Thursday, October 12, 2017

O naiyo naiyo

Amitabh Bachchan won accolades for his role in Pink, for “naa; naa ka matlab naa,” or something on those lines.

Years before that, in 1998, a very Preity girl had told Bobby Deol the same thing — in words that had an impact far deeper than Bachchan's baritone.

Soldier taught me to sing o naiyo naiyo (albeit not loudly) whenever anyone asks anything of me.

I had no clue that it was possible for a movie to be titled just to accommodate the lyrics of a song. The title need not be relevant at all. Soldier taught me that, as would Bichhoo.

I never believed that mera baap chor hai could be bettered. Then Soldier gave me mera pati deshdrohi hai.


Soldier released this day, 1998. The charm lingers, and is likely to linger for a lifetime.

Keep playing the songs in a loop tonight. Mehfil mein. Baar baar.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Was this Pujo or not?

Durga Pujo has died for me. Like all old men, all I live by are memories of Kolkata’s grandest festival. Pujo in Kolkata used to reek of polyester, sweat, and chilli sauce. These have been replaced by expensive polyester, failed deodorants, and chilli sauce bought from Big Bazaar.

This might come as a surprise to most, but even I used to be young at some point. I used to like the concept of Pujo at that time. We used to go to nearby Maddox Square. The chairs we acquired were significantly inadequate, so we used to seat ourselves in a substantial circle on the anticipatory newspapers. The chairs were given away to the parents who arrived late.

The evenings used to pass quickly. Was I happier at that point of my life than what I am now? I do not know.

Do I miss Durga Pujo? Not quite. I have deliberately stayed away from the city for four years at a stretch. It may have to do with my age, but struggling for hours to find a place to stand is definitely not my idea of fun anymore.

Being surrounded by cell-phones masquerading as periscopes as they approach pandals adds to that. Perhaps other quadragenarians find the idea attractive.

Today, Shoptomi, was thus just another day for me. I boarded a late-morning train from Vikhroli to Currey Road (update: I have downgraded my location from Navi Mumbai to Mumbai).

The train was empty enough for me to find a seat at Vikhroli. If you know what I am talking about, you might have let out a shriek; if you do not know, you are better off in life.

The train passed Kurla. Thanks to my new location, I do not have to participate in the Battle of Kurla anymore. Instead, I derive sadistic pleasure from watching others do the same from my vantage point inside the train.

A group of schoolchildren boarded the train at Sion. The incredibly discounted student passes invariably result in a high percentage of grateful students in the first-class compartments, and today was no exception.

Today’s batch consisted entirely of pre-teens who would, in three decades’ time, turn into brooding quadragenarians. All of them were donning dusty schoolbags and bright smiles. I could not help but wonder how much salt their toothpaste contains*.

* This is a lame joke and a blatant lie.

The children stood next to the open doors, all of them. It was obviously risky, but at their age even I was not aware of the concepts of fear unless my parents threatened me with kidnappers carrying humongous gunny-bags.

The man opposite me was not too happy about this. He was probably in his high fifties. His hair, though completely white, did not seem headed for premature disappearance anytime soon.

He yelled at the children, asking them to move away from the doors. The children, though taken aback, hesitated. A second shout did the trick. They feebly uttered something on the lines of getting down at Matunga (the next station) before retiring to their seats.

His job done, the man returned to his newspaper. Our eyes met. Instinctively, for no known reason, I did something uncharacteristic of me: I nodded, smiled, uttering “baraabar”.

But then, Pujo is about doing things you don’t do every day. Was this my Pujo? I have no idea. Probably. Probably not.

But I did reach work in a good mood. I even remembered to thank the liftman.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

মহালয়া: অকপট স্বীকারোক্তি

চল্লিশ বছর বয়স হল।

বাজে, মিথ্যে ইমেজ বানিয়ে চলারও প্রায় সাঁইত্রিশ-আটত্রিশ বছর হল বৈকি।

ঠিক করেছি এবার ঢপ্‌বাজি বন্ধ করে কয়েকটা টুকটাক স্বীকারোক্তি করব। এটা প্রথম। গ্যারান্টি দিচ্ছি না আরও থাকবে, কিন্তু এটা থাকবেই।

মহালয়া নিয়ে ন্যাকাপনা আমি ছোটবেলা থেকে করে এসেছি। ভোর চারটের সময় অ্যালার্ম দিয়ে উঠেছি। প্রচুর লোককে বলেছি আমার দারুণ ভাল লাগে, গায়ে কাঁটা দেয়, নিজেকে বাঙালি মনে হয়, দেবীপক্ষ নিয়ে একটা বেশ শিহরণ জাগে এটসেট্রা এটসেট্রা। 

যারা ওঠেনি তাদের নির্লজ্জের মত হ্যাটা করেছি “বাঙালি হওয়ার যোগ্যতা নেই, নাকউঁচু, ট্যাঁশ” ইত্যাদি বলে।

আসলে হিপোক্রিসি করেছি, কারণ আমার মহালয়া শুনতে রীতিমত খারাপ লাগত। বরাবর।

মাইরি বলছি, বছরের পর বছর ভোর চারটের সময় উঠছি, আর কোনওবার সোয়া চারটে অবধি টানতে পারিনি। ঐ আলোর বেণুটেনু দুয়েকটা কোট করতে শিখে গেছিলাম, কিন্তু ঐটুকুই।

আমি নিশাচর প্রাণী, ভাবতাম ভোরে উঠতে কষ্ট হয় বলে হয়ত মহালয়া শোনার বিশেষ প্রভাব পড়েনি।

কিন্তু তারপর দুটো কেস স্টাডি করলাম, তাও কয়েক বছর ধরে।

১) ভোরে উঠে কোনওকিছু শুনলে কি আদৌ আমার গায়ে কাঁটা দেয়? নাকি ঘুম ব্যাপারটা এতটাই শক্তিশালী যে কোনওকিছুই বিরিয়ানি মনে হয় না?

উত্তর। বীরেন্দ্রকৃষ্ণের গলা শুনে আজ অবধি গায়ে কাঁটা দেয়নি। কিন্তু তার মাস দু’তিন পর দিত, ভোরে, রিচি বেনোর গলা শুনে, তাও অনেক পরে। তদ্দিনে মহালয়ার ঢপ্‌টা দেওয়া বন্ধ করে দিয়েছি।

বেনোও গেছেন। ভোরও গেছে।

২) মহালয়া কি দিনের অন্য সময়ে শুনলে গায়ে কাঁটা দেবে?

উত্তর। এমপিথ্রির আমলে চেষ্টা করেছি। না বস্‌। আমার জন্য নয়। ঐ আলোর বেণু অবধিই টানা মুশকিল হচ্ছিল।

আমার জন্য মহালয়া নয়। তাই এবার থেকে আর শুনছি না।

কী করব, ভেতর থেকে তাগিদটাই এল না যে!

আপনারা যারা শোনেন, ভালবাসেন, শুনতে ও বাসতে থাকুন, প্লিজ। বাংলা ও বাঙালির ভবিষ্যৎ আপনাদের হাতে। আমার দ্বারা আর হবে না।

হিপোক্রিসি করতে করতে আসলে বড্ড হাঁপিয়ে গেছি।

Friday, August 11, 2017

Memories of Dindayal

Let me start this with two Wikipedia entries:
1. X (25 September 1916 – 11 February 1968) was an Indian politician. X was one of the most important leaders of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the forerunner of the present day Bharatiya Janata Party.
2. Y (station code MGS) is an Indian Railways railway station in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Y is the fourth busiest railway junction in India. Y contains the largest railway marshalling yard in Asia.

You know what I am getting at: Mughalsarai will be renamed to Deen Dayal Upadhyay. I am sure this is the Government’s own way of honouring a significant man in their history, renaming perhaps the most iconic junction in North India.

The Government is obviously keen on making India forget the mighty Mughals. Renaming Mughalsarai is the easiest way to make sure tourists visiting Taj Mahal remain blissfully unaware of the history of the Mughals in India.

Being a person averse to travel, I do not have sentiments or associated with Mughalsarai. I did not feel sad at the town being renamed. A part of my childhood was not lost, not even a minuscule.

Of course, a part of history was lost — at least temporarily — with the renaming. I understand that.

However, as a nation we have collectively failed to preserve our history, so this was always on the cards. It has been a habit carefully nurtured over millennia. Indeed, we are unlikely to care for our history unless we get to know from WhatsApp groups that our history has been acknowledged as the best in the world by UNESCO.

Where was I? Ah, Mughalsarai. Take the station away, and there is really not much in the town. I am yet to meet someone from Mughalsarai. The only eminent Mughalsarai-born person I know of is Lal Bahadur Shastri, a man born on October 2 — the day when Ajay Devgn took his family to Panjim for Satsang. I am not sure of the date when Mohanlal did a similar act before Devgn.

In other words, Mughalsarai does not hold memories for me — except one. And that is what you are about to learn now.

When Mughalsarai was relevant

I had spent a year of my halcyon days in Delhi. I stayed in a hostel on Shaheed Jeet Singh Sansanwal Marg, a place from where the Qutb Minar looked tiny and aeroplanes looked humongous. You can figure out the location if you are from Delhi.

Obviously we needed breaks from rajma, paneer, butter chicken, and temperature that varied between -75°C and 140°C (blame the Delhi weather for the exaggeration). Even the newly-acquired swear-words did not make up for the challenges.

So we had to return home. I did that five times in a span of a year — in July (for an emergency), for Pujo, and for Christmas; the last two trips were in summer.

This was a May trip. The trains were crowded. Tickets had to be booked two months in advance. In a few years’ time IRCTC would come to make things worse. This was an era when internet was still spreading its, er, net in the middle-class stratum.

1998 was all about long, serpentine queues, the only plus of which was a richer vocabulary of swear-words — something that scaled levels hitherto unknown to me till I reached Delhi.

But the tickets were acquired. We marched on to Kalka Mail. I think the train used to leave Old Delhi at 0700 and reach Howrah Station about the same time the day after. Basically it was a morning-to-morning thing that started with chhola-batora at Tundla and ended in that impatience-saturated stretch after Liluah.

Since the train was crowded, they added a couple of compartments at the end, after the pantry car. The sleeper class compartments typically go by the name of S1, S2 ... and so on. The additional ones were named (I think) AS1 and AS2. Perhaps A stood for additional.

Mughalsarai is located famously almost midway between Delhi and Howrah. Kalka Mail arrived there in the evening. We set out in pursuit of some concoction of chicken and carbohydrates. The food was duly acquired and the money paid. We strolled back towards AS1 (or AS2).

Wait, what compartment?

There was no compartment. Our compartment, our accommodation for the night, complete with luggage, was gone, along with its neighbour.

Just like that. Poof!

It was not a pretty sight. Four or five men, all in their early twenties, waiting utterly flabbergasted in a station named after one of the greatest dynasties in the history of India that the Government would choose to forget in about two decades’ time.

One of these men decided to get the food out of his way first. You have probably guessed who it was.

Did the others join in the act? Of that I have no memory whatsoever. However, I remember a stern look from at least one pair of eyes.

But then, since when has appetite depended on vanishing compartments?

We did not even know whom to ask. There were officials in that gigantic junction, but none of them could answer our query. Worse, they looked supremely unconcerned. There could have been two reasons for this (or at least I think so):
1. Missing compartments was not a part the curriculum when they had appeared for the admission test.
2. There was a substantial chasm between their brand of Hindi and ours.

Was this the greatest heist ever pulled off at the junction? What about the nation? Two entire compartments, presumably with people inside them...

Time passed. Our group sunk into various postures of resignation that ranged from slouching helplessly to staring blankly into the starry night sky to washing hands after a hearty meal.

More time passed. And some more. Every second felt like an hour spent in Saki Naka traffic in office hours (Google it) without an oxygen mask.

Wasn’t the train supposed to leave in half an hour? Hasn’t it been longer?

What if it left without us?

What if it had left without us?

Where would the compartment go? Would it roam about aimlessly all by itself in the labyrinthine stone-chips-and-metal-clad realm that goes by the name of Indian Railways?

The anticlimax

Just when we had resigned to the unknown deities of Indian Railways and were considering rummaging our pockets for money, we heard it. From some far, far land they appeared, two supremely familiar metallic cuboids on wheels, dragged by an engine certainly past its expiry date.

We jumped on to them. We found our seats. Everything was there. Every lock. Every chain with which the ancient suitcases where attached to the seats. Everything.

Then we talked to the handful of smart passengers who had opted to stay back during this cataclysmic chain of events that was on the verge of changing the future of the planet. “It’s perfectly normal for additional compartments,” they told us. “They sometimes add another pantry car.”

That was it. There is no climax.


Climaxes seldom happen in real life, you see. And when they do, like most things in life, they are often impeccably faked.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Training my thoughts


The authorities have recently decided to shift my workplace to Mumbai, a city significantly bigger than Navi Mumbai. This obviously added to my glamour quotient, for I travel to what Mumbaikars refer to as Town: in other words, I am part of the crème de la crème of the office-goers in this city that seems to remain alive round the clock and calendar.

But.

This affected me in two ways. First, I had got attached to my previous office. If you do not get why this bothered me, think of it this way: how will you react if you suddenly find out that Arsalan — the greatest of all pilgrimages in the history of mankind — has suddenly been serving biryani on bright blue plates? They will still serve the same manna from heaven, but will it taste the same during your first few trips?

Of course, I have a new office to get attached to and attach files to emails from. This pun would have thrived if I carried an attaché case to work, but you cannot get a touch of everything in life, can you?

The other aspect is more significant: I have to travel to work.

This may not sound very threatening for the uninitiated. I know people for whom travel is biryani. There exist people who travel every day to work and take leave to travel to random destinations and return from travel to travel to work every day again and derive happiness out of the entire process.

Yes, there are people like that.

I am not one of them. I used to walk fifteen minutes to work.

Walk. Not fifteen minutes in a vehicle of any sort. Walk.

That has changed. My biryani is no longer cardamom-free. And I cannot guarantee that this will be my last mention of biryani.

Obviously I will have to shift base, but that will take time. As for the interim period, I have to travel.

And it has to be by train. If I take the road — especially in monsoon, that selfie-inducing obnoxious time of the year — I will probably develop a bedsore of sorts.

No, it has to be by train. That bit I figured out after a day and a half of taking the road.

***

I know the tense is not consistent here. Blame it on the train journeys.

Note: When I say ‘tense’ I mean that past-present-future thing, not the state of mind you develop when the Arsalan angel tells you they will have to check whether there is mutton in the kitchen).

***

Where was I? Ah, Mumbai local trains. I am no stranger to them. They are powerful, authoritative, and omnipresent. I am aware of the advantages — speed, consistency, and availability, and more. They are the heart of the city, and more. Maybe they are even the lungs and kidneys and pancreas of the city as well.

However, the train also comes with a massive, humongous drawback: they are incredibly crowded during office hours.

How crowded?

I used to think Sealdah is crowded. It is. I have let trains pass Sealdah, casting futile, respectful glances, maintaining a safe, reasonable distance. No, I would never have managed to permeate that phalanx.

It is different in Dadar. My first attempt involved buying a ticket, going up the footbridge, and casting a futile, respectful glance at the platform, maintaining a safe, reasonable distance. I took a taxi that day and reached probably the next month.

That was what I was up against.

Mumbai Suburban Railways have three main lines. The first two are called Western (it is in the west) and Central (just east of Western). One may expect the third, the easternmost to be named Eastern. But the City That Never Sleeps decided — perhaps on one of those sleepless nights of hers — that Harbour Line would be a more appropriate name.

I live in Sanpada. My nearest station is Vashi. There are people in Vashi whose nearest station is Sanpada. This makes perfect sense in this part of the world, so my opinion is as relevant as that humble bowl of raita next to biryani.

Vashi is on the Harbour Line. The station nearest my office is Currey Road, on Central Line; it is also approachable from Lower Parel, which is on Western Line.

In other words, I was doomed.

If you look at the map, you will notice that the Harbour and Central lines meet at Kurla, and later at Sandhurst Road, Masjid, and CSMT, as CST is called these days. The M stands for Maharaj. The full name reads Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus.

Indeed, that literally translates to Emperor Shivaji Emperor Terminus. Before you say something on redundant words, you remember the irrelevance of the raita, don’t you?

Where was I? Ah, Kurla — the station that caters to approximately the population of New Zealand at any given point of time in office hours. If the entire population on Kurla Station at 9 AM decides to yell in unison, they will probably produce enough energy to create an earthquake in Mars.

But I had to change trains at Kurla. There was no other option.

The first bit was easy. Since Vashi is one of those ‘marquee’ stations, trains often start from Vashi. This means that on a good day you may be able to travel in first-class with both your legs inside the train. Fine, I exaggerated a bit, but you get the gist.

Unfortunately, trains do not start at Kurla. They pass through Kurla. And when they halt at Kurla, 43,224 people get off and are immediately replaced by another 72,163. Of course, these are merely eye-estimates and may have been off by a couple of digits or so…

***

Okay.

So there I was, armed with a first-class monthly ticket, an umbrella, and a paunch (among other accessories).

I had to brave what Mumbaikars have been braving since time immortal: change train at Kurla in office hours.

The first phase went without much hassle. Twenty minutes of standing is about half of what I used to do in physical education classes in school — albeit without the cell-phone trilling provokingly in my pocket.

Then came Kurla. Or rather, then came Abhishek, if you look at things from Kurla’s perspective.

One has to cross over to another platform to change trains at Kurla. There is a footbridge for that. I was foolish enough to assume it would be a cakewalk.

As things turned out, I did not cross over to the other platform. I did not need to. An ocean of humanity hurled me up the ramp. A second one shoved me towards the staircases that led to the other platform. For once I thought I would trip on my way down, but there was too much humanity around me to lose balance.

I was there before I could figure out exactly what was going on. All I had to do was turn twice.

I waded through people to reach the section designated for first-class passengers. In case you are not aware of what to look for, it is a metal pillar painted in yellow and red to match the MCC tie, blazer, and hat.

Then I prepared myself for the war, the real showdown, my Valhalla.

***

My ears were the first organs to sense the arrival. The sound was unmistakable.

Unfortunately, mine were not the only ones: 72,163 other pairs also picked up the sound.

They were on the edge of the platform before my ears could transmit the message to my brain. I had lost the first battle.

There was no way I could make it to the compartment. My only chance was the platform-change drill, but in this case everyone was in front of me.

The train left without me.

But I did not leave without a train. True, I had lost the first battle. But I had also learned a lesson, a very, very crucial one: Mumbai office-goers thrive on aggression, speed, fitness, and dexterity, none of which, unfortunately, is a part of my armoury.

So I decided to take time out.

What were my strengths? How could I put them to use to outdo these commuters and put at least one foot on the compartment?

Would puns do the trick? They came to me, one by one. I kept telling me that I could train myself to compartmentalise my flow of thoughts. I could not afford to let my resolution to be derailed. I needed to establish a platform in this realm of commuters.

No, no, no: it would not work. It seemed extremely unlikely that people would make way for me if I keep uttering these one by one.

There had to be a Plan B.

Could it be cricket history? Would they peacefully let me board the train if I lectured them on Lord Frederick Beauclerk?

No.

What about Plan C? What else was I good at?

For someone who never went to a typing school, I can type reasonably fast. Unfortunately, I use a desktop at work and was not carrying a laptop, hence… hey, what if one of them carried a laptop? What about a typewriter?

No, no, no.

Douglas Adams? Woody Allen? The Ray family? Asterix? What would it be? Map-pointing? Giuoco Piano? What? Would wolf-whistling work? What about touching the tip of my nose with my tongue?

I moved on from Plan D to E to F and beyond. Panic struck when I moved past Plan U — what if I ran out of letters?

Another train, complete with twelve compartments and 72,163 passengers, had passed by in the interim period.

Then came that Eureka moment that had once made Forbes launch into the Indian market with an assortment of vacuum cleaners and water purifiers over a decade back.

At about a quintal, I weigh about twice the average Mumbaikar. My mind raced. What was it they had taught me? Momentum was mass times velocity, was it not? If the Mumbaikar moved at twice my pace, I could counter him with twice his mass.

And I had twice his mass. And some velocity, which would actually put me at an advantage.

And when it comes to mass (I am not discussing churches here), dexterity does not matter. No, it does not. And I it had dawned upon me — exactly how to make mass count over dexterity.

So I prepared myself. How to go about it? Use my knee? Elbow? No. Go headlong. Think of yourself as a bull, a buffalo, a grotesque, ghastly minotaur, albeit a hornless one.

I knew they would go past me the moment they would hear the train arrive.

They did exactly that.

I smiled. I knew what I was going to do.

They scrambled for the door. I ambled for it.

Then, as an entire garrison attempted to squeeze itself into one gate, I acted.

I took a couple of steps and pushed myself, almost headfirst, into the back of the frailest individual I found.

He stood no chance. My mass, combined with my more-than-zero velocity, propelled myself inside the compartment. The man enjoyed the collateral benefit of being thrust into the compartment as an inseparable entity, but that did not matter.

I was there. Physics had got me there. Mechanics had got me there. Decades of red meat, oil, carbohydrates, and sugar had got me there. Utter disdain for physical exercise had got me there.

I had finally found my biryani.

***


Hang on, is it Monday train day already?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Top 11 Bollywood thrillers with English names


No, there is no valid reason for me to blog on this. It does not make any sense. I know all that. But hey, what the hell, is this blog not supposed to be about what I want to write about?

Let me spell this out: despite its rich history of other genres, thrillers and horror movies have not been the forte of Bollywood. Of course, there have been efforts, serious efforts. For example, Yash Chopra made Ittefaq in his pre-chiffon-saree-amidst-smoke visuals — in other words, when he was one of the greatest directors around.

Ittefaq remains one of the finest thrillers in the history of the industry. While music stole the show in Teesri Manzil, Ittefaq had to ride only on the script and a criminally forgotten performance from Rajesh Khanna — for there was no song, while Nanda and Sujit Kumar did not really form an ensemble cast.

Samay featured a dynamic Sushmita Sen in a taut script. While some claim it was loosely based on Se7en, the stress should probably be on ‘loosely’, not ‘based’. There was also Kaun, made in 1999 — an era when Ram Gopal Verma was synonymous to quality movies: trust me, watching Kaun inside a dark theatre was not easy for me.

No, this is not about these movies, though this is a perfect time to mention Khamosh, Ek Haseena Thi, Kahaani, and Talaash. This is about a list of Bollywood thrillers and horror movies with English names. Bollywood directors possibly work under the concept that these genres are western concepts, and should hence be given English names. I cannot think of any other reason. Perhaps English names sound cool. I have really no clue.

Conditions:
1. Only full-length feature films are included. As a result, Anurag Kashyap’s Last Train to Mahakali misses out, as does Rajat Kapoor’s Private Detective (Two Plus Two Plus One). PS: Both are excellent movies, but were aired only on television.
2. Addresses do not count as movie names. As a result 13B and Plot No. 5 (and even Shanghai) miss out.
3. Official remakes (Pizza) are also ruled out.
4. Movies involving only names (Raman Raghav 2.0, Aamir) do not make the cut, either. Technically the former should make it (it also has a name), but, well, if you have seen it…
5. 100 Days has not been included because I did not feel like it.

I will not give away the plots because — obviously — these are thrillers. I will, however, list plot keywords.

Note:
Before I begin, I guess I owe the uninitiated a word or two about Plot No. 5, starring Uttam Kumar, Amol Palekar, and Amjad Khan. It seemed a riveting plot, but unfortunately the audio quality of none of the copies (they are basically copies of the same copy) I came across was good enough for a thriller. If you find one with decent audio, do let me know.

Now that pistol jail mein aa chuka hai, let us get cracking with the ones that missed out.

Honorary mentions:

Blue Oranges (2008)
Rajit Kapur does an excellent job as a detective, but the script drags a bit.

Chocolate (2005)
Remaking The Usual Suspects was not easy: Chocolate falls reasonably short. However, if you can forget the original, it has its moments.

Table No. 21 (2013)
The script is fast-paced and the ending neat, but the movie is pulled by poor individual performances. Paresh Rawal cannot save you every time.

Reporter Raju (1962)
I am not sure whether this qualifies as a thriller, but what the heck, it features Feroz Khan, father of you-know-who.

Murder 2 (2011)
Murder 2 is not a sequel of Murder, but a remake of the Korean movie Chaser. More of a slasher than a thriller, it does a better job than expected. Emraan Hashmi puts up an honest show, but Prashant Narayanan easily steals the show.

The Pool (2007)
A surprisingly good movie: with commendable performances from Nana Patekar, Venkatesh Chavan, and Ayesha Mohan. The characters are surprisingly real, and we as delve deeper, they get better. The downside? It is probably not a thriller; borderline, maybe.

Via Darjeeling (2008)
Such a promising premise; such a great cast (Kay Kay Menon, Vinay Pathak, Sonali Kulkarni, Rajat Kapoor, Sandhya Mridul, Simone Singh); such ordinary execution. It hurts.

Race (2008) and Race 2 (2013)
If only Abbas-Mustan realised that “too many plot twists” is a thing! From ensemble cast to catchy (albeit copied) music to fruit-eating detectives, Race had it all, but they ruined it with overkills. As for Race 2, I typically sit through movies.

The main list

11. That Girl in Yellow Boots (2011)
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Kalki Koechlin, Naseeruddin Shah
Plot keywords: Prostitution, quest

A girl’s quest for her father sounds simple, but things turn out to be more sinister as every layer is unfurled. I found it disturbing, and I am sure I was not the only one. It is not recommended if you get disturbed easily. There are “happy endings”, but…

Oh, and keep an eye out for those surprise cameos.

10. Special 26
Director: Neeraj Pandey
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Anupam Kher, Manoj Bajpayee, Jimmy Shergill, Divya Dutta, Tiku Talsania
Plot keywords: Gang, heist

Bollywood has had its share of heist movies, but most of them are loud and rarely make sense. Special 26 is sensible yet fast-paced: while the big guns are given the screen share they deserve, they are never given precedence over the script. There are several amazing twists, and some of the underrated names on the list pull off surprisingly good performances.

But… is a heist movie a thriller?

9. The Stoneman Murders (2009)
Director: Manish Gupta
Cast: Virendra Saxena, Arbaaz Khan, Kay Kay Menon
Plot keywords: Serial killings, The Stoneman

Do you remember Stoneman, the serial killer who went on a rampage in Calcutta in 1989? If you do not, here it is: ‘Stoneman’ smashed the heads of 13 pavement dwellers (on separate nights) with stone slabs and — here is the catch — never got caught. I remembered being scared, but little else. I never expected they would make a movie on this.

The movie is as fast-paced as thrillers are supposed to be. You do expect Kay Kay to do well, but Arbaaz surprised everyone by pulling off easily the greatest performance of his life (who would have thunk?). The characters, especially on the side of the law, all look three-dimensional, while the Mumbai nights pull off an impressive support act.

8. 404 (2011)
Director: Prawaal Raman
Cast: Imaad Shah, Nishikant Kamat, Tisca Chopra
Plot keywords: Hostel room, suicide, psychology, supernatural, atheism, hallucinations

A haunted hostel room and atheists make the perfect condiments for a B-grade movie. I cannot think of any other reason for 404 going through theatres with a near-anonymous stature. If you think about it afterwards you will realise that the script is hardly complicated, and yet it is executed so subtly that you will sit through it without realising that two hours have passed by.

7. Karthik Calling Karthik (2010)
Director: Vijay Lalwani
Cast: Farhan Akhtar, Deepika Padukone, Ram Kapoor
Plot keywords: Telephone calls, psychology, introvert

Just like millions of others in the world, Karthik feels trapped in a mediocre world until, well, the rest of the movie happens. While I am not a big fan of Farhan Akhtar’s acting skills (that voice, ugh, that voice), he pulls off possibly the greatest performance of his career. My biggest problem with this movie is the inexplicable underutilisation of Deepika: why not go for a lower-profile female lead in that case?

6. Being Cyrus (2005)
Director: Homi Adajania
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia, Saif Ali Khan, Boman Irani, Simone Singh
Plot keywords: Murder, gangs

Even if Being Cyrus had nothing in it, the stellar performances by each member of the ensemble cast — supported by dark, dry humour — would have made it successful. The tone of narration varies between the unassumingly smart and unapologetically sinister, setting up the tone for the climax beautifully. Saif deserves special mention for holding his self alongside Naseeruddin, Dimple, and Boman.

5. Ugly (2013)
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Anshika Shrivastava, Ronit Roy, Rahul Bhat, Tejaswini Kolhapure, Siddhanth Kapoor
Plot keywords: Kidnapping, missing child, marital relationships, ambition

Do not believe if they tell you that Ugly is about a little girl who gets kidnapped. Ugly exposes the dark side of human psychology in a manner so gruesome that you cannot stand to watch the movie. At the same time, so brilliant is the script and so convincing are the performances that you cannot look away. At times I felt claustrophobic and nauseous — probably because I could identify the characters, most of them, around me; and in the end it gave me at least one sleepless night: yet another Anurag Kashyap movie.

4. Manorama Six Feet Under (2007)
Director: Navdeep Singh
Cast: Abhay Deol, Gul Panag, Raima Sen, Sarika, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Vinay Pathak
Plot keywords: Lies, murder, village, author, engineer

Despite being based on Chinatown, Manorama Six Feet Under keeps you hooked. I thought hard, but could not come up with a better compliment. Every single member of the cast fitted into their respective roles, each drier and yet more intriguing than the other. True to the spirit of the original, Manorama gets more and more sinister as it goes on…

3. A Wednesday! (2008)
Director: Neeraj Pandey
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher, Jimmy Shergill
Plot keywords: Common man, hostages, terrorism, bomb blasts, telephone calls

This is the second Neeraj Pandey movie on the list. Fast-paced and near-real-time, A Wednesday! rarely offers a dull moment, but that is not its biggest USP. The problem is, it is impossible to describe why it is so revered without giving away the plotline. Let me put it this way: Naseeruddin and Anupam Kher have done justice to the brilliant script, while the script manages to remain unpredictable without being unconvincing. All in all, one of the best made in India.

2. No Smoking (2005)
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: John Abraham, Paresh Rawal, Ayesha Takia, Ranbir Shorey
Plot keywords: Addiction, psychology, rehabilitation, surrealism

No, I have not read Quitters, Inc., the book on which this is based. I know I may not like No Smoking the day I read, for my experience says movies rarely live up to the books. It is also Kashyap’s greatest movie by a distance — of course, this is a personal opinion.

No Smoking is (I am trying my best to stay away from spoilers here) a journey of the soul. Even if the movie had fallen flat on its face, it would have been remembered as a remarkable effort. But No Smoking emerged a great success — albeit not commercially: I remember watching it in a near-empty multiplex and people walking out at random moments, never to return.

Kashyap made No Smoking years before his bigger hits. Exactly why John was cast for this movie is not very clear, but to be fair, he looked perfectly convincing. He could have had a more impressive career had he chosen his directors and scripts more wisely, you know.

1. Jewel Thief (1967)
Director: Vijay Anand
Cast: Dev Anand, Ashok Kumar, Vyjayanthimala, Tanuja
Plot keywords: Doppelgangers, mistaken identities, plots and subplots, and obviously jewel theft (s).

I know people for whom Jewel Thief is “the movie with songs on the B-side of Guide”. Even if one removes the English-name criterion, it is difficult to find a Bollywood thriller at par with Jewel Thief.

I do not even know where to begin. The scenery? SD Burman’s magic? The background score that never lets the pace drop? The performances? The script? The concepts? The many, many twists that leave you hanging despite its three-hour length?

I am itching to go on for hours, but how does one do that without giving plot points away?

Jewel Thief turns fifty this year. If you have not watched it, do. Yes, they used to make movies like that here.

Note:

The exclusion of Red Rose was deliberate. It was a poor effort by any standards, but hey, all that can be forgiven for this one song.

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