Vantage point

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

About Sehwag

Regular readers of this blog will know what a massive Sehwag fan I am. Since I started watching cricket regularly at the age of 9, no cricketer (not even Sachin or Lara, although I love them to death), has excited and enthralled me as much as Virender Sehwag. Viru is, hands down, my favorite cricketer ever, I do declare. So I was very very struck by a few facts as I watched him score a century against the Lankans at Kanpur.

- Has our Viru changed a bit? Changed a lot? Changed in the way he thinks about and plots his own innings? Has he become a bit more circumspect? I saw a lot of hints that it indeed is so. And considering the outcome, I welcome this change.

- After getting a life very early on, Viru put his head down and got his eye in. He NEVER EVER does that. Well, rarely anyway. Usually, he keeps going at the bowling in 5th gear. But yesterday, he stepped it down a notch, let Gauti do the scoring, and settled in.

- What is with the straight drives? Viru used to hit one every now and then, but this is the first I have seen him hit so many in an innings. Like his general batting technique early in his career, kinda-like-Sachin-but-kinda-unlike-Sachin, is his straight drive. The bottomline is, it is hit hard and it is hit along the ground, which makes it a high percentage shot. That's the last thing bowlers of the world needed - Virender Sehwag adding a relatively safe boundary shot to his repertoire.

- His leg-side game against spinners.... is it just me or was he making a conscious effort to hit the shots along the ground? As if to preserve his wicket? The angle of his bat, usually used to be expansive and pointing upwards in the past, as if trying to hit every ball from a spinner for a six. But now he seemed to be aiming for along-the-ground fours. Hitting them very very well, mind you.

- In general, does it seem to you, based on this Kanpur innings that Sehwag has decided to play in a more "matured" way? If so, the outcome is astonishing. He still scored at over a run a ball (although one must admit, it was a flat pitch). He still kept the team ticking along at a breakneck speed. Maybe, the way Dravid, Laxman etc coming into the team allowed Sachin to ease up a bit, the purple patch that young Gauuti has hit has allowed Viru to adjust his game somewhat. Viru's test innings are usually pretty solid, no matter what his reputation as a cavalier. But this one was particularly solid, except for the life at the start and the dismissal in the end.

= And speaking of the dismissal, was that a big bombshell for a Viru fan or what? Notice what happened after Dilshan took the catch? Viru put his hand on his face in disappointment and stayed there for a second before walking off. Our Viru! Did that!! When has he EVER EVER shown any regret at getting caught out? Bowled, yeah, maybe he is pissed at reading the line/length wrong. But catch out? Viru's attitude is always "the ball was there to be hit, so I hit it". No regrets. He didn't show a trace of regret when he missed his maiden double century in Melbourne in 2003 when he went for a six on 195 and got caught. And yet here, at Kanpur, he seemed disappointed.

So there is some change in Viru for sure. Whether it is an enduring change, remains to be seen.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Attacking another Marathi Icon? Really?

In the early and mid-90s, Shiv Sena's popularity and appeal was on the rise in Maharashtra. Several columnists and authors have noted with surprise how even non-Marathi Hindus in Bombay seemed to speak approvingly of what the Sena did during the 92-93 riots. They were also seen as clean, in contrast with the corruption-ridden Congress.

It all changed of course, when they came to power. Once in power, the Shiv Sena showed itself to be no different from the Congress. They made a deal with Enron, the very company that they had railed against while campaigning. There were other corruption scandals. And although the Sena did some good for the infrastructure, like building dozens of flyovers and starting the Bombay-Pune expressway project, by and large, they didn't impress the public much. By the time their term neared a close in 1999, it seemed unlikely that they would retain power.

As it happened, Vajpayee had the rug pulled from under his feet after Sonia's miscalculations. And another general election was announced, the 3rd in 3 years. All signs indicated that the NDA would gain seats. And Bal Thackeray, in what was a fairly canny move, decided to dissolve the assembly months before its term ended, so that the Vidhan Sabha elections would happen on the same day as the Lok Sabha elections. He hoped that the pro-NDA wave would help him retain power.

But as we all know, it did not happen. In one of the most fascinatingly nuanced behaviors ever displayed by an electorate in India, Maharashtra gave the BJP-SS alliance the majority of the Lok Sabha seats, but gave the Congress and NCP most of the Vidhan Sabha seats. The national media's analysis was largely spot on. The Sena failed on proper governance, indulged in corruption, and in general, seemed to have taken for granted that their reich would last a 1000 years.

There was one more element that played a significant role in the Sena's defeat, but only Marathis will remember it vividly. The Pu La Deshpande factor. Pu La Deshpande, the literary genius, a selfless and austere humanitarian, and an independent spirit, was (and continues to be after his death), something akin to a god for most Marathis. He became so loved not only because of his exemplary writing of all hues, but also because of the personal example he set - although he made millions, he donated it all to charity (and actual impactful charities, not religious ones) and lived a simple life in a small apartment. His writing and his life was an inspiration to everyone. Imagine what Tendulkar is to Indian cricket and multiply it by a factor of 1000. That is what PuLa means to Marathis.

The Shiv Sena government established an award.... I think it's name is Maharashtra Bhushan Puraskar. Basically, Maharashtra's equivalent of the Bharat Ratna. The first recipient was, duh, PuLa. In his acceptance speech, PuLa made some remarks that were mildly critical of the Shiv Sena government. Nothing too hardcore, but a rebuke nonetheless.

Bal Thackeray flipped his lid. He made some rude and uncharitable comments about PuLa, something like "jis thali mein khatey ho, usi mein chhed karte ho", the implication being that since Shiv Sena was giving him the award, PuLa should not have said anything critical about them. Now, PuLa had always been an equal opportunity critic. He called it like he saw it. During the emergency, he was at the forefront dissenting against the Congress. And when he saw the Sena making mistakes, he criticized them for it. Bal Thackeray thought this was somehow treachery.

Not only did he lambast PuLa, which was bad enough, but he also made a ridiculous comment that did not go down well with people. He said something like - "When the government decided to institute this award, they wanted me to be the first recipient. But I very generously refused and said that PuLa should be honored instead. If I wanted, I could have got that award. But instead I gave it to him. And he repays us by criticizing us?"

No matter how popular Bal Thackeray was at the peak of his popularity, it was not even close to being in the same league as PuLa's popularity. So his petulant comments earned him uniform backlash from all segments of Marathi society. And played a significant role in eroding the Shiv Sena's support, and eventually losing them the election.

Clearly, Bal Thackeray has forgotten the lessons learnt from PuLa-gate. Now he has decided to attack Sachin Tendulkar, for what are extremely benign comments, even if one was to look at them through the Sena's prism. He has declared that Sachin has hurt the marathi manoos. Hah! Bal Thackeray, after losing 3 elections in a row, the most recent one so comprehensively, does not have even the hint of an authority to speak on the behalf of the marathi manoos.

And if he has forgotten how attacking one beloved Marathi icon played a big role in Shiv Sena losing power, he will be reminded of it very soon as this ill-advised second act could play a role in precipitating the Sena's complete wipe-out in the near future.

Labels: , , ,

The Seinfeld-Curb Crescendo Approaches

It is no secret that I have been super-excited about the Seinfeld reunion arc on this season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The reunion episode earlier in the season, as well as another episode with a big role for Jerry, were both hilarious. But last night's episode - The Table Read, was even better.

The premise of the episode, as the name suggests, was a table read and rehearsal for the Seinfeld reunion show. The bits and pieces of dialog gave ample hints about where our beloved characters are in 2009. And those tiny morsels were delectable enough to warrant a petition for an actual reunion episode.

Jerry still lives in his old apartment and Kramer is still his neighbor. George, who once boasted that he could tell you the location of a usable toilet in the vicinity of any location in Manhattan, has created an iPhone app for it - the iToilet. He made millions from it, and of course, gave it all to Bernie Madoff to invest, and lost it all. Kramer of course, in his cluelessly tactless manner, keeps reminding George of his ordeal, by reading out details from news stories about Madoff. Elaine has a daughter, sired using Jerry's sperm. There are references to Superman, and of coruse, there is a signature Newman appearance, complete with the hissed "hello jerry, hello newman" and the door slamming. Estelle and Bania make appearances. And a lot of previous Curb elements have been incorporated, such as cutting the doll's hair, hiring a hooker to use the carpool lane, and so on.

The behind-the-scenes look recreates the magic of the outtakes. For instance, when rehearsing the Newman scene, Jerry can't help cracking up. Thinking about the scene is an exercise in recursion - did Larry actually want a scene which shows Jerry cracking up? Or did Jerry crack up unplanned, and they went with the flow and used the scene? Or did Larry know that Jerry would crack up and.... mind boggling, but delicious.

And the question of everyone's mind has been answered. Would they make a reference to Michael Richards' N-word outburst? Indeed they did, and in a brilliant way that only Larry could have dreamed up. It is not at all inappropriate, does not make light of the situation, and yet is hilarious. It involved two of my favorite Curb characters - Leon Black and Morty Funkhauser.

I am amazed at how filled-to-the-brim the episode was. Apart from the Seinfeld-script elements, Seinfeld backstage elements, and the involvement of Curb regulars, the episode also had two of Larry's favorite tropes - a tiff with a kid and a misunderstanding with a waiter. When the episode ended, I could hardly believe that it was just 35 minutes long.

One small inconsistency though. Worlds collided! A paradox was created! Vicki Lewis plays Stacy, who is ostensibly in the set crew, in charge of lighting. She had also played the role of George's efficient bespectacled secretary when he worked for the Yankees. They could have just had her playing herself. But oh well.

Next Sunday is the big season finale. Which will also be on the sets of Seinfeld, and hopefully give more glimpses into the reunion episode. Watch it!