Sunday, December 24, 2006

Silent night, holy night.....

Christmas is here. And Chennai, who looks out for every excuse for a celebration, seems to be out of steam. It seems that the hotels, malls and gift showrooms are the ones that are celebrating. Or maybe that’s what I feel because of the warm memories of the cool Christmases I had back home. The dry air, cold mornings and the wind blowing away the fallen leaves…. Another reason to say I missed Kerala.

Christmas became important to me just about two decades ago, after I became a kindergarten student in the convent school near my home. That was my first Christmas celebration. There was a beautifully decorated crib in the corner of the hall where we had our classes. That day, our class teacher announced that we’d have a week-long holiday.

Afternoon, a priest from the nearby church came and he told (read preached) the story of Jesus Christ. Then, a small packet of goodies was handed to us. It had a piece of cake, some toffees, a comb and a plastic whistle. From the next year onwards, students used to stage the Holy Birth. The fair-skinned girls from all classes were chosen to play angels, and the tallest of them would be Gabriel. Then there would be the three wise men, kings who came following the star. The pack of goodies shrivelled to some toffees in the coming years, but the show continued.

I got the chance to be one of the three kings when I was in standard IV. And during the annual day drama next year, I played Jesus Christ. But what made Christmas celebrations more joyous was the relief after the quarterly exams and the coming weeklong holiday.

Back home, I always tried to make a crib like the one I saw in school. But mine would always me a smaller, crude version. Walls of the stable would be made of book binds and the idols were cutouts from greeting cards. For us, making a crib was more interesting than making an athappoo during Onam.

My Christmas lost its sheen once I left the convent. In the boys’ high school, Christmas was just a huge chunk of holidays, when we got a relief from the impending cane of our class teacher. I had decided to make a crib every year, but failed in the second year there.

Then came the Christmas of 1999, the one I celebrated in a train! I was on my way to attend the National Children’s Congress in Goa that year. Our train was on December 25 from Eranakulam. I was roaming around in Kollam railway station with a newfound friend at Christmas Eve. That was the best winter in my life till date, I think.

I never regained the enthusiasm to celebrate Christmas after that, though I would assist my little cousin, student of the same convent, to make his crib. But every year, I used to wait for Christmas. The cold mornings and the dry December wind would bring fond memories to my mind. And during my plus two days, December 21 became more important than Christmas to me. That vacation was our study leave before the model exams.

All these sentiments completely drained away when I joined college. There, days were boringly routine. There too, the dry wind that shook the Cyprus trees, filling the playground with dead leaves, kindled the Christmas spirit. Once, when the wind blew up some dead leaves into the tuition class, my kindergarten buddy and collage-mate exclaimed, "Chritmasile kaattu!"(The Christmas wind!)

I will be leaving for home tonight. My Christmas this year will be spent in train, the second one "celebrated" out of my home. Before typing this post, I googled "Christmas spirit". Result showed a lot of ways to spend this vacation, offers waiting to make the Christmas shopping a wonderful experience, but didn’t show anything that says about what an infant born in a stable in Jerusalem 2000 years ago taught us through his birth, life and death.

Maybe, we should take a walk in a chilly morning, with the dry wind blowing away the dead leaves around us…

Stallone is back

One of my favourite Hollywood heroes is coming back to screen after a long time. Sylvester Stallone might not be a great actor for many film pundits, but I just love him, his movies. Rose to fame with Rocky and Rambo series, Sylvester Stallone was finally seen in his elements in Assassins (1995). Most of his later ventures were either guest appearances or rehashes of his earlier characters. I was happy to see a report on his comeback slotted in the movie page, and was equally disappointed when ads ate away the space meant for the story. I have just copied down the AFP reportby Rob Woolward, for me to treasure. Even if his new venture is a rehash of the earlier movies in the franchise, he has an assured viewer in me.

Los Angeles:
Thirty years after clambering through the ropes for a fairytale heavyweight title shot, cinema’s most famous boxer is getting into the ring once more. But can Rocky Balboa be a box-office knockout?

The first instalment of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky series was a monster hit in 1976, winning best picture and director Oscar honours and establishing a franchise that would go on to gross nearly $450 million.

But four sequels and 14 years later, Rocky was on a one-way ticket to cinematic palookaville, with 1990s Rocky V earning only $41 million and signalling the end of the road for the punch-drunk Philadelphia pugilist.

Now, though, the 60-year-old Stallone is back, pulling on the gloves once more for Rocky Balboa, which has the boxer coming out of retirement to fight the reigning heavyweight champion in a one-off exhibition bout.

Movie industry experts question however whether the ageing actor’s ring return is stretching credibility too far, even by Hollywood — and boxing’s — elastic standards. “No matter what they do with the story, will audiences buy it?” UCLA film department professor Howard Suber said.
“Stallone can still take off his shirt without shame, he’s buff. But it goes so far beyond credibility that there might be a problem.”

Stallone, however, has not attempted to sidestep the issue of his advanced years during publicity for the film, which opens in US theatres on Wednesday. In fact, he says, the movie is a bruising statement against ‘ageism’. “Just because people get older doesn’t mean they abandon their dream or their ability to want to do something, so Rocky is symbolic of still wanting to participate,” Stallone told reporters in Los Angeles. “Rocky says the last thing to age is the heart, so I wanted to do a film that shows our generation is not on the outside looking in; it’s still vital and wants to be part of the parade, not watching the parade.

“I want to show that life is not over at 50. People say, ‘Come on, grow old gracefully.’ No, why? I’m not ready. I know people will think Rocky is my story, but it’s also my generation’s story.
“I am a has-been, no question,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t still contribute.”

Getting back in trim for his cinematic return to the ring proved challenging however, even though Stallone stays in shape with regular visits to the gym. “I can identify with the Tin Man before he gets the oilcan — a little creaky,” he quipped.

Joe Roth, of Revolution Studios which financed the film, said there were strong parallels between Stallone, whose star has been on the wane over the last decade after a string of flops, and the character of Rocky. “The script was a perfect metaphor for Stallone’s life — at 60, he becomes an underdog again,” Roth said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
“This character is an expression of his own heart. Rather than fight it, he’s using it to tell us how he feels.”

Whether Rocky Balboa can deliver a box-office success hinges on its ability to appeal to a wide audience, says Suber, something it may struggle to do because of the boxing genre’s traditional failure to attract female audience members. “I think this is basically one of those films that appeals to a 14-year-old male mentality. This makes it quite a challenging sell because most of its primary audience weren’t even born when the last Rocky came out, let alone the first one,” Suber said.

“It’s going to have an awful lot to overcome. There’s age of the character, which affects the credibility, and there’s Sylvester Stallone. Sylvester Stallone is not an actor who has any particular following in the early years of the 21st century,” he added. (AFP)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bollywood in town

The copy in the local website last week was something interesting.
“Dhoom-2 created box-office history in Kerala. In its opening weekend (Nov 24-26) the film has netted an amazing Rs 40.40 lakhs from 19 screens in Kerala! In Kochi at Sridhar and Padma it has netted a record, Rs 6.08 lakhs. At Kottayam Abhilash- a new record has been set for a Hindi film with Rs 2.43 lakhs net in three days! Even in small stations like Attingal Gowri and Kanjangad Vinayak the three-day net is more than Rs 1.20 lakhs! The youth of Kerala are simply loving the movie and enjoying it.”

I saw the pirated version of the movie; the gimmicks are worth watching in big screen. I remember my childhood, when viewing Hindi movies was limited to the weekly shows in Doordarshan. The usual dose of technicolour flicks, with award winning movies on Sundays and an occasional Anil Kapoor/Sanjay Dutt/Jackie Shroff starrer.

Theaters were not better options either. Not just because I was a kid, but Hindi movies came to theatres very late. With a few, and at times no takers at all, those were used as fillers in between two Malayalam movies. The screen life ranged from three to five days and, for some very popular prints, one week.

The only theatrical release of a Hindi movie that aroused some attention among the then youth was the 1993 release Dhartiputra; that too because the movie was a Mammootty starrer. And we had to be satisfied with a badly subtitled version, titled Jailor, a late release late in Kerala.

Before that, I think Sholay was the only Hindi film that aroused some interest in the youth. I remember Unni maman (maternal uncle) proudly saying, “I saw it on 70mm screen,” when we were watching it on TV. The 1975 release was the nation’s first 70mm movie. The print came to Kollam five years later, and was shown in the only 70mm screen in the town. That was a time when the old brigade of Malayalam heroes headed by Prem Nazir was turning unpalatable for the younger crop of moviegoers.

However, we used to get a regular dose of new Hindi songs through Chitrhaar every Wednesday. I still remember the II standard days when we used to rock the classroom, singing the chartbuster “Chumma Chumma De De…” (Hum, 1991) in our broken Hindi. “Tu cheezh badi hai mast mast..” (Mohra, 1994) was a hit in Kollam too, but the movie came to town the day after our cable network showed the video – original!

The gap between the Mumbai premier and the regional shows decreased with the coming years. Even then, the two three Kerala prints went to the local metros Kozhikode, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. Hindi movies were fillers still.

During a strike called by the movie exhibitors’ association in town back in 1995, they refused to release new movies. The running movies were making profit, except in one theater. They had no other choice but to bring in a filler to attract the youth. Thus Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994) came to town, after it’s golden jubilee run in the North Indian circuit.

The coming years saw the advent of cable TV. Hindi channels popularised new releases in almost all towns. Increase in the sales of audiocassettes was the first sign. Rangeela (1995), Raja Hindustani (1996), Gupt (1997) etc charted noteworthy sales figures in the state. And with AR Rahman music conquering Bollywood and the younger generation being regularly fed by the music channels, takers for Hindi films increased. Dil Se (1998) and Taal (1999) had tremendous audio sales. But premier shows still eluded my town.

The first premier show in Kollam came in 2000, when Fiza made its way to Pranavam Theatre; and that too because the scheduled Onam release couldn’t make it that month. Fiza had a comparatively neat run of two weeks, an effect of the hype created after the phenomenal success of Kaho Naa… Pyar Hai earlier that year. Even Kaho Naa… came weeks late, though it had a better collection than Fiza.

That year’s Diwali releases Mission Kashmir and Mohabbatein had three first-day prints in Kerala. Pirated CDs, to an extent, also contributed to the popularity of Hindi movies. Though movies such as Devdas (2002), Munna Bhai MBBS (2003) and Murder (2004) etc didn’t make big in the Kerala screens, they had good video circulation. The Ram Gopal Varma masterpiece Company (2002), even with the towering prescence of Malayalam superstar Mohanlal, could manage only 20 days in Kollam, but the pirate CDs were well circulated.

I saw a Hindi movie in theatre for the first time in June 30, 2003. Bhoot, the Ram Gopal Varma movie came to Kollam exactly a month after its national premier. Till then, Hindi movies targeted mainly college students, resulting in limited collections. Rang De Basanti (2005), a rage across the nation that season, couldn’t make more than 30 days in a youth-centric circuit like Kochi.

By then, the Mumbai bosses seem to have noted South as an untapped market. Aggravated marketing followed, resulting in the bumper opening Krrish (2006) had in Kollam. Kids were the target this time. My five-year-old cousin was so happy when he got a Krrish cape with the biscuit packet. Report was like this: “The Hrithik Roshan starrer has taken Kerala by storm. The film has netted an amazing Rs 16.55 lakhs from 10 prints in its opening weekend (June 23-25) the highest ever for a Hindi film in the state! It is the ladies and kids who seem to be enjoying this movie. The trade is also happy that the film could survive the football frenzy, which has ruined even superstar Malayalam films. Krrish has collected in Ernakulam Padma for three days Rs 2,51,175 and in Thiruvananthapuram Athulya Rs 2, 47,258 a new city record. At Savitha in Peruthalmana in Malappuram district it could net Rs 65,992 in three days.”

The Karan Johar juggernaut Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006) followed the suit with 12 prints in the state, giving tough competition to Mohanlal’s Keerthichakra (2006) released a week before. It was the first Hindi film to open in two screens in Kochi (Sridhar & Padma). From 2-3 prints arriving months and even years later to 19 premier shows, Hindi movies have come up a long way pretty fast. Really, is my small town turning big? Or is the nation becoming small?