Saturday, February 23, 2008

Looking for comedy in the Indian world

Before “Flop Show”, there was “Yeh jo hai zindagi” and before both of them, there was “Baban Prabhu and Yakub Sayed” in the Doordarshan days. There was also “Chaal Nawachi vaachal vasti” and a whole lot of Marathi TV serials and legendary Marathi humorists like PuLa, that half of Raj Thackeray’s party members couldn’t even remember. Just like brothers-with-arms, the Samajwadi Party, wouldn’t know Kaka Hathrasi and Ashok Chakradhar. But I digress.

This post is simply about “What makes you LOL?” I’m talking old-fashioned laugh-out-loud. Not a smile, snicker, or heh, but a hearty laugh. Here’s what made me LOL over the years.

First there was..
The earliest stuff made me LOL were all those TV serials mentioned above. I loved them for the simple, situational comedy of everyday life. In movies, “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro” and “Chashme Buddoor” had me in complete splits. Video was still new and staple viewing included “Mind Your Language”, the “Lemon Popsicle” and “Carry On” movie series. In comics, I was a huge fan of Beetle Bailey, Graffiti, Hagar the Horrible, The Lockhorns and Moose & Molly. (This was obviously before Mid-day in Bombay started my all-time fav “Calvin and Hobbes”)

I discovered the joys of PG when I enrolled at the British Council Library. Other than Mr. Wodehouse, I read magazines Punch and Private Eye and admired the way the Brits tear their politicians apart. In those cable-less days, we were also lucky to see Brit TV series like the legendary "Yes Minister" and "Yes Prime Minister", “Spitting Image”, “Drop the Dead Donkey” and “Fawlty Towers” on good ol’ Doordarshan. There was also “Different Strokes” but give me those Brit comedies any day.

..Then the nineties
With cable coming in the early nineties, Star TV, in its original avatar, showed some excellent stuff like “MASH”, “Home Improvement” and “The Simpsons”. There was also the brilliant improv show “Whose line is it anyway”. The few days that NBC aired in India, I looked forward to “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno and then “Late night with Conan O’Brien” – quickly coming to prefer Conan to Leno. But NBC shut shop soon deciding that there was no market for an English TV channel in India. It took time for Star TV to agree. (Since then Star has come back with a dedicated English channel, but not NBC).

Later in the 90s, I liked “Friends” for some time but got bored quickly of their self-obsession and sex obsession. An accusation that holds true for just about any American TV series, so it’s only a question of what you can take. So, I took on to “Seinfeld” like crazy. I think it’s the best comedy TV series ever for me. In movies, anything by Zucker-Abrahams was totally LOL’able( “Airplane”, “The Naked Gun” and “Hot Shots” series) and two other landmark comedies of the 90s were “My Cousin Vinny” and “There’s something about Mary”.

The here and now
Cut to present day. I don't think I’m enough. But then, comedy ain’t what it used to be. Political correctness is the order of the day and we take things too seriously. (That’s one reason I enjoy “Curb Your Enthusiasm” – if that’s daily life in the US then it’s more reality than comedy.)

No media house dare make a (comedy) TV series or movie on politics, bureaucracy or the system. Can’t blame them, who’d want their effigies and posters burnt? That sucks so much (just for that hats off to Cyrus Broacha on The Week that Wasn’t). And that’s why I’m a huge fan of “Real Time with Bill Maher”. For the love of God I can’t imagine anyone in Mumbai making fun of either Balu T or Raju T (both of them, ironically, being cartoonists). And I doubt that day would ever come. For example, why has stand-up comedy never taken off in Bombay?

Which means we have to rely mostly on slapstick, parody and risqué humor to run our “Laughter Challenges”. Not that I’ve disliked them. In the past, I’ve enjoyed Raju Srivastav and Sunil Pal much more than any Priyadarshan comedy (barring the first “Hera Pheri”). And I also think Munna-bhai took comedy to a completely different level. But still. There’s only so much that we can come up with. All the laughter shows have become photocopies of each other and I could never stand seeing Sidhu, Shekhar Suman, Mandira Bedi, et al with their over-the-top fake ear-to-ear laughs. The only comedy I enjoy on the Hindi TV channels today is the priceless "Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai". Whoever thought a clash between elitism and middle class-ism could be so hilarious. Ironically, the series has already closed a long time back and what I'm seeing today are re-runs - which are still very funny. 

Finally, the internet. From emails, the fore bearers of the tech funnies, to Facebook wall posts, Orkut scraps and youtube videos, I’ve seen barely a handful of really funny stuff. And now there’s blogs. Even here, I’ve stopped following most of the blogs I found funny for a variety of reasons (Gawker being an exception because he's a class apart).

Hm. Funny. When I want it, it does become difficult to find comedy in my current world.

So, what makes you LOL?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

HBO stops Bill Maher podcasts outside US

Update: HBO has resumed podcast downloads for Real Time for listeners outside of the USA, so..er..yay!

I listen regularly to "Real Time with Bill Maher" via HBO's podcasts. A few days back, iTunes started giving an error message which went "Authorization needed to access podcast". (note in the screen-capture below how previous podcasts downloaded without a problem).


Whoo hoo. I thought Apple is at again disallowing lesser mortals from accessing stuff via iTunes (remember, they still don't allow music downloads via iTunes for India). I thought well, you know, it's Apple. What else can you expect? They've still to be pointed out India on the map. But a google search absolved Apple of this.

Yup, because I discovered that this time it's HBO. And guess what, it's not just India on their "oh no you don't" list, it's all the countries outside of the USofA. Check this thread for other users across the non-US world complaining of this. And also check this thread at the Apple discussion forum for something similar.

This kinda stuff defies sense. I mean honestly, we need to call in the Nobel Prize Committee for a new category here. Bring out the Oscars, the Emmys and all the prizes because this kinda global achievement deserves an award.

Seriously, what good does banning a podcast for users outside the US achieve? Do the Einsteins at HBO believe that "Real Time" podcast listeners do not have access to other means of technology that gives them access to - get this - not just the audio, but, hey, the video as well? You know that stuff wherein you can also see the show and not just hear it?

What riles me - as it did about two years back - is when these fruitcakes drive people to alternate methods. Which is what makes that ad which you see before the movie starts, you know the one which goes "Would you steal a car, would you steal a book? then don't go for piracy" look like a bunch of crock.

My own stand on piracy is a bit less liberal than others, i.e. I do believe in paying for content. If there was an iTunes for India, I would have paid to download music. But at this rate, what options do I have? You want to deprive me of my music, of my podcasts, of latest seasons on my TV series (remember all English TV channels in India are running more than a year behind of current seasons across all popular shows)? And you expect me to twiddle my thumbs till then? Yeah right.

See, there's a limit. There is a limit to which you can put those patronizing error messages on my computer screen. There is a limit to which you tell me that your is not available in my country.

Because guess what, M/s HBO and M/S Apple, and this will come as a surprise to you, there is something called the Internet. And hey, did you know it connects people to people. And - oh, this will blow you - it actually allows people to share things? So, if you think I'm not good enough for your content, then I guess I'll just have to find someone who does. And while you're figuring that out, please give my regards to the dinosaurs.

Monday, February 18, 2008

About the inner receptionist

This Lucy Kellaway FT column was pointed to me by a good friend (JS!) from the Middle East. The piece titled "Happiness is finding your inner receptionist" hits home (last year, I'd quit my full-time to take a break.)

In said column, Ms. Kellaway speaks of a friend who quit a 20yr career of powerful media jobs to become a receptionist. Why?
Her routine was soothing. The people were friendly. The work was pleasant. It was also finite, easy to do well, and ended on the dot of 6pm. There were no unmanageable work loads, no ugly competition, no gnawing anxiety that you aren’t up to it and that someone else is better.

But best of all, she said, the receptionist’s job didn’t swamp her mind and her life; instead it left plenty of room for her to think her own thoughts. The only thing that wasn’t fantastic was the money, but it was enough and she didn’t mind.
You can read the article for your own conclusions. I was just thrilled to read it. Some familiar thoughts went through my head, re-visits of when I was firming up my decision to quit my job.

1. If we're all doing what we were born to do, why do we crib about the hours or the money or the pressure or the deadlines?

2. Is there an assumption that the job we do employs our talents to the best?

3. Do we even know what our talents are?

4. Is the path to discover our talents a linear one (i.e. Job X to Y to Z to A to B to C) and one that only a job can fulfill?

5. And finally, a very basic one - are these two joys comparable and/or mutually exclusive(a) watching a sunset each evening (b) adding that next zero to my net worth?

Ever thought on these lines? Would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

That thrilling world of politics

Hm. An interesting debate over at the NYT.

First, Frank Rich accuses the Clinton campaign of dumping the black vote...
The campaign’s other most potent form of currency remains its thick deck of race cards. This was all too apparent in the Hallmark show. In its carefully calibrated cross section of geographically and demographically diverse cast members — young, old, one gay man, one vet, two union members — African-Americans were reduced to also-rans.
and chasing the Hispanic vote...
But the wholesale substitution of Hispanics for blacks on the Hallmark show is tainted by a creepy racial back story. Last month a Hispanic pollster employed by the Clinton campaign pitted the two groups against each other by telling The New Yorker that Hispanic voters have “not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates.” Mrs. Clinton then seconded the motion by telling Tim Russert in a debate that her pollster was “making a historical statement.”
It's a lengthy, provocative, but backed-by-facts piece that is still there in the most e-mailed/blogged list of the NYT.

Just after this, the Krug-Man warned readers that the Obama campaign could be taking the US into Nixonland.
I won’t try for fake evenhandedness here: most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody. I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. We’ve already had that from the Bush administration — remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don’t want to go there again.
The Economist recently called the US elections the greatest show on earth, again. I'm still trying to figure out how it works, but can't resist a sense of awe at the entire campaigning, debating juggernaut shebang. Sure, it's also dirty, but then who said becoming the leader of the free world was easy.

Point of post? Just putting this in the background of Indian politics. Remember we're (State and Country) up for elections next year. No primaries, no caucuses, no debates. Just simple dishkaaon elections. Good old coalition politics. No majority, no minority. And sure no priority at least for the nation.

Even though I am in awe of it, I've never understood the US elections and I'm loathe to compare it to the Indian ones. Why? Because I think any India v/s US comparison is slightly arbit. Still, I am having an interesting e-mail conversation with a good friend on similar lines.

That apart, I think one thing seems to be common, politicians are politicians and will remain that way. Partisanship, divisiveness and cult personality are probably wired into the DNA of every politician. If he's not born with it, he'll pick it up soon on the way.

Look at very own local hero Raju T playing the Marathi Manoos card. Even though the educated elite are gasping at his antics, they've also probably realised that this isn't anything new because Raju T is only upholding the Sena tradition. A tradition that has held them in good stead. Heck, even the Congress are staying true to their tradition, i.e. do nothing.

We're in for interesting times. Let's see what turn the US elections take next. Seems Obama is leading Clinton. Are we ready for a black leader of the free world?

Strange things happen. What if Raju T's brand of politics actually work? And if it doesn't than are we all happy with a, er, "secular" bunch of people who'd give Nero a run for his money? Or wait, am I hearing the roar of an old tiger again? Hang in there for a year to find out. Remember, it's a Chinese curse.

PS: Partially unrelated funny thing 1: That line from "A Few Good Men" kept coming back to me while I typed this post. "Unit, Corp, God, Country".

PPS: PUFT2: Picked up Season 1 of "The West Wing" , which seemed even more yesterday than Rudy Giuliani (gaah, it actually is) and have hence instantly given up on it. Aaron Sorkin, who wrote this glossy drama, was also the writer of "A Few Good Men". Told ya - partially unrelated.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The 5 links to 5 posts tag

I'm missing blogging more than you think. But man does not live by blog alone and blogs don't pay the bills - an important thing to remember while I'm trying to secure a line of revenue with at least some predictability. Which isn't easy, but I knew that.

What I'm saying is that I will be back on this blog before you can say "Obama". (talking of which two bumper stickers of note - "We will Barack you" and "Monica Lewinsky's ex-boyfriend's wife for President"). Or for that matter "McCain" (yes, I'm still impressed with his straight talk).

But I vacillate, oscillate and digress. So, getting back..

The prolific Lekhni (now there's a blogger who blogs, and how) has tagged me for doing some recycling. The tag - as with others I've done in the past - ends here, but if you want to share that warm, taggy feeling, go ahead.

I have to recycle 5 posts on 5 key words as below.

Family - The big marriage in Delhi, a post I loved writing. Man, how I wish I could spend some more time in Delhi. Some day, when it isn't too cold. But who am I kidding? Bombay is now colder than Delhi . Guahaha.

Friends - My blog meet posts here and here. What a crazy gang. Must do that again too.

Yourself - The most personal one was the one about the break. I've always wanted to write on my experience on shaadi.com, but well..that's there with 100 other posts on 100 other things that never made it to print.

Love - Zilch, but that doesn't make me an unromantic person, does it?

Anything I like - Easy enough. Movies, lingo and TV on DVD.

It's a nice tag and you should do it. Spread the link love, I says, spread that link love.