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Saturday, October 31, 2009

A River Runs Through Me

A River runs through me....
and several others like me,
whose lives have been changed forever
simply by witnessing River Phoenix [August 23, 1970 - October 31, 1993] on screen.

The power of celluloid is such that it transcends boundaries
- geographical or physical -
by simply penetrating one's soul by means
of powerful images,
powerful depictions,
powerful narratives,
and, last but not the least,
powerful characterizations.

Perhaps I would not have been the person that I am
had it not been for River Phoenix.
He was more than an actor
who played his part well in movies.
He acquired cult status as an actor partly for the films
that he acted in, and also because of his dying young -
that's what most would say.
But to me, he was a magical presence....
I did not even know much about him when I saw him first...
most of his films were seen by me after his death,
and that too on the small screen, thanks to satellite television
and home videos.
But he still looms large in my sub-conscious...
is it him? Is it the parts played by him?
Is it the enigma, the rebellious streak in him that epitomized his legacy?
Well, it is difficult to pinpoint...

I cannot distance myself and come up with an objective appreciation.
I can only recall the madness that gripped me when I saw him play the narcoleptic hustler in "My Own Private Idaho" or in numerous other standout performances in ensemble films.
I read almost all piece of reading material that dealt with his life & times.
I caught almost all documentaries and tribute films made on him.
I searched for all his early films and tried to gather all the published photographs of him, including film-stills, from newspapers & tabloids.
At one point of time, I was obsessed with him.
The magic called River Phoenix overpowered me in totality.

Herein, I offer my tribute to the ever-young, ever-inspiring artiste by this humble write-up.
The assemblage of photographs has been made possible through several links on Google, and I intend no copyright infringement thereby. I am also attaching a list of River's films seen by me, along with a mini-biography of the late actor.

River Phoenix, born River Jude Bottom, was the eldest of five children whose itinerant parents were members of a radical Christian group called the Children of God (later known as The Family). His family lived in communes in Oregon, Texas, Puerto Rico and Venezuela before settling in Florida. River's birthplace was Metolius, near Madras, Oregon. Pursuing entertainment careers for their children, the parents eventually moved the family to Los Angeles, where River began getting television jobs in the early 1980s. Phoenix was soon labeled a promising young actor and his career took off with several movies of repute & acclaim. Although Phoenix's movie career was generating most of the income for his family, it has been stated by close friends and relatives that his true passion was music. Phoenix was a singer, song writer and an accomplished guitarist. Prior to securing an acting agent, Phoenix and his siblings had attempted to forge a career in music by playing cover songs on the streets of the Westwood district of LA. At seventeen, he formed his own band called Aleka's Attic. He was also well-known for his animal rights activism. Phoenix was renowned for using his power within the media to voice his beliefs and opinions on issues he felt important. For Earth Day 1990, Phoenix wrote an environmental awareness essay, targeted at his young fanbase, entitled "We Are the World" that was printed in Seventeen magazine. He and his band often played environmental benefits for well known charities.
The flip side of his fast rise to celebdom was his getting addicted to drugs. On this very day, that is October 31, in 1993, Phoenix collapsed from a drug overdose of heroin and cocaine (known as a speedball) outside the Viper Room, a Hollywood night club partially (owned by actor Johnny Depp until 2004).

His films that I have seen:
Explorers (1985)
Stand by Me (1986)
Little Nikita (1988)
Running on Empty (1988)
Indiana Jones & the last Crusade (1989)
I Love You to Death (1990)
Dogfight (1991)
Sneakers (1992)
My Own Private Idaho (1991/92)

5 Favorite River Phoenix Quotes:
"I wish sometimes I wasn't as conscientious as I am."
"Every day of my life since I finished My Own Private Idaho, at some point in the day, I find the conversation somehow goes back to that film, because it was just such a great experience. I just start getting all joyous and start babbling about it."
"In simplicity there is truth."
"When I was in first grade, everyone made fun of my name, of course. I think it's kind of a big name to hold up when you`re nine years old. It seemed goofy. I used to tell people I wanted to change the world and they used to think, 'This kid`s really weird.' "
"Everything is ironic to me. There are moments I find hysterical, but I'm probably the only one who would find that, except for a few people."

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Rise, rise... Agassi

Andre Agassi has been my tennis hero all through my growing up years.
I can even say that I grew up with him. Following the tennis legend's actions, his success stories, his low phases and even his dalliances have always been my passion.
So, now, when the world of tennis, and sports in general, has been in the whirlwind focus post Agassi's shocking revelations, I thought that it is best to write my take on Agassi, here and now.

Agassi has always been the proverbial bad boy of tennis, at least for most of the commentators. He has been known for his colorful outfits, pop-star like hairstyle and flashy temperament, as much as his skills in the game of tennis.
Born in 1970, Agassi learnt the game of tennis at a young age and was egged on to compete by his domineering and ambitious dad. I would keenly follow Andre's career progress right from the days he turned a pro, way back in 1986. His charismatic service returns impressed me very much. A keen sense of anticipation on his part kept the game alive till the very end. And I would be hooked on to television, regardless of the fact that tennis wasn't exactly a popular sport among my peer group, and I lacked the knowledge of the game beyond the rudimentary. But there was something about Agassi, the player, the man..... it was magnetic, it was a magical charm.

I remember how ecstatic I would be when Agassi would win a match. When his powerful groundstrokes and deep angling would wear out his opponents, it felt so ecstatic.
In 2005, with the emergence of Roger Federer on the scene as the new tennis icon, I knew that Agassi faced more odds than ever. Agassi rolled his ankle in a racquetball accident & tore several ligaments and since then his fitness, that used to be the envy of all, took a major blow. Severe strain on the back, leg pain, and ankle injuries made Agassi stumble in many a match. Agassi announced his plans to retire following the US Open and I knew that watching tennis would not be the same for me.

Agassi had a short but dramatic run in his final US Open. Because of extreme back pain, Agassi was forced to receive anti-inflammatory injections after every match. I remember grimacing all the while as I saw him play in the second round. Agassi received an eight minute standing ovation from the crowd after the match, against Benjamin Becker, that he lost, and delivered a memorable retirement speech.
Since retirement, Agassi has been in the news for participating in a series of charity tournaments and for his work with his own charity, that focuses on the plight of the children who find themselves to be victims of war and persecution. In his personal life too he seemed to be having a near-perfect bliss after his marriage to Steffi Graf, yet another the tennis icon herself. Earlier, Agassi had a stormy two-year marriage with actress Brooke Shields, best known for films like 'The Blue Lagoon', 'Pretty Baby', and 'Endless Love'. But with Steffi, and their two kids, I could see Agassi as the lovable family man. They made a pretty picture - Agassi & Steffi and their kids - and I would smile contentedly, looking at the pics in the glossies.

But who knew that there was such a storm brewing in Andre's heart........!!!!
He had been battling his demons for long, and at last, he decided to come clean in his bare-all autobiography called "Open". The name befits the no-holds-barred account of Agassi's experiencing of drugs and other scandalous episodes that had been hidden from the world until now.

People might see it as an extension of the Devil-may-care attitude that Agassi has been known for even in his heydays, many are also crying out, "Shame! Shame!".....
However, I beg to differ....
I find such confessions on his part to be extremely brave and honest. Maye be all he seeks is comfort from baring all the ugliness from the past that had been casting its shadow even, and more so, upon his present state. His revelations, ranging from something as serious as having taken crystal meth, to something as bizarre as having used a hairpiece, might have outraged many, disgusted many more.... yet Agassi, to me is a true hero. I would just like to see a rise even in his supposed fall from the pedestal. Agassi has even admitted to having lied to the Association of Tennis Professionals when he was asked to explain a failed drugs test; this might lead to debates & repercussions. But Agassi knows that it is better to have come up with the candid confessions on his own than to wait for some jilted acquaintance to rake in the rewards with spilling of the beans. A true hero is one who goes the extra mile and battles the odds, and that includes battling one's inner demons for sure.
So, rise my hero, rise above all odds.

Friday, October 02, 2009

We've woken up..... !!!!

Bollywood has really woken up.... to new-age cinema! And this time, none other than the much celebrated king of mush, Karan Johar, has backed this very refreshing film called "Wake Up Sid" by first-time director Ayan Mukherjee. Kudos!

Watching the film last night at a nearby multiplex made me many in the audience wake up too.... waking up to the possibilities of films reaching out to the viewers by means of fresh takes on age-old rom-coms. The film adds a lot of zing to the pre-existent romantic conventions which have been worn out with over-use in factory-like Bollywood, that by and large churns out meaningless spin-offs of stale romances and poor man's version of Hollywood make-believe. It's true that there have been many a fresh attempt of late, by the new-age makers, who've infused their own modern sensibilities and have even managed to make a significant difference through their creative outpourings, but the standard Bollywood studio products have shown their indifference by catering to the mass market. Market economics have dictated the perpetuation of staleness, the stifling of growth. But this time the story is different.....

Karan Johar's earlier home-production was "Dostana" which I had covered in one of my write-ups, and it did have some novelty, but again not quite..... it was much of the same.... only toying with the risque, and generating stereotypical fun. "Wake Up Sid" is indeed different, sorry for sounding cliched, it is a coming-of-age story that has tremendous appeal; it's vibrant, zany, frothy, bubbly, spirited and - to sum up simply - fun, sheer fun!

The very young director of the film, Ayan Mukherjee (seen in the last pic with the hero, Ranbir Kapoor) has shown great maturity in handling the subject. Ayan had earlier assisted director Ashutosh Gowariker in "Swades", and he had also assisted Karan Johar in "Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna". In some ways, with "Wake Up Sid", he has even gone ahead of Farhan Akhtar who had shot to fame with his own coming-of-age semi-classic "Dil Chahta Hai"!

The film's ensemble cast is like a dream come true, each member of the cast is just perfect in terms of characterization. Ranbir Kapoor plays the protagonist Siddharth Mehra (Sid), Kpnkona Sen Sharma plays Aisha Bannerjee, the unconventional heroine, Anupam Kher plays Sid's father, and Supriya Pathak plays his mom. Also in the cast are Rahul Khanna, Namit Das, Shikha Talsania & Kainaz Motivala.

The story of this movie is about Sidharth Mehra, a rich, lazy, unmotivated slacker from Mumbai whose life undergoes a series of changes after college. Sid is a happy-go-lucky guy; he lives a breezy, carefree life. He is yet to wake up to the realities and complications of life. The most important elements in his life are his friends, his camera, his car, and his X-box 360. Sid might be the proverbial lazybones, but he is a warm, lovable soul.
Aisha Bannerjee, on the other hand is an aspiring writer from Kolkata, her path crosses with Sid's on her first day in Mumbai. Ambitious, well-read, and driven, Aisha has come to the city to realize her dreams as a writer. Despite their contrasting personalities, Sid becomes Aisha's first friend in the city.

A series of circumstances and events compel Sid to take stock of his life and take a hard look at himself. A wake up call is sounded in his conscience as he is compelled to deal with the emergent situation in his life, and that simultaneously involves his work, his dreams and also his heart.

The music of the film is just brilliant, it is classy, natural, and very much in sync with the screenlay. The talented team of composers Shankar, Ehsaan & Loy and lyricist Javed Akhtar, and also the guest composer Amit Trivedi, deserve genuine applause.

A reprise of personal thanks to Karan Johar, whom I had always had high regard for (especially for his articulate, intelligent & affable persona) but whose larger-than-life romances had always baffled me (and sometimes even irked me), for daring to deviate, for daring to take a risk; believe me Karan, it has paid off! And here's looking at you, Ayan.... for your future endeavors... surprise us with films that we can relate to, and which can make us reassert our confidence in the 'fresh' filmmakers brigade. Here's wishing you all the BEST!
[pics: courtesy - Dharma Productions]