Mystic masseur

Hindus worldwide or at least those in a small office in Arizona have expressed outrage over the upcoming film The Waiting City, starring Indian-origin actress Radha Mitchell with Joel Edgerton and directed by Claire McCarthy.

Acclaimed Hindu statesman Rajan Zed expressed grave concern over the fact that the film is purportedly about an Australian couple who encounter Indian mysticism in Calcutta, and find themselves pulled in opposite directions thus posing a real threat to their marriage.

Zed, who is the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, pointed out that Hindu mysticism is beneficial to true seekers and should not be portrayed in a negative light. Such a portrayal, Zed said in a statement today, could deeply hurt the sentiments of the four Hindus who work in his Arizona office.

Zed also pointed with considerable concern to the fact that London based actor Samrat Chakrabarti will play the role of Krishna in the film. The acclaimed statesman pointed out that Krishna is much beloved of the billions of Hindus he wishes he spoke for, and warned that the avtaar of Vishnu should not be portrayed in negative light.

The acclaimed statesman has offered to work with the film-makers on the script to ensure that the portrayal of the Vaishnavite deity was fully in accordance with Hindu sentiments.

Actually, I’m a liar — Rajan Zed never wrote that. I did.

But that is likely because Zed was — as is his recent practice — in such a hurry to dash off his daily statement he never read up about the movie to spot the possibilities for his brand of controversy.

So this is the statement he did put out [I am not making a word of this one up, honest]:

Hollywood actress Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill), who was in India sometime back shooting for Australian film ”The Waiting City”, feels working in India was “like a fish out of water”.

When asked about working in India, she is quoted as saying: “…you feel kind of like a fish out of water and that’s what’s great about India. It’s such a shocking shift, that you are very much just in the moment.”

Mitchell, 35, is also producer of “The Waiting City” (Claire McCarthy), a drama about an Australian couple’s journey to Kolkata (India), which is premiering in Toronto Film Festival on September 17. It was shot in and outside Kolkata at Sealdah Station, Behala, Barrackpore, etc. Her futuristic “Surrogates” (Jonathan Mostow) with Bruce Willis opens on September 25. She is also acting in action film “The Crazies” (Breck Eisner), releasing on February 26 next. Her “Thick as Thieves” (Mimi Leder) with Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas, was completed few months back.

Because of her Hindu upbringing and her interest in yoga, acclaimed Hindu statesman Rajan Zed has asked Mitchell to explore the rich philosophical thought and spirituality which Hinduism offers. Zed, who is the president of Universal Society of Hinduism, offered to supply a set of Hindu scriptures to help her in comprehensive understanding of its philosophy. If Mitchell needed any assistance in her study of Hinduism, he or other Hindu scholars would be glad to share their knowledge, Rajan Zed added in a statement in Nevada (USA) today.

Born in Melbourne (Australia) as Radha Rani Amber Indigo Anunda Mitchell, she reportedly had a spiritually inclined upbringing in Hindu-Vaishnavite tradition by her parents, and is a vegetarian and practices yoga. Her Italian model mother reportedly became infatuated with India in the early 1970s. Mitchell reportedly dropped “Rani” out of her name on first day at school, when someone asked if her name was “macaroni”. In her name, “Radha” means “Lord Krishna’s beloved”, “Rani” means “queen” and “Anunda” means “bliss”.

Seems to me in recent times, Zed has volunteered to help Lindsay Lohan, Julia Roberts and now the actress otherwise known as ‘Lord Krishna’s beloved queen bliss’ by sharing his knowledge and spamming them with sets of Hindu scriptures. If he isn’t careful, he’s going to get into trouble for stalking — and then where would I go for my daily dose of laughter?

The business of franchises

Not long after Lalit Modi claimed a top five spot for the IPL in the global sports franchises list, Forbes in an extended piece hailed it as the world’s hottest growing sports franchise.

Apropos, a clip from my recent conversation with Harsha [the full interview, which was an hour long, will appear in Rediff Monday]:

It’s almost a given that the IPL will survive and even thrive so the question is, is this the cue we need to refashion our domestic cricket?

I think so. I think the best cricket, the best results, are produced by profitable enterprises. The best product eventually – unless you are in a capitalist culture where everyone comes and forms cartels to cheat the consumer – otherwise, the best deal comes from a profit driven enterprise. My original excitement with the IPL and the idea of franchise-driven sport was, eventually the state associations go away and you only have 15 franchises in India, and the franchises produce three teams each – a four day team, a one day team and a T20 team. Just as Yorkshire County Cricket Club is responsible for producing three teams. So similarly everything is done by the franchises, which are profit driven enterprises, and the BCCI is a governing council sitting up there framing the laws, picking the teams, having a selection committee, like a center, with federations. And that is what I’d love to see even today.

Utopian, but will we ever get there?

No, because the state associations that exist have been fattened on grants. Any system where you are fattened on grants, you will not want to pursue excellence – which is the bane of all sport in India, and the bane of federations in India. Hockey for instance doesn’t take off because hockey sits back and takes money from the government; archery sits back and gets money from the government, so they don’t have to become good. Associations don’t have to become good because they sit back and get money from the BCCI. Which is why I was very excited about the franchise structure, where all Indian cricket is franchise-driven.

Currently people say the problem with Ranji Trophy for instance is that no one watches Division 2, no one watches Tripura play for instance, which is fair comment. But if you have 15 private franchises, a Mallya for instance won’t want to come 15th, so he will go around picking the best players for his franchise and so will the others, and suddenly the league becomes competitive, people come to watch, and when the spectators come, it becomes profitable.

Right. Plus, give each franchise one stadium, and each of them will vie with the others to make their stadium the best, most state of the art, and for no cost to the BCCI…

Yes, and another aspect of this is, don’t the Bulls and the Lakers for instance do road shows? They want to popularize their players – and that is what the franchises here will do in this system, because when selling jerseys becomes an important part of your financial model you want your four day players to be popular too. The BCCI will no longer have to market the sport — the franchises will do that for you. The BCCI can do what it does best – sell television rights and pick teams, in that order.

Reading matter

If Americans were polled on a single question — “Name the primary grievance behind the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001” — how many would get it right, wonders Girish Sahane on his blog. [Charlie Sheen has his own answer]. Two other 9/11 stories I read this morning: one woman asks if she even wants to know the truth any more, while another [older story that I found through the related links segment] struggles with the guilt that 9/11 changed her life for the better.

Here’s 9/11, as seen at the time from outer space. Elsewhere premiere sand artist Sudharshan Pattnaik pays tribute in the form he knows best. [Unrelated but fun, check out the underwater sculptures of Jaison de Caires Taylor]

Also read, John McWhirter on moving on to a different world.

Elsewhere, Sepia Mutiny on Lisa Ray, the actress currently battling a rare form of cancer. Lisa’s blog here.

Earlier this week on Prospect, there was this story of the coming glut of drugs to mess with improve the mind. Now here’s Wired, with the secrets of eternal smarts.

While we mark the 40th anniversary of the Internet [timeline; a graphic representation of growth], spare a thought for Winston the carrier pigeon.

This week, a South African call-center business, frustrated by persistently slow Internet speeds, decided to use a carrier pigeon named Winston to transfer 4 gigabytes of data between two of its offices, just 50 miles apart. At the same time, a computer geek pushed a button on his computer to send data the old-fashioned way, through the Internet.

Winston the pigeon won. It wasn’t even close.

From LiveScience, the success secret of top tennis players: good eyes. More secrets: the trick to winning big tournaments is to dress smart, and make a noise. Still with tennis: fans, give this a go.

Great read: NYT reporter Stephen Farrell was kidnapped by the Taliban last Saturday — and blogs the experience. In the New Yorker, George Packer on Sultan Munadi, the local journo who died in that same kidnap, and on the relationship between foreign journalists and local fixers.

15 people died in a boating accident in Bulgaria. Madonna caused it. [Hat Tip: Amit Varma on Twitter]

From Cricinfo: the art, craft, and magic of two legendary spin bowlers. Clip:

Thus the myth enters the imagination. So the bowler pays up, and pays up again and again till the batsman coughs it up and hands it over sheepishly. The phrase “buying a wicket” was now de rigueur all of a sudden. It also proceeded to cause endless headaches every time Bedi was bowling. Following the progress of the match became a temporal jigsaw puzzle that had no solution. Every ball was a head-scratcher in itself: furious thinking would ensue as one tried to place it in a pattern initiated overs ago. Or was a new sequence of trickery starting with it? Now, was that a set-up ball, to be cashed in by the Sardar a few overs later, or just a bad one? Or was it just an innocent bridge piece in the composition before the cymbal crash came, causing the batsman to walk back? Wicket balls were the easy ones, and a relief, too, for they reset the puzzle. Yes, those times were magical. The period when the strategy has sunk in but the tactics are shrouded in mystery.

This merits a separate blog post of its own, but in the midst of much, so: Read this and weep — The Allahabad High Court sees fit to not merely set aside the death sentence against Moninder Singh Pandher in the 2006 Nithari killings, but to acquit him altogether. Surinder Koli, the domestic servant who was Pandher’s partner in crime, however gets it in the neck. Figures, no? [Hat tip Sridhar Parthasarathy in email]

Great read: ‘I will not read your fucking script’ — featuring History of Violence writer Josh Olson [Link courtesy Raja Sen]

Back in the day, Manu Joseph had done an impressionistic piece on Anand Jon [linked to in this post] for ToI. He now reprises it, against the frame of Chennai’s college sexuality, for Open magazine.

And the final link for the week: roflmao. Reminds me of the time I told the partner [mine, not Amit’s] that if a person can rattle off at the rate of knots without saying anything in particular, people will take him for an expert on art. Show me, goes the partner. So we wandered into this gallery, and walked around, and I stood in front of a particularly pointless daub and began throwing words together as they came to me: “That red dot in the middle of the large swathe of yellow? It particularly speaks to me — brilliant artistic riff on the human nature. We are all like that — we live our lives in a state of perennial cowardice but somewhere, deep inside, the small spark of anger, of rebellion and revolt, burns deep….” You know — that kind of thing, non-stop. And then I get this nudge and I look around, and I find an audience, half a dozen people nodding on with my every word. Hmph!

Weight and watch

The future of ODIs — a recent preoccupation among commentators — is the theme of Harsha Bhogle’s latest column as well. Only, unlike the bulk of the commentators who have oscillated between writing obituaries and suggesting organ transplants to revive the game, Harsha suggests that maybe the end of the Champions’ Trophy — a tournament that gives one days some weight, some context lacking in either the England-Australia series or the triangular in Sri Lanka playing out now — would be the best time to take the format’s temperature and check other vital signs.

I’d rather wait and see what the Champions’ Trophy, another much maligned format that is going through a makeover, throws up. With just eight teams, well, seven and a nationwide poll to find people who can bat and bowl making up the eighth, it offers much by way of competition. Sambit Bal, the editor of Cricinfo is right. You need to look at things in a certain context and the Champions’ Trophy in this format provides that context. It separates it from the otherwise wild mushrooming of one-day internationals.

Shorn of their context, one-day games are a weaker offering. Put in the right ambience, they could be thrilling. It is a bit like the great violinist being ignored when he plays outside a subway station but being flattered with expensive tickets and applause when he plays in a theatre. Before writing an obituary we need to give the patient a good shot at survival.

Tangential aside for those that may have missed it — the violinist in the subway is a reference to a thought experiment carried out by Gene Wiengarten of the Washington Post two years ago [interestingly, that experiment too was about context providing meaning and a frame].

Weingarten got Grammy-winning classical violinist Joshua Bell to play his equally famous Gibson ex Huberman, a violin made in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari while he was at his peak, in a subway — the object of the exercise being to see if a performance that would have drawn a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall would attract commuters rushing about their daily business. Here’s the story. And the clip:

Context, a frame, is clearly important — but good music can still stop you in your tracks, no matter where you hear it. I remember once, in the heck of a hurry to meet someone, dashing down into the 32nd Street subway and being arrested by the sounds of fabulous drumming.

I stopped to watch, and listen. Anyone would. A train came, but by then I was intrigued by the nagging feeling that there was something familiar about the guy I was watching. At some point during a lull, I asked his name, but the penny obstinately refused to drop until I was finally on the train and heading for my appointment: Larry Wright was none other than the grown up version of the little kid who, in the opening sequence of the Peter Weir-helmed Gerard Depardieu-Andy McDowell starrer Green Card, is seen playing the drums on a NY city street. Clips of the man in action:

And here’s an interview with the man:

Enjoy Friday.

Hit or miss

The most used computer in recent times, according to Anand Vasu reporting out of Colombo, is the one between MS Dhoni’s ears, and it seems to be telling him that triangulars like the one in Sri Lanka where India opens today, where each team gets only one crack at every other team, is tougher than a bilateral series. His rationale:

“In a bilateral series, as the series proceeds, you get to know more things about a particular player or how he is performing at that time. Subconsciously you plan for his strengths and weaknesses,” explained Dhoni.

“In a three-team competition, specially one like this where you play each team just once, you have to be fully prepared right from the word go.

“You don’t get time to adjust. Batsmen and bowlers have become smarter. You can come up with a plan for a player but on the day he may change the way he plays and still succeed. Countering that is really tough. If Plan A is not working you have to be ready with Plan B.”

On balance, you suspect India might have preferred to play the stronger Sri Lankan team first. You get to test your sea legs against the toughest competition in the tournament, and even if you lose you still have a game against a relatively weaker side to nail your finals spot. This way, India needs to hit the ground running, because a loss today to the Kiwis puts it in do or die mode against the hosts.

Harsha had some thoughts on the lineup, that he shared during our recent chat:

Let’s look at it this way: who is going to open the batting for you? Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar? Gambhir can play in two forms, but he is coming off a bad patch just now [NB: We were chatting last Saturday, before Gambhir ruled himself out with a suspect groin]. Tendulkar is no longer the guy who can hit over the top first ball. And then there is Dravid at three. Who is going to give you a move on?

I honestly am not sure if Rahul should bat at three or five – he has played some of his best one day cricket at five, in 2003-04-05 when he was our best one day player, he was finishing matches with Yuvraj and company, and he took that form into the T20s as well recently where again he batted five.

I would not mind seeing Raina at three because you want to see if Raina has it in him to play at three on all surfaces. You can’t have a situation where our blue eyed boys are very good at batting up the order on flat tracks and have no qualms about going down the order when the going gets tough, and saying Rahul bhai ko aane do na upar. So send Raina at three, Yuvraj at four, Rahul five, Dhoni six. And where does that leave Dinesh Karthik? Every time you pick him he scores, so what do you do with him?

Should be fun — mild fun — to see how they line up, and how they do in the season opener. It’s Friday, I have newspaper production, so watching will be off and on. As will blogging.