Monthly Archives: February 2011

“The joke happens in real life and then I blog about it”


Jayanth Tadinada, aka g2, is the author of gtoosphere, a blog of satire inspired by his life as an IIT student and a member of India’s growing upper middle class youth. He is also my colleague on The NRI, contributing regularly hilarious posts such as his aam aadmi interviews.

His posts on gtoosphere are a mix of observations about television media, social networking culture and Indian society in general, and they often seek to explode myths and inspire people to look at the world around them in a more mindful way. In the line with his heroes, his method of confronting people is to amuse, something at which he succeeds apparently effortlessly. His irreverent ideas come across as equally inspired by Indian and American senses of humour, and will hopefully strike a chord with many.

Jayanth did me a favour and answered a few questions to help me get this Inside the Bloggers Studio thing rolling again, even though he is a busy college student preparing to join the salaried masses.

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Why did you start blogging?

There was a phase when I was bunking a lot of classes and yet I was not happy. (Those were pretty depressing times!) I felt I needed a better reason to continue bunking classes. So I thought a hobby might help.

In your first blog post, you mention a diary. Is gtoosphere an extension of that diary, and do you still write it alongside your blog?

No, I don’t write a diary in the traditional sense anymore. I maintained a diary for a couple of years in high school. It was mostly about what was happening in my life around that time. After coming to IIT, I no longer felt the need to keep an account of things happening in my life.

I was into reading psychology for fun (nerd alert), interpretation of dreams and stuff like that. I started maintaining a dream diary where I describe the dreams I have at nights (afternoons actually). We remember our dreams only for a very few minutes after we wake up. So I always sleep with a book and a pen somewhere close to my pillow. (Yeah, I know that’s weird!)

For the last year and a half or so, I developed the habit of noting down funny ideas, silly observations and interesting thoughts as soon as they pop in my head. I store them in Google Wave (yes, Wave!) and refine them from time to time. So technically, I do write a diary but it’s more about what is going on in my head rather than what is going on in my life.


What is your first memory of writing creatively?

The first time realized I enjoyed writing was when I was writing essays in high school. Most of the topics were very dull and ordinary like ‘your hometown’ or ‘post man’. I took it as a challenge to write those essays in interesting ways.

I often broke the conventional school essay format and made up stories with long dialogues, exaggerated descriptions and bizarre storylines loosely inspired from the Famous Fives and Hardy Boys I was reading at the time! Luckily my English teachers did not discourage that sort of behavior and often rewarded me (with generous grades) for my attempts, however lame they were!

Describe something that is beautiful to you.

I consider any of the little things that momentarily make me lose sense of time as beautiful. It could be a movie or a book; a conversation or a cat playing; filter coffee, National Geographic channel, a warm shower on a cold morning, dessert before main course, an intelligent conversation, yawning, huge spiders, useless trivia… it’s a very long list.

I also find extremely complex stuff like snakes, Scarlett Johansson, the human brain, religion, the Internet, Godavari, classical music, history etc. all to be very beautiful.


gtoosphere fits quite nicely into Indiblogger category of ‘humour’. Are you ‘the funny one’ among your friends in real life?

Yes, I am definitely ‘a funny one’ if not ‘the funny one’. Most of my friends have a very good sense of humour too. I get most of my ideas from the conversations I have with my friends and my brother.

What differences are there between telling a joke in real life and telling it on your blog?

The joke happens in real life and then I blog about it. That is usually how it is. A joke in real life is about timing and spontaneity, it just happens. But when you’re writing a joke, you have the time to think and build the context. So the onus is on how funny the idea is to begin with. Maintaining the flow, the punch lines, the comic art – all just follow from the idea.


Speaking of Indiblogger, you’re quite active on there, as well as on Facebook and sporadically on Twitter. How important are social networking sites in relation to your blog?

Very important! They are the lifeline for my blog. I would have never got myself to write anything more than sticky notes if it is not for the instant feedback that I get from readers through social networking sites.

Comic art is integral to many of your posts. Which do you enjoy more, drawing/design or writing?

What I enjoy most is the ideas – coming up with them and connecting two or three ideas that people wouldn’t otherwise think of connecting. That is what drives me. I also immensely enjoy the process of refining the lines over and over trying to find that elusive economy of expression. I feel I am moving in a direction where words come easier to me than strokes.


Name some of your favourite satirists, and whether they’ve influenced your own creative style.

The first comedian that comes to mind is Jerry Seinfeld (his standup). He has this ability to point out really silly things around you which makes you go, “how did I not think of that first?” In one of his interviews, he explains that he never uses profanities in his material because he feels that (in many cases) they are a shortcut to get a few cheap laughs. I adopted that policy for my blog too.

One more thing I picked up from him is to not misrepresent anything just for the sake of getting a laugh. This pushes me to work from an honest feeling about something. So when I joke about how the aam aadmi doesn’t deserve any sympathy, I really mean it!

George Carlin is a personal hero of mine. His body of work is just so vast that it’s an encyclopedia on how to construct a joke. The philosophical undercurrent that runs through his material had a huge influence on not just my writing but on me as a person as well.

Larry David, the genius behind Seinfeld (the sitcom) and Curb Your Enthusiasm is another big influence. He kind of convinced me that profanities are funny when used in a tasteful way but I decided to stick with Seinfeld on that one ;)

When it comes to political satire, Jon Stewart is the best it can get. All my posts on politics and media were directly or indirectly inspired by him. I also like Bill Maher (I did a couple of “New Rules” posts) and Woody Allen.

I love Telugu comedy in general. I think we people have an amazing sense of humour. I am a huge fan of Mullapudi Venkataramana. He is a genius when it comes to capturing the beauty, the simplicity and humour in middle class life – something that our entertainment industry completely overlooks.

Is there a post on your blog that you are most proud of?

If I have to choose one, I’d probably choose my take on Meter Jam. This campaign sort of summed up the attitude of the young city folk of my generation. They protest because it is cool and they only do it in the comfort of their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Their anger in most cases is justified but none of them are inclined to do anything more than cathartically yell at the symptoms.

I am also proud of the articles I wrote for The NRI. I really pushed myself to write about issues that I wouldn’t have written otherwise and they were very well received too.


Do you believe in God?

Depends on how you define God. When I was 13 or 14 years old, I was like, “If the Gods are really that powerful, why do I even have to pray? Don’t they have access to the wish list on my Facebook profile?” That was when I realized praying for material things makes no sense. I’ve been kind of agnostic since then.

But I feel that Hinduism (technically, it’s too broad to be an -ism) is an awesome religion to be born in. It gives you a lot of freedom of thought. You can be atheist or agnostic and still be a Hindu. The line between culture and religion is really blurred in India. I never pray but I do celebrate all festivals. (If you remove the puja from the festivals, all you’re left with is good food, family reunions and fun activities. Now who doesn’t like that?

I love the culture. I love the mythologies. I have immense respect for the religion and its philosophy. I just don’t subscribe to the over-the-counter-30-million-Gods-in-the-skies version of it! I only scratched the surface of Hindu philosophy and I definitely want to go deeper. Not now but maybe later!

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This interview is part of Inside the Bloggers Studio, an ongoing project of short interviews with bloggers I read and admire.  (Apologies to James Lipton.)  To view the archive, click here.

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Talking points from India v Bangladesh

I have written before about being tired of too much cricket, but this World Cup is in India, and I’m beginnning to care more the national team’s fortunes. I think that just happens to everyone who stays here long enough, because India is completely cricket mad. It’s not that every last person is in a cricket thrall, but even if only half the population cared – and I’m guessing the percentage is a little higher than that – you’ve got 500 million plus flag-waving, tv-shooting supporters.

In the first match of the tournament yesterday, India thrashed their co-hosts Bangladesh with a fantastic batting performance. Follow the link below for my talking points from the match, including why Virat Kohli is the most dangerous player in India’s batting lineup, but for now here’s why the Kerala connection – wild and wacky fast bowler Sreesanth – was my favourite thing about the day:

Personally, the best moments of the day came when Sreesanth was bowling. He’s the one wild card in India’s pack: utterly unplayable one ball, overstepping and shipping wides the next. To me, he looks perpetually in need of a cigarette. Even if he goes for ten an over, I hope he keeps his place purely for the entertainment value he brings.

Read more at The NRI…

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My First Meditation

A couple of years ago, a friend recommended that I try meditation. I had a lot of barriers up and found it hard to focus on anything, let alone what I wanted to do with my life, and she thought meditation might help.

Well, it took me three whole years, but I finally tried it. Gavin, a guy I met via CouchSurfing, turned out to have experience with Vipassana meditation and offered to lead us in a short session. In times past I would’ve said something like, “Yeah, we should totally do that sometime, that’d be awesome,” and then never actually done it. This time, I jumped at the chance.

The experience was full of unexpected lessons, ideas and delights. Above all, it brought home how quickly and far the mind can wander:

Start with the breath, the air crossing my upper lip. My… moustachioed upper lip. The air’s only coming out of my right nostril. The left one must still be blocked from that strange illness I had last week. The vitamin B complex tablets seem to have fixed me up, though.

Come back to the breath. In… and out, my chest expanding and contracting. The guests in the next room are talking in French. I should study French again. God, I studied it for five years in high school, and it would be so great to be able to speak it properly. Maybe I should ask Franҫoise to teach me.

Come back to the breath. In. Out. I like that name. Franҫoise. What was the name of that Spanish woman in my second year German class? Ah, Florencia. Beautiful name, Florencia. The way it rolls off the tongue is so pleasing. Florrrrrrencia. If I have a daughter someday, I might call her that. Florencia.

Read more at The NRI…

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Fair/Lovely/(Evil)

Last week I wrote about how I am treated as a white guy in India – but what about the opposite, the darker-skinned individuals in this society? Well, to put it bluntly, they are treated much worse.

As I suggested in part 1, the disadvantages of having dark skin are entirely cultural. The relevant cultural factors could be ancient, like caste and untouchability, or modern, like job and marriage market prospects, or a combination of both. Physicality isn’t in question: light skin doesn’t make you run faster, jump higher or think better. But sometimes, cultural and social pressures are more vivid and powerful than a physical disadvantage could ever be.

Enter big business. Cosmetics. Fair is Lovely. Fair is Handsome. It must be true: these words fit together so cosily on those little boxes of cream you can buy at Big Bazaar or your local pharmacy.

Read more at The NRI…

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Imprints: 127 Hours / Cee-Lo Green / Phoenix / CocoRosie

127 Hours (2010, dir. Danny Boyle): Another work of style with just enough substance from Boyle. You probably know by now that it’s a true story about a dude who gets his arm trapped under a rock in a remote canyon, and is faced with a horrible choice. James Franco is good, the film is decent and certainly uplifting, but I’d class it as merely an above-average time-passer. (W) Worth a Look.

Cee-Lo Green – The Lady Killer (2010): Could never live up to my expectations after seeing one of the greatest videos of the years, which features his ‘Fuck You’ to delightful effect, but this is a listenable combination of throwback to Motown-era charm and Gnarls Barkley-ish chopped-clean production. Bright Lights, Bigger City is the best walking or driving song in a while. (W) Worth a Look.

Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009): I’m still so enraptured at the way track 4, ‘Love Like A Sunset’, was used in Somewhere that when I try to listen to this album, I can barely get past it without hitting repeat. OK, the other songs are good, some of them very good, and I really like this album, and you should listen to it. ‘Love Like A Sunset’ is just ridiculously epic. (R) Recommended.

CocoRosie – La maison de mon rêve (2004): First heard of CocoRosie when they performed the best song of the 00s live with Quinn Walker, but only picked up on their debut album lately – it’s really good, discordant at first glance but quickly altering the way I interact with the world around me. The use of a Godzilla toy’s roar on opener Terrible Angels is a perfect example of their experimental, carefree sound. Don’t know what the rest of their output is like but if it’s the same feeling with better production values, sign me up. (R) Recommended.

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Sofia Coppola’s ‘Somewhere’, a place worth visiting

IMDB / Ebert / Hornaday
Starring Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning
Written and Directed by Sofia Coppola


Rating: H (Highly Recommended)

Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere is like Jackass without the stunts, or maybe Jackass when the camera isn’t rolling. I’m not just saying that because of the presence of Chris Pontius, that laconic joker famous for his ‘Party Boy’ antics. Somewhere is almost Dadaist as Coppola lingers on bizarre showbiz images such as its star covered in putty for a face mould, or a ludicrously bombastic Italian awards ceremony, and gently pulls down the façade of Hollywood nicety with a subtle, non-judgmental eye. Johnny Marco, the nearly mute anti-hero, bounces from one corner of his irrational movie star life to another – rich, unsatisfied, stagnant.

Enter his daughter Cleo, the Figure of Redemption, but don’t worry. It isn’t that kind of movie. We can only assume that prior to the events in the film, Johnny saw Cleo on a semi-regular basis but was too wrapped up in endless parties and women to truly notice her. Now, as a result of certain circumstances, she’s going to be more present in his life – for a while, at least, maybe just long enough to make a difference.

Really, it’s okay, it genuinely isn’t that kind of movie. I mean, it is: a classical story, lost and/or deluded and/or miserable soul has his life thrown into perspective by the arrival of someone with simple, innocent meaning and purpose, both in her own intentions and in her relevance to our anti-hero’s life. What’s different is that Coppola takes this story, so often overdone and blandly unsubtle in films, and strips it back to the point of elusiveness. We witness a series of disconnected moments, often played out with a near-total absence of dialogue, and rather than there being an obvious narrative thread, it’s more our own expectation that creates one.


As a result, Somewhere will be infuriating and – even worse – incredibly boring to some viewers. For those who are willing to go along with Coppola’s sound- and image-focused style and put the idea of a Good Story to one side, however, Somewhere is a meditative treat, a joy. It even approaches the divine as she pulls the whole thing together in a glorious, grand (yet still understated) finale, stretching out the back end of Phoenix’s ‘Love Like A Sunset’ – with its eerie Wendy Carlos synthesizer and subsequent glorious release – in a moment of true movie magic that I could not resist.

Stephen Dorff is very watchable in the central role; I particularly liked the fact that despite being a big movie star with an endless parade of half-naked women fawning around him, he never comes across as a total dick. He’s polite to people whether he knows them or not; perhaps the stream of ‘you are such a fucking asshole’ SMSes he receives are the result of a prior attitude we don’t get to see. Then there’s Elle Fanning, who is an utter delight as his daughter. She’s just the kind of daddy’s little girl that fathers would want to do absolutely anything for: cute, sweet, talented. The key phrase there is that Johnny does indeed want to do anything for Cleo, but it’s evident that in the past, he simply hasn’t.


Neither of these two is the star of the film. That would be Richard Beggs, sound designer extraordinaire, who would also have been the star of Lost In Translation as well if it hadn’t been for the incomparable Bill Murray. Somewhere needs to be watched with the best sound possible so that you can appreciate the space of each scene – the grumble of Johnny’s Ferrari, the crackle of his cigarette as he smokes it down to the filter. Combined with another well-employed score of popular and atmospheric music, Beggs has crafted an aural wonderland yet again.

And then there’s Sofia Coppola, who by now has leapt well and truly out of her father’s shadow artistically. She stays within her limitations as a filmmaker, but what fascinating limitations. Her productions feel a little like really expensive student films in their scope, spare and mood-focused, and she is fortunate to have all the backing and support she could ever need (just check out those names in the ‘Thanks’ section of the credits). We’re fortunate that she uses that support to give us images of unexpected beauty in emptiness, like Johnny drifting lazily out of frame on a yellow Lilo inflatable sunlounger in the hotel pool, or his near-catatonic plucking of a pear from the fruit bowl on his coffee table, only to return it seconds later.


You may not learn anything from Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, save for a few insights into the private lives of Hollywood stars. If you’re willing to submit to her freeform approach to filmmaking, though, you’ll be rewarded with another immensely satisfying tone poem of real lives and subtle movie magic. It’s not as good as Lost In Translation, of course, which she is unlikely to better even if she makes movies for another 50 years, but Somewhere is fit to be mentioned in the same breath, and it stands firmly on its own as a showcase for the gifts of sound and vision.

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