Where do I begin? Do I begin at the where?
Do I begin at the “Vaer (வேர்)”?
You know what I mean.
There was an audio cassette at home in the early 80s. It was titled “Crazy Thieves in Palavakkam”. And the only thing I remember from the audio recording of that stage play was the lead actor S.Ve.Shekher. It took a few years for me to learn more about the person behind the story of that stage play.
Rangachari Mohan, who went onto become “Crazy” Mohan.
Even though S. Ve. Shekher introduced me to Mr. Crazy Mohan, I moved onto Mr. Mohan for my Tamil humor soon after.
Many seeds of my humor were sown by Crazy Mohan. Even before I learned that there are specific terms called “wordplay” and “pun” for the kind of humor that came naturally to him, I was digging his humor, both knowingly and unknowingly. Crazy Mohan was original, authentic, and there was something childishly naughty about his humor, like he was always exploring. His humor was sometimes silly and sometimes profound. But always exploring. That made his humor work instantly as well as in a repetitive manner.
It was 1989, when Apoorva Sagodharargal was about to be released and I may have gone out for a game of cricket with my local friends. On our way back home, we walked past the theater where the movie was going to be screened in the next few days. A friend in our group, stopped us in front of a ‘wall poster’ of the movie and started talking about the crew behind this movie. Not actors or actresses. But the crew. He said how much he, an ardent Kamal Haasan fan was looking forward to his screenplay in this movie, how great a director Singeetam Srinvasa Rao was and why it was a big deal that he was part of the project. Then, he went onto talk about “Crazy” Mohan, and how this could be an interesting combination as he was new to the film industry (he had worked briefly on a K Balachander movie before that — “Poikkaal Kudhirai”). I certainly was familiar with Mohan through his plays, but had no idea what to expect from him through this movie. Somehow, this friend eloquently waxing about the crew of Apoorva Sagodharargal that day made a huge and a lasting impact on me.
So, right from that first big “Kamal Haasan – Crazy Mohan” combination, I was drawn to his style of writing, his genius wordplays, and his amazing chemistry with Kamal.
I do not intend to go on and on to talk about all the rib-tickling one-liners, and the mad rides he took us through in each film he did with Kamal Haasan in this post, but as I process the tragic news of his passing away today, I can’t but think of how much I owe him for all my laughter.
The only way one can pay tribute to the legend of a comedy genius like Crazy Mohan is by celebrating the abundance of humor that he has gifted us with.
So, I decided to start the day with the “Munnadi-Pinnadi” scene from Panchathanthiram and I probably will end the day with the “Mean/Fish (மீன்)” comedy from MMKR.
I mean..Is there a better way?
There has been no one who effortlessly made me laugh harder and louder through movies like Mr. Crazy Mohan did and for that I will always be grateful.
So long, and thanks for all the fish, Mr. ‘Crazy’ Mohan!!
John McCain and his move on tracks of ending lights
I have been an avid follower of American politics for 20 odd years now.
And John McCain has..I guess I should say “had”..had been in the list of Top 20 American politicians, who had consistenly and continually been a dominant figure in the past 20 odd years.
As I start writing about McCain and how his presence in politics affected me over the years, I realize that..
I am sad that we have lost John McCain, the father, the family man, and a decent human being.
I am sad that John McCain has lost his battle to cancer, a dreadful disease.
I am sad that we have lost John McCain, one of the last few politicians of a tribe, which believes in respectful statesmanship across the political aisle in Washington D.C., where partisan politics seems to be the norm these days.
And yes, I am sad that we have lost perhaps the last GOP senator, who at least had the courage to “tell” Donald Trump that he wasn’t afraid of standing up to his bullying.
John McCain has been hailed as a “war hero” by pretty much every one in the country.
Ok. One notable exception. But Donald Trump not calling McCain a war hero is for a totally different reason and a nonsensically petty personal one too.
Wars and Heroes.
I am not too naive to ignore the central role war plays in the American conscience. But I will never be able to understand the collective American sentiment around war in 2018, in spite of knowing fully well and being able to completely appreciate and be humbled by American history, which shows that America as we know it now, came into being through war.
War occupies a unique place in the American society. Unique place because it is celebrated with so much national pride, all the while, people acknowledging the tragedy, hellishness and evil that come with war. Unlike most other countries, Americans love war as an essential evil. This generally explains the mass sentimental reactions of Americans from all sides of the political spectrum, when we lose a “war hero”, and the way such news generates a similar chemical reaction inside most of us whose emotions get influenced by those of people around us, at tragic times like these.
As streams of encomia extolling John McCain and his virtues as a “war hero”, as an “America hero”, etc. surround as, as political leaders from across the spectrum and from other countries send their eulogies lavishly praising McCain for his independence, courage, and patriotism, John McCain’s family must prepare for the senator’s last journey. One we are told will have eulogies from Barack Obama and George W. Bush, two of his Presidental campaign opponents, who went onto beat him eventually in the general elections and primaries, respectively.
A “War Hero”. A “American Hero”. A “True American Patriot”.
What exactly makes one earn any of the above titles? I do not want to indulge my urge to analyze the above in this post, but instead I would just leave this as a thought, if you are ready to freeze your war fetish for a moment or two.
How can one be a war hero when one gets to kill thousands and thousands of innocent civilians??
And what makes anyone else less of an “American Patriot” or less of an “American Hero”??
Difficult questions to answer. Aren’t they? Especially if you have to take a neutral position, not yield to the temptatin of using our own coinage of this euphemisim called “collateral damage”, and then try to justify the above labels??
McCain’s experiences as a POW, no doubt bring chills to me, when I read about them. The torture, the pain, and his refusal for an early release — they all highlight the brave man he was. And more importantly, it also highlights how intellectually sharp he was even under distress.
Since the day he entered politics, McCain seemed to have found the right balance between statesmanship, words, and knowing how to deal with the press. He positioned himself as a “noble outsider” and that worked for him. He had the right sound-bites for the right moment with very little deeds to follow up. Not many politicians could have claimed to have been in McCain’s position for over three decades, get away with the kind of gaffes & issues like he did, and still be loved by majority of the media, public & majority of politicians from both the parties. Was it all simply because of his “war hero” and POW status? No doubt, he was always the courageous war hero who put his country above politics. But there was something more to him that gave him the unique position as a politician, of not being overly scrutinized and not being judged when his actions didn’t mach his words, the kind of stuff that is bestowed upon to only a very few politicians in Washington D.C.
McCain was an intellectually sharp man who had decided that he would serve America one way or the other after his Naval days and chalked out a long term plan. That he could never get to the Oval Office may have been his biggest regret, although he would have never admitted it. But he believed in giving the impression that he was fiercely independent and wasn’t afraid to break with the party, when he had to.
I will always wonder what was so “Mavericky” about McCain when his voting record shows that he voted pretty much along party lines for more than 85% of the time. But then, I am reminded once again of the fact that McCain was good at giving just the right sound-bites. He could get away with things even if his actions didn’t measure up to his words.
For example, even though he had said things about campaign finance reforms repeatedly & why he was all for it, thus earning many likes form the left, his voting records hardly show any proof of if he meant all of or if any of what he said. He was, at one point of time, in favor of turning Roe v. Wade, but eventually moved onto a more unconvincing middle ground, where he took an evasive “leave it to the states” position. This list goes on.
Here is a FiveThirtyEight chart of his voting record.
Yes, he is marginally better than those who voted 100% of the time along party lines.
But “Mavericky” enough? You be the judge.
There were two policy areas where he took firm positions, consistenly in the past two decades or so, for which I do have a lot of respect for McCain.
Torture and Climate Change.
That doesn’t make him ‘mavericky’ for me.
In these turbulent political times, one could argue that a man of his stature could have helped keep some check on the danegrous buffoonery coming out of the White House. But with very little support from anyone else in his party, even if he were to have become a real maverick and live upto his nick name, I don’t think he could have achieved much.
I think he knew that. He knew that sometime in 2017, when he learned of his terminal illness. So, instead of fighting a long battle against the far rightisms of his party, he chose to make a lasting impression on most of us through that famous last minute “thumbs down” vote to preserve the repeal of “Obamacare” in July 2017. A political genius of sorts by a man who knew how to use that one vote to define his legacy. A true politician!! (Some history: He had voted NO when the original Affordbale Care Act came to the senate in 2009 along with his party and between 2009 and 2011, he continued to vote in favor of repealing the act and partial amendments to the act to strip some protective regulations associated with the act.)
As the world mourns the death of a man who beleieved in independence, political camaraderie, decent statesmanship, and that rare quality of not shying away from truth, I cannot but stop thinking how such a man who was so vehemently opposed to torture, was ironically such a loud proponent of sending American troops in harm’s away, at every single opportunity he got??
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main….
…..any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
I was driving to Chicago (from Michigan) this past Saturday evening, when I learned of John McCain’s passing. The NYT Breaking News notification on my phone alerted me.
The dystopian song that was playing in my car at that very moment was “The Dead Flag Blues” by Goodspeed You! Black Emperor.
“Life is a beautiful story, your story, and the best part of that story is when it changes.”
And who better knows how to write good stories than Kamal Haasan?
Six months ago, if someone had asked me if I would be writing a blog post on Kamal Haasan’s politics and his political entry in February 2018, I would have not only laughed it off, but also ridiculed the person for fabricating such a scenario.
Looking back, to be specific, looking back at the past two to three years of Kamal’s life, both on screen and off screen, mostly off screen (since he hasn’t been doing much work on screen anyways), I am not surprised that we are at this transition point on February 21, 2018, the day he officially starts his political journey as a ‘practicing politician’. As I string together the missing pages & connect the missing links, it is clear that after all, this is not such an emotional, sudden, and a path breaking transition for him. If you notice the transition now for the first time, you realize that the change has been going on for a while. Like the breaking of sunlight in the morning or boiling of water on a stove.
There have been enough hints in the past six months or so about his eventual political entry. But like many, I had chosen not to take them seriously or perhaps was blinded by my primary pinhole through which I have always been used to viewing Kamal Haasan, the influential movie star, the actor, the director, the literary connoisseur, the poet, the rationalist, the social commentator, and the passionate humanist. When it became very clear that the transition is for real, the rooted Kamal Haasan movie fan in me was very disappointed.
I was worried for the man and his eventual failure in politics.
True. I didn’t want someone I consider as a pragmatic intellectual and someone I have lot of respect for, being dragged into the kind of political dialogues and tricks that I am familiar with as the norm in Tamil Nadu. I wanted to protect the man from the operational rules of the political game and in general, how things work in Tamil Nadu politics.
Then I decided to give up on my selfish possessiveness as a fan. I didn’t quite accept the transition yet. But I was hoping that this would be more of a political commentary & social critic avatar that he would take, but in a structured way, much like the Voltaires of the world. All the while, keeping his cinematic connections very much alive. A bit more political than a hardcore activist, but a little less bounded by the rules of the game than an electoral politician. I was fascinated by the thought of how he could pull off social vigilantism using simple tools, effecting micro changes which all could add up. I was dreaming and I even imagined a few mechanisms using which he could pull that off.
That dream bubble burst in November 2017, when it seemed very clear that he was actually serious about a more direct political route. One that involved building a party ground up and eventually contesting in elections. The exact kind of politics that I didn’t want him to get into.
Fast Forward to January, 2018.
I began to feel that may be my uncertainty around embracing Kamal Haasan’s political entry was completely uncalled for. It had become abundantly clear to me that Kamal has in fact been chalking out this path for a while. All the signs of him merging with mainstream politics were always there. But I just didn’t want to look at them. These signs were in fact all the more evident in the past two-three years or so, when I try to look at his life closely.
The man is 62 now. He has gone through a very challenging and an absolutely tragic two-three years. Separating from a partner, losing his professional mentor, losing his personal mentor & brother, surviving an almost life paralyzing injury, battling with the government politically for the release of his movie, etc.
These are enough to drain a man out or enough to make a man analyze his life.
“What have I achieved till now?”
“What is left that I want to achieve?”
“And what in it is possible to achieve in my lifetime?”
It makes complete sense to me that for a man like Kamal Haasan, someone who has never been shy of voicing his opinion on societal issues, what those questions may have meant when he asked these to himself during the past 2-3 years.
Fast Forward to February 21, 2018.
Even though I am leaning towards Kamal Haasan picking February 21, 2018 purely as a matter of convenience considering all other logistical details, knowing the kind of writer & movie maker who likes to play with metaphors and symbols, that he is, I can’t help but wonder, why choose February 21 for the launch?
February 21, 1953 – It was on this day that Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the structure of DNA-molecule. The Watson-Crick model is the basis for understanding human genome. (They went ahead with sharing this information officially in a public manner only on Feb 28).
February 21, 1848 – It was on this day that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published “The Communist Manifesto” in London.
These are the two historic events that may symbolize Kamal Haasan choosing this day for his launch. Kamal being a staunch rationalist, and a strong proponent of science, there is every reason to believe that the DNA structure has a significant evolutionary symbolism as far as he forming a party & giving it a structure goes. And as for the communist manifesto, it’s quite obvious to correlate the significance.
But beyond the symbolism that the day brings, for me what is truly refreshing is to see his distinct approach to the launch of his political journey thus far. I can list many things to differentiate his approach thus far, but the one thing that has been acting as a huge inspiration and the one thing that has brought Kamal Haasan’s political journey closer to my heart, is his attempt to adopt villages and model them for future. I am sure I will have many things to say about that attempt, as that concept evolves into action.
For now, the very fact that a Tamil Nadu politician has dared himself to show results of his social consciousness and concern, without contesting in an election is reason enough for me to wish him well. Not as a fan. But as a keen political observer & as a social justice seeker.
And yes, I am no longer worried for the man and the man’s eventual failure in politics. Because I now understand that he wants to rewrite the definition of “failure” in politics.
Listen, I am going to make it a special day,
You don’t know how much I know all that come your way.
So, I want you to forget all your strain,
And join me in my celebration of your pain.
Walk right through this door, watch out for your gown,
Oh, you didn’t tell me you were wearing cocoa brown.
I’d have asked you to pick something in burgundy,
To go with my tie, but who cares if we aren’t trendy?
Today is all about honor, so let me do you the honor,
And tell you what makes you the best in this corner.
Don’t yawn yet. With me darling? You still with me?
Do know that only you can make me the man I want to be.
Here. Here is a fine Syrah. Give it a try.
Any other night, I’d let you have your chardonnay, dry.
But tonight is your night, so experience the exquisite,
I bet you will thank me for this, till our next visit.
Where was I? Yes, honoring the fearless,
And those who stood up for your rights, no less.
For all that you are able to do now,
Many men must have sacrificed what and how.
Want another glass? Thought you’d be done with just one.
This Syrah, with its black pepper overtone, is strong even for men.
Always thought a lot of women wouldn’t have it in them,
You are special and I will never leave you, whatever may come.
Wish I could have some dessert with you and extend our stay,
But am so wiped out that I just want to thank you on this women’s day.
A Poem for Donald Trump’s Presidential Inauguration
Each day as we go about our business, tweeting past our older tweets, RTing some or not, about to tweet or tweeting.
Each day we encounter each other in twitter, words incoherent or ungrammatical, incomplete or insulted, words to consider, reconsider.
We know there’s something better down the road. We gather our equality, pride, liberty and justice. To walk into that which we cannot yet see. To find a place which is safe for Our intelligence, our rationality and sanity.
On the brink of twitter horizon, on the cusp of fake news explosion, May we take that next step.
[Inspired by Elizabeth Alexander’s Praise Song for the Day]
I will confess first. I am a huge fanboy of AR. But I have also evolved as a fan over the years. From just being a blind fan of his music to a much more nuanced fan of the technicalities in his music (as much as I could grasp), his thought process behind his compositions, his philosophy in life and in general, AR, the human being.
To wish any icon on social media or on the internet seems like a vanity seeking attempt, especially if I don’t know him personally. But this being AR Rahman’s milestone birthday, I decided to do just that. The irony!
My interest in music, my half-baked (or quarter or 1/8 or..) knowledge notwithstanding, can be divided into 5 phases..
I grew up getting soaked in Ilayaraja’s music (and MSV’s of course). And lots of carnatic music because of family surroundings and my own learning opportunities. The truth though was that most of my listening can be summed up as ‘casual exposure’.
2) Between 1988-1994
Serious listening. May be I was beginning to grasp the nuances better. And also because I was being exposed to a new world of music called classic rock. Thanks to the time I spent in Rajasthan during this time, I was exposed to more Hindi music than ever before (which doesn’t mean much if you spent all your time in deep south Tamil Nadu like I did.. till 1990). My half-baked music learning came very handy and I start analyzing. Even dabbled with making my own music. Just dabbled.
Completely absorbed by this storm called AR Rahman. Roja brought out the curiosity but Pudhiya Mugam sealed it. I became a fanboy. I must have listened to every song from every album of AR Rahman during this time for about million times. Life changing in many ways. Suddenly, I felt like I am hearing my own inner voice in music. Even though it was only for fun, I started making my own music in a much more “complete” way. They sounded terrible. Especially the ones I created during this time. But I got a kick out of making my own music.
4) 1998 to 2008
Digital music still new. My CD collection filled my basement and my fascination for AR’s music/experimentation continued to grow multiple times during this time. Being away from the country just made the bond even stronger. Also started listening to more contemporary western music, which internally made me appreciate AR’s music even more. And my own music creations got slightly better (even if I may say so myself).
Music streaming has completely changed the way I listen to music these days. Good or bad I don’t know. But I can listen to any music I want at any time without much effort. Thus resulting in me listening to lots of world music. The honest confession is that my comfort music is still AR’s. I am sure it will always be his music.
Just as a reflection of my own AR Rahman musical journey, I put together this Youtube playlist with 50 songs. These are songs that aren’t necessarily chartbusters. Less obscure in some ways.
Happy Birthday AR Rahman!
Thank you for shaping my musical appreciation of not just your music, but of any music.