - they once both fought over fellow judge Sonali Bendre!

Finally there is Sonali Bendre who tends to pretty much wait for one of the other three to say something before she aligns herself with their opinion. Ok, maybe I'm harsh here, so let me say this: she looks terrific, seems to have a fine sense of style and is more articulate and less giggly than last year's janaani judge: Alisha Chinai.

Anyways, back to the girls singing. I chuckled through the entire episode. Why? Because contestant after contestant came and sang badly. And the judges kept encouraging them instead of rolling their eyes and saying "WTF!? Go to your room (and watch SRGMP)!"

One singer came and howled through a song. Sonali gave her a standing ovation. Another squealed through an entire tune. Javed Akhtar called her voice "junta ki amaanat". Yet another played hide and seek with sur. Anu Malik hit on her. One more shakily navigated key parts of a song. She was given a silver coin.

Later all the contestants participated in product placement. This was done by inserting fake AirTel ringtones in what appeared to be a "hostel moment" where the boys and girls were just "hanging out" on a bed. (I would like to point out that two of the boys appeared to be making out with each other on camera. I kid you not - it all started with a head massage, but you should watch this show for yourself).

Fortunately II4 has the winning presence of co-host Meiyang Chang. Meiyang has the uncanny ability to build up an easy chemistry with almost everyone he encounters. He gives the show a lot of its youthful mojo. While he is clearly still fine tuning his act and once in a while tips over on the cuteness, he gives me enough indication he is going to be a huge star someday.

If Preity Zinta were an American and I were Bappi Lahiri, I would hold Meiyang's hand and say "Tum India ka Preeti Zeenta hey!"

Rest of the singers, aur mehenat karo!

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Celebrity Diwali Gift Basket

I am very sentimental about Diwali because it led me to believe in the existence of God. How else to explain my continued survival despite my participation in Diwali antics so perilous and dumb it would make Sarah Palin look like Albert Einstein?

So this Diwali to celebrate the fact that I'm alive I decided to open my heart and give generous gifts to people who continue to inform and entertain us on the Drift (and some who don't but I'm rather fond of anyway).

Abhishek Bachchan
A hit not starring either Aishwarya or Amitabh

Aditya "Head" Narayan
Global recognition for his buffed bod so we are not subjected to those super tight "look at my biceps" wardrobe anymore

Anu Malik

Arjun Rampal
Acting chops

Dhruv Ghanekar
Another shot at a big movie soundtrack

Dominique Cerejo, Suzanne D'mello, Shruti Pathak and Caralisa Monteiro
More lead vocals in Bollywood blockbusters

Farah Khan
A restraining order for Anu Malik

Farhan Akhtar
Continued opportunities to act within his decidedly un-Bollywood range

Gauri Khan
An honest stylist

Goldie Behl
Sense and sensibility, not to mention courage

Harman Baweja
A hit

Himesh Reshammiya
An A-list actress for a forthcoming film

Javed Akhtar
Temporary deafness so he can make it through Indian Idol 4 without telling everyone to just go home and watch SRGMP

A book on 101 Things You Can Do Behind The Camera

Preity Zinta
A few lucky decisions come IPL season 2

Priyanka Chopra
On screen chemistry with her fellow costars


Sanjay Dutt
A right foot

Shahid Kapur
A girlfriend who won't mind being constantly photographed by her guy

Shahrukh Khan
A better team at the IPL than the last bunch of no hopers

Vidya Balan
More cleavage

Vishal Dadlani
A full recovery and return to jumping jack form with Pentagram

Yashita Yashpal Sharma
The Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2009 crown

Aspi's Drift
An interview with Bipasha Basu

Happy Diwali, everyone!


Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Real Luv Story with Himesh: by Bunker Swahadevan

Hi, my name is Bunker Swahadevan. For those who might not know me, I compose music in Bollywood along with my partners, forming the trio: Bunker-Fashion-Coy.

A few months ago I decided to become a judge on a show called Sa Re Drama Pa.

"It'll be great" the producers told me. "You'll be on TV. You'll get the chance to mentor kids". Plus there was the money and the prospect of finding good, cheap singers. So I said yes.

From some of my buddies who shall remain unnamed, I had heard a lot about this Himesh character and how he drew people into fights. So on the first day I told everyone that I wasn't that kind of a judge. But lo and behold, pretty soon we all got into a horrible fight, prompted by none other than the aforementioned troublemaker. All on national TV!

I was devastated. I came home and heard Coy playing the theme from Kal Ho Na Ho on his keyboard.

"Can't you play something less manoos for once!" I snapped at him and stormed into the bathroom.

There I cried in front of the mirror. You know how on the show that karun basuri starts playing whenever someone starts whining? Well, that started playing in my bathroom. It freaked me out. I sang Ma from Tare Zameen Par three times and wallowed in self-pity. Then I slipped into a troubled sleep.

I had the weirdest dream! I dreamt that I was walking down the corridor of a dimly lit dungeon. It was moist in there. Hair grew on the walls. I smelled Brut in the air.

In the first cell I passed I saw Hansika Motwani. "Help me!" she said "I was stuck in a movie with him!"

In the second cell I saw Bappi Lahiri. His song Disco Badshah played continuously on a loop. "Bankor my baadi!" he pleaded. "I'll kiss Abhijit if you get me out of here!"

In the third cell I saw my friends Shekhar and Vishal. Someone had put Shekhar in pants with no pockets. Poor Shekhar didn't know where to put his hands and out of sheer shyness was hiding his face with them instead.

Vishal had been chained in front of a TV playing the Mothers Day special episode of Jo Jeeta Wohi Superstar. At first he put on a brave face and said "Bring it on Dude!!" But when his eyes fell on me his voice shook: "Bunker old pal, any chance you have some jasmine tea on you. I don't think I'll make it otherwise!"

Further down I saw Satish Kaushik in a cell. He looked fine but his mouth had been taped shut. I remember thinking this was actually a good idea. But clearly, Satish was in turmoil and that wasn't good.

I kept walking. An unearthly cackle filled the dungeon. The narrow corridor flared into a huge room. In the center was a tall pedestal with exactly ten steps. Seated at the top of the pedestal was Himesh - a fierce wind billowed through his clothes. (For some reason his hair remained perfectly in place). He bared his teeth, pointed at me and cackled again. "You will soon be HISTORY!" he bellowed. I trembled with fear - certain I was about to breathe my last.

When it seemed all was lost, out of nowhere a magnificent shadowy figure swooped upon Himesh, unseating him and sending him tumbling to the floor. His toupee parted company with his head. Himesh whimpered and scurried into a corner. The figure turned, the light from behind me lit her face. It was Urmila Matondkar.

"Urmila!" I exclaimed with joy. "How did you do it? How did you make Himesh your bitch?!"

"Listen carefully to what I have to say" said Urmila to me. "Because your life depends on it"

I clasped my hands and fell to my knees in front of her.

"Bunker" she continued "The only way to get the better of Himesh is...." she paused for effect. "Chato him endlessly. Get good at it. Get better at it than Himesh himself!"

"But how can I bring myself to do that?" I said, stunned by this advice. "I'd rather shave my soul strip!"

"There is no other way!" she said as she faded before my eyes.

"Don't leave me!" I screamed. Just then, I woke up in my bed with a start. The scream was actually Fashion playing guitar over a Jimmy Page song. Sigh! On the positive side, I've never had to spend money buying an alarm clock.

I showered quickly, scarfed a couple of idlis and made my way to the ZeeTV studios. With Urmila's advice ringing in my ears I approached Himesh with a whole new attitude. I praised him endlessly. I told him he was a path breaker. I begged him to let me compose music in one of his films. I started calling him Sir.

And well, whadyaknow? It worked! Himesh and I now exchange loving looks constantly on the show. I've even adopted that silly "History" phrase of his, yelling it in every show with as much enthusiasm as I can muster. In return, Himesh calls me The Nose of India and keeps his baying in check.

Both of these, I can live with. I have found peace and connected with inner goodness. I've apologized to Fashion and Coy for thinking rudely of them. I keep my cool even when Fashion tries to pretend he is Richie Blackmore or Coy doodles with the Barney theme on the keys. I couldn't be happier.

Thank you for saving my life, Urmila.

Himesh, flying kiss!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Behind the hoopla: How to make Britney relevant again

If I remember sales figures correctly from some time back (and can extrapolate reasonably since then), the top three female singers in the US according to cumulative album sales are probably Mariah Carey, Madonna and Britney Spears - in that order.

Mariah, for some reason, I've never warmed up to although I hugely enjoyed her loopy turn in Glitter and the subsequent burn down that preceded it because of the comical way in which it became a circus. Madonna these days vacillates so much between nutty and creepy that I can't be bothered to engage. That leaves Britney Spears, who has been such a train wreck lately that its hard not to root for her.

Plus she tends to produce something special every now and then. I confess I now find the song that started it all Hit Me Baby One More Time a bit annoying. But I loved the high-school rave vibe of Crazy and I still believe that Toxic was the best new millennium James Bond song that never made it into an installment of the franchise.

Take her new single - Womanizer - off the upcoming Circus album. Its got a smart Brit-pop hook that deftly exploits highly processed vocals and a strident industrial-techno-pop vibe. And the soft core girl gone wild imagery in the vid! Mind Rush could do a Ph.D. analyzing it. But more importantly, Britney seems to be trying really hard.

Through a series of new media initiatives, she's reaching out to her audience by reaching past the media. She's now got a blog-style web site -, a social network for her album called Circus VIP (built on the Ning platform), a YouTube channel called BritneyTV and a presence on Twitter by the name of therealbritney. (For those of you who are not familiar with twitter, this video is a great introduction to the service)

In other words, she's trying and you know the effort is genuine - if only just tied to her new release - because non-trivial sums of money are involved. It takes a substantial team of new media savvy people to track, develop, generate and tweak the updates on all sites simultaneously. They all need to get paid, it comes from Britney's royalties for the music, she makes $1.60 off a typical $15.99 CD - do the math and you'll get my point. And its paying off - Womanizer is Britney's second number one Hot 100 single.

Can Britney stay relevant on this promising new career course? Only time will tell. But apart from the usual "Pick your men wisely" advice (which really is nonsense because your choices are too ingrained to just intellectualize around), I would like to suggest this hatke course.

Reach out to India. Its easy and will pay big. How so? Let me explain.

All Britney has to do is visit India on a media junket. Visit a few temples even (this but basically in the desh). Bonus points for wearing a tilak. Easy, yes?

We all know how desi people love firangs fussing over India. In return, Britney will instantly be elevated to goddess status. People will start loving her music. Her new album will be greeted with puja and tika when it drops on December 2. Sawan Kumar Tak and Subhash Ghai will get into a cat fight over who should cast her first in a film. Bappi Lahiri will announce an album with her. Asif Zardari will plan his first official trip to India. Britney will now have access to a market of billions.

And let me also tell you that celebrities die slowly back home. If you don't believe me just get a hold of ten random desis at a party and ask them who their favorite rock star is. And if you don't hear "Michael Jackson" eight times out of ten, I'll be a monkey's uncle. The point is: embrace India and it will continue to embrace you long after your creative well has dried up.

Now, just how serious is Britney about this celebrity rehabilitation?

Britney's new web site
Womanizer Lyrics
Britney on Facebook
Britney on myspace
Britney's CircusVIP site
therealbritney on Twitter
Britney's YouTube Channel
Hey, Remember when Britney shaved her head?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Aamir and Akshay at the Box Office: A hair raising trend

Could there be two stars more different in Bollywood than Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar? I think not.

Aamir potrays urban sophistication, he's highly regarded as an actor of gravity. Everyone wants to work with him. He works with a variety of material, is critically lauded and delivers hits by the bushel.

Just as much box office gold is Akshay Kumar. His machismo is tinged with earthiness. Lately he's found a niche in PJamadies (what most people call comedies) - overcoming eye rolling reviews to earn singular praise from viewers. He continues to make his distributors rich.

Amidst all their box office fireworks, both have delivered clunkers and average performers. While we could launch into a sophisticated analysis of how and why, I decided to take the FS (Frivolous and Silly) route instead. Interestingly I found that all you have to do to understand and even predict their box office performance is to look at the length of their haircut.

Yes, Aamir and Akshay's hair dictates their box office of late. Not convinced? Here's the evidence.

Aamir took his time and grew his locks to play Mangal Pandey in the Indian rebellion of 1857. The audience mutinied right out of the theaters, leaving Aamir with a box office bomb.

Sensibly, Aamir restored his matinee star hairstyle to play a terrorist masquarading as a tour guide in Fanaa.Trimming his locks allowed Aamir to overcome tepid reviews and deliver a hit.

 Aamir returned as a star in his directorial debut TZP, a mash up of treating special need kids with care and a cautionary tale of parent pressure. Shorter haircut, bigger bucks at the box office.

In the upcoming Ghajini, Aamir dons a millimeter buzz. Based on his hair (not) raising trend so far, Ghajini will likely be his biggest hit. Until he takes a razor to his head, that is.

Since Akshay is a mirror image of sorts to Aamir as a superstar, the hair trend works in reverse for him. Sporting a smart, regular-joe haircut in Bhool Bhulaiyaa got Akshay his biggest hit of the year.

But putting his head under a Number 1 clipper for a tough guy cut landed Akshay in hot water as Tashan flopped. Heck it was lucky to even get released widely in India.

Akshay went with longer hair in Singh is Kinng. You could argue that he kept his hair under a pagdi for the entire duration of the flick. But none of you went in thinking he might be bald underneath now, did you? So my FS argument totally holds. Result: Ringing cash registers at the box office.

But hey what's this? We don't get to see much of Akshay in the posters for his upcoming Chandni Chowk to China, but I don't see any hair peaking underneath his Chinese straw hat. This doesn't bode well for Khiladi Kumar. My prognosis is that his box office will take a nosedive.

Ghajini opens November 28th, 2008
Chandni Chowk will release in January 2009


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How Indian Idol singer Bhavin Dhanak is building his career one song at a time - An Exclusive Drift Interview

What happens to talented singers when they drop out of the race early on one of Indian TV's premier singing competitions?

When Bhavin Dhanak started last year's Indian Idol 3 in the Piano Round, he instantly went to the top of the class. And it was easy to see why: he had rugged good looks, a playback ready voice and a standout ability to stay in sur.

Yet Bhavin was one of the first to fall victim to audience voting. Horrified at this, the judges quickly brought him back via wild card. But Bhavin could never gather enough SMS support, making his final bow from the show before the Gala Round kicked in.

Its been over a year since Bhavin has been working to make it in Bollywood. I've kept tabs on his career: he's always extremely amiable and forthright and I am very happy to have him share his story with everyone on the Drift. Hi Bhavin, it's been a while since we heard your voice widely but it was good hearing you on Ek Rupaiya from Krazzy 4. Tell us a little bit about how you ended up singing on that song.

Bhavin: Hi Aspi, I know its been quite sometime now, I was restless too. Well Ek Rupaiya happened quite easily actually. I didn’t expect it to be that simple.

I had my voice recorded on a CD, I sent that CD to Rajesh Roshan through a friend who works for him. He heard it, called me for a rehearsal, and that’s it. A week after that I recorded the song.

It was a very overwhelming experience, when I was in the recording room, about to start the recording, Rakesh Roshan entered the monitor room to join Rajesh Roshan, along with Javed Akhtar. I was so nervous, shivering. But I was comfortable when I was okayed on the first take itself, and I heard Rakesh Roshan praising me in front of Javed Saab, who by the way already knew me because of II3. After that it was a cakewalk. It’s been over a year since Indian Idol. How did you end up on the show to begin with?

Bhavin: Well Indian Idol was something that always fascinated me. I had seen people’s life change in just 6 months being on the show. I had auditioned for Indian Idol 2 also, but didn’t get through. But after that I had decided there’s no looking back now. I trained hard for almost a year, and auditioned in II3, and got through all the audition rounds and reached the Piano rounds. Tell us a little bit about the process of singing on Indian Idol. How do the songs get selected? How do you get ready for the performance?

Bhavin: Well the song selection is done by a music manager appointed by Sony. Basically the participants have to write down, on a piece of paper, a list of songs they are very good with, and give them to the music manager. The music manager (who has by now heard all participants so she knows who sings what) then decides which song will suit who.

I was pretty lucky with my song selections coz I got exactly what I had asked for. That’s probably because I knew exactly what genre I was good at and what genre I was not. After the first few weeks, who did you think were the most likely to win the show?

Bhavin: Honestly I was pretty sure some people were definitely reaching the top 10, Emon, Chang, Pooja, Deepali, Amit, Prashant were few whom I had expected, and they did. I also expected Shantanu, Padmanav, Harshida, Aisha and of course myself to be in the top 10 too, but that didn’t happen. What was the biggest thing you learned on the show that you used after you left it?

Bhavin: On the show I think, up till my first performance, I was competing with the other, but after my first performance went off really well, I got some very positive comments from the judges and my co-contestants, after that the competion was with myself, I wanted to sing better than my first performance, and better in the next.

In this whole process of competing with my own performances, I realized where I stood in terms of singing caliber and potential. I knew what my flaws were, and what my good points were, and after my elimination, I worked extensively on my flaws, and polished my good points. Also, I think I took home a lot of self confidence.

When I perform today, it’s a totally different Bhavin Dhanak than before. I am never nervous, never jittery, I always enjoy myself when I perform, and for all that, all the credit goes to my experience on the show. Any special incidents or moments that you remember from Indian Idol?

Bhavin: A lot of things happened when I was a part of the show, and fortunately everything good.

One special incident I remember was between Amit Paul and me, when both of us were in the wild card, and waiting for our results, which was the next day, I remember the piano rounds and the Galas, both happened in the RK studios, but there were different sets, so when we were in the wild card round, just round the corner from our sets, the gala sets were being readied, and Amit and me would go there almost everyday and imagine ourselves on that stage.

I remember once when Amit had tears in his eyes and he asked me, “yaar bhavin mein is stage pe perform karunga na yaar?” and I had told him “of course tu perform karega.” And look where he is today.

Amit, Prashant, Shantanu, Roshan and me were the best of friends on the show, and are very close even now. If you could turn the clock back, would you do anything on Idol differently?

Bhavin: Well, if I could turn the clock back, I would not even think of changing anything in the way I sang at the show, but yes I think I would definitely change the way I was on camera during the time we stayed at the hotel.

I was quite reserved, and camera shy. I couldn’t really do anything except sing, I never tried to mimic, or say anything funny, or got into a controversy, so I was never given enough footage, and maybe that’s the reason I didn’t get any votes, because the people watching the show, saw me singing straightaway in the piano rounds, I didn’t connect with anyone.

I think if I would’ve changed the way I spoke in front of the camera, I would make sure all the attention was on me, all the time. Who do you like more as a singer from the final two: Amit Paul or Prashant Tamang?

Bhavin: As a singer I would have to say Amit Paul, Prashant is still raw and untrained. Though even Amit has not had any formal training, but he had been singing professionally even before Indian idol, so he had his practice I guess. Ok, so once you left Indian Idol, did Sony or the people at Indian Idol help with your career?

Bhavin: Well that’s something that I was disappointed with. I didn’t really get any support from the channel, I had to struggle, I had to meet people everyday with my demo and show reel, and look for work. And I finally got work and proved my metal, so I kept getting work without the help of the channel.

But yes, I would definitely not deny the fact that one of the reasons I got work was because I was a part of Indian Idol 3, I was seen on TV that’s why people know me today, and I am really grateful to Indian Idol for that. What was your early struggle after Idol like? How did you get started with doing shows?

Bhavin: Well as I said earlier, it was not very easy to get work, in the start, there were lots of reasons, one being that it was not the shows season at that time. So it was a very frustrating period, because I had got out early from the show, and was at home for almost a month without any work.

But during that time, I met a lot of people, who could give me potential shows, and finally I started getting shows. I was not doing as good as maybe Amit Paul, Emon or Prashant, but I was doing work that I was happy with. Have you been interested in doing any of the music Reality TV shows?

Bhavin: I was very keen on Saregamapa before I got through Indian Idol. Because that’s what gave me the push I needed. But at that time, I didn’t think I was good enough for it. I think the standard of singers on SaReGaMa is higher than any other reality show. Your break in Krazzy 4 came via a demo tape. What is on that demo tape? How was it recorded?

Bhavin: On my demo, I’ve got three songs. One’s Aatif Aslam’s “Aadat”, the other one’s Euphoria’s “Mayeri”, and then there’s Shaan’s “Musu musu hasi”. I got the minus one tracks (only music, without vocals) for these songs, hired a friend’s studio, and recorded the songs. What are your strengths as a singer? What type of songs do you think you would excel at?

Bhavin: As a singer I think my strengths are my voice, my ability to sing Western as well as Indian classical songs, and my grasping power, that helps me learn a new tune by listening to it just once, which is very important for playback singing in today’s time. I think I would really excel at soft romantic love songs, as well as the peppy numbers.

I really wish if I get a sad song to sing though, I think a good sad song is an instant hit, look at Aadat, Tadap Tadap Ke, etc. Could you name three recent songs that you absolutely loved and said to yourself: "I wish I could have sung those?"

Bhavin: I think the most recent one is Kehne ko Jashn e Bahara from Jodha Akbar, sung beautifully by Javed Ali, Kabhi Kabhi Aditi from Jaane tu sung by Rashid, and Rubaroo from RDB, sung by Naresh Iyer. I also wish I could’ve got to sing Maa from Taare Zameen Par. Who do you think are the hottest music directors in the business right now - those that all up and coming singers want to sing for (apart from A. R. Rahman of course)?

Bhavin: Well I think the new breed of music directors that have come in the market are all brilliant. Be it Pritam, Vishal n Shekhar, Vishal Bhardwaj, Monty Sharma, Anand Raj Anand, and of course Shankar Ehsaan Loy.

Apart from them, there are also some new people out there who have proved their talent, like Mithoon, whose given music in films like Anwar, The Train, Bas ek Pal, etc. then there’s Amit Trivedi, who gave music in the brilliant movie Aamir.

I can personally recommend Amit Trivedi, and I am so sure this guy is going a long, long way, I can say this because I have worked with him, and he is a powerhouse of talent. Finally, any advice for aspiring singers who want to make it in Indian music?

Bhavin: Well I think I am too small to be giving advice to aspiring singers, because I am still an aspiring singer myself, waiting for that big break. But whatever I’ve learnt through my experience is, while being a good singer is most important; it is also important how you are as a person.

I think you should never let fame and money get into your head, coz the faster it gets to your head, the faster you are going to hit the ground. I take Shaan and AR Rehman, as examples. They have achieved so much in life, they have made their presence felt world over, yet they are the most humble and down to earth people I’ve ever met.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2009: Literary Edition

Just the other day Mind Rush and I were discussing SRGMP over email and the thought occurred to both of us: if the varied denizens of our beloved show took a year off to pen a memoir or a self-help book, what would it look like?

But why let the fun stop there? It takes much more creativity to imagine what the citizens of SRGMP could not write about. And so we came up with this list of

The World's Thinnest Books Ever Written

Himesh Reshammiya
Avoid the Spotlight: A surefire way to gain respect and make the A-list

Manscaping Made Easy

Shankar Mahadevan
Himesh Fan Club: My journey from skeptic to life-long fan

Adesh Srivastava
Sabse Alag! How to highlight your unique qualities and stand out in the world

Kapil Dev
The Zen of Cricket: How cricket can solve all your problems in life

Tarun Sagar
Safaai! How to avoid Foot In Mouth disease and wash away your sins by periodically uttering Jai Matadi!

Asma Mohammed Rafi
Don't Fall Into The Stereotype Trap: Creating a new identity for Arabs in the Asian World

Sara Raza Khan
Fashion 2008: How not to dress like a behenji

Urmila Matondkar
Down To Earth: Say no to Diva-like behavior and embrace your inner earthiness

Himesh Reshammiya
Tandoori Chicken Dance: Become an overnight Bollywood dance dhamaka

Friday, October 10, 2008

Film Censorship: Kiss-Kiss, Bang-Bang

In the upcoming movie HELLO, Gul Panag's character - right before she is about to have sex with someone - utters the line: "Do you have a condom?"  At the outset this seems like a fairly responsible thing to depict in the movie.

Reportedly the Indian Censor Board doesn't quite feel the same way and had the makers of the movie bleep the word 'condom' out. Thus we might face the prospect of Gul Panag saying "Do you have a bleep?" and then engaging in coitus right after. I fail to see how this will result in better morals, but then there might be a reason or two I'm not on the Central Board of Film Certification hanging with the Chair Sharmila Tagore.

Censorship is a rather polarizing topic. Lots of people don't agree with the censors - but they are not often on the same side of the fence. And I find myself seeing multiple facets to every single argument that makes its way into this topic.

Let's start with the age old argument of how censorship impacts freedom of speech. True that! But let's look a little closer: why do film makers care? After all no one is censoring their movie. Its just a rating. (Remember the hue and cry over music ratings and the general hatred directed at highly visible proponent Tipper Gore?)

The reasons often tend to be financial in nature. A stricter rating for a movie results in a smaller audience base - which is bad news for box office performance. Studios routinely protect themselves by contracting a director to deliver a certain rating. No studio in its right mind, for example, will fund a Summer Tentpole without a specification for the movie to come in at PG-13. (Director Antoine Fuqua once famously went to town over Disney forcing him to tone down King Arthur)

So understandably directors get frustrated with the boards when they have to chop up their babies in order to meet the suits halfway. The more experiences (or smarter) ones will shoot multiple scenes knowing fully well which ones they are willing to bargain out with the board. So its not unusual to shoot a breast, a side view of a nipple under a sheet and an open back with a bit of a butt cheek showing. Armed with options like these, filmmakers can bargain their movie with the board. It doesn't always work - you have to be influential and charming. But if you are directing a movie, getting stuff out of people is your special skill to begin with.

Censorship rules also have a certain wierdness associated with them. Straight sex and gay sex, for example, don't get the same moral treatment from the board. And violence and sex don't get the same treatment either under the somewhat lame pretext that early exposure to violence for kids results in a certain understanding of what is real and what is not.

So this brings us to Indian movies: I confess I only watch a small selection. And since all of them are released Unrated in the US, I have even less information about their ratings.

For some cultural reason that I don't have the ability to perceive or analyze: Indians play it much looser when it comes to violence and adult themes. As a kid I saw rape, thuggery, dismemberment and torture. And that was all in my first film! Did it affect me? I'm sure it did yet I haven't exactly done any of those things in my life. Well maybe except thuggery if you count hitting Bhinda in the nuts once for announcing my date's arrival with "your maal is here".

This is purely a cultural phenomenon. The US ratings don't prevent kids from walking into any movie (except NC-17 which is rare). If accompanied by an adult, a 3 year old could watch an R movie. The board states its opinion on a movie's content with a rating. Its entirely up to a parent or guardian to enforce it. So in effect, think of all Indian movies as R and the parents making an executive decision about taking their kids along.

So back to Indian ratings: as filmmakers explore the urban market increasingly and as the core audiences' soch-vichaar change with time (or as some call it: globalization), a good Censor Board will keep pace with the times and amend its views on what's appropriate and what is not. To a large extent that has happened. Emraan Hashmi wouldn't have a career otherwise.

But if unwanted pregnancy is a problem and Family Planning is an issue of national significance, perhaps discouraging the use of condoms might be an out of touch kind of thing to do. Censors, aur mehnat karo!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Chatoo Nation on Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2009

Happily the fine singing in SRGMP is still overshadowed by the ego blinging. Its called the best of both worlds. So what happened last week that was worth noting? A couple of things.

First, remember Debojit and how SRGMP did the whole cringeworthy "Debo is adhura" bit? Well that took a turn for the worse on Saturday. Here is how it all went down.

Pritam, who houses Debojit in his Dhoom gharana, has been touting the guy as his winner. This apparently led to some envy mongering among the other participants.

Now contestant bhailog, I need to tell you this: it always sounds like a good idea to come clean in front of the camera on a Sunday or Monday - when the taping of the live part of the show is still a few days away. This is the time when the producers maro the chabee and tell you to "rock it" and "tell the world what you're thinking". And you go ahead and say a bunch of things like: "Pritam is playing favorites", "He shouldn't be doing this" and "He doesn't love us as much as Debojit".

But when that little clip gets played on the show in a bhari mehfil, you suddenly realize what a bad idea that was. Its called Being Had By Producerji. Not that I'm complaining - its a nifty trick that is the life blood of any reality show worth its name.

In any case, this happened right after Debojit had finished singing. Pritam picked up the mike and ordered Debojit off the stage - specifically out of earshot. He asked the plaintiffs to get on the stage. "Edit all this out later" he muttered.

Then he launched into the story of a young boy who used to stutter all his life and how he thought he was no good. He wouldn't respond to questions he knew the answers to. But through love and encouragement from his parents and teachers, the boy became a success later in life.

"That boy is me!" finished Pritam displaying a fine propensity for drama. The Tare Zameen Par theme started playing in the background. (Boy is this the most "special" soundtrack of all time or what?)

Now this bit of drama would normally sound really cheesy. And not that it didn't - but coming from a supremely mellow cuddlebunny like Pritam it was downright touching. His fellow judges did wah-wah. The plaintiffs must have felt like heels because they fell on their feet and begged for forgiveness. No, seriously!

At this point all hell broke loose. If I remember correctly, Himesh and Shankar Mahadevan (who Himesh hilariously refers to as "The Nose of India") announced an alliance. Aadesh countered with a one-sided alliance with Pritam. Everyone got on stage and Yashita Yashpal, terribly charming purveyor of fine performances and wacky outfits, was used as the rope in a tug of war to decide if she was a boy or a girl. Please, don't ask!

Second thing of note happened when Abhishek Bachchan showed up on Sunday to promote his much maligned dud Drona. Faster than you could say "Slurp", the judges rushed to heap praise on him.

Now this I don't mind. After all, praising someone isn't a bad thing - it brings good cheer and encouragement all around. But calling Abhishek the "best hip hop singer in the country" is about where I'd draw the line.

That announcement was made by Pritam and even he didn't look entirely convincing while saying it. Abhishek preened. But because Himesh is the best at this particular activity (chatoing) he said something entirely nutty and entertaining.

"You are NUMBER ONE in everything!" Himanshu declared. "First of all, you are the NUMBER ONE Amitabh Bachchan's son" At this point I thought, if he says 'and you are the NUMBER ONE Aishwarya's husband' I'll become Himesh's slave for life. Unfortunately this did not happen but Himesh's declaration that Drona was a super-duper hit was still a lot of fun to listen to.

Abhishek then responded by announcing that he and Goldie Behl had started a Himesh Fan Club during the making of Drona. "On the Internet" he added. "And you weren't allowed to step on the set unless you didn't join the fan club". Himesh shifted in his seat with nervous delight - he wasn't quite sure if he was being had.

Luckily he didn't pick up the double negative Freudian slip in Abhishek's statement. Abhishek probably didn't either.

Now that is not what I don't call good entertainment.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Inside the music of DOSTANA with Vishal Dadlani - An Exclusive Drift Interview

Its no secret that Vishal and Shekhar have been riding a comet up the ranks of Bollywood's elite music directors in the last few years. But dig behind the hoopla generated by their steady stream of hits and you'll be able to hear a very canny pair of musicians build a versatile and commercial portfolio.

Vishal Dadlani Pentagram Live ShowTake their last few major releases for instance: Om Shanti Om, Tashan, De Taali and Bachna Ae Haseeno all contained a distinctive theme for each CD. The fact that between them they have successfully employed a variety of their own talents (composing, live shows, song writing, vocals) gives them a unique 360 view into the process of creating hits.

On the soundtrack for the new movie Dostana - one of this year's major releases - Vishal-Shekhar amp down the theatrics to create a smooth, sensuous clutch of songs.

Vishal Dadlani was cool enough to stop by the Drift and tell us all about it.

Aspi: Hey Vishal, thanks for stopping by the Drift and doing this with us. How's the leg doing now (given that you survived all that bouncing around on The Unforgettables)?

Vishal: The leg is outta action for a bit. Just got that much overdue surgery a few days ago, and it'll be about six weeks before I hit the studio again!

Aspi: Ok, how did you and Shekhar meet? Mwa-ha-ha, I'm just kidding, you don't have to answer that ghisa-pita question. You can put the gun away now

Vishal: Thanks, can't tell you how much I appreciate this! ;-)

Aspi: But I will ask you this: is there any specific fuel (food, drink, etc) that you keep handy in the studio to get through those long days?

Vishal Shekhar Unforgettables Tour BachchanVishal: Chinese jasmine tea is a big booster for me! I do about four cups a day!

Aspi: Listening to Dostana, I got the feeling that you were creating the definitive Lite FM CD – it sounded breezy and reminded me of sunny days. Was there an underlying theme to the music or did each track evolve independently?

Vishal: I have to give all credit to [Dostana Director] Tarun [Mansukhani] . He's the guy who went all out to find a sound that, while commercial, was unique to him, and different from the well-established Dharma [Productions] sound!

He made us put in a lot of work (maybe 200-300 different tune options), and gave us a lot of space and patience. But, it was all worth it! He wanted the light, breezy vibe you feel when you hear it, but without losing sight of the fact that it's a huge commercial score!

Aspi: On Jaane Kyun there is a Vishal Dadlani who turns in a bravura vocal performance. That doesn't sound like you at all! Is there another Vishal Dadlani in the industry that I don't know about or is that you truly singing a personally game changing song?

Vishal: Well, I do a few voices you haven't even heard yet! ;-) Seriously, though, I was getting a little trapped into singing songs that were solely within the rocked-out style, and this was a big opportunity for me to do something different with my voice. I'm glad Tarun and Shekhar took a chance on me, and I'm glad people dig it!

Aspi: Vishal, who hires lyricists? Is it the director, the music director or it depends?

Vishal: Usually, we (music director/director) suggest their names, and the producer pays them.

Aspi: You've worked with Anvita [Dutt Guptan] before on Bachna Ae Haseeno and now here on a couple of tracks. Her lyrics seem to suit your music really well. What's the one thing you hope and pray for in a lyricist?

Vishal: The ability to understand that a music director's opinion is a somewhat valid one, and the patience and humility to sometimes change lyrics accordingly. That, and a new approach, a fresh insight. Easier said than done, believe me! And Anvita has it all!

Aspi: Do the actors always stop by to listen to the songs? And what kind of inputs do you get from them? Any specific inputs from John , Abhishek and Priyanka on this CD?

Vishal: Sometimes they do, but on this one, it was all Tarun, all the way. Nobody (except Karan [Johar] on a couple of occasions) heard a song till it was recorded! Luckily, everyone loved 'em!

Aspi: I think it's really cool that you have found a new way to use an old world voice like Saleem. I think Maa Da Laadla is one of the most unique club tracks of the year but I'm not convinced about those helium vocals. How did that song happen?

Vishal: It's a mad story. We were badly stuck on that song. It's a bit of a joke situation, and Tarun hadn't gone nuts over anything we'd done for it yet, so in a fit of frustration, Shekhar took a day off, and promised Tarun six options the next day.

He played them all to him, one by one, and Tarun kept bouncing them, until he played this one. The duck vocals were a bit of a joke, but Tarun just loved it, and so they stayed as they were!

Aspi: Could you walk us through the other tracks as well?

Jaane Kyun  (Vishal Dadlani)

Vishal: Meant to reflect the spirit of the film, it's a song of friendship, of people getting to know one another, and starting to rely on one another. It's a beautiful emotion, but we had to express it in a new way, both sonically, as well as lyrically. I especially love the line 'dushman ke iraade, sachhe lagte hain'.

The song has a lot of shiny, happy energy, and is one of the few tunes in this film that was approved by Tarun in the first thirty seconds of hearing it! He also loved the expressions I'd done on the scratch, which is why he insisted that I sing it.

Desi Girl (Shankar Mahadevan , Sunidhi Chauhan )

Vishal: First up, I firmly believe that Indian women are the most magically beautiful women in the world! The root idea for this one was brought to us by our sound engineer Calvin [Vaz]. We were looking around for a hook for this particular situation, but hadn't really found anything. He came up with the idea "I like my girls Indian", or something like that. We rejected it outright as being cheesy, but then Tarun changed it to the concept of "desi girl", and suddenly, there was the song!

Between conception and recording, we made five scratches, and each time, Tarun wanted it faster, and higher, for more energy. So, by the time we finished, the song was pitched so high, that only Shankar could possibly have sung it. We called him, he came in and totally rocked it!

Shut Up & Bounce (Sunidhi Chauhan)

Vishal: This is a light hearted party-song, the intro for the film. it's shot in Miami, so there are lot's of hot girls everywhere, there's the super-hot Shilpa Shetty , and there's the ocean. Can't ask for more.

There's a sinister story behind this one too, though. Tarun the Tyrant kept "bouncing" options for it, until, as a reference to our predicament, Karan said "Maybe we should call the song 'Shut up and Bounce!'" I loved it, ran into the studio, and came up with a basic idea, which went thru many transmogrifications before eventually becoming what it is!

Khabar Nahi (Vishal, Shreya Ghoshal , Amanat Ali )

Vishal: We were stuck (again) for a love song that was simple and true, but yet new and not filmi at all. Anvita and I were brainstorming on the smoking-verandah outside our studio, and I asked her "what happens when you fall in love?" And then, answered the question with a phrase I use often, "You don't know which way is up!".

Then I translated that, came up with the first line. She took it from there, and made it magical! It was Tarun's idea to add the Sufi bit, as a stark contrast to the pop melody of the main song. Shekhar came up with that bit, and completed the song.

We both instantly though of Amanat as the perfect voice for that bit, and called him. We also tried Raja Hasan out, but that didn't gel. You still hear him the backing vocal track behing the first interlude, though.

Kuch Kam (Shaan )

Vishal: A song of loss, of loneliness. But, true to Tarun's nature, not expressed in an earth-shattering way. It's almost colloquial, almost casual. It's about how everything is a little less true without friends to share it with.

And, I think Shaan shows great maturity as a singer by restraining the innate joy you usually hear in his voice. This is the second time he's done this for us (Dastaan-e-OSO being the first). He's still learning and growing as an artiste, and as the person who did his first film song with him, I'm truly proud of the guy!

The rhythm on this song is programmed by Samrat Bharadwaj, along with our regular producer, Abhijeet Nalani. That combo is what made Jhankaar Beats happen, and I think that's one of the reasons why this song is very special to me.

Aspi: I wanted your thoughts on the following three new singers who I've grown quite fond of.

Shilpa Rao

Vishal: Beautiful voice, great determination, will do great things! Her voice made Khuda Jaane even more special!

Himani Kapoor

Vishal: Great singer, unique voice, will also achieve great things! Jogi Mahi was just a voice-test for her with us. We'll definitely do something big with her soon.

Harshdeep Kaur

Vishal: We worked with her on Le jaa in the film Karam , and she's absolutely fantastic too! I hope this Junoon victory does big things for her.

Himani (stylistically) and Harshdeep (stylistically and sonically) will have to step out of the Richa Sharma mold, and find their own personal niches, though.

Just so you know, I love the fact that there are so many new singers around! It makes me happy too see so much talent all around. Shekhar and I wish we could do songs with all of them! And, maybe we will! ;-)

Aspi: Hey, will there be another Jo Jeeta Wohi Superstar next year?

Vishal: Who knows. I mean the way SRGMP has bombed this year, maybe we just managed to escape the reality show melt-down! ;-)

Aspi: Final question: and it's mandatory on the Drift: can you fold a fitted bed sheet?

Vishal: Ummm.........sure. Why the hell not! I can do anything! ;-)

Aspi: Vishal, thanks again. Best wishes for much success with Dostana and beyond. Megan Diwani (you remember that Shekhar-Megan episode on SRGMP don't you?) sends her love. And just about everyone on the Drift wants you to know how much they love you (and Shekhar).

Vishal: Love you all right back, especially Meg, who we both dream about constantly! :-)

All links in the conversation inserted by me. 
The Dostana CD is out now. The movie opens November 14, 2008. 
Many thanks to Saniya Makker for the picture of Vishal-Shekhar at The Unforgettables


Friday, October 03, 2008

The Drift list of Travel DOS and DONTS

Traveling anywhere can be a test of patience. Long ago I decided it go Maharshi with the whole concept and treat the travails of travel as part of the journey to mera goan mera desh. This helped me relax, cocoon myself from the world of annoyingly inconsiderate travellers and have much fun along the way.

Yet a few things remain that snap me out of my travel trance and make me feel negative-like. These are my list of DONTS.

DONT: If you get in an airport shuttle and plan to grab an overhead rod, thus exposing your underarms to me, you'd better be wearing some deodarant. How to know you are smelling stale? Take a look at my face. If it is any paler than a tan, you're less than fresh. Please move to a sidebar grip - preferably opposite mine and at the far end of the vehicle.

DONT: Its best not to stuff yourself at dinner time. But if you do, avoid yawning or burping right over my nose when I'm sleeping in the Tansen posture with my head tilted to your side. I rarely wake up over a certain type of smell, but in this case I've found my body makes a spontaneous exception. Bonus markdown if you see me wake up with a start and smile and greet me with "Good morning!"

DONT: If you are planning to stuff something in the overhead compartment above my head, by all means do so. Take your time, stand on your tippy toes, whatever. But try not to jam your groin into my shoulder. This type of humping is uncalled for.

DONT: For god's sake, don't get all defensive about your country and try to slam it when explaining things to first-time visitors. Especially avoid brilliant observations like "You'd think the signs would be in English, no?" No.

DONT: If you plan to do cricket commentary, please don't be Laxman Sivaramakrishnan and spout repetitive and unhelpful observations in a faux English accent. If you are Arun Lal , avoid saying "nego-see-ate" - you can't ape just one word and pass off for a plummy British commentator. OK, this last one has nothing to do with travel, but I thought I'd slip it in there.

To stay positive about my travels I thought I'd also list some DOS.

DO: Do get up on the baggage weighing machine during check-in thinking the airline wants to weigh you and not your bags. I've seen this only once, but I'd love to be entertained by such a sight on every trip.

DO: If you are more than four seats away from me, do pick your nose or adjust your package with a flourish. It fascinates me endlessly to see how oblivious people can be when performing bodily housekeeping in public.

DO: Feel free to discuss just about anything. I'm always amazed at the propensity of people to devour global information, analyze it and redistribute it. And from the junta, I always get a welcome perspective that newspapers might dismiss as being too simplistic.

Note: Random pictures from my travels are not related to anyone in the post