Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Secret of Santa Victoria

This is an old English movie starring Anthony Quinn.....pretty obscure actually, its not on any "classic" lists, but its one of my favourites. Dad got the cassette decades ago and I first saw it as a kid. That's one of the reasons I think the movie means so much to takes me back to my childhood.

Moving on, the film is set in WWII Italy -- the town of Santa Victoria to be specifc -- in the days after the fall of Fascism, when the Nazis entered Italy. Santa Victoria is a typical little Italian town whose livelihood, and indeed life, rests on wine-making. Wine is not just something they produce, its in their blood. For some, this is literally true; for example: Quinn's character Bombolini (notice the similarity with "bumble"), quite an apt name considering he's the town clown and drunkard.

After the fall of the fascist regime, the townspeople overthrow the local fascist government that had made their lives hell, and are looking for a new leadership. In the meanwhile, there is another commotion -- Bombolini has climbed a tall water tank and is attempting to paint off an existing painted sign "Long live Mussolini" (a sign that he painted on in the first place!), all while holding a bottle of his beloved wine and being dead drunk, as the townspeople look on, terrified that he'll fall.

For Hindi film buffs, if the water tank, drunk man, bottle of booze and nervous crowd ring a bell, its with good reason .....this is the scene that inspired one of Hindi cinema's most iconic moments -- Dharmendra's "chakki peesing" in Sholay. Getting back to Santa Victoria, after all the drama, Bombolini paints over the sign with the help of a friend and makes it down safely....into the welcoming arms of the crowd who now see the buffoon as a hero. In a fit of collective patriotism (and drunkeness!), he assumes mayorship of the town.....a role, that when sobriety returns, nobody thinks he can fulfil. But determined to make a success of himself, he cleans up and organizes a town council of sorts.

Things move on at a slow small-town pace, till the town's only college student returns abruptly with horrifying news: the Nazis are coming to take all the wine! What follows is a story of how a town where "everybody hates everybody else" unites to save what is rightfully its own, what is most precious to it, and a story of how a drunken buffoon transforms into a leader. There are a mix of smaller love stories interspersed, including how Bombolini regains his long-suffering wife Rosa's respect.

Funny, cynical, serious, sensuous, in parts.....but inspirational overall.....a wonderful film, with equally wonderful performances. The cassette I have is showing its age, so we've been on the lookout for the DVD, but its been hard to find. I may well have to pay a bomb when I do find it, but it'll be totally worth it.

Friday, April 20, 2007

My Floral Inspiration

This post was inspired by a comment left on another Bombay-lover's Bombay musings. The comment author was not a Bombay fan because s/he believed Bal Thackeray to be the city's biggest icon. S/he is of course entitled to her / his opinion, but I beg to differ. My instant reaction was yeah Mr. T is one of the city's icons, but is he the only one? Definitely not.

So who or what are the city's icons? Are they only the rich and famous, or the rich and infamous? Only the most popular places and things? Of course, all of these are iconic, but they're not the only ones. An icon could be any symbol, any person that represents a significant meaning to someone. S/he or it need not be well-known, need not be known to anyone other than you for that matter, but it could still mean a helluva lot to you....still convey something that maybe only you understand.

For me, there is one image that I remember very vividly. Its one of those things that I’d seen daily while traveling in the train but never paid attention to. Yet on that one particular day as I looked out at the same old scene zipping by, this image just stood out – a patch of flowers growing tall amid sewage. Tall stems and bright red and yellow blooms. You see them growing all over, even in gardens. I was just struck by their beauty and how glorious they looked, despite being surrounded by so much filth.

A lot of people talk about Bombay’s stark contrasts, which are of course undisputable. To me, those flowers represent that contrast – that you can have goodness, beauty and growth no matter how terrible your situation or your surroundings. More than being iconic, for me they are inspirational.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

1 Year On...

....since leaving Bombay. I remember trying to be positive last year, even as gloom threatened to choke me. It was the biggest change of my life and I was not sure at all that it was a good thing. But today I know... it was good. In fact, it was necessary. Necessary for me to find myself, find my purpose. But despite it being a good thing, and me being happy, I'm feeling nostalgic... a little homesick. It doesn't hurt the way it used to, but it still can sure yank at those heartstrings.

So what do I miss the most?

- the sights ..... gulmohar trees, the flowers that bloomed among sewage, Diwali fireworks, the Mid-day logo, Imax, my old colleges, my church, VT station, the hideous dome over the VT subway, Marine Drive, Bandstand, Mount Mary, Siddhivinayak, all the roads in and around what we call "town", all the roads around my home....and my beautiful home.

- the sounds .... BEST bus horns, the million gaalis that form part of any commuting experience, Nashik dhol during Ganesh Chaturthi, dandiya beats during Navratri, church bells.

- the flavours .... crisp ghee sada dosa (nobody in the UAE does it like its done in Bombay), sinful Cheese dosa (nobody here seems to have heard of it!), bhel, wada pav, samosas, my old college canteen ka veg schezwan noodles (the best I've ever had), murg shifta at Ivy in between Chembur & Ghatkopar (I almost cried the first time I had this was that divine), all the mithais (they use some freaky milk powder for sweets here & it makes me want to puke), the kababwallah's kababs near my house (er....the kababs that he makes, rather!!!), frankies (veg, chicken...doesn't matter....its all good), chole bhature, puri bhaji....God, this list can go on!!!

- the fragrances ..... some pleasant, some sure as hell anything but pleasant..... but they're all part of Bombay.

- and lastly, but most importantly, the people. Whoever said 'the people make the place' got it spot on. I'm luckier than most to be with my family here, but even as a family....we get lonely. For me, it isn't just that I miss my friends (and I do, from the bottom of my heart I do), I miss the million acquaintances....the people you've seen almost every other day, the faces you've grown up with. In the course of a typical day, you may just wave when you see them, may not even chat for 5 minutes.....but the point is that they're there. Its amazing how you take those familiar faces for you don't realize how big a part of your world they are.... till you're taken out of that world. It only hit me when I came here..... in this city, where life is so transient, where people keep coming and going, where they are much more wrapped up in their own lives, the worth of that wave hit me. Sure, its a seemingly insignificant gesture, but its the subconscious feeling behind it that matters and that so many of us don't recognize. The spirit, that when push comes to shove -- be it during the bomb blasts, the 26th July floods or any other major or minor crisis -- that unites Mumbaikars....that underlying sense of apnaapan. That's what I miss the most.