Sunday, June 20, 2010

Trekking resumes..

The first monsoon showers bring the Sahaydris alive. Rejuvenated by the rains, the hills take on a picturesque coat of green. And following the monsoon showers to the Sahaydris are hundreds of groups of trekkers of all ages and ability, eager to soak in the magical moments of nature at its best. Though calling myself a regular trekker would be stretching it a bit too far, I have always been wanting to go myself on some of these treks myself. I had done a handful of treks a few years back, but then the habit died a natural death. So it was wonderful to revive it yesterday when me and a few friends went to trek the Tikona fort near Lonavala.

Tikona fort is situated around 15 kms from Lonavala and is, in fact, a group of forts (Tung, Lohagad and Visapur being the others) with the Pavana lake situated almost in between them. In fact, it may be a good idea to set base at Lonavala for 3 days or so and do all treks. Anyways, coming to our trek, we started from Andheri at around 7.30 am in mostly clear weather and set off on the Expressway. After getting out at the Talegoan exit, we joined the NH4 and then moved towards the Kamshet junction. On the way we encountered a great sports cafe (of course mostly empty at the time), which was ideal to fill ourselves with aloo-paratha and omlettes and two rounds of tea. With content tummies, we approached the base of Tikona fort (a village called Tikona Peth) by around 11.30 am. The weather was fluctuating between sunny and cloudy with, unfortunately, not much sign of rain. After parking our cars outside the village temple, we set out by foot. After walking for about a couple of km, the hike started.

Oh yes, before that,something about the fort. The name Tikona actually should be Trikona (triangle in Marathi) and is so named because it is almost like a equal pyramid (hence the front view being a triangle). This means that the ascent to the fort is short but steep at places. Doing a trek after a couple of years offered me the opportunity to test my stamina and fortunately, after some initial hiccups (as a result of the burning sun and the heavy breakfast), I managed to last the distance well. The ascent is part in steps and part in trails created by fellow trekkers. After about an hour and a half of exertions, we were at the top at around 1.30 pm, which was slightly late in the day, since we saw quite a few groups who were on their way back. On the top, there is not much to see, except the fort ramparts and the mandatory temple and water tank. Another omnipresent part of the fort is the friendly locals serving 'pithla-bhakri'. This traditional rural Maharasthrian dish can be found on almost all forts and is a big hit with all trekkers. This particular family, in fact, sells almost 100 plates on a typical monsoon weekends !!. And we enjoyed in thoroughly, more so because the clouds finally opened up (through not as heavily as we wanted).

After about an hour at the top, we set to a quick descent (almost 30-45 minutes) back to the base village. By dinner time, I was back home, extremely happy to add to my limited trekking experience and promising myself to add a few more in the coming weeks.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Heady cocktail of politics and epic, but...

In hindsight, it seems almost ridiculuous that Bollywood did not think of this mix before. Politics is, after all, an omnipresent theme in Hindi cinema, being contemporary in every generation. And then on the other hand, you have the country's greatest poem, which, of course, is all about politics and the struggle for the throne. Thus, it seems unlikely that Bollywood would never have thought of marrying the two, weaving the Mahabharata into the cesspool that is modern-day politics in India. But then, whoever would have thought of this earlier would have realized that it is not so simple as it seems. A thought that Prakash Jha can testify to. And while he gets more than full marks for attempting a mix as potent as this, in the final analysis, Rajneeti could have been better.

Prakash Jha goes back to the heartland of India and this time, rather than taking up any particular issue (unlike his earlier movies like Gangajaal and Apharan), he paints a grim, but a near-realistic picture of modern Indian politics with all its shades (violence, bribery, seduction et al..), And in doing so, he anchors his characters (a fantastic ensemble of gifted actors) in the Mahabharata, thus elevating it from just another Hindi potboiler to a story that the audience can readily identify with (and in the bargain, heightening expectations). So you have the present-day Kunti, who lets go of her new-born in order to escape social ridicule. The new born (Ajay Devgan) then grows to become a Dalit leader and a vital cog in the wheels of the political machinery. Then there are the two warring cousins, Arjun Rampal (sketchy characterization, it was none of the Pandavas) and Manoj Bajpayee (outstanding as Duryodhana), hotly contesting the rights to lead the state's premier political party in the upcoming assembly elections. There is also the all-knowing Krishna (Nana Patekar), acting almost as the narrater of the movie. And finally, you have the modern Arjuna (Ranbir Kapoor) who, like the hero in the epic, is pushed into a war he would rather not fight. But once he is into it, he plunges himself headlong into it, a war that finally culminates in him eliminating Duryodhana and, unknowing to him, his elder brother. In the end, like in the epic, he is left to savour a near-pyrrhic victory, left only with his former lady-love (Katrina Kaif in a vastly improved performance).

So does this mix work ? That is the million dollar question, In my opinion, to a large extent, it does. Lets admit it, the task in front of Jha was not simple by any means. He does give his level best and his cast gives him more than stellar support (Bajpayee, Ranbir and Nana Patekar stand out), But then, whether because of cinematic compulsions or the effort to make the movie more like epic, the script resorts to some filmy moments in the name of cinematic license. While the Kurukshetra war was certainly epic and gruesome, to make broad day-light killings of politicians (albeit regional level) so commonplace in the movie is stretching it a bit too much. So too is the gory display of blood at various points in the movie (was surprised to see only a U/A certificate). And at the end, how Ranbir Kapoor walks scot free to the US after having killed his political rivals was certainly beyond me. All in all, the movie slightly went off track in the last half an hour so. Plus, some other key moments in the Mahabharata could have been portrayed too. For e.g. to watch the Gita unfolding with Nana trying to cajole Ranbir into taking up arms would have been interesting. Here, the transformation of Arjuna is too dramatic.

But these are occasional flaws in an otherwise good movie. In the end, Rajneeti is a heady cocktail of politics and epic, but falls short of intoxicating.


Saturday, June 05, 2010

Sky gazing begins...

So the month of June is upon us. In our country, the transition from May to June does not just mean a flip of the calendar. With the arrival of June, the collective gaze of the nation is transfixed to the sky, looking to see the first glimmer of grey cloud, feel the first whiff of the south-westerly winds and, finally, hold the first droplets of the monsoon. The sky gazing has thus begun in full earnest....

The monsoons transform India perhaps like nothing else does. And no one is immune from the sky gazing. People living in the high rises in the cities await the onset of the monsoon in order to alleviate their water woes, but on the other hand, the people living besides them in slums actually dread the rains, not knowing when their homes would be flooded (memories of a July afternoon five years ago are still fresh). The civil contractors gaze at the sky and perhaps hope that the monsoons, like all things Indian, would arrive later than expected, thus giving them precious time to complete their long-delayed projects and thus escape the citizen's wrath. Teenagers welcome the arrival of the monsoon and off they go on their treks to various hills in the Sahyadris. And of course, who can forget the real India living in the rural areas ? For them, the monsoon does not sustain life, it is life itself !!!. 

The first rains transfer the landscape into a nice cover of green. The smell of the earth after the first rains is simply the most beautiful aroma one can hope to savor. And although it does bring about the occasional havoc in the cities, there is no denying it resuscitates life, quite literally, after a hot and sizzling summer.And this year, the monsoons are more important than usual. With Mumbai reeling under its worst water crisis and the rural areas having faced drought-like conditions, it remains to be seen if this season, the monsoon acts as the elixir that they always have been.

So here's praying for great monsoons (especially in the fields and the water reservoirs :))