Category Archives: Non-Film

THE 30 THINGS I LEARNT TILL 30 #LIFE #LEARNING #LISTICLE

So some of you know that I have this secret annual tradition called the ‘annual mail’, which is my way of saying both ‘Thank You’ to everyone I love, like or admire; and a way of sharing some lessons I picked up in the year gone by. I’ve been writing it every year for the last seven years (new edition coming soon!) but I’ve never made it public, because it isn’t meant to be.

Continue reading THE 30 THINGS I LEARNT TILL 30 #LIFE #LEARNING #LISTICLE

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THE TRUMP CLUSTERFUCK: OUR BUBBLE HAS BURST. BUT THERE MAY BE HOPE.

How did we fail to see this coming? How did we allow this to happen? More importantly: can we fix this or is it too late? Can we really un-Drumpf the world? YES WE CAN!

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor The Quint. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/1PL2Mr Continue reading THE TRUMP CLUSTERFUCK: OUR BUBBLE HAS BURST. BUT THERE MAY BE HOPE.

My TEDx Talk: Don’t Be An Asshole #TEDxSRCC #Kindness #LONGRead

So here’s the background: I was invited to give a TEDx Talk at TEDxSRCC in October at Delhi. It was one of the coolest things  that ever happened to me so I wanted to speak on a topic that… matters. Conventional wisdom meant speaking on ‘the road not taken’, ‘following your passion’, or ‘stay hungry and stay foolish’, but I thought of it this way: If this was the only time I ever got a chance to speak on any platform as prestigious as the TEDx stage, what thought, theory, or idea, would I want to leave people with? Given the fact that the theme of TEDxSRCC was ‘Food for Thought’, I decided to speak upon a topic that I believe is more basic, more human and more important than success, hard work, passion or anything else: KINDNESS. For the distinct purposes of sounding cool, I named the talk ‘Don’t be an A**hole’. The talk is online now, but I’ve put out the full text below too:

THE VIDEO

Watch below:

 

THE FULL TEXT
(Including some points I missed in the video)

Please note two things: 
1. It was an 18 minute talk so this is a LOOOOOOOONG Read. Like WTFHOWLONGISTHIS read.
2. This is not an article, it was a talk, so some of the humour written was specifically meant to be funny to the audience watching me speak and it may come across as lame. It probably came across as lame to them as well, but hey, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
So there we go:

DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE!

I want to start by clarifying one thing – for those who saw the description these guys had put about me on the Tedx page, there was this thing where it said that I’m a blogger for MTV Roadies. I promise you – that is not true anymore. I promise. If it was, the title of my speech today? It would make NO SENSE. This would then be a talk at TedxIRONY.

Having said that, I want to tell you guys a story. A few years ago, I travelled to Egypt on work. On the last night there, I went to a souvenir shop to buy a bunch of stuff for my family. The shop-owner of that place was a guy called Ahmed and Ahmed, for some reason, really LIKED the fact that I was buying stuff for my family. So much so that he offered to take me to his nightclub and show me belly dancing. Not HIS belly. And then just before I left he said – DON’T TRUST ANYONE IN EGYPT.

That should have been strike one right? But here’s the thing. I was incredibly boring back then. The wildest thing I had ever done was spike my hair – and that was because my mother has requested me to start being cool. So I called up Ahmed and told him that I’m ready to be wild. And then I left a note in my room saying ‘I’m going out with an unknown man named Ahmed. His shop is this his number is this, if I don’t come back please tell my mom I loved her.’

Ahmed
Ahmed

Strike two was Ahmed’s shady car. Strike three was him getting lost and not being able to find his own nightclub. I mean by this point I had basically realized that I was going to die tonight and that could be the BEST case scenario of what would happen to me. But when we eventually did reach the nightclub, I didn’t escape. That could probably be because I had nowhere to go to – but it was also because I really wanted to see how this would play out. WHAT DID AHMED WANT! I stayed as Ahmed got drunk, got loud, got emotional. And on the way back he almost started crying about how poor he was and how he was working hard to get his family money. That’s when I realized – he wanted money for me. This was going to be awkward. So I paid no attention to him and started figuring what’s the right amount to give him. I waited for him to ask the whole way back. He didn’t. We reached. As I awkwardly tried opening my wallet when he dropped me SAFE and SOUND – he said, thank you so much, I just thought you looked like a kind person and I hope we have more guys like you. Please stay friends.

I couldn’t sleep that night – I was not kind that day. He was the kind one. I was, in fact, an asshole. Someone who had been so ingrained to not trusting ANYONE being kind that I just naturally assumed anyone showing empathy was a liar. One of the great American writers, George Saunders, recently gave a keynote address where he spoke of how the only thing he regrets are “failures of kindness”. I failed to be kind that day too, and I tell this story today because while I talk about assholes, what I really want to tell you guys about is kindness.

THE THEORY OF KINDNESS
But before that – I want to tell you guys some statistics. That’s because I’ve seen a lot of TED Talks to prepare for this – yesterday night, basically, because after all, I’m still an engineer at heart – and I realized that the best TED talks have some amazing statistic that makes the audience go WOAH. So I’ll be kind and give you TWO:

There is something called the World Giving Index, that measures 130 countries on how kind they are. It’s basically about how kind we are. India ranks 93. Behind – I kid you not – IRAQ, PAKISTAN, BANGLADESH, AFGHANISTAN. I mean – these countries have NOTHING to give, how are they still giving more than us!?

The second statistic is my favourite: It has been scientifically proved that if you are kind – if you are not an asshole – the chance of you getting rich, famous and getting laid are basically a 100%. Yes, of course, I’m the one who proved that through my life.  Well, not the getting laid part. And not the.. rich part.. and well, not the famous part either..  but that’s not the point.

Okay, so let’s not call what I just said a scientific fact but a theory – but this is a theory that I truly believe in with all my heart and soul and I’m going to spend the next.. 12 minutes.. in trying to convince you on why it works and why you should believe in it too. The theory is simple: The universe works in your favour if you are kind.

I genuinely, wholeheartedly believe that if you are kind to people

Naveen Kasturia's nice hair
Naveen Kasturia’s nice hair

you know, to people you don’t know, to yourself, to the environment, to your body – okay I shouldn’t be talking about that – but if you are kind in general, you are going to be happy and successful. When I say kindness, I don’t mean a vague concept of politeness… or being ‘nice’. Gulab Jamun is ‘nice’. This  spotlight is ‘nice’. Naveen Kasturia’s hair is ‘nice’. But I’m talking about ‘kind’, not ‘nice’. Kindness is about caring. It’s about compassion. It’s about empathy. It’s about giving a shit.

GEN D (DOESN’T GIVE A SHIT)
I mean I really don’t understand how it became cool to NOT GIVE A SHIT? I mean, I’m appalled – yes that’s how strongly I feel about it to use a word like appalled – I’m appalled that I come across so many people who ‘don’t give a shit’? You must have met them too. ‘Hey there was an earthquake the other day’. ‘I don’t give a shit bro’. ‘Hey people are dying of hunger and poverty’ ‘Talk to the hand’ ‘Hey you are an ASSHOLE’ ‘LOLZ WHAT A FUNNY WHATSAPP FORWARD HAHA’.

So when did this become cool? To not care? When did it become cool to wear earphones on purpose so no one would try and talk to us? When did it become alright fake texting people when going in elevators instead of smiling and saying hello? When did it become ok to be so self-involved and self-obsessed that we can’t even comprehend the pain and suffering around us, much less share it or be of help?

AGB
Alexander Graham Bell Not Giving a Shit

Let me put this in perspective. Let’s go back in time and imagine if Thomas Edison didn’t give a shit? ‘Kya yaar, who’s going to put in all this effort in making a light bulb… waise bhi I’m scared of the dark.’ Or if Alexander Graham Bell didn’t give a shit? ‘Ugh connecting people? Ugh why would anyone ever want to do that? People are stupid and I don’t give a shit.’ What if – and here’s an idea that will horrify you – what if Mark Zuckerberg didn’t give a shit? What would we LIKE then huh? How would we ever show our support to poor hungry children in Africa by liking their pictures and sharing their memes? But in all seriousness – if the guy who invented fire and the girl who invented the wheel was just like this generation and didn’t give a shit, we wouldn’t HAVE this generation. We’d still be half apes – which, when you think of it, may just be better than who we are today.

WE ARE ASSHOLES!
Because let’s be honest, we are assholes. We are people who quickly close an elevator quickly even when we see another person just about to enter it. We are people who walk in the middle of the road showing their hands to stop cars like we’re Ironman or something – that if YOU hit me it’s on YOU. And when we drive, oh man… we would honk and honk and honk in a traffic jam as if the guy in the car ahead is PURPOSELY not moving the car.. and when it’s our turn, we never EVER let another car overtake us because… tu jaanta hai mera baap kaun hai? We litter in public when no one is watching – and sometimes when everyone is – we pee on the road, we spit on the road, we park our vehicles wherever the hell we want, we are the people who will KILL one another to get into a Metro train!! I mean what kind of a species jumps queues – queues make us HUMAN!

Sparta
This. Is. SPARTAAA!

These are just a few quick examples – but raise your hand if you have been one of these people. Hey, it’s okay, for the longest time, I was an asshole too, you should check out my twitter feed from 3 years ago. And to be honest, on certain days every month when I’m stuck on Western Express Highway between Kandivali and Andheri in traffic, I still am! Because it’s really hard to be kind – but just like all things hard, kindness is WORTH IT.

Because that’s the thing about kindness – kindness not only makes others happy, it makes YOU feel happy. And since happiness is really what we are all trying for, why would anyone be anything but kind? I believe *everything* and I really mean it when I say that – *everything* that makes the world a better place – or at least OUR world a better place – can be tied back to kindness.

EVERYTHING IS KINDNESS
Think about it: Why do we love our parents so much? Really THINK about it. It’s not just biology or their money that we love them for – well, at least most of us – it’s because they are kind to us. Their hearts beat for us. And we love that!! We love them because they CARE. Take the example of your BFF – why do you love him or her so much? Because when everything and everyone sucks, they say something kind and cheer us up! ‘Don’t worry it’s okay’ – that’s all you want to hear. A kind word. What do we love the love of our lives? Our better halves? Because they know EVERYTHING about us and YET they are kind to us!! So think about it – it’s actually kindness that we seek in everyone and it’s kindness that we really thrive on.

Think of the person who instantly puts a smile on your face – the most warm person in your life. Are they kind? Of course they are! Why would you smile thinking about someone who kills ants for pleasure? Even thinking of someone kind can put a smile on your face. I’ll give you a Bollywood example. Who is the most successful director in Bollywood today? Raju Hirani, who’s collectively made over 1000 crores from his movies. You know why his movies are so successful? Because they are about kindness! Jadoo ki jhappi is about kindness, gandhigiri is about kindness, ‘All is well’ is indirectly about kindness. This reminds me – I just saw Shandaar and they have this dialogue, ‘Everyone is sindhi’ – and I feel like I’m saying something similar in ‘Everyone is kind’. But hey, my message is better, right?

Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama being kind like a BOSS

Because think again – religion! What do all our individual gods and religions really preach – at the core… at their deepest core… at their core core… Everyone really talks about kindness. Dalai Lama has said that kindness is his religion. Imagine a world like that – if kindness was the only religion and where *everyone* would be kind? There would be no left wing vs right wing – because we’d be kind enough to let everyone have their own opinion. They would be no straight vs homosexual – because we’d be kind enough to let everyone make their own decisions. Heck, there would be no BANS – because we’d be kind enough to let everyone live their own lives.

I truly believe that we can alter the course of the world, of someone’s life or even our own, if we are kind. Because Kindness begets kindness! I believe in the spiritual aspect of kindness. I believe in energy – I believe that if you are kind, and you spread that kindness, good things will happen to you. And I will tell you another story to prove that.

ONE MORE STORY & THE HELPER’S HIGH
I was in Turkey. Yes, somehow, all my stories today have international destinations in them…travelling is nice (not kind). So I had gone to turkey – well I was stuck in turkey on a layover. It was the start of a Eurotrip me and my brother took. We decided to kill time so we booked a cab to the nearest tourist spot. My father told me that he’s heard that Turkey cab drivers are scamsters so when it was time to pay the driver, I was very careful in calculating the exchange rate since I had to pay him in dollars. Turns out that this guy actually was charging less, so I decided to be kind and gave him more instead. He was a nice guy! On a completely different yet connected note, just before we had got into the car, I had told my younger brother that it was I who would keep both our passports because a) He was younger so pffft, obviously he was irresponsible, and b) I had bought a cool pouch for passports and I wanted to keep the passports in it with me.

Mr. Ali
Mr. Ali from Turkey… or Omar Sharif?

So you know where this story is going right? Yup, I forgot my ‘cool pouch’ in the cab after getting off, along with my iPhone, my iPad, and miStuff. It’s a really long and funny story but in the interest of time I’m going to get straight to the end. After two hours involving Turkish police, a VERY angry sibling and more, I got a call from the place where the cab driver had dropped me off. The driver was back with my pouch and wanted me to come there to collect it. I profusely thanked him and asked him why he returned – he said because I was kind. Maybe older Arab gentlemen and I have some strange cosmic connection or perhaps the truth is – kindness is awesome.

Kindness is so infectious and that’s been scientifically proved. Not by me this time but by actual research, that says that there’s a phenomenon called Helper’s High, where every time you help someone or are kind, feel-good chemicals or endorphins are released in your body. Look it up –I have researched this before coming because, as I mentioned before, this is Tedx, so I wouldn’t come unprepared, right? So it turns out that recipients of kindness always pay it forward. It could be something as simple as – you know my mother travels alone sometimes and like all mothers has these HUGE suitcases and bags that she carries with her because she’s Indian. And it’s a fact that tells me that all is not lost in the world that each time she’s travelling there’s always someone who is kind to her and picks her bag. And because it happens to her, I ensure I do the same each time I travel and see someone older. In fact, I actively look for older people to help!!

Kindness can be cultivated like this. If people are kind other people see them and want to be kind too. I’ve been teaching college students for five years now, and every year, at the end of my semester I have this one class where I ask my students to be honest. I tell them to let their guards down and just talk about something that you really truly care about. That you feel for. That’s my favourite class of every year. These 20 year old kids have said some of the nicest, most beautiful, bravest things in those classes – from why praying is important to why homosexuality is not a sin. The reason I do this class is because in today’s age, we know everyone through their Facebook pages more than ever trying to get to know them. And this class is about showing people that there’s so much more to us than our names. If you *know* people you are going to be kind. It’s an exercise in compassion. You know how many people have come back to me and said – the other student used this private information against me? NONE. You know how many people have come back to me and said kindness is awesome? TONNE(S). ..Hey, that rhymed!

THE CULTURE OF DISCONNECTED TROLLS
I mean that’s really the thing that’s turning us into assholes isn’t it? The fact that because of the internet and technology and all these buttons we can hide behind, we don’t ever get to really know people – or think of them as real human beings with feelings. It’s amazing how the more the world gets connected, the more disconnected we get with each other. I mean if it was only indifference that would be one thing, but it disturbs me how we have moved towards being a culture of mean-spirited bullies.

Social media, instant messaging where the meanest comment gets liked, the loudest troll gets retweeted and the biggest asshole has the most fans, has turned us into assholes too. On the internet, we only see words, and not people. People who haven’t ever had the courage to step out and do things on their own are today sitting behind a computer screen and laughing at people who do, however good or bad they might be is besides the point. ‘Hey you SUCK’. ‘You can’t sing’. ‘You can’t act’. ‘You are ugly’. Who are we to judge someone’s talent? Who are we to judge? Social media gives us the power to be judge and jury but strangely, we don’t need facts to give any sort of verdict.

drunk cop
Drunk cop in Delhi Metro who I know *nothing* about

Take the very recent example of the picture of the drunk police officer in a Delhi metro that was being shared on Facebook with everyone calling him all sorts of names. I’m not saying here that he was a good person or that a police officer in duty clothes should be let go scot free. But my question is – how many of us knew ANYTHING more than the fact that this was a drunk officer in a metro? What if he had lost someone that evening and he was getting drunk to grieve? I’m giving an extreme scenario because the fact is, if we don’t know this to be true, how could we assume the other to be true – that he was, in fact, a drunk, alcoholic, asshole cop? There are so many times that we don’t know anything, then why are we unkind? Who are we to say someone’s way of living life or someone’s right to an opinion or someone’s way of expressing themselves is any better or any worse than someone else? We are now a culture that is quick to pull others down because they don’t meet *our* expectations of how *they* should lead their lives.

THE SCARY THING ABOUT BEING AN ASSHOLE
The problem gets more grave and has a socio economic angle too. Yes, I went there. I now have the distinction of using the word ‘Roadies’ and the phrase ‘socio economic angle’ in the same talk. When we are not kind to people we become apathetic towards them and as a consequence, we are disrespectful or impolite or rude and sometimes contemptuous too. And this first comes out especially to those who are considered ‘weaker’ be us because of caste, creed, colour or class. Think about it – we would never go into an Armani store or a Zara story and haggle for discounts right, even when we are buying thousands of rupees worth of stuff? But we are ready to insult the poor hawker on the road for Rs 5 less on vegetables worth Rs 50 or the rickshawwala who doesn’t have change? We get SO UNKIND when the auto rickshaw driver doesn’t have change but we are ready to pay Rs 500 as service charges on food worth Rs 600 in expensive restaurants. We are unkind to beggars, to eunuchs, to anybody providing service to us like a watchman or a driver or a sales clerk, because they are considered ‘weaker’. Heck, we don’t even know their names! No one likes to be called ‘waiter’ or ‘driver’ or ‘watchman’ but that’s exactly how we address them! Do we genuinely believe that our lives are so tough so we don’t have time to be kind?

A model from Zara because there are too many pics of old dudes in this post.
A model from Zara because there are too many pics of old dudes in this post.

What a shitty excuse that is! How much time could it possibly take to be kind!? To say ‘thank you’ to someone or even smile back? If we think our lives are hard IMAGINE how hard the lives of people lesser privileged than us must be. And you know what the socio economic consequence of this is? When auto rickshaw drivers refuse to ply to us. The carpenter you called to your house takes more time than necessary to get things done. The house help steals something every now and then. It’s not on them – WE are to blame. The larger picture is that some of the horrible crimes that happen in our country – and especially in cities like this where the class divide is very obvious – those crimes are violent crimes. They are crimes that stem from anger. Because WE have created a circumstance where a lesser privileged person feels humiliated and ashamed that they are lesser privileged because WE are unkind and we selectively choose to be nice to people who come from money.

I mean, what a shame. We’d rather be assholes and see the world around us descend into chaos than just be kind. And I have also noticed how it’s become unfashionable to be kind. Kind people are boring – unexciting. ‘Oh he’s ‘nice’. What an idiot!’ We are scared to be kind because it’s looked down upon!!! If anything, it takes courage to be kind in today’s uncynical world. It takes bravery and a certain kind of heart to GIVE a shit when no one else around you really seems to care. It takes a certain kind of good crazy to NOT ‘move on’.  And it’s not uncool at all – because kind people are always more successful than unkind ones. Because people WANT to be around people who make them feel good about themselves. People are generous to those who have shown them generosity.

KINDNESS IS AWESOME
Take it from me: I’ve been standing here in front of you for the past 17 minutes and doling out LONG gyaan, because I’m probably considered successful by the organizers of this event because my ‘CV’ has ticked off certain check boxes that add up to ‘Tedx speaker’. And I can tell you first hand, while many others in my field strongly believe in ‘networking’, I believe in being kind to people and being actual friends with them – and hey, I’m both happy and I guess, ‘successful’ in the conventional way. A lot of this success has to do with the fact that I’ve worked my ass off, sure, but the secret is: that the other part of it is because I’ve been a kind person… and hence, the universe has worked in my favour.

The fact is, life is not about what you do as much as it is about how you go about doing it. People will forget your work, your degree, your bank balance, but they will always, always remember how you made them feel. Especially if you were kind.

me
This is how much gyaan I just gave.

So I’m going to go back again and implore you all: be kind. Believe me, when I say that, I don’t mean I want you all to go donate your kidneys. It can be little things you do, that will go a long way in making you happy and in making this world a better place. Little things! For eg. Say ‘Thank you’, when you are given a service by anyone – the rickshawala, the waiter, the bai. Say ‘Thank You’ anyway. Thank yous are nice. I send a thank you mail at the end of every year to everyone who was kind to me – you know why? Because acknowledging those who are kind is ALSO kind. Give someone a compliment. Tell people who are awesome that they are awesome. Ask your sabziwala to keep the change. Hold the door for the person who’s coming behind you. Open a door for someone else! Keep the lift open if someone wants to enter. Give 20 bucks to the guy who’s come to deliver a 1000 Rs order. Smile at a stranger. Smile anyway. Smiling is awesome. Treat a kid begging on the street to some junk food. Find out the names of all the people who are giving you a service! LIKE a happy post, SHARE a kind post and RETWEET those who ask you to care. Be respectful, be polite, and really, start giving a shit. Don’t be an asshole – there are already too many of them in the world.

 

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Liked/disliked the piece? Be kind and leave your comments below 🙂
Note: This talk was first given at TEDxSRCC in October 2015.
Picture courtesy: TEDxSRCC. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Seven years of Mumbai: On what I learnt while living the dream

Today marks seven years since I came to Mumbai. Tomorrow will mark seven years since my first full-time job. I came as an engineering graduate with zero ties to the ‘industry’ (and zero clue on how I’ll ‘make it’ except hopeless optimism), and through Hindustan Times, MTV India and now, Yash Raj Films, I have worked on some of the most fantastic projects (thank you, good universe) with some of the most fantastic people (thank you, good people). There’s been some not so fantastic projects and some not so fantastic people too, but as in the movies, good always wins over evil.

Any way you look at it, the truth is, this has been a dream, and I’m very scared of waking up from it and being told, ‘Ch**tiya banaya, bada mazaa aaya’. If you’d have told me seven years ago, in Room no 307 of Eklavya Bhavan of NITK Kurukshetra that this would be my life for the next seven years, I’d have said, ‘Zeher mat faink, behenc**d’ and then touched wood and said a quick, sly prayer on the side for it to come true.

Looking back, I’ve had ups, downs, and many, many days of sames, but I’ve counted every day as a blessing because even when I’ve had a horrible day, at least it’s a horrible day I’ve had on a job I love doing. And that’s really been what it’s all about – taking that first step and keeping at it: the decision to have left the engineering life, to never look or go back or do an MBA (because that’s generally the secret to winning at life), and even when life gave lemons, to collect those lemons and wait for the prices of lemons to go up, and *then* make lemon juice.

But here’s what I’ve learnt:
1. It’s really not about networking as they say… it’s about relationships. People matter, friends matter more, family matters most; and as long as you’ve got your priorities straight, even when the chips are down, at least you’ll have wonderful people to… umm… eat them with (and stay fat, dammit!).
2. No matter what people say or do or are, as long as you’re nice and good with everyone and in general, and believe in the niceness and goodness of everyone and in general, nice and good things will eventually happen to you (and in general)!
3. You may not be the most talented guy or the smartest guy in the room, but you can do well if you simply outwork them :).

So here’s to many more years of ups, downs and sames, and to many more awesome friends and projects. Kyunki picture abhi baaki hai!

Like/dislike this blog or particularly any of the articles? Do leave your favourites in the comments below 🙂
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© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

She & I #ShortStory #Love

“Doesn’t it boggle your mind sometimes?” I asked.
“What?” she replied.
“How, in this very moment, thousands of people in the world are falling in love for the first time? How, at this very second, thousands more are sharing their first kiss? How, in the breaths we just took, millions of people just held hands with someone special to them…. and how, thousands of them are never going to let go? How, there are hundreds of thousands of embraces being shared by couples who spend each day in the… the… glorious agony… of love? How there are pulses racing faster and hearts pounding louder and butterflies fluttering in every direction inside thin, fat, chubby, six-packed stomachs… how thousands of romantics are living and dying in the pause, right now, before that ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, and how millions of lives are changing forever with the answer? How there’s love and requital and happiness; and how there’s love and heartbreak and pain; and how, in this very moment, there’s so much love… how, in this very moment, there’s just… so much love… that has been found, forever, and ever?” I took a deep breath. “Doesn’t it boggle your mind?”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Why not?”
“Because for me… in this very moment, there’s no one else but you and me,” she said, firmly wrapping her arms around my soul.

Oh, it was so easy to fall in love with her.

Note: This story was first published on August 31, 2014. It was written for Daisy, my fiance at the time, who’s now my wife :).

Follow the blog on your left and like The Tanejamainhoon Page on FB: /tanejamainhoonpage
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Liked/disliked the story? Leave comments below! 🙂
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© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

On Bombay Velvet: How internet is killing the movie and the curse of being Anurag Kashyap #NotaReview

This is not a review of Bombay Velvet. Because whatever I say about Bombay Velvet doesn’t matter to you at all. You’ve already made up your mind about how you feel about Bombay Velvet, even especially if you haven’t seen it, because you have read gossip about the film’s edit issues before its release, or you’ve read Komal Nahta’s tweet about how two shows of the film got cancelled in the morning, or you’ve read a review of the film by critics who were ‘let down’ by this film.

For that matter, you have decided that no matter what others say, you will like this film because you are a Ranbir fan, an Anushka fan, or an Anurag Kashyap fan (are there any left though?). You may like it because everyone’s disliking it and you are a hipster, or you may like it because of the amazing irony of how a Rs 100 crore budget film has become an underdog. You may just like it because your expectations were lowered by the reviews of critics or your friends, and now you don’t find the film *that* bad.

It’s beside the point that I loved the film and its characters and its setting and the outstanding music, it’s pointless reviewing Bombay Velvet because invariably, I must belong to one or more of the sects I mentioned in the previous paragraph, perhaps without even knowing it. Because clearly, no one’s reviewing movies anymore, everyone’s reviewing their expectations of it.

Expectations vs the Film
Let me attempt to explain: When was the last time we walked into a movie theater without any expectations from the film whatsoever? Even if we didn’t have high expectations of the film, we certainly didn’t have no expectations else why would we spend your hard earned money and our precious time watching the film?

The reason we had these expectations (as little as they may be) is because we liked the trailer of the movie, or we like the actors in it, or the director of it or because it came recommended to us by a critic or a friend. So the film ultimately either lived up to these expectations, or fell short of them, and our opinion on the movie is an outcome of that. That’s largely how it’s always been when it comes to movie watching but ever since social media has happened to our lives, our expectations have started getting skewed much more sharply than ever before. With the groundswell of opinions on every movie, especially if they are STRONG and LOUD (whether positive or negative), our expectations have *become* our review of the movie. Think about it, we now rarely feel any different after watching a movie from what is being said about the movie, or the opinion we formed about it beforehand.

We already liked Piku before we entered the theater to watch it because EVERYONE LOVED IT. We were already impressed by the excellence of Court because EVERYONE WAS IMPRESSED BY IT. We were already disappointed with Detective Bymokesh Bakshy because EVERYONE WAS LET DOWN BY IT. We were already blown away by Fast and Furious because EVERYONE WAS BLOWN AWAY BY IT. Perhaps you are one of the rare people who felt the opposite for every movie I mentioned or you genuinely liked/disliked the previous movies and that has nothing to do with ‘everyone’. The truth, as they say, is probably somewhere in between.

The curse of being Anurag Kashyap
Let me put it another way: What if Court was made by Anurag Kashyap? What is Piku was made by Sajid Khan? What if Byomkesh Bakshy was made by Chaitanya Tamhane? What if Fast and Furious was made by Michael Bay? What if Bombay Velvet was made by Anand Gandhi?  Just think over this for a second. Would we still feel exactly the same about these movies? More importantly, would the *critics* feel the same way about them? Of course we wouldn’t. Because somewhere, we can’t disassociate the filmmaker from the film and that is true even moreso for critics.

Prove me wrong by showing me a review of Bombay Velvet that does not talk about Anurag Kashyap’s ambitions with this film, the film compared to his other work, the film with respect to other gangster film, the budget of the film, the expected box office, the negative buzz around it, etc etc etc. You’d be surprised if you find a review that only talks about the film and nothing else but the film because Anurag Kashyap is intricately linked to this film, but is that really fair? Why isn’t it only about the film anymore?

If you completely disagree with me on this, here’s another perspective: What if Woody Allen, who has been accused of being a pedophile, gets convicted? You’d certainly not be inclined to revere him as a person but would it have any bearing on what you think of him as a director? But that’s actually immaterial, to be honest, because the only question that matters is: would it change the way you feel about his films? Will Annie Hall make you feel any differently or will you love Midnight in Paris any less, knowing that the director behind him may not be a very good man? It won’t and it shouldn’t because it *really* doesn’t matter who has made a film. Only your connection to it matters.

Internet criticism
But that may not be true in the case of critics in the internet age. I read the reviews of a few critics who found Akshay Kumar’s Gabbar mildly enjoyable and gave it around 2.5 stars. I saw the film and it definitely didn’t suck as much as every other south remake but 2.5 stars? Bombay Velvet has got 2.5 stars. Byomkesh Bakshy got 2.5 stars. Are Gabbar and Bombay Velvet/Byomkesh Bakshy at the same level in ANY way? I’m not trying to be a condescending asshole or a cacophonous fanboy (although that’s beside the point too because you’ve already made up your mind either way, haven’t you?). What I’m trying to say is: Did Gabbar make you FEEL for even one second? What did you take back home after watching Gabbar? On the other hand – are you saying NOTHING in Bombay Velvet or Byomkesh made you feel? You took back NOTHING after watching them?

I’m not at all comparing popcorn films with ‘cinema’ and trying to draw a fail parallel. Because I LOVE popcorn cinema. Absolutely LOVE it. Because the best popcorn cinema also makes you FEEL – it could any feeling from awe and joy to aww and joy. (If you get the time, please do read this piece by Sady Doyle on popcorn cinema; possibly the best written article on cinema this year: http://www.wired.com/2015/05/marvel-killing-the-popcorn-movie/). Gabbar didn’t make me feel, neither do any of the umpteen other South remakes. Avengers (not part 2) did make me feel though, as did The Fault in our Stars in the same way that a Dhoom 3 and 2 States made me feel *something*. They are the epitome of popcorn films but I took away something back home after watching them. I took away something from Bombay Velvet and Byomkesh too, but nothing from Gabbar. Yet they are all given a star rating of 2.5 stars and to be honest, that blows my mind.

I am not calling out critics too (I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinions and how am I to say my opinion is better than yours?) but I do have a problem with criticism connected with expectations. Because I fail to understand how ratings can be flexible according to expectations. The reason Gabbar got 2.5 was because the reviewers went into theaters expecting to see an absolutely horrible film but were surprised that it didn’t suck THAT BAD. On the other hand, Byomkesh got 2.5 because the reviewers were expecting to be blown away but that didn’t happen; and Bombay Velvet got 2.5 stars because the reviewers expected to be let down and that’s exactly what happened. I admit, some of this is informed from my understanding of criticism because I was a ‘critic’ for a while for Firstpost.com and to be honest, I occasionally suffered from the same issues too.

It may have been JUST me and perhaps I wasn’t qualified enough to be an opinion-giver (‘critic’ is too strong a word to my liking), and I may be ENTIRELY wrong and presumptuous about internet criticism (because criticism without the support of the internet today does not exist). But the truth is, it was only after I left my opinion hat at home and started watching films as a filmbuff that I began to see them for what they are. My feelings towards any film, now, are based on what I feel *because* of the film, or if I feel because of it at all. It has nothing to do with the perception of the film or the cast and the crew.

Why Bombay Velvet cannot be left to die
I loved Bombay Velvet. I didn’t connect with it in the first thirty minutes at all, but then I was slowly pulled in by it and by the end of it, I had been wholly consumed by all the complexity at play – the class divide of Khambatta and Balraj, the love story of Johnny and Rosie, the angst of Balraj to rise above his so-called aukaad, the loyalty of Chiman, and all else. The music was the true champion of the film and Amit Trivedi’s OUTSTANDING score interpreted on film is reason alone to watch this film. I loved the world of the film created by its superlative cast (Ranbir, Anushka, Satyadeep, Karan and Kay Kay took my breath away) and crew, and contrary to what many have said, I felt that the film didn’t reach its full potential because of the edit, done by the great Thelma Schoonmaker and Prerna Saigal.

In the first thirty minutes, to give the film a certain pace and atmosphere, what I felt were crucial scenes of romance between Rosie and Johnny weren’t allowed to breathe and were cut off just when they needed that little pause for us to feel deeper. The uneven pace of the film throughout is its biggest downfall and somewhere, there is a director’s cut which could be 3 hours long but which I suspect I may love more. But I still love Bombay Velvet, but as I had mentioned upfront, what I think of the film doesn’t even matter.

The more time spent on the internet consuming about movies before watching them, is killing the experience of watching any movie for what it is. Remember the unparalleled pleasure of being in a cinema hall at one with a movie, and discovering it unfold one scene at a time, before the onslaught of teasers of teasers and trailers 2,7,10? Before Twitter and Facebook told you EVERYTHING you didn’t want to know about the film but would have liked seeing or deciding for yourself? Before opinions were jammed down your throat because you live on the internet and opinion-givers do too?

Hence my opinion of Bombay Velvet is immaterial. What matters is what *you* think of it. And the only way for you to decide is not by reading snarky comments about it on the internet but by going to the theater and watching it yourself. Watch it not because I or anyone else liked the film, but because such an intricately created and painstakingly mounted film is certainly worth your time – at least worth more than reading all the gossip about it. Whether you love, like or dislike it, watching a movie of this scale, design and feel isn’t an experience you get often in India cinema, and will certainly not get anymore if this film is doomed by the wrath of the internet and the curse of being Anurag Kashyap.

Do not let the internet kill Bombay Velvet. Do not let the internet kill movies.

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A Diwali Story #Mothers #Love #Diwali

Something beautiful happened to me earlier this year, when I was visiting my parents in Bahrain, the country that I grew up in and call ‘home’. Like every year before this, my vacation at home was again distinctly marked by my fondness for my first love – the bed I slept in while growing up. Each day, I would celebrate the happiest part of my childhood by sleeping in my bed for the most, because there really are no better quilts, no better pillows, no better ACs, and no better air than the ones there are in the room you grew up in.

Of course, the time I was awake was spent trying to find the secret to happiness in life on Facebook, Twitter and Watsapp, like always. The only time I’d reluctantly get out of my bed was when my mother would call me for food – my other first love. During the time it would take me to gobble up ghar ka khaana, which would largely consist of all my favourite dishes (because I don’t come home everyday, na), I would have quick conversations with my mother, which would largely consist of answering just one question: “Tu karta kya hai saara din laptop aur phone mein ghus kar?” (What do you do all day buried in your laptop and phone?).

I would obviously make long-winded speeches on intellectual stimulation and expanding the horizons of my mind and how she wouldn’t understand about it all, after which she would threaten to throw the dessert in the garbage bin, prompting me to opportunely hug her and tell her how much I love her and how I’ll never touch my gadgets again. Once she’d give me dessert, I’d compliment her once more, and then run off to my room for ‘5 minutes’, after which the cycle would repeat itself at the next meal.

A few days before my vacation was to end, my mother asked me to take her shopping. I took time out from my busy schedule of faffing, and took her to a local mall, where my mother proceeded to buy an iPad to understand what the fuss is about, why today’s generation is so crazy about all this technology, and of course, because one of her friends had bought it too. Even as I imagined scenarios of ‘Uska iPad mere ipad se safed kaise’ (How is her iPad whiter than mine?), my mum finalised a shiny white one, after going through approximately 389 shops in search of the right price.

The next couple of days were spent in teaching her how to use one, answering a couple of thousand questions every minute, from how to ‘shut it down’ to how to ‘do Facebook’ on it. My mum’s had a Facebook account for a while now, but this was the first time in years that she was actively trying to use it. While I was happy to teach her the way around an iPad as long as I got her famed desserts, I couldn’t figure why my mother was suddenly so taken in by technology. She seemed as excited as a first-year college student in an exotic foreign university, and went about learning everything possible with a fervour I usually save for my work during appraisal month.

My questions to her on why she was so keen in becoming the next Steve Jobs would be drowned by her questions on whether she could use the iPad to call and text, or some such similar query. The answer to my curiosity about her curiosity presented itself unexpectedly when I managed to pry away the iPad from her gaze to play around with it myself. Before I could go about my own business, her open Facebook chat stared right in my face, and I noticed she had just finished having a conversation with her close friend.

I was (obviously) going to log out when I spotted my name in the conversation. Being inquisitive, I proceeded to read that bit of the conversation, only to have my heart melt away in its entirety. Her close friend too, like me, was surprised about my mother’s sudden interest in technology and had asked her why, after all these years, she was so taken in by the social networking phenomenon. My mother answered: “My son doesn’t have the time to talk to me face to face, so I hope that once I learn Facebook and Whatsapp, I’ll be able to be his friend again.”

I’ve often found that it’s not days, months or years, or big, intense or drastic events that alter your perspective and teach you glorious life lessons. It’s the tiny little moments of life that come out of nowhere, when you may find yourself doing something most mundane and rather unremarkable, like going on a long walk because no autorickshaw would agree to ply you, cooking for yourself a half-burnt dinner because the bai’s grandfather passed away for the fourth time in the year, or being stuck in a never-ending traffic jam because you got adventurous and took a new route, that change everything.

It’s funny how you have the greatest epiphanies during such unsuspecting moments; you may see something, hear something, feel something, realise something or even remember something, when nothing especially special is happening with you, that has the most profound effect in a way that it becomes life-affirming. Life really does happen when you are bang in the middle of it all… life happens when you are in the middle of life.

Life happened to me in that moment I read that Facebook conversation of my mother. I was overcome with all the love that exists inside me in that moment, for possibly the best mother that ever was, and at the same time also found myself feeling acute pain, for possibly being the worst son that ever was. But mostly, I was happy and grateful to the universe for slapping me across the face, and I only wished I could have seen that conversation earlier – many years ago.

As I hugged my mother that day and ensured that I spent every waking moment of the rest of my time in Bahrain in her company (to much of her surprise: she even asked me to ‘go play with the phone’ because she was so sick of me hanging around), the irony of modern life dawned upon me – that in spite of being more connected than ever before (through Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, BBM, Gtalk, etc), we are getting increasingly disconnected with each other.

When was the last time that, instead of posting a message on their Facebook wall, you picked up the phone to call your friend or meet them on their birthday? When was the last time you spent an entire conversation with your loved one, without once looking into your phone or being irrevocably distracted by it? When was the last time you truly took a holiday where you closed your eyes to relish a beautiful view, instead of trying to capture it for ‘likes’ on instagram, or when you actually enjoyed the full extent of the company of friends and family, without trying to constantly stay ‘updated’ on the social media you precisely use to enjoy the company of friends and friends?

This Diwali, I’m lighting a diya each for every mother and every son or daughter, so that they may overcome the divide that technology has become, and genuinely ‘connect’ with each other. I’ve shared my happiness story in the hope that instead of trying to make our lives awesome on Facebook and Instagram, we make them awesome in real life by rekindling our human connections again. Thanks to that moment, I know I have, and will continue to always do so now, although the paradox that is technology, hasn’t escaped me: How technology itself was the catalyst to bring that moment about, and now that I’m away from my Mum again, I use the same internet messengers to keep in touch with her and ‘be her friend’ 🙂
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Note: 
This column first appeared on Yahoo.com on November 6, 2013

Link: http://in.lifestyle.yahoo.com/a-diya-to-connect-beyond-technology–055054565.html
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.