“Kapoor & Sons” and a brief history of “family” in Bollywood


Shakun Batra’s “Kapoor & Sons” (2016) is the latest example of how Bollywood’s portrayal of the family is changing dramatically.

The film is about the Kapoors, living in Tamil Nadu’s Coonoor hill station (nobody knows how these Punjabis landed there). The husband and wife (Rajat Kapoor and Ratna Pathak Shah) play a perennially quarrelling married couple, who have differences over money, or the lack of it; the man’s alleged closeness to a certain Anu aunty that eventually turns out to be an affair; and his opposition to his wife’s plans of starting her own bakery. Also bring in a wacky,  horny (despite being seriously unwell), eager-to-die and over-the-top grandfather in the name of Rishi Kapoor; and his cantankerous grown-up grandsons (Fawad Khan and Siddharth Malhotra) who are not fond of each other either; a love angle between Malhotra and Alia Bhatt; and a gay man (Khan) being “outed” by his mother when she looks at his laptop.

That pretty much sums up the film that shows extremely high-decibel fights between family members who don’t seem to agree on anything and have skeletons in their cupboard that invariably tumble out towards the end.

The fights are ugly, nearly breaking down an institution long glorified in Hindi cinema – say thanks to the Sooraj Barjatya school of film-making, for example, with their modern-day Ramayana like too-good-to-be-true characters.

“Kapoor & Sons” can be seen as an extension of “Dil Dhadakne Do” (2015), Zoya Akhtar’s family drama that’s set on a cruise during – don’t miss the irony – the wedding anniversary celebrations of an unhappily married couple (Shefali Shetty and Anil Kapoor) . Their dysfunctionality peaks when, in the end, they spar bitterly that is made to look like a slugfest between family members probably not shown before in Bollywood.

Add “Piku” (2015) – a funny film about a single woman (Deepika Padukone) and her potty-obsessed, irritable father (Amitabh Bachchan) – to this list of heightened family melodramas and you realise that in the depiction of present-day urban family situations there is so much that is unsettling. If it is unsettling, it is probably true and in that these films also hold a mirror to our lives. But these films seem to suggest that the mask of utopia seen in the portrayal of families, especially towards the climax of many films in the past, has come off.

Of course, children rebelling against the family and discordant relationships have been done-to-death themes in Bollywood. There are umpteen examples, but to name a few the following come to my mind: “Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak”, “Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge”, “Dil”, “Maine Pyaar Kiya” etc.

These films are a far cry from the day when Amit (Amitabh Bachchan) in “Kabhi Kabhie” and “Silsila”, Yash Chopra’s large-scale and his most famous romances till date, would put family honour and duty above his relationships with Pooja (Rakhi) and Chandni (Rekha) in both the films.

“Humein koi haq nahin pahunchta ki hum apni khushi  ke liye apne maa baap ke armaanon ka gala ghont dein, unki lashon par apne pyaar ka mahal banayein,” he tells Pooja as she is about to marry Shashi Kapoor in “Kabhi Kabhie”.

To put it less melodramatically, these lines simply mean – we have no right to put our dreams over our parents’.

In another Chopra production with a typically ensemble cast, “Waqt” (1965), the reunification of Lala Kedarnath (Balraj Sahni) and family, who are torn apart by an earthquake, is the underlying theme and the eventual aim of the film. Ten years later, in “Deewar”, Bachchan’s now-institutionalised dialogue “Mere paas maa hain” simply shows the premium Bollywood stories gave to the representation of the family and its celebration.

In the late 1980s, just on the cusp of India’s liberalisation and the subsequent advent of modernity, “Sansar” (1989) would talk about the difficulty of a joint family sticking together because of a showdown of egos and varied interests. In “Avtaar” (1983), Shabana Azmi and Rajesh Khanna play an older couple, who are neglected by their children. In the end, Avtaar (Khanna) dies of a heart attack and leaves the will in the name of his wife Radha.

Somewhat inspired by this Mohan Kumar film, among other influences, “Baghban” (2003) would attempt the same – disown the children who don’t look after their parents. The final speech of Amitabh Bachchan speaking of his hurt as a neglected father is part of the comparatively lesser-heard perspective of the older generation about their children.

Now, dialogue in films like “Kapoor & Sons”, “Dil Dhadakne Do” and even “Piku” show the acrimony has acquired a shrillness and madness not seen earlier. Whatever little was left of the gentleness and covert questioning has vanished completely, making way for a filial discord that is unabashedly in-your-face.

Perhaps, upcoming film R Balki’s “Ki and Ka”, starring Kareena Kapoor and Arjun Kapoor, may provide some comic relief from the non-stop ghar ghar ki kahani in showing a full-time “house-husband”, whose wife is “the man” in their marriage.

Reading “Carol” and “Fire” together


The most everlasting feature of American film-maker Todd Haynes’ “Carol” is Cate Blanchett. In the film, she is Carol Aird, a charming, but unhappy woman suffering a bitter divorce from Harge (Kyle Chandler).

While seeking out a younger woman, Blanchett acts out Carol’s seducing skills with stunning brevity – an affair that has repercussions for her family. [Review by The Telegraph]

“Carol”, based on novel “The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith, is set in the New York of the 50s. In its writing, direction, performance and – let’s not forget – the clothes, it’s a beautiful film; a modern-day Casablanca, you can say, in its attention to style and dress.

But it’s a sad film too.

One day, ahead of Christmas, Carol buys a present for her daughter from a department store, where she meets a shop girl by the name of Therese Belivet (Ronney Mara). That meeting – between a costumer and a saleswoman – arouses their curiosity for each other, leading to a secret love affair that eventually jeopardises Carol’s demand for sharing the custody of her daughter with her to-be-divorced husband.

Therese is unsure of her feelings towards Richard, her so-called boyfriend who wants to marry her. Almost dumping the man, she takes a road trip with Carol, where the women drop all restraint and have sex for the first time.

A detective appointed by Harge tapes Carol’s and Therese’s stay at a hotel room. The warning of exposing Carol’s homosexuality – she had had a relationship with best friend Abby years ago – becomes the reason for Harge to seek the sole custody of their daughter Rindy.

On hearing the news, Carol flees the hotel, leaving Therese in the company of Abby, who drives the girl back home. Except for a letter by Carol, the women remain incommunicado for sometime.

In the end, Carol moves to an apartment and becomes a furniture buyer. Therese joins The New York Times as a photographer. They meet. Carol offers Therese to live with her.

After her initial no, later, Therese is seen walking towards Carol, who is in a business meeting. In the final sequence, their eyes meet in what appears to be a happily-ever-after ending.

It’s an end that does not have men in it. What if Carol had been dating a man? Would it still have merited a “morality clause” in the divorce petition? Of course, it has a lot to do with the taboo of homosexuality that existed in America 60 years ago. That was decades before the American Psychiatric Association removed the mention of homosexuality as a mental disorder in the 1970s, even though the discrimination against gays persisted.

“Carol”, whose original text is considered to be a feminist lesbian classic, took me back to “Fire”. Released in 1996, the Deepa Mehta film had two women – wives of two brothers – walk out of their loveless and sex-less marriages to live with each other.


We don’t know what kind of lives Radha (Shabana Azmi) and Sita (Nandita Das), the main characters of “Fire”, lead with each other, whether are they happy or not. Ditto with Carol and Therese. [Review of “Fire” by NYT]

But in excluding men from their lives, these women challenge the obvious authority that emanates from being married to these men. In “Fire”, for example, the husbands of Radha and Sita neglected them; one practised sexual abstinence, under the guidance of a spiritual master; and his brother dates a Chinese woman. In other words, they were at the mercy of them, not only in financial terms. In “Carol”, Richard and Harge want their women to the point of desperation.

In their rejection of men as partners, are they looking for personal freedom in their search for love and happiness?  It’s hard to arrive at a clear answer, but in the case of “Fire” it is certainly the end of patriarchal tyranny. In “Carol” the women don’t want to be with their men because they are naturally drawn to each other, and less driven by circumstances as in “Fire” and it probably has more to do with free choice. Perhaps it’s a mix of all these factors. But you do wonder if the husbands of Radha and Sita had kept them happy, would “Fire” have happened?

And you still wonder, given the open-ended nature of the endings, whether these decisions and choices are definitive? Cast in stone? Again, there are no clear answers.

The return of Shefali Shetty

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(Stills from the trailer of “Dil Dhadakne Do”)

Once upon a time on a humid day in Delhi, I sat inside a crowded staff room of a university for an admission interview.

The hall was teeming with students eager to display their skills in the extra-curricular activities category. Since they didn’t score well enough to get a seat through merit, creative talent came to their rescue to pursue higher studies. So, there were dancers, painters, athletes, creative writers. I was among those with a passion for stage speaking.

It was my turn to take the interview, which was conducted by a grim-looking panel of professors seated in another room.

“Why did you score so less, beta?” a lady sitting in the centre asked me as I nervously sat in the chair, clutching my leather file containing dozens of merit certificates.

I didn’t react to that. I had had my share of self-flagellation before facing that interview. But once I got over the question, I noticed her exhausted face, which uprooted me from reality and reminded me of snippets of TV shows seen on Doordarshan.

She looked familiar. She could have played someone’s mother, sister, daughter or a working woman on the state broadcaster’s shows.

When my mother saw her leaving the interview room for a loo break, she said, “Yes, I remember that scene in which she consoles her friend and blows her nose very loudly.”

We are still not sure in which show did she actually blow her nose or whether she appeared in any at all.

But the deal with so many second fiddle actors is you can identify them by face but don’t know their names. And the best thing about them – besides their acting, of course – is when they perform they are believable, gripping characters, who have no relation whatsoever to their lives beyond the profession. Thankfully, they don’t come with any star appeal that encumbers or colours their actual on-screen work.

One such actor is Shefali Shetty, who recently played a high society, but unhappy woman in Zoya Akhtar’s latest film “Dil Dhadakne Do”, a family drama set on a cruise.

Neelam Mehra (Shefali Shetty) is married to Kamal (Anil Kapoor) in the film. While suffering a loveless marriage and staring at bankruptcy in family business, they set out to host their 30th wedding anniversary on a cruise with their children (Priyanka Chopra and Ranveer Singh), relatives and friends.

But the façade of a successful marriage doesn’t hold for too long. Kamal is a charming, flamboyant and widely travelled businessman. A known philanderer, he happens to meet a foreigner during a sightseeing trip. The lady gets special attention from him, something that rankles his wife a great deal. As a host, it is my duty to be nice to my guests, Kamal, when questioned, explains to his agitated wife.

In the next scene, a shattered Neelam stuffs chocolate pastries into her mouth, while trying to hold back her tears and fix the smudged lipstick.

During the near-three hour long film, Shetty is a theatrical powerhouse in a story that could have been better written and executed. But the credit to her performance also goes to her boss, Akhtar, who works out the film in such a way that no character oversteps his or her brief, given the fact it is such a star-studded film. [Review here]

Neelam is a socialite, prefers her son over the daughter, and diligently commits herself to create a happy-marriage image in front of the world. Despite a discordant relationship with her husband, she is insensitive to her daughter’s marital problems that eventually lead to a bitter divorce.

And as Akhtar peels off layer after layer in the tumultuous lives of the Mehras, Neelam is made to reveal her vulnerability for the first time, when her anxiety-prone husband is hospitalised. That’s when she expresses a fear of losing him, the man whose wayward ways she got accustomed to endure. But then, there is a knock on the door and she immediately composes herself to become what is she in front of everyone – a façade.

Beyond that hospital room, I do not remember Shetty, except as a largely docile housewife in “Mohabbatein” or in a scene with Rahul Bose probably in Kucch Luv Jaisaa.

One of her best performances is supposed to be in Mira Nair’sMonsoon Wedding”, also a family drama about the lives of the Vermas captured during a Punjabi wedding in their house in Delhi.

As an unmarried and sometimes subdued Ria Verma, Shetty portrays the role of a woman living with the memory of sexual abuse since her childhood. Her tormentor is none other than a family member – a tall, fair, graying and smooth-talking Tej Puri (Rajat Kapoor). As he arrives before the wedding of her cousin, the trauma of those “seven afternoons” jolts her again. And yet, she contains her reaction and lives with his lingering presence as he tries to be friendly with another young girl.

In “Monsoon Wedding”, Shetty is subtle and never melodramatic. Those big eyes reveal a lot, more than a dialogue can. In the end, the film becomes her story, when she pours out her agony in front of the entire family.

Before “Dil Dhadakne Do”, her last substantial role was in Nagesh Kukunoor’s “Lakshmi”, which dealt with human trafficking and child prostitution.

At 42, she is leading a satisfied life with her sons and husband Vipul Amrutlal Shah, who is also part of the film industry. She loves to paint, write, cook and watch four films a week, she says in an interview to The Indian Express newspaper.

“Dil Dhadakne Do is one of the best scripts I have read. It doesn’t have huge dramatics but according to me, I have a very powerful role,” she says.

Indeed. I won’t be surprised if she wins an award in a supporting role as Neelam Mehra.

Geeta Dutt cameo in “Tanu Weds Manu Returns”

It’s just another night in Haryana’s Jhajjar district, except a jat household is having sleepless nights over the marriage of their daughter. Kusum (Kangana Ranaut), a Delhi university student and a successful athlete, is going to marry a 40-year-old doctor, who has just returned from an asylum in London. Dr. Manu Sharma (R. Madhavan) is having issues with his wife, Tanuja Trivedi and their marriage is nearly over. To add more confusion to the plot of “Tanu Weds Manu Returns”, Kusum is Tanuja’s double. Go figure! [Review here]

In another corner of the Haryana village, a despondent Tanuja is walking by herself at night, drinking.

“Did you ever miss me?” she asks her estranged husband in the next scene.

“No,” the man says promptly but uncertainly.

And then film director Anand L. Rai introduces the forgotten voice of Geeta Dutt, Hindi cinema’s legendary singer.

As Tanuja totters off on a desolate street in Jhajjar, a beautiful song from another century serves as a background score to talk about all the horrible things that love, by default, brings. Here it is:

The song, “Ja ja ja Bewafa”, is from “Aar Paar”, directed by Guru Dutt. O. P. Nayyar was the music composer. The 1954 film is about a taxi driver, his ambitions and a love triangle too.

The sequel to Tanu Weds Manu is a fun watch and has brilliant punch lines in every scene that would put star comedian Kapil Sharma (or his scriptwriters) to shame. A Geeta Dutt song is not only out of place in the film. It is more than that. Despite its immortal melody, it jars against a nondescript romantic story that has nothing but detours, plots and sub-plots and their shorter extensions.

For the WhatsApp generation, the tenuous world of Geeta Dutt is far removed; it’s even farther removed from the huge popular culture that Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle have been a part of.

Geeta, the estranged wife of Guru Dutt, died at 41. She took to drinking as her husband romanced actress Waheeda Rehman. Her husband, a celebrated filmmaker, died earlier, due to an overdose of sleeping pills.

“Geeta Dutt’s voice conveys the sweetness of honey and the pain of the bee sting,” critic Subhash K Jha has said.

The song of her life was “Waqt ne kiya” for “Kaagaz Ke Phool”, a film about a director, his troubled marriage and a relationship with an actress that proves fatal.

In a relatively short career, she sang in various genres of music – peppy club numbers, melancholic melodies, romantic songs and bhajans as well. Hers was a soft, lilting voice that didn’t seem weighed down by the rules of music grammar.

A guest appearance in a forgetful Bollywood film doesn’t add anything to the legacy that the singer left behind. It only reinforces the profound difference between Bombay’s cinema-making culture that existed then and now.

PS: But do watch the film, if you want to laugh continuously for more than two hours.

One reason why you should watch ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’

(Warning: Spoilers ahead)

There are no “ten reasons why you should watch Dum Laga Ke Haisha.” There’s only one. Okay, there are two. First, the film’s music revives memories of a bygone era and second, the film has opened to good reviews.

The kitschy 90s music – mostly heard at dhabas, chai shops, bazaars, small towns, bus terminals, and in playlists of music connoisseurs like me – is back in this Yash Raj production that has Ayushmann Khurrana and first-timer Bhumi Pednekar playing the central characters. The film is set in the Haridwar of 1995.

The composition has all the ingredients of a perfect 90s Bollywood song: after years, Kumar Sanu and Sadhna Sargam team up with Anu Malik as the composer, who says Dard karara – a love song – sounds like a crisp roti.

We, of course, cannot forgive Malik for being true to himself. Recall his penchant for saying brainless nothings on ‘Indian Idol’ season after season. But you can’t forget his latest composition.

Dard Karara is shot in Rishikesh, under the famous Lakshman Jhula. The song rolls just before the end credits and is a celebration of the lead pair’s love after they patch up. Their marriage sours because the boy found his wife to be too fat and unattractive. He didn’t want to marry her, but buckled under family pressure.

A huge fan of Sanu’s voice, he runs a cassette shop in Haridwar with his father. The film is littered with snippets of songs from the 90s.

In the end, the husband and wife take part in a contest – called Dum Laga Ke Haisha – in which the man is supposed to piggyback his spouse until the finishing line. The winners get a reward of 10,000 rupees. Sanu makes an appearance as the guest who throws open the race. The once-sparring couple eventually win the race, and decide to live together.

In the song video, it’s not just the famous 90s musical trio making a comeback. For the viewer, a familiar terrain is revisited when you see the hero wearing a saffron suit and a satin shirt; the lovers make a grand entry as a motley group of dancers open the sequence; a tracking camera follows the gyrating performers by the banks of Ganga; dupattas, holi colours are made to fly in the air; multiple mug shots of the dancing couple are seen all over the screen. It’s the stuff that is meant for the big screen.

But it seems Malik, who made his debut as a music composer in the 1970s, is playing familiar tunes in his so-called comeback. Dard karara vaguely reminded me of ‘Saajan’, the 1991 super-hit film that had Salman Khan, Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit in a love triangle. That’s not a bad thing, given Malik’s history of taking inspiration from multiple sources.

And it’s ditto for Tu, another familiar, but new Kumar Sanu song in Dum Laga Ke Haisha. It’s peppered with his unforgettable hay hay hay singing style.

Watch the film because it has a solid storyline, something “movies ought to have before they get made, the very thing that Bollywood forgets, unbelievably, so often.”

Gulzar’s ‘Mera Kuch Samaan’ translated into English

It’s one of the most haunting songs ever composed in Hindi cinema. The song has the pulse of a past lingering in the present, a present that seeks closure. Written by Gulzar‘s magical pen, rendered in Asha Bhosle‘s intensely moving voice and composed by the highly versatile R D Burman, ‘Mera Kuch Samaan‘ was awarded the National Award for Best Playback Singer and Best Lyrics in 1988.

According to Gulzar, the lyrics initially didn’t impress Burman, whose experimental streak gave India many a memorable song.”Tomorrow you will bring a copy of The Times of India and ask me to make a tune out of it?” the lyricist says here in an interview, quoting a visibly unmoved and dismissive Burman.

But it was an impromptu rendition by Bhosle, the music composer’s wife, that set the ball rolling; and the song, according to the legendary singer, was wrapped up in ten minutes. And the rest, as they, is we-know-it-all.

Contemporary music composer Shantanu Moitra, also a Bengali like Burman, has said: “The lines are beautiful, but they are not on any metre. Though he (Burman) didn’t understand the language very well, he respected the writer.” Here’s my attempt at translating the song.

There’s something
That you have of me:

The memory of a night,

in the fading words
of letters
soaked in rain
In autumn, I heard the rustle of leaves
Being crushed to nothing

Under my feet,
And hands.

The rustle is no more
But somewhere,
An ailing branch trembles for liberation.
On a rainy night,
You and I

Were drenched under the umbrella

A little less

And a little more.

A part of me

Of that night

Still hovers
over your bedside

The many moonlit nights from your terrace
The fragrance

Of the still-wet heena

On the day of my marriage

That never took place

The regret
That never was

The promise

That was never made

Will you walk me
All over again

Through everything?
So in peace
we sleep.

India celebrated Burman’s 75th birthday anniversary on June 29. He was the reigning king of Hindi film music in the 1970s and 80s, with compositions in over 300 films to his credit.

(On Twitter, I am @Ankush_patrakar)

On Rajendra ‘Jubilee’ Kumar’s Birthday, Listen to a Forgotten Rafi Nazm

By Ankush Arora

Hindi cinema actor Rajendra Kumar would have been 85 today.

After five years of working as an assistant director and a small role in ‘Jogan’ (1950), Kumar’s first tryst with success came in 1955 when he played his debut lead role in family drama ‘Vachan’.

The film, which earned him 1500 rupees, turned out to be his first silver jubilee hit – a recurring phenomenon in his career. Little wonder then, he was fondly nicknamed ‘Jubilee Kumar’.

He was born in Sialkot in 1929, then part of the Punjab province of British India. The family migrated to Bombay after partition.

With his intense acting, natural charm and decidedly Punjabi good looks, the son of a textile businessman was the leading hero in the 60s and 70s, romancing some of the most beautiful Indian actresses and enriching with his presence some of the best soundtracks ever composed in Hindi cinema.

One such is ‘Mere Mehboob’, the titular song of the famous 1963 film starring Kumar and Sadhna in the lead roles.

It’s a collaboration that couldn’t have gone wrong – Mohammad Rafi’s voice, Shakeel Badayuni’s lyrics and Naushad’s music. Top it with Kumar’s passion for a burqa-clad girl he has barely seen, save for her piercing eyes; and a brief, yet filmi brushing of their hands.

The man craves her revelation. He cannot track – or stalk – her because there are several women walking around the Aligarh Muslim University campus in burqas.

What follows, during the university mushairah, is a musical declaration of his love-at-first-sight and a plea for deedar.

फिर मुझे नरगिसी आँखों का सहारा दे दे
मेरा खोया हुआ रंगीन नज़ारा दे दे,
मेरे महबूब तुझे…

Phir mujhe naragisi aankhon ka sahara de de
Meraa khoyaa huaa rangin nazara de de,
Mere mehaboob tujhe…

The nazm focuses on the man’s so-called object of desire; its tenor is in keeping with the overall restrain of the film that is set in Aligarh and Lucknow, the site of traditional Muslim ethos of tehzeeb.

Rafi is unforgettable in this heart-stopping song. Even if you listen to it half a century after it was composed, the expression is imbued with a sense of novelty; the rendition fresh like the morning’s dewdrops.

The playback singer, who mastered the art of the romantic ditty, personalizes a gamut of emotions in this song. In his crooning, you hear of the lover’s passion and absolute loss of sanity and self-control. In his high-pitch tone is a sense of longing that gives voice to Kumar’s wish to meet his lady love.

सामने आ के ज़रा पर्दा उठा दे रुख़ से
इक यही मेरा इलाज-ए-ग़म-ए-तन्हाई है
तेरी फ़ुरक़त ने परेशान किया है मुझको
अब तो मिल जा के मेरी जान पे बन आई है
दिल को भूली हुई यादों का सहारा दे दे

samne aa ke zara pardaa uthaa de rukh se
ik yahi meraa ilaaj-e-gham-e-tanhaai hai
teri furqat ne pareshan kiya hai mujhko
ab to mil jaa ke meri jaan pe ban aai hai
dil ko bhuli hui yadon ka sahara de de

It won’t be out of place to quote a similar-themed couplet by Pakistani poet Ahmed Faraz, a kalam that has been immortalized in ghazal singer Mehdi Hasan’s voice.

तू खुदा है ना मेरा इश्क़ फरिश्तों जैसा
दोनो इंसान हैं तो इनूं इतने हिजाबों में मिले
अब के हम बिछड़े तो शायद कभी ख्वाबों में मिले
जिस तरह सूखे हुए फूल किताबों में मिले

Tu khuda hai na mera ishq farishton jaisa
Dono insaan hain to inum itne hijabon mein mile
Ab ke hum bichde to shaayad kabhi khwabon mein mile
Jis tarah sookhe huye phool kitaabon mein mile

Lata Mangeskar’s version of ‘Mere Mehboob’, unfortunately, lags behind in intensity. The song, by all means, is Rafi’s jaagir.

याद है मुझको मेरी उम्र की पहली वो घड़ी
तेरी आँखों से कोई जाम पिया था मैने
मेरी रग रग में कोई बर्क़ सी लहराई थी
जब तेरे मरमरी हाथों को छुआ था मैने
आ मुझे फिर उन्हीं हाथों का सहारा दे दे

yaad hai mujhko meri umr ki pahli vo ghadi
teri ankhon se koi jaam piyaa thaa maine
meri rag rag men koi barq si laharaai thi
jab tere marmari hathon ko chhua tha maine
aa mujhe phir unhin haathon ka saharaa de de

(You can follow me on Twitter @Ankush_patrakar)