Wednesday, July 17, 2013 

Rant on air travel

Tashkent trip
17th July 2013 - Bangalore

Leaving Bangalore today for Tashkent via Delhi.

I have never really understood why the powers-that-be in Bangalore decided that it would be a good idea to construct an airport that would serve the city, in what is effectively another city.

Did they seriously think that people travelling to and fro to/from this erstwhile Garden City would find their day enhanced by the experience of spending nearly 2 hours in interminable traffic and insane drivers ?

And even if they did decide to build the damn airport in - what to me is - Russia, why did they feel the need to start expanding it just four years of it going operational ? I mean, an airport is kind of a big deal, I think. And big deals like these call for a certain degree of planning, for at least, lets say 10 years. What would it be like, for instance, if the engineer of the Howrah bridge decided that an extra four lanes were needed to service the traffic on it four years after it was thrown open to the public ? I'd say that some superior intelligence went into engineering the Howrah bridge than into the BIAL.

Once at the airport, I am ready to rush in without checking in any baggage, as suggested by the Guidebook For Painless Flying. Once I reach the security check in lines, I am immediately subject to more than one ( and one in this case is one too many ) twit who decides that it's absolutely fine to nudge past me in the queue to place carry on items in the X-Ray tray, or pass through the scanners to the guy with the metal detector thingie. I managed to corner one of these subhumans and asked him if I was invisible ( after checking that i was not indeed wearing my invisibility cloak ) to which he looked at me with a disturbed frown and bobbled his head in a way that said "OK, you go ahead" . Like he did me a favour. I don't know if there are laws in any country that make jumping queues a capital offence, or at least subject to insertion of pins under fingernails, but if there is, I would seriously consider immigration options.

Of course, the very things that inspire homicidal urges when they happen to me, are subjects of huge hilarity when I see them happen to others. I nearly laughed my hind side off when I watched a guy in the neighbouring line struggling to drink 3 bottles of water, while holding up the queue, because he wasn't going to be allowed to carry the bottles on board. I know water conservation is a priority and all that, but there are times when it's prudent to just dump it. Similarly, I found it surprisingly entertaining when a well dressed knucklehead in another line was asked to go back and place his cellular phone in the X-Ray machine despite the fact that this very act was being requested by a guard in three different languages to all passengers before they got within 10 feet of the end of the line.

Once out of the security lines, I am faced with the main event which justifies travelling for 2 hours to be in this half constructed airport - that of actually flying to Delhi. This is also, arguably, the most trying part of the entire schedule. For example, there are ushers with mushrooms for brains who fail to tell me which seats they are boarding until I spend 25 mins getting nearer to the end of the queue. Then I find, of course, that they are boarding every seat except mine. I then dutifully step aside to let seemingly legitimate people board, until about 10 minutes later, I find that citizens are just cruising along ignoring the seating order call. What's even more baffling is that the mushroom-brained usher is just allowing them to go through. I silently wish for his painful death preceded by an unhappy marriage, and join the queue, and eventually board the aircraft only to find that spaces in the overhead bin have been occupied by oversized bags for about 2 miles on either side of my designated seat. I give my carry on bags to the cabin crew who proceed to stash it near the Indo Nepal border, which is the only free space. 

Erroneously assuming that my troubles are over, I snuggle into my seat ( actually its more like sit straight enough not to elbow the oversized bean bag next to me ) and start reading a book,when within minutes a liveried cabin crew appears to command me to switch off my electronic reading device before take off. I tell him that I have the device wi-fi switched off, and it has no SIM card, but of course, he has been trained to counter all such smart ass technical replies with a ' Sir, please turn off your device', followed by a foolish stare that continues till I have complied with his senseless rule.

Miraculously, I manage to doze off within moments ( something quite welcome on a longer-than-two-hour flight ) when within a few minutes of somnambulant bliss another cabin Nazi comes by to serve up some food. I have noticed that I never seem to land up on airlines that serve food when I am hungry, like early morning flights where I - and I think lots of other passengers- am likely to want to sink their teeth into a sandwich . Instead, at 7 pm when it's not time for any meal at all, the cabin crew comes at me like a wedding buffet. Frauline Cabin Nazi treats me to a non vegetarian meal, which was cooked ( or thrown together ) by either a 5th grader, or someone like me who has no actual knowledge of the culinary process. The "meal" consisted of, among other oddities, 2 chapaties made of something like cement mix.

I don't know if it bothers other people, but I get immensely peeved by looking at a plate of half eaten food in front of me for more than a minute. And, as a rule, once has to be subject to a sight of mangled half eaten foodstuff for a long time in a stiff seating position till the crew decide that it's been enough time for you and your leftovers have formed a lasting relationship. And again, I don't know if it happens to others, but after having a meal, and sitting crunched up in a seat for over an hour and a half, certain digestive and biological processes get the better of me and I am filled with an overpowering desire to relive myself with vigour.  Only this time, as soon as I climb over 2 innocent passengers to triumphantly arrive at the aisle and head straight for the broom closet sized toilet, I am bodily stopped by aforementioned cabin Nazi who points out to me that the pilot has switched on the seat belt sign because of turbulence,and he cannot let me use the bathroom without permission. I explain to him that any turbulence in the atmosphere outside would fall short in severity compared to the turbulence in my innards at the moment. He inanely repeats an instruction to "return to my seat". I tell him that its either I take the very minimal risk of throwing the plane out of gear by peeing in the privacy of the closet, or I take the substantially more risky path of relieving myself on the airplane door. I don't know what the guy said, but I was allowed into the bathroom.

So, all of this, and I am not even in Delhi yet. Still have another flight to go before I reach my final port of arrival.

The plane just begun its descent, the pilot has just announced that he has 2.7 km of visibility ( I know no one who gives a toss about what the pilot says ),  and I can already spot the SS walking towards me to switch off my electronic device lest it sink his U Boat. Actually he has already asked me to do so and I am ignoring the poor fool because he has had to sit and strap himself in. It gives me a strange sense of power to do this.

Isn't flying a joy ?

Saturday, July 13, 2013 

Vikramaditya Motwane's adaptation of an O. Henry Masterpiece

There are very few stories which stay with you for life, and I daresay that quite a few of those are written by O Henry. Well, at least in my own list of memorable stories, that definitely is the case.

I first read a few of O Henry's short stories when I was nine or ten years old, and even at that age, they were fascinating. As I re-read those stories in the years that followed, they opened up new perspectives, each read throwing up a new way of understanding human beings which I had missed before.

My personal favorites among his stories were The Gift of the Magi (of course), Twenty Years After , and The Last Leaf. So to know that a movie had been made in Hindi at least partially based on 'The Last Leaf', it made me feel more than a little happy and excited.

After watching the movie, its an even better feeling, as it was an absolute joy to watch. Vikramaditya Motwane has done such a nice job of capturing the feel of the O Henry classic (as well as adding completely original aspects to the story), that despite its unhurried pace, I couldn't help but become part of the story for the couple of hours the story unfolded.

Motwane transports us to the 1950's, to a Shonar Bangla of zamindars in an infant republic, where the long held stature of landlords are about to be upset in a big way. In a political background where things are changing faster than people can keep pace with, a couple of archaeologist friends arrive in Manikpur, West Bengal to excavate the ruins of a civilization nearby.

In the weeks that follow, one of the archaeologists are shown to fall in love with the daughter of the soon-to-be-ex Zamindar of Manikpur.

What follows is an engrossing story of love, betrayal and a neat little heist by a gang of thieves.

By the time its intermission's Mahendra Shetty's expert cinematography, Motwane's story telling, well enacted performances by the cast (right from the suave archaeologist, to the innocent but confident daughter of the zamindar, to the zamindar trying to cling to the world falling apart around him), and Amit Trivedi's music manage to make sure that the audience is well invested in the fate of the protagonists.

During the second act of the story, Motwane does something I haven't seen in a long while - showing an India in winter in a setting that isn't a song sequence with heroes sliding down snowed out mountain slopes. (The last time I think I saw an actual story against a winter backdrop in an Indian film, was in Gulzar's Maachis). Lootera's second half is set in the bitter winter of Dalhousie - a town founded by the British as a
retreat for the Company bureaucrats during the harsh Indian summers of Calcutta and Delhi.

The Last Leaf - O Henry
This is where the story moves from being a heist movie to one about a human being losing hope - which was the theme of O Henry's story. The daughter of the zamindar has moved to Dalhousie to try and forget the betrayal that was meted out to her, and to get over the loss of her family. Using the right lighting, props and mood, Motwane makes us almost forget the sunny village of Manikpur with all its majesty, and transports us to a world of gloom and heartbreak.

The final act of the film does well in showing up the attempts at redemption on the part of the eponymous Lootera. By this time, its fairly evident to most of the audience what the ending is, but the storytelling process ensures that we do not give up hanging on to the narrative.

What worked most for me in the film was the use of music (especially the Sawar Loon and the Baul-tune-inspired Monta Re sequences), along with simple but effective performances of Barun Chanda(The Zamindar of Manikpur), Adil Hussain(the unrelenting police officer) and of course Sonakshi Sinha.

The story ends with a sense of closure for the woman who was betrayed in a cruel manner, and hints to the audience that she has finally found the strength to forgive.

A movie with these themes can hardly be missed. Do watch.

Saturday, December 10, 2011 

Tintin Mania - 1

I can't imagine a world without Tintin. Period.

That's possibly because ever since I have been conscious of the world, I have been exposed to the brilliance of Herge. My mother probably read out the stories to me when I was 3 years old, and they have been a part of my imagination ever since.

What is it about Tintin that continues to captivate me all these years ? Comic heroes have come and gone. I seem to have outgrown Phantom, Mandrake, Bahadur, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and so many others, all of whom I was pretty enamored by at an earlier age. But Tintin continues never to age. His adventures continue to throw up some new meaning, and some new facet which I had not thought of earlier.

I don't know what are the reasons for this. Maybe if I studied literature, I would know how to deconstruct Tintin.

Today, I thought of going through each of the Tintin adventures and take up one frame from every book which I think is a salient point of why Tintin continues to enthrall.

1) Tintin In America
For me, Tintin starts with his American adventure, for the simple reason that his Soviet and Congo adventures were unknown to me much till much later in my life.

The American adventure is a fast moving western, with less of a 'story' and more of 'exploits'. Tintin and Snowy are more of the equivalent of modern day swashbucklers than the suave detectives of the later adventures.

The humor is slapstick for the most part, but a frame that always gets me is where Tintin climbs out of the window of a skyscraper and climbs in through the neighboring window. More than anything, this daring and ingenuity is an indication of what our hero is capable of in his later travels around the world.

The frame depicts the sheer drop which Tintin crosses. with a slightly nervous expression on his face. The depiction of perspective, along with the authenticity of architectural elements (which would turn out to be Herge's forte) are so impressive that I can never flip this page by in the book without looking at this frame for a long time. This is probably the one place in all the Tintin adventures where we have a 'never say die' moment.

The boy reporter has burst onto the scene. It's all uphill from here.

2) Cigars of the Pharaoh
This is probably one of Herge's weakest stories, in my opinion.

There are ridiculous plot points and highly un-Herge-esque factual inaccuracies.

India is depicted as a land of snake charmers, maharajas and fakirs, something that matures tremendously by the time Tintin makes his epic adventure to Tibet.

In the story I find this frame memorable - where Tintin, our hero shows his vulnerable side by falling to Senhor Oliviera de Figueira's 'patter'. The sheet absurdity of Tintin buying a top hat, a ski-ing kit, a garden shower and a parrot in the middle of what is probably the Arabian Sea, is hilarious.

I think this vulnerability is one of the reasons why Tintin stands out. he is not a superhero, and he has many of the failings of his readers.

3) The Blue Lotus

Herge's first masterpiece. The Blue Lotus is a standout in many ways. it's the only Tintin comic to make use of real events in it's plot point without disguising them as happening in fictional countries (like Syldavia, Borduria, San Theodoros and Kehmed of future adventures). Japan is the aggressor here, and very evidently so.

I don't know why, but this frame always makes me stop and look. I think it's the sheer detail and authenticity of the drawing. Everything, from the small lights on the 1930 lamp posts to the way the backpack of the man in the foreground is pressed by its weight against the ropes adds to the mood of the frame.

Undoubtedly, the hard work Herge applied to making his depictions of life 'excellent' and not just 'acceptable' is one of the reasons why his fan following only grows 82 years after he wrote his first Tintin adventure.

4) Tintin and the Broken Ear

The Broken Ear kicks off the adventurous run of Tintin in the real sense. Here, Tintin lands up in the thick of a South American revolution. What better adventure than that ?

Most of the gags in this adventure still border on the slapstick, though we can see the plot getting better.

The most recurring point of interest I find myself hung on to, each time I go through this book is where Tintin is listening to a conversation between Dr. Ridgewell and Avakuki (the chief of the Arumbaya tribe). What looks like gibberish is actually immediately comprehensible when we read it aloud. I still remember the first time I discovered this (fortunately no one had told me this before, to spoil the fun), and how absolutely thrilled I was.

To explain, Dr Ridgewell is saying "Now look. Do you remember the brown idol ? Tintin's looking for it. Can you help him ?'. And Avakuki replies "The brown idol ? Yeah ! Yeah ! It's like I told you. The tribe gave the brown idol to Walker. He was a nice guy. But his fellas took our precious jewel. And if the Arumbayas catch him they'll have his guts for gutters. No messin !'.

I don't know about others, but I found this to be insanely clever. Apparently Herge did something similar in French, but whoever translated this to English must have been a genius.

5) The Black Island

With this adventure, Herge officially let's go of the slapstick, and Tintin moves into a whole new era. The redrawn version of the Black Island transports the reader to the Island of Eire. The drawings abound with the minutest of detail.

Nowhere is the sense of adventure more evident than this frame, where Tintin and Snowy are approaching the Black island with a sense of determination to find out its secret. Notice the difference in lighting in the gorge and the sea beyond, along with the eerie effect of the birds circling the tower of the abandoned castle.

6) King Ottokar's Sceptre

This adventure introduces us to the interesting world of Baltic politics, with Syldavia and Borduria as the representatives of warring European nations of the day.

Syldavia is portrayed as a benign monarchy, with a typically East European history, while its neighbor Borduria is clearly a representation of the Italy of Mussolini.

The story, though slightly dated, still is relevant in the present day as long as we have constitutional monarchies in Europe.

The frame that captivates me, is the one where Tintin has messed up by allowing the royal sceptre to drop out of his pocket, and Snowy has to choose between picking up the sceptre or a tasty bone. Snowy enters the scene with the sceptre, clearly not very pleased about having to leave his bone behind.

Again, an example of the real failings of our heroes, along with their determination to choose the right path.

7) The Crab With the Golden Claws

To me, nothing depicts the spirit of Tintin better than this vignette.

Even in the empty desert, with no one to turn to, Tintin, Snowy and the indefatigable Captain Haddock have each other. One of the reasons I was happy with Spielberg's recent film is that he managed to capture this moment perfectly.

This adventure is a particularly crucial one in the Tintin stories, as this is where Tintin meets Haddock, who will remain his lifelong friend. The fact that Herge manages to portray beautifully in this frame is that in the desert of our life's journey, it is important to make and cherish those few friends who will stand by us in times of hardship.

8) The Shooting Star
I am not a particularly big fan of this adventure, but it does have its moments.

I always crack up at this sequence where Herge, in a typical Tintin-deprecating moment, shows our hero in a confident moment breathing in the sea air (and advising Snowy to do the same), and a moment later getting drenched by the sea.

9) The Secret of the Unicorn

If there was any adventure of Tintin's that could be filmed, this is it. This is an adventure par excellence, which throws the reader between the middle ages and the present time. Between the villainy of pirates and of present day hoodlums. Between the swashbuckling heroism of Sir Francis Haddock and the steadfast friendship of his descendant Archibald.

The drawing above is an unusual Tintin frame. For one thing, it happens in flashback. For another it shows a fair amount of death and carnage. Both not depicted so starkly in any other story.

Somewhere, deep within us, we all yearn to be heroes like Sir Francis, with a cutlass in one hand and a pistol in the other, saving His Majesty's treasure.

10) Red Rackham's Treasure

Another crucial adventure, where we are introduced to Professor Cuthbert Calculus, who will remain an integral part of most future stories. Much as the wholeof this story is filled with superb depictions of Carribean Islands, underwater wrecks and old manors, my favorite vignette remains the one below.

Calculus is clearly the inspiration of Lalmohan Ganguly (Jatayu) in Satyajit Ray's Feluda series. Here we see that many of Jatayu's traits are also those shown by Calculus. In this frame we see Calculus instantly offering to help Haddock buy back his family home with the money that the government has given him. The surprise and shock on Haddock's (and Tintin's) face is evident, as they considered Calculus to be a rather eccentric scientist for most of the story.

This incident turns our adventurers into an inseperable trio.

Sunday, July 31, 2011 

Empires to Dust

I spent the weekend delving in history, so thought of putting up a few pictures that I have taken over the years, of empires that thought they would last forever.

Sometimes I find going through this line of thought somewhat refreshing, as it reminds me that the things we spend too much time thinking about - like money, bills, traffic, office and such are terribly small considerations in the scheme of things.

Would even Marcus Aurelius ever have imagined that common plebs would walk into his palaces and defile them ? Would the Devaraja's of Kamboj ever tolerate feisty gaggles of tourists climbing up the ramparts of their sacred temples at Bayon ? How about the Rajas of Vijaynagar - what would go through their mind had someone told them that their powerful city, at it's time mightier than Rome, would be a city of ruins a mere four centuries later ? And I bet the price for telling a Mughal royal in the 1600's that common folk would walk around sipping range juice in the Diwan-i-Khaas would be nothing less than a sever flogging. Finally, who among the stalwarts of the Honorable East India company would believe that an Indian millionaire would own the symbol of their pride anytime before Judgement Day ?

So. The things that matter are almost certainly not power, money, fame and all that goes with it. What matters is there here and now. What matters is having support from one's family and friends. Death eventually comes to everyone and everything - individuals and empires. What matters is the peace of the moment.

The fortress built by the Nuraghi in Sardinia, sometime more than 5000 years ago. Most people today don't even know about it and it recieves minimal tourist attention in the beach resort island of Sardinia.

The Sarcophagus of Cleopatra, contemporary of Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony, now lying in the British Museum in the list of 50 'must-see' items.

The once mighty Roman Forum, now serves to satisfy millions of tourists who throng among its cobbled ruins trying in vain to feel the tinge of empire.

A section from the walls of the Chennakesava Temple at Belur; a structure clearly built to impress the viewer with a riot of art. The lady seems to be looking into a future in which she knows she will be forgotten.

The magnificent Vishnulok, built for the Devaraja's at Kamboj, lost in the dense jungles today.

The once glamorous city of Vijaynagar, home of the emperor Krishnadevaraya, now is a sprawling ruin with creatures like this carved in stone with listless eyes.

The most progressive of all kings, probably in the world, was Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar, who lies in this tomb. He was a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare. While Europe lay in the grips of fanaticism and turmoil, Akbar's court thrived in art, culture, discussions on land reform and progressive theology. To sit next to his tomb, at one time would require royal sanction.

The last great Queen of the last great Empire, Regina Victoria's shadow reminds us of the inevitable transition of power and time.

I guess, the right thing to do would be to not get overwhelmed by all the trappings of modernity. Time makes sure that everyone has their chance.

Friday, July 01, 2011 

What happened in my birth year

I've been off this blog in a while and have been thinking of putting pen to paper (figuratively of course - it's been years since I actually WROTE anything) for a while now.

Today, I stumbled on this website - .

This is what it had to say about me :

In 1980, the world was a different place.

There was no Google yet. Or Yahoo. Or Newtab, for that matter.

In 1980, the year of your birth, the top selling movie was Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. People buying the popcorn in the cinema lobby had glazing eyes when looking at the poster.

Remember, that was before there were DVDs. People were indeed watching movies in the cinema, and not downloading them online. Imagine the packed seats, the laughter, the excitement, the novelty. And mostly all of that without 3D computer effects.

Do you know who won the Oscars that year? The academy award for the best movie went to Ordinary People. The Oscar for best foreign movie that year went to Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears. The top actor was Robert De Niro for his role as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. The top actress was Sissy Spacek for her role as Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner's Daughter. The best director? Robert Redford for Ordinary People.

In the year 1980, the time when you arrived on this planet, books were still popularly read on paper, not on digital devices. Trees were felled to get the word out. The number one US bestseller of the time wasThe Covenant by James A. Michener. Oh, that's many years ago. Have you read that book? Have you heard of it? Look at the cover!

In 1980... U.S. President Jimmy Carter proclaims a grain embargo against the USSR with the support of the European Commission. Global Positioning System time epoch begins at 00:00 UTC. Nigel Short, 14, becomes the youngest chess player to be awarded the degree of International Master. The president of Sicily, Piersanti Mattarella, is assassinated by the Mafia. Israel and Egypt establish diplomatic relations. The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific railroad is ordered liquidated due to bankruptcy, and debt owed to creditors. Robert Mugabe is elected Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. The Silver Thursday market crash occurs. Spain and the United Kingdom agree to reopen the border between Gibraltar and Spain, closed since 1969. The Dominican embassy siege ends with all hostages released and the guerrillas flying to Cuba. Mobster Henry Hill is arrested for drug possession. Pac-Man, the best-selling arcade game of all time, is released. U.S. President Jimmy Carter signs Proclamation 4771, requiring 18- to 25-year-old males to register for a peacetime military draft, in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Ford Europe launches the Escort MK3, which ditches the traditional rear-wheel drive saloon in favour of a more practical and modern front-wheel drive hatchback. The St. Gotthard Tunnel opens in Switzerland as the world's longest highway tunnel at 10.14 miles, 16.32 km, stretching from Goschenen to Airolo. The Washington Post publishes Janet Cooke's story of Jimmy, an 8-year-old heroin addict, later proven to be fabricated. Digital Equipment Corporation, Intel and Xerox introduce the DIX standard for Ethernet, which is the first implementation outside of Xerox, and the first to support 10 Mbit per second speeds. The Staggers Rail Act is enacted, deregulating American railroads. The video game of the day was Space Panic.

That was the world you were born into. Since then, you and others have changed it.

The Nobel prize for Literature that year went to Czeslaw Milosz. The Nobel Peace prize went to Adolfo PĂ©rez Esquivel. The Nobel prize for physics went to James Watson Cronin and Val Logsdon Fitch from the United States for the discovery of violations of fundamental symmetry principles in the decay of neutral K-mesons. The sensation this created was big. But it didn't stop the planets from spinning, on and on, year by year. Years in which you would grow bigger, older, smarter, and, if you were lucky, sometimes wiser. Years in which you also lost some things. Possessions got misplaced. Memories faded. Friends parted ways. The best friends, you tried to hold on. This is what counts in life, isn't it?

The 1980s were indeed a special decade. The Soviet-Afghan war goes on. Eastern Europe sees the collapse of communism. Policies like Perestroika and Glasnost in the Soviet Union lead to a wave of reforms. Protests are crushed down on Tiananmen Square in China. Ethiopa witnesses widespread famine. Nicolae Ceausescu is overthrown. The AIDS pandemic begins. The role of women in the workplace increased greatly. MTV is launched in the US. There is opposition against Apartheid in South Africa as well as worldwide. Heavy Metal and Hard Rock bands are extremely popular. The rise of Techno music begins. Originally primarily played on campus radio stations, College Rock enters the scene with bands like the Pixies, REM and Sonic Youth. The Hip Hop scene continues to evolve. Teletext is introduced. Gay rights become more widely accepted in the world. Opposition to nuclear power plants grows. The A-Team and Seinfeld are popular on TV. US basketball player Michael Jordan bursts on the scene. Super Mario Bros, Zelda's Link, and Pac-Man gain fame in video games. People wear leggings, shoulder pads and Ray-Ban sunglasses.

Do you know what was on the cover of Life that year?

Do you remember the movie that was all the rage when you were 15?Seven. Do you still remember the songs playing on the radio when you were 15? Maybe it was This Is How We Do It by Montell Jordan. Were you in love? Who were you in love with, do you remember?

In 1980, 15 years earlier, a long time ago, the year when you were born, the song Rock with You by Michael Jackson topped the US charts. Do you know the lyrics? Do you know the tune? Sing along.

Girl, close your eyes
Let that rhythm, get into to you
Don't try to fight it
There ain't nothin' that you can do
Relax your mind
Lay back and groove with mine
You gotta feel the heat
And we can ride the boogie
Share that beat of love

There's a kid outside, shouting, playing. It doesn't care about time. It doesn't know about time. It shouts and it plays and thinks time is forever. You were once that kid.

When you were 9, the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was playing. When you were 8, there was Willow. When you were 7, there was a Disney movie out called Oliver & Company. Does this ring a bell?

6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1... it's 1980. There's TV noise coming from the second floor. Someone turned up the volume way too high. The sun is burning from above. These were different times. The show playing on TV is Too Close for Comfort. The sun goes down. Someone switches channels. There's Magnum, P.I. on now. That's the world you were born in.

Progress, year after year. Do you wonder where the world is heading towards? The technology available today would have blown your mind in 1980. Do you know what was invented in the year you were born? The Compact Disc. Flash Memory.

It was the fearful night of December 8th
He was returning home from the studio late
He had perceptively known that it wouldn't be nice
Because in 1980, he paid the price

That's from the song I Just Shot John Lennon by The Cranberries.

In 1980, a new character entered the world of comic books: Bananaman. Bang! Boom! But that's just fiction, right? In the real world, in 1980, Christina Aguilera was born. And Christina Ricci. Venus Williams, too. And you, of course. Everyone an individual. Everyone special. Everyone taking a different path through life.
It's 2011.

The world is a different place.

What path have you taken?

at path have you taken?

Sunday, January 30, 2011 

Double Brilliance on a Sunday

Today was one of the best spent Sunday's in recent memory.

The morning started off with my 7th Chinese lesson. It's only the second time in my life I am attending a language class outside of a formal setting, the first being a course in French that I took on the insistence of my grandfather when I was about 13. It's amazing how fresh one's mind feels when one is doing something as a hobby, as opposed to something that is required for school/work. There is definitely something to the concept of 'doing what you like'. And even in the case of one's job, the moment I start 'liking what I do', the whole concept of 'job' turns into something totally different; something that at times even becomes 'passion'.

Anyways, soon after this, went down to watch Kiran Rao's debut film 'Dhobi Ghat' at our local multiplex. And what a debut it is. This is, by far, one of the best films to be made in India since Satyajit Ray crafted out his study of human civilization in 'Aguntuk' way back in 1991. And what a joy it is that someone of the caliber of Aamir Khan is associated with this. Films like Dhobi Ghat is the stuff what students of cinema yearn to master. It is the craft of motion pictures at its best. A well thought story line, well crafted characters, near perfect casting, a haunting background score, and editing that makes people forget they are in a movie theater.

The film takes us into the lives of 4 residents of Mumbai - an accomplished painter, an ambitious dhobi cum rat killer with aspirations of making it as an actor, a down-to-earth western educated daughter of a Parsee millionaire, and (my personal favorite) Hasina Noor - a lower middle class Muslim woman resident of Mohammad Ali Road. I am a fan of stories which take the approach of defying time lines and sequential storytelling, and was immediately drawn to Dhobi Ghat right from the opening scene - where the audience takes the vantage point of an invisible Yasmin Noor who is videotaping a rainy day out of her taxi window.

Khan plays the divorced artist who is a self confessed loner, with clear people issues, who, one night, finds himself sharing common thoughts with an NRI daughter of a millionaire builder who is on a sabbatical. Soon after she walks out on him after their brief encounter, he finds a few tapes left in the back of a cupboard in his rented apartment left behind by the previous occupant of the place. With Khan, we begin a crucial journey into the life of Yasmin Noor - as the tapes are her home videos, made as recorded letters to her brother back home.

We are also quickly introduced to Munna, the 'dhobi', who services the apartments of both our painter and our NRI daughter-on-sabbatical. He represents about 95% of the population of Mumbai - a migrant with hopes of making it big in the metropolis of dreams. He is a dhobi by day, and rat killer by night, with dreams of becoming an actor in this unforgiving city which he has chosen to call home. He is also the 'glue' in our story, and serves to swivel the screenplay from one life to another.

Dhobi Ghat is one of those films where one can interpret several layers, so I will stick to the things that appealed to me. To me, the film is largely about loneliness in a big city. It's the kind of loneliness that was depicted almost to perfection by De Niro in 'Taxi Driver'. It's the loneliness which can make a person lose his humanity, the loneliness which can make human beings lose touch with reality. And in my experience, the more crowded the city, the more lonely is the person in it. Just like Travis Bickle, the character of the painter Arun struggles to fight his inner demons, and shows a spark of his inner human being when he finally connects with someone. In this case, that someone is a person he has never met. Yasmin Noor, who exists only in the forgotten video tapes, is the only person who seems to be able to reach out to the troubled painter.

In two hours, the film takes us through a few weeks of these four peoples' lives, in such an adept way, that at times, we almost feel like a voyeur. We are taking a look at people at their most vulnerable moments, as well as at moments when some of them almost find themselves.

On hindsight, one of the things that I really liked about this film is that, it showed us, for once, regular Muslim folks who lead regular lives. Not the innocent guy who gets pulled into hardline politics, not the honest police officer fighting discrimination, not the terrorist fighting the never ending 'jihad'. Here we see regular folks - with the same aspirations as anyone else, and the same demons as well. Again, on hindsight, something that I really liked about this film was the fact that it leaves the audience to make their own inferences about each person. Nothing is 'dumbed down' with an explanation, or with some obvious hint. Just like life itself, nothing is black or white, it's all shares of grey.

Full respect to Kriti Malhotra for essaying the role of Yasmin so amazingly well. And more so to Kiran Rao for envisioning this masterpiece.

I just hope Kiran doesn't do an Orson Wells and disappear into mediocrity after this. Dhobi Ghat is a tough act to follow.


The second film I watched today was 'The King's Speech'. This is another one of those films which is a rare find these days - one with a soul. though Dhobi Ghat and The King's Speech could not be set in more different surroundings, there is something that is a common thread between these two films. What that something is cannot be explained very easily. I guess the simplest way to put it would be to say that both films are about the ability of human beings to rise above themselves in their own small way. Only, in the case of the second film, the human being is a King - of what was then the largest empire in the world.

The King's Speech takes us into the private life of King George VI, or Bertie, as we come to know him in the film. We learn of his struggle with his stammering, resulting from childhood traumas, and the pressures of public life. We also look at the relationship between him and his therapist, played so marvelously by Geoffery Rush.

Very soon into the film, we stop seeing Prince Albert (later to be Geroge VI) as a member of the royal family. He is, like us, just a human being - with similar (perhaps more complex) mental anguishes, and similar shortcomings. His struggle with his stammer, leading to a near-total breakdown of self confidence is played to perfection by Colin Firth (one of the most underrated actors - watch Shakespeare in Love and Bridget Jones' Diary).

The final few minutes of the film, which show the newly instated king of the realm speak to his subjects over the radio at the onset of World War II, is the high point of the film. Watching Rush and Firth go through the King's speech almost like a tango is an absolute joy, and is sure to go down as one of the most finely crafted sequences in cinema ever.

In short, another masterpiece. The 12 Oscar nominations are not unwarranted.


The icing on the cake, was that I was not alone in enjoying these films. The missus too thoroughly enjoyed them.

Monday, December 20, 2010 

Strange Days ..... and the genius of James Cameron

Sci Fi had never been my favorite genre of book or cinema. I have always had access to sci fi literature from as long back as I can remember, but people like Arthur Clarke never really made an impression on me in school or college. I always found the complexity rather meaningless.

Later on in life, I was exposed to the films of James Cameron, and the more I watched the first two Terminator films, and the Abyss, the more I felt the need to delve more into this genre. Then came Minority Report, which sealed the deal for me, and in about a month, I read everything I could by Philip Dick.

A few dozen books later, I decided that these kinds of stories required a particular breed of storyteller, and I don't think that there has been a better science fiction storyteller than James Cameron. Ever. Though Minority Report was a terrific film, reading Philip Dick made me realize the level of sophistication in the story which never made it to the film. Also, another film based on Dick's work - The Scanner Darkly, ranked way above Spielberg's work in my book.

Recently, I got my hands on a film of his that I had never heard of. Strange Days, written by James Cameron. The film was made in 1995, and it is, in short - a classic.
The film deals with the classic science fiction theme - that of a technology built by the government being put to questionable use. This time, it's the technology to record a person's experiences directly from the cerebral cortex, to prevent police from carrying wiretaps that gets out into the black market. And what better black market than the pornographic industry.

Cameron manages to turn this (rather) simple premise into a taut thriller, with one such 'SQUID' recording which shows rather sordid facts about the LAPD making its way out into the open.

Ralph Fiennes plays the ex cop Lenny Nero almost to perfection - with his every move showing his vulnerability and his nervousness. Fiennes plays a cop who was fired and now pays his bills by selling people's 'experiences' in the black market using contraband technology. His love interest is played by Angela Basset in what is most likely her best character role yet. Other people in the stellar cast include Juliette Lewis (of Cape Fear fame), Vincent D'Onofrio (brilliantly under rated actor who made Full Metal Jacket a memorable film), William Fitchner (who played the blind scientist in Contact) and Tom Sizemore (aka Michael Cimino of Heat).

What makes this film different from other works of Cameron is that there are no noticeable special effects. It's all about the story, camerawork, and characters. Not to say that other Cameron films are not about those things, but - what the hell, it bears mentioning.

This is one of those movies which have sunk into obscurity, but which deserve to be seen by everyone interested in quality cinema.

About me

  • I'm Soham Pablo
  • From Bangalore, Karnataka, India
  • A carbon based life form existing in a confusin world, trying to make sense of it all.......
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