Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Odd-Even and More!

Delhi in January 2016 is going to become a laboratory for the rest of the nation. If Kerjiwal’s ‘Odd-Even’ formula works it will show the way to most of our congested cities. Without qualification I think Kejriwal needs to be supported in this endeavor.  The problem is just too huge to not support any and every effort regardless of political affiliation. 

Like most thinking Indians I too have thought about the traffic mess that our country has become. Would I recommend the Odd-Even formula for my city? Probably not. Here’s what I would have recommended.
(Disclaimer: I am not an expert and most of what I am suggesting seems like common sense to me. I may be wrong but I can afford to be wrong on my own blog. )

  1.  Define rush hours.
  2. Make it mandatory for all cars entering specified areas/roads to carry at least 4 passengers during rush hours. Those not carrying 4 passengers should be sent a one time bill, a congestion charge, which is steep enough for them to reconsider their choices (say Rs. 500).  So, if you are in a hurry and in dire need you can still use your car but you have to pay for using it if you aren’t carrying 4 passengers. Definition of dire need would change quite quickly I suspect. This can all be done electronically. London is an example.  
  3. Encourage offices to provide shared transportation. I mean buses, car pools and suchlike. To encourage businesses a small reduction in their tax (0.5% reduction in service tax should do it) could be introduced.
  4.  Smaller offices/businesses could share buses with other similar offices in their buildings/ office hubs. An unintended benefit of travel by car pool/bus will be a more disciplined work culture. This would benefit a huge number of workers who hang around in offices just because they think they have to.
  5. Cities must encourage people to live close to where they work. This is a big one. The number of people travelling long distances to get to work is simply unsustainable. Though most of it is a function of real estate prices, which are governed by market forces, I suspect in some cases it is because of the hassle involved. Buying and selling of property should be made easier and more cost effective. Today if a person were to sell their flat for 2 crore rupees and buy a similar flat close to work (Let’s assume both places are similar in real estate prices) s/he would still end up losing about 20 to 25 lacs in municipal taxes, stamp duties, brokerage fees etc. Nobody can afford to pay that kind of money simply to be close to his or her place of work.

There was a suggestion of faster car lanes for cars with 4 passengers but I’m not sure that would work. If it didn’t work for the BRTs I doubt it would work for cars.
I did also consider cycling. But lack of infrastructure and weather conditions in summer would make sure that it doesn’t become a popular option.

That’s my two paisa worth gyan. Feel free to add and keep the discussion going.

Friday, October 16, 2015

A Young Actor’s Conundrum

“Should I be doing one film at a time or should I be doing all the work I can lay my hands on?”

If a newcomer is lucky enough to be getting multiple offers from producers, in Bombay it mostly means you are ‘to the manor born’, this question might play on a young actor’s mind. Of course if you’re the kind who has sold their last belonging to make a leap into Bollyland this isn’t a very relevant question and you can stop reading now. But if you are young and connected by blood or sperm with the royalty of filmdom and are being puff inflated by your managers and/ or mummyji as the next big thing you might have to grapple with this question. At least you should if you have any fucking brains.

There is a case for both approaches. In the past, Amitabh Bachchan’s generation, that lorded over the box-office, used to do three shifts a day churning out 3 to 5 films a year.  While others, mostly from the current generation of ‘Stars’, take a more measured approach doing one or two films a year.  This approach to work was made popular by Aamir Khan at the turn of the century.  He probably decided that it made sense for him to limit exposure and put all his effort into the one film every year or so. And it worked very well for him. Largely because he was meticulous about the story he chose and made sure everyone around him polished it to a level where it was simply impossible for it to fail. But here is the bad news for those newcomers who think taking this route  is their success mantra. Most young actors don’t know how to read a script. Of course it might be argued that many older actors don’t really know how to read either, but then that’s a story for another time.

Today I will argue for the ‘work till you drop’ approach. One of the main reasons to do this is that as a young actor you don’t know shit about reading a script. Your inability to make a distinction between a good script and a god-awful one is the first reason you should be doing more films. It is like taking multiple small bets at the gambling table as opposed to putting your house on the line on one punt. Bandra and Andheri’s streets are littered with tombstones of too many ‘failed’ young actors who were made to believe they were better than the work being offered to them.

The second reason, and this is more important, is that most young actors polishing up in the gyms, swimming, doing parkour and horse riding don’t know how to act. It is a truth that is well known. Directors break into cold sweat in the middle of the night worrying about the next day’s shoot.  DOPs have been known to shoot themselves, with a gun. So, if you are deluding yourself that behind that chocolate face is an acting supernova please dispel that thought. You are in all probability a lousy actor with no real life experiences to draw upon.  There is no real depth to you. You are what would be described as a ‘flake’ in parts of India that are not Andheri west.

But there is hope. Take the example of today’s reigning superstars. To put it politely they were not thespian quality actors at the start of their career.  But they have by and by become reasonable actors. Over time acting like any craft can be polished. You can learn how to face the camera and pace your dialogue delivery.  Timing and use of space is a great skill that can be learned by acting daily in front of camera. You can learn what works and what doesn’t if you spend enough time in front of the camera. Experience can even make you a good actor.  And this experience comes by acting. Also, don’t forget some of those character actors you’ll work with daily, those actors who don’t make it to the film’s poster or publicity material, are actually very good at their jobs and give you a springboard to bounce off that no mirror can.

Since Aamir Khan’s approach to work is the example most touted by young actors while rejecting scripts it may be interesting to see how many films he did at the start of his career.  I have counted 26 films in the first 12 years after his mainstream debut in 1988.  And these are the films that saw light of day. I am sure there were enough that got stuck in various stages of filming.   He was probably doing 3 to 4 films a year.

So the lesson here would be, learn to read a script. But if you can’t make out if a script is good or bad it may be a wise career move to carpet bomb the audiences. Learning from a mistake is better than not learning at all. Please do yourself a favor and go through the list of actors - I suggest looking at the last 10 years - who were billed as the next big thing and see how far they’ve gotten.  This list is full of sons/daughters/girlfriends of Bollyland ‘A’ list who got launched in great style.  You’ll find a huge number, actors who listened to their spin doctors/agents dead set on ‘packaging’ them right, who never made any headway. In this business hot turns to cold rather quickly. Out of politeness I won’t mention names but you get what I am saying.  Choose to do more than less. Less is okay if you are already a star or an exceptional actor.  Also remember that your father’s stardom doesn’t automatically transfer to you.

 Saying no to a script is easy. Saying yes and then working your butt off takes courage. And courage is what makes a great character.  

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Dear FTII Students...

Dear FTII students,

First of all congratulations on your agitation that is getting unprecedented media coverage. As any marketing professional will tell you this construes a major success. You are already on the road to becoming successful filmmakers because running a successful media campaign is as important to the success of a filmmaker as making a quality film. Some may believe even more so.

Second, and this I say with utmost humility, (I am a filmmaker but perhaps under qualified to offer advice, even though it is friendly and elder brotherly, as I haven’t yet won a national award for what I do. And I do know that is the minimum qualification required to even talk to young and brilliant minds like yours) please do not allow your agitation to be hijacked by politicians. I mean some of you may consider having Rahul Gandhi visiting you a major triumph but I would like to remind you that he is the opposite of what you are fighting for. Even though I don’t think Gajendra Chauhan is the best candidate to head your institute I would like to remind you he is perhaps a little better qualified, on account of having made it on his own to wherever he has reached in life, than Rahul Gandhi who is offering you homilies about mediocrity.  Of course some of you may disagree with me and might even think that Rahul Gandhi is the right person to be espousing the cause of merit and excellence but I would like you to consider the appointment of Ms. Prathiba Patil to the presidency of India as an example. I talk about the former president because like you she too lives in Pune and you are probably aware of her from the local newspapers. Please remember that the same Rahul Gandhi and his party, with his zest for excellence, decided to foist Ms. Patil on us as the president almost as an antidote to President Kalam.  So, please avoid aligning with politicians of any hue. Their aims are different from yours and to be used as a convenient tool in someone else’s fight may not be the smartest thing you do.

Third, please do not be too quick to dismiss other people’s achievements. However modest they might look to you. I am talking here not just about Gajendra Chauhan but also about countless technicians and artists who work and die in this unforgiving business. Once you come out of the institute you will realize that nepotism is big in this business. And I am sorry to tell you that not all of you will have illustrious careers by the yardstick that you seem to be judging success. Of course it won’t make you less of an artist or a person. But if you define success in narrow terms of awards or money it will rankle when rank mediocre people get to corner the glory and money just because they are somebody’s son/daughter. So, be kind to people while judging them because there is every likelihood that you will be in their position in 20 years time.

I do hope that the current impasse will end amicably and to your satisfaction. I, and a lot of people like me, look forward to being delighted, thrilled and challenged by your celluloid expressions in the future.


Vikram Singh

Saturday, January 3, 2015

An open letter in a season of open letters.

Dear Hafiz Saeed (and other birds of similar feather),

It is the new year- 2015. I could wish you like I wish all my friends, but somehow wishing you well in the New Year isn’t something my heart is warming up to. I am sure you will understand why.  I do however, in the spirit of the season, wish to offer you some free advice.  To use it wisely or not is up to you.

First off I want to tell you what you are doing wrong.  You are waging a losing battle. You have targeted India time and again and have nothing to show for it.  In corporate terms you are an abysmal failure. If I were your CEO I would have sacked you for incompetence long ago.  Your aims are unclear and what goals you wish to achieve through your threats of violence seem muddled at best.  For the record all your attempts so far have yielded nothing. Diddlysquat!

Sure you killed a few hundred Indians, but that isn’t even a drop in this vast ocean. To give you a perspective, ten people die everyday in Mumbai alone while crossing the railway tracks. That’s well over three thousand people in a year. Our papers don’t even report it unless it’s a really slow news day. We still haven’t learned to be scared of the railway tracks or to stop crossing them while dodging trains. Coming back your attempts; we are still here; united and disunited to different degrees, and we intend to stay. Not because we are courageous or have great tenacity but because we simply have nowhere else to go.  You see we are too many to kill or drive away.  And frankly we are just too busy with our little lives to be scared either. Your impact is limited to a day or two at best.  After which we simply get on with our life. Which is pretty pathetic for all the effort you put in don’t you think? I mean have you ever heard of the concept of ROI? We spend far more time worrying about Bipasha Basu’s next horrorex film than we do about you.  

Please realize that it is not very easy to drive a wedge between us, if that is your intent, as hundreds of riots and communal tensions in our past could teach you if you were inclined to learn a little about us.  Once again it’s not because we are resilient or more evolved or any such great attribute. We simply don’t care enough. Life is shitty around these parts, is it any better in your part of the world, and concerns about malaria and dengue far outweigh any concerns about any religious polarization you might achieve. It is my submission that every human has only so much mind space s/he can devote to worry. The average Indian’s concerns about inflation, bad roads and the dry water tap at home take up too much of his time. Sadly you are somewhere near the bottom of the worry pile. An autorickshaw ride back from work terrorizes us far more than you would ever be able to achieve.  Come to think of it, most of our politicians do a much better job than you are doing.  Maybe you should be learning from them rather than from your friends in the ISI. Have you seen them stalling our parliament or pulling each other down like little crabs? That’s a far more effective way to break us up than by sending in a handful of armed idiots every now and again.

To conclude; find a different hobby, something that satisfies the inner animal in you. I am sure there are smaller more easily achievable nastinesses that you could indulge in.  Have you tried killing flies? Or mosquitoes? Do you have some of those in your part of the world? It can be a very pleasurable pursuit, I promise you. Especially if you’ve been bitten all night and you find the little blighters hovering around in the morning wanting more.  Or if this is too little for you, you could fight some virus afflicting your people. Killing viruses can be quite pleasurable I’ve been told.  I hear polio is still a problem in Pakistan. Instead of sending your gunmen to us you could instead send them out to help protect the workers dispensing polio drops in the far-flung areas of your country. You know it may still be possible to redeem yourself by channeling your rage. I say this as a concerned citizen of this world. The way you are going you may not amount to anything at all.


An ordinary Indian.