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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Scorched! Scarred!

Who'd have expected vultures to hover over Park Street?

After all, Park Street has always been the happily-bustling passageway, where business mixes with pleasure, the upscale meets the lowbrow, and where the overall spirit is that of a joyous celebration of life.

But last Tuesday (23rd March, 2010, a day that Kolkatans can never forget!) Stephen Court - the much recognized, much loved, much filmed, much chronicled, historic building on Park Street - was on fire, and a whole week of gloom has kept me and many other Kolkatan stupefied by the tragedy.
The loss has been immense.
Worse has been the post-blaze state of affairs.

As several charred bodies remained trapped under the immense pile of debris,
and the air had the overwhelming stench of burnt organic and inorganic matter,
and carcasses, the site brought nothing but tears to the eyes of all the passersby who might have traversed along the stretches of Park Street a million times on happy occasions; earlier they might have dined, shopped, made merry, or might have been the regular visitors to the cursed building itself, on work purposes, or otherwise.

It was a case of ravaging agony since that fiery summer afternoon, that blasted Tuesday when the fifth and the sixth floors had become a veritable inferno, engulfing people within, trapped men and women jumped to death, some never made their way out, some were soon charred to ashes, a few others may have even struggled with burnt skin and bloodied limbs, wishing death to come soon, while the roof that had caved in, had beams and mesh of wires and concrete sealing the exit for some of the victims, many struggled hard to go the terrace but, alas, the way to it was sealed, and they got scalded alive on the stairway itself, it was hellish!

Stephen Court (named after Arathoon Stephen, mentioned as the lease-holder for the property at 18A Park Street in the city's civic records dating back to World War I) housed residential as well as commercial establishments, and, in spite of a threat of electrical short-circuits and overloading, had been a mute witness to the much practiced flouting of the fire-safety norms.
Like many of the old, and heritage buildings of the city, it was almost a tinderbox awaiting a tragedy to happen anytime. Though the building has been embroiled in ownership tangles, it has never had a registered flat-owners' association to protect the civic rights of the residents. Originally, the building had just three floors, but the fourth floor was added in the 1930s, and in 1984 two more storeys had been added.
The labyrinthine interiors, the offices with plywood partitions and false ceilings, the indiscriminate use of air-conditioners and several other potential-risk factors made it an impossibility for many to come out alive of the burning building.
As per the latest information released, the death toll has been recorded as 43 (decomposed bodies continued to be unearthed till yesterday), many of them may had died of suffocation before the flames reached them.
The blaze in the top floors of the eight-storey commercial and apartment block could not be controlled even after four hours.
For some of the kith & kin of the those who died in the tragedy, the wit for the bodily remains has been yet another unbelievable nightmare. A few of the bodily remains have dual claimants, and only DNA and bone-marrow hold the promise of a solution to the conflict.
The fire in Stephen Court not only snatched away lives, but also jobs of employees working in offices situated on the two top fire-ravaged floors. For some employees getting another job may be a difficult affair as they have suffered serious injuries while jumping off the building to avoid certain death.
As far as the role of the administration is concerned, it has once again revealed nothing but apathy and nonchalance. Serious criticisms have been levelled against the department fire services, against the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, and even the police.
The saddest part in the aftermath of the tragedy has been the exposing of the officials' penchant for passing-the-buck. No one wants to be accountable, shifting of responsibility on others' shoulders seems to be the skill that some men have been specialising in, over the years. It is a known fact that the firefighters were ill-equipped, and ill-prepared for a large scale fire-fighting operation as this one, and had the sky-lift reached in time, several precious lives could have been saved.
But all that has been promised to the anguished people of the city is a committee, one that threatens to conduct just a farcical probe, to look into the lapses if any, along with suggesting of amendments in the existing rules and laws and fire services.
The carrion-feeding vultures are leaving now, and business promises to return like a phoenix from the ashes, but let's pray that the vulture-like corrupt and power-hungry politicians who love to engage themselves in word-games narrowing in on vote-banks be banished from Kolkata's environs,
just as we pray for peace for the lost souls,
may we never forget the lives lost,
we are ashamed,
we are truly tormented.
We have been scarred.

[Pic courtesy: The Hindu; Google Images]

Monday, March 22, 2010

an LSD-esque grandeur

New age cinema, world cinema, experimental cinema, parallel cinema, offbeat cinema - call it what you may, but we haven't had it this good since last year's "Dev. D".
With as provocative a title as "Love, Sex Aur Dhokha", a movie-goer can well expect to be shocked. It is clearly an 'adults only' film, most would reason from the posters or the promotional stills, but what one would not easily understand is the fact that it is anything but a sleaze-fest!
It is a film that screams out loud to be included in the contemporary classics hall-of-fame. It is absolutely magical as a journey; a journey through the modern, easy to grab, free for all, technology aided back-alleys of voyeurism that makes its presence felt in our daily lives through umpteen scandalous 'breaking news' headlines that are assimilated by the entire household along with our daily dose of tea/coffee, desensitizing coverages of murder and mayhem, and the television-serials. Yet, we take nothing from them. We do not learn the much-needed lessons in sanity and sensitivity, we are the de-classed voyeurs who do not give a damn about our fellow human-being's privacy. "LSD", as a film doesn't get us high on the titillation, instead its success lies in its hitting base with the powerful reality check, without any attempt at sermonizing or moralizing.

There are three stories, incidental for the all-important concept that holds the key to the experimental narrative structure, and three couples therein who are intricately connected to one another. Without giving away much of the clever intermingling of the narratives, it can be said that each of the stories has at its centre a realistic conflict and/or turmoil involving secret recording through hidden camera. The hidden cameras are thus the dynamic protagonists, alive in their own way, revelatory and sensational. The edge film stars no known (or lesser known) actors and is entirely filmed with the digital camera. The quirky, unconventional camera angles, the jerky movements and the documentation-style 'footage' can be unnerving and unsettling for the first five-ten minutes - especially for the normal cine-goer. But the flow of events has an easy grip on our attention thereafter, and the tantalizing tales readily blend with the style or manner of storytelling.
The cast includes Arya Banerjee, Neha Chauhan, Anshuman Jha, Atul Mongia, Amit Sial, Herry Tangdi, Raj Kumar Yadav, and Shruti. The cinematography is by Nikos Andritsakis. Namrata Rao is the film-editor, Mustafa Stationwala is the production designer, and Atul Mongia the casting-director - all of whom deserve a praise. The original music of the film has been composed by Sneha Khanwalkar and Dibakar Banerjee.

Dibakar Banerjee, the creator of the movie "LSD" is a film-director par excellence.
He is the one who has been thumb-nosing at the diktats of Bollywood,
and has been conquering new vistas by daring to go beyond the "what-works-and-what-doesn't" stereotypes.
He has been the real game changer in the world of new-age Indian cinema, with his first two features, "Khosla Ka Ghosla" (it was not only a sleeper hit, but was also a true contemporary classic) and "Oye Lucky Lucky Oye", having been toasted for sheer sheer energy and raw exuberance. With "LSD", he has extended his horizons. I am thrilled beyond delight to have my faith in this new-age film-maker being vindicated. He knows his Delhi (especially the city's underbelly), he knows his craft, he knows how capable he is in executing what he believes in (the confidence makes him unapologetic in his use of cinematic idiom borrowed from world cinema, but very much moulded in his own way!) and my good wishes to him for breaking more barriers and giving us substantial films which enthrall, and thus entertain.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


Twitter has been voted last year as the most popular word by Global Language Monitor.
It actually means, as a verb, to utter a succession of tremulous sounds or to talk rapidly of trivial matters. But, of late, it refers to the popular social networking site (http://twitter.com) used by millions worldwide.

In the course of a year, registered Twitter accounts have reportedly grown more than 1,500 per cent and the Twitter team of professionals has grown 500 per cent. In today's times, it is no mean feat!

Apart from the regular, full-time employees working at the Twitter offices, there are thousands of dedicated platform developers who have now created more than 70,000 registered Twitter applications creating variety and utility for all.
I salute the dedicated professionals who have been responsible for the incredible success of the website. My blogpost also is in celebration of the gathering of such individuals this spring at 'Chirp', the first ever official Twitter developer conference.

When I had joined Twitter, I remember doing so out of sheer curiosity. Already it was having a roaring fanbase. I was intrigued by the fact that the highest celebrity status was enjoyed in Twitterdom by Ashton Kutcher, thanks to his outpourings followed by a mindbogglingly wide range of people from all over!

What I like about Twitter:
It is free, like most of the social networking sites that enjoy immense popularity online.
It offers microblogging services, enabling its users to send and read messages known as tweets. For the uninitiated: tweets are the text-based posts (of up to 140 characters); the tweets are displayed on the author's profile page and are delivered to the author's subscribers who are known as followers. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends or, by default, allow open access.

Some Interesting Facts About Twitter:

*The 7 billion tweets to date are composed of 104,860,000,000 words!

*This time last year, i.e. in February 2009, adults aged 35-49 years had the largest representation on Twitter – almost 3 million unique visitors from this age group, which is 42 per cent of the entire contributors of Tweets!

*5% of all Twitter accounts create 75% of all tweets; now that is weird, but interesting!

*The cool, new features of note that make Twitter even more attractive are the inclusion of list creation, easy & faster spread information with a retweet button, and an easier way to activate one's mobile phone to work with Twitter over SMS.

*We are also lucky to be offered a new mobile website that looks and works much better on smart phones.

Happy tweet-ing, folks!

Follow me HERE: http://twitter.com/sakagaze