Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What about Hritik Roshan?

Oh critics may love Helen Mirren's depiction of the Queen, but have they watched Dhoom 2, the most frickin devastating use of three hours in which Roshan plays the Queen (and fools her security entourage even though the mask he's wearing is clearly from the Yashraj Halloween props department) , a bearded guy, and, to top it all, is the duniya ka sabse cool chor, aur uske "saath khelne mein bahut maza aayega"?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Our growing field

The first cricket game I recall playing took place in a space seven feet wide and fifteen feet long with a stairwell on one side, so balls frequently bounced off the railings all the way down to the ground floor, at which time my neighbour's younger brother, who stuck his neck through the aluminum barrier to watch the falling ball, announced 'akha neechey'. The unfairness of this predicament struck us early. The open stairwell was neither player's fault. Parents were irrelevant to this, so they could not be blamed. Who retrieved the ball from two flights down was a decision left to a tossed coin. Our games were dominated by batsmen and bowlers, for our heroes were of that kind. Jonty Rhodes was still six years away.

Even now, when I visit that space, the smell of the field reminds me of our uncomplicated games. We created stumps out of chalk, plucked rules out of the air. Our understanding of the game then was entirely personal, and since nothing confused us as much as leg-before appeals, we wisely did away with that mode of dismissal. Who could stop us except the passing of time? Nothing lies behind his door anymore, for a series of mishaps persuaded his family that ghosts were at work.

Before we drifted apart, our field grew larger and more competetive. Downstairs, in the middle of an enormous parking lot, we were tested by aggressive Pakistani batting and violent Pakistani bowling. The civility of our personal encounters became history with the first bouncer either of us faced. I was hit on the head while, if memory can be trusted, he swung one with a sweet tock! over the terrace of a nearby building. The ball was wrapped with electric tape - a device that at once made the ball swing, bounce, and scurry off the crusty tar surface. How he played it that well I'll never know.

The games then were rigidly communal, with international games the trigger for local violence. But it came to nothing more than pushing and swearing. Grandstanding, I think - we were taking up the positions we were historically meant to. The pride of our nation depended on us, and whoever blinked first gave up Siachen, Kashmir, you name it. But we met the enemy over the supermarket counter, at the doctor's clinic, heck, they even taught us. What choice did we have but to blink and give them a glacier?

Speaking of land, the field grew ever larger. Leather balls, damp helmets, the vibration of an unstroked bat. We encountered all these things. So what, you're thinking. So this: try it in 45 degree weather, humidity over 90%, on a concrete pitch in the middle of a large pebble and sand-strewn ground. And then dive to save a boundary. One day, in the middle of a school-level tournament, we came up against a team more unfortunate than our own. A collection of suicides, they were. I imagine them now, grown men laughing over a beating they cried about that day, that windy day when sand rose in golden swirls and stung our eyes, that day when someone - cough - took three wickets for nothing with spin and went home that night and revealed his career plan to horrified parents. He's a journalist now, on a field so vast that he can't make out its edges. And fetching balls from boundaries always made him uneasy.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Human desire

The prestige is the final flourish, the act that creates disbelief as a show concludes. The Prestige features three magicians' obsession with retribution. Watch them burn, watch them burning. Each is a saboteur of the other's plans to become the greatest magician in England - a drive so filling that it leaves no room for humanity. Their arts become darker. Having exhausted the possibilities of magic, they reach toward science, finding in it their final act, their prestige. What a prestige it is. All but the faintest spark of love remains in the final act, with warm feeling making way for machine-cold as the age of magic fades away. Death returns their colour, and emotion flows like blood from a deep wound. The prestige is about reputation, and about the deep desire to show the crowds something new. And that is at the movie's heart: the need to be creative and surprise and delight - it's about the stunned faces in the instant before the applause.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The rejuvenation of Zaheer Khan

Until February 19, 2006, Zaheer Khan had been given enough rope to hang the whole team. He claimed thirteen wickets in his last ten games at an average of 33. He leaked 4.9 runs an over. Nine of his thirteen came in three matches against a ragtag Africa XI alliance which was recognized officially but dismissed as pointless. Of the four remaining wickets, two were tailenders. In competitive games (the other seven) on average he conceded 55 runs. And then he ran out of rope.

The lack of news it made showed us one thing: we often complain about perceived gaps when there is nothing to fill them. But out went Khan and in his place came Sreesanth, Munaf, the Singhs. Isn'’t competition beautiful?

Dropping players in poor form makes even more sense when you see what they transform into. In the last fortnight Khan has been accurate, skillful, and has bowled with thought. His approach to Graeme Smith was superb in its execution. After starting the first game with two wides, he has made batsmen awkward regularly. The third one-dayer, in which he dismissed Smith and Kallis in three balls, was especially significant because he harassed them repeatedly. This wasn'’t Khan. Not the bad old Khan. Would this transformation have come about if he knew that a place in the team came cheaply and to those with reputations? This is a guy who depressed fitness trainers.

It's possible that Virender Sehwag requires a similar approach. How long can you keep a bad thing going?