An old blog of mine…
- Kuro-obi -and then?
A black belt in Karate is an achievement…a big achievement. Its a culmination of years of blood and sweat, of hard toil, of pain and perseverance. A Kyokushin Karate black belt is even more treasured, since it carries with it a silent testimony of hard practice and a spirit of never-give-up. But what happens next?
Kuro-obi. The very word carries a certain amount of mysticism and awe. The first thing you hear when you tell someone about your practice in Karate is – are you a black belt? People respect the kuro-obi.
They may not know what exactly it means to go through the years and years of grueling training, but they do have an idea.
But is the black belt the destination?
Over the years, I have seen many black belts, most from the early days of their endeavor. What starts out as a passion, reaches its peak on the day the belt is achieved. And then…mostly a downward curve. The practice stops, the passion recedes, and all that is left is the thirst for misplaced power and an additional Dan. The cornerstone of martial arts is discipline, and yet, this is the first to be forsaken.
Doesn’t a black belt carry more than just your karate pants? Is there no responsibility towards the art, towards learning more and most importantly, towards justifying the kuro-obi?
The black belt is the first step in a long journey. Of self-discovery. Of challenges. Of self-realization. The explosive power of Tensho and the finesse of Kanku. The calmness of meditation and the organised chaos of the Kihons.
Immerse yourself in them. Re-discover the art that you had so much passion for. And then you will feel the steps…the sound of you moving ahead.
In the words of Miyamoto Musashi…
If you wish to control others…you must first control yourself!
A lot is spoken of the word “Budo”.
Budō is a compound of the root bu (武:ぶ), meaning “war” or “martial”; and dō (道:どう; dào in Chinese), meaning “path” or “way. Superficially translated, it is read as “the martial way”.
But what is the martial way?
Surprisingly, just like karate itself, Budo has it’s roots in ancient India. The “way” has it’s origins in मार्ग, or margā, in Sanskrit, where margā denoted the path of dharmā.
Budō is the idea of formulating propositions, subjecting them to philosophical critique and then following a “path” to realize them.
And so Budo is the way to refine your inner self – a way of self-improvement, of self-purification.
This is the objective of martial arts. Not getting a spinning kick right, or knocking out opponents.
Through practice, one develops an awareness of the body, and then of the mind, and then of the spirit. They come together, integrated, in a flow, so that when one executes a punch…one becomes the punch.
And in this, lies the inherent beauty of martial arts. What you see on screen, and what most practice in person, is but a pale imitation of what can be.
For martial arts and meditation go hand-in-hand. One is incomplete without the other. In the yogic tradition, āsanās denote the physical component, in martial arts, it is the punches and the kicks. And just as in yoga, the “not-physical” part is the real deal.
Kuro-obi is a start, a door to a wonderful life of discovery, It is a pity that many stop at this door, and turn back. Others knock, but don’t open it. And the most unfortunate of all enter the wrong door, and think that they made it to the right one…
- Kabali…my thoughtsThe release of a movie of Rajnikanth is a festival in itself…from the announcement, to the first look, the decked up theatres, the fan frenzy, and now of course the craze on social media as well. It’s apparent that people buy into the mania, the celebration, the pride of the ‘first day first show ‘ ticket, and the kind of hype that surrounds the movie, rather than the movie itself. I’ve observed this happening from the past few years, and increasing exponentially with time. Well…Kabali may be the subtle, yet strong signal to all of us that the superstar has had enough of only playing to the gallery, and now wants to go back to performances. So how’s the movie? Kabali ( and note here that everytime I type the name, it capitalises itself!) is a gangster movie, which could have gone one of two ways. The first, a more over the top, dialogue fest with plenty of unbelievable action and gore. Thankfully, Kabali steers towards the second, which has the undercurrent of tension, yet packed with emotion and substance. From the word go, the director aims to keep the viewer guessing as to what happens next, and throws in dollops of subtle emotion as the story unravels. I use the word subtle here many a time, since a Rajni movie is usually far from subtle. And this is what may prove to be a challenge…getting the hardcore fan base to accept a ‘lesser than larger than life’ Rajini. The movie has a good supporting cast, and now we know why Radhika Apte was chosen to play his wife..she manages to do what many cant in a Rajini movie- get noticed. The rest are fine, but of course, you can have a subtle Rajini, but he is the superstar nevertheless. He strides into the screen with a presence that other actors can only dream of, with a director trying to get him to control his irrepressible style, and failing. For style it is, when he walks, when he looks, when he talks. Hell, even when he is just sitting. That’s one thing you can’t ask to get rid of, he was born with him and it will go with him (Padayappa!). But the dancing around trees…that’s on its way out. And it feels great. After long, I saw glimpses of his depth in acting that I was missing. Rajini, you are are much better actor than a star. It’s a pity that we, your fans, have caged you in this superstardom, and in the process, suppressed the fine actor in you. But no, it’s time. The destiny of a bird is what takes it soaring. Keeping it caged has only made it sad and while the owner thinks it’s protecting it from the vultures, it’s only harming it’s destiny. Truly spoken in Kabali…and we understand. Soar high, we your fans will always be here… KABALI DA! magizhchi!
- Sultan – Bollywood movie – my thoughts..
There is a kind of Salman Khan movie that one leaves one’s brain behind and still doesn’t enjoy (Kick, Ready). The king of Eid is back with his latest offering, and thankfully, this one falls in the “watchable AND enjoyable” genre.
What is it with Salman and Eid? Well, a trend that he started in 2009 continues till this day, with other actors following suit booking their own holidays. So it’s SRK in Diwali, Aamir on Christmas and Akshay on Republic Day, leaving the other poor souls to scamper for the scraps. Nevertheless, this trend has resulted in lesser movie clashes, big bucks and the Rajinikanth-style Bhai-mania. For Bhai is a different genre now. And boy do his movies rake in the money!
So what’s Sultan all about? Take a blender, pour in a generous portion of Rocky, a dash of Chak De India, a teaser of Dangal and a whole dollop of Bhai, blend and serve with garnish of Anushka and Randeep. Toppings include an above-average soundtrack and a whole lot of videshi fighters all willing to fight the Bhai in the Mumbai (and we all know how that would end up)…
Nevertheless, Sultan is enjoyable. Very. Ignore the obvious liberties taken with the story (I mean really, one month is all it takes to dhobi-pacchad seasoned wrestlers??), this is a bhai-story after all. Surprisingly, the second half is better than the first, with the MMA action taking center stage and Sultan conquering his demons and well..emerging victorious (what, you really thought Bhai could lose??).
Salman brings to the table an honesty that was last seen in Dabangg, and to a certain extent in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. He owns the role, and looks the part. Actually, I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing this role. No, not even Akshay with his martial arts background. This needed a beefed up body and a humble yet fierce look, that Salman perfects to the T. The signature style of his is clap worthy, hell, whistle worthy too! A brief part in the first half has him relive his Dabangg-esque swagger, but the second half is completely the warm hearted Bhai that he is portrayed to be.
Anushka is perfect in her role, and speaks volumes without even saying a word in some scenes. She could have put on some weight for this though. Randeep Hooda is seen very little, but leaves his stamp in his 5-minute role. The supporting cast, like in all recent Bhai films, is exceptional.
Sultan is long at 2 hours 48 minutes. But boring moments are few, and the culmination is satisfying. I do smell a whiff of a sequel in the air as well. Come out fast, Sultan 2, we are anxiously waiting for you. Rolled up sleeves n all.
- Neerja – Bollywood movie – My thoughts…
I had been eager to watch Neerja, from the time the first trailers came out a little more than a month ago. The premise was interesting, the story largely forgotten, but intriguing nevertheless…and Sonam Kapoor playing the protagonist. Not my absolutely favorite actress ( or should i say actor, to be politically correct). However, having observed cabin crew from close quarters lately, I was interested to see how the director Ram Madhvani would handle this subject…more on that later.
A bit on cabin crew. Largely perceived as a job that requires little skill other than looking pretty (a point spelt out by Neerja’s ex-husband in the movie), cabin crew often find themselves being judged unfairly, much like persons who work in the contact centre industry. The reality is that this is one hard job, that comes with irregular hours making body clocks go haywire, having to deal with propositions from strangers and friends alike, and requiring a high level of patience and calmness that can be tested to limits. The movie does touch the surface of the realities of this job, and doesn’t go deeper than it needs to.
Back to the movie. Opening with a short peak into Neerja’s family, we find ourselves on the plane within the first 10-15 minutes. Two stories run in parallel, and in contrast – Neerja preparing for her first flight as head purser, and the terrorists preparing for the assault. In fact, a lot of sections of the movie have two stories running in parallel, one the present and the other the past experiences of Neerja (good and bad) that she is reminded of, that give her strength in the times of the crisis at hand. I found this approach very refreshing and taut, rather than having a separate flashback for the backstory.
The pace is fast, nervous and the screenplay is tight. Not once do we get the chance to shake off the tension, and a lot of credit for this goes to the actors who portray the terrorists. They are raw, uncouth and vile – a no holds barred performance that should definitely win multiple awards next season (or given the way Bollywood awards work, maybe not).
The supporting cast is first rate. Yogendray Tiku and Shabana Azmi play the parents, with Shabana demonstrating her acting finesse especially in the last 15 minutes. The other actors play their parts well, thus completing a well casted movie.
But what about Sonam Kapoor?
Neerja’s heroism was not common. She was not part of any army, nor trained to deal with terrorists holding guns in her face. People would give up for much less, but not Neerja. She demonstrated an extraordinary level of courage, and gave the ultimate sacrifice performing her job and saving hundreds of lives, where such a sacrifice was not expected. She went far beyond her call of duty, and ended up being the youngest recipient of the Ashok Chakra, India’s highest peacetime military award for bravery.
Portraying such a character is no easy feat. Anushka could have done it well, Kangna, for all her acting prowess, may have been slightly miscast. Sonam Kapoor, on the other hand, brushes aside all my apprehensions and delivers her finest performance till date (and I suspect, for a long, long time). It isn’t like this was a flawless performance, but was fantastic nevertheless. I would go as far as to say that Sonam was the best choice for the role. The way she oscillates between fear and strength, trying to deal with situations that no one could have prepared her for, is exceptional. She may not win many awards for this, since its too early in the year to decide, but nominated she will be in all. Sonam – you have just about won a fan…
Neerja is a movie that doesn’t come about so often. And Neerja is a person that one doesn’t come across so often either. Two reasons that are good enough for you to watch the movie, in case you haven’t as yet. Go. Book. See. Love. Revere.
- The Modi Effect – by Lance Price – My thoughts…
The Modi Effect – Inside Narendra Modi’s Campaign To Transform India by Lance Price
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I didn’t hear about this book while it was being written (I don’t think many people did), but when the story broke, it was quite close to the release of the book. The snippets that appeared in the media more than whetted my appetite and I grabbed the book when it finally was available.
So was it good?
Let me start at the beginning with a disclaimer. I am an ardent fan of Narendra Modi. I closely followed every aspect of this election, and the period of two years leading up to the culmination. This journey was amazing to those who believed, and intriguing to those who didn’t. Whatever was your emotion, the fact is that you were not unaffected. And that is why this book is significant. There was another (by Rajdeep Sardesai, the review of which you can read at https://shihanspeaks.wordpress.com/20…) but that was by an observer. This book was by a person who was given unprecedented access to the goings-on behind the scenes. Big difference. And it shows.
Lance Price does well by indicating very early on into the book that he isn’t a fan of Modi politics and in fact wouldn’t have voted for him if he was eligible. This lends credibility to his observations, which are not partisan or pre-judged, as most Indian journalists would have been. The book reads as an interesting commentary, peppered by observations from the subject himself. In between, the book does get a bit too descriptive, especially when Price takes time out to explain the mechanics to the non-Indian readers. There is very little on Rahul Gandhi and Kejriwal, but thats understandable given the fact that this book was intended to be about the Modi campaign.
As i neared the end, I found myself yearning for more…more sound bites from Modi, more experiences during that grueling campaign. A huge shortcoming of the book is that Price wasn’t able to get an audience with Amit Shah, and thats like reading Sherlock Holmes without Dr. Watson. Amit Shah was THE man who brought in the victory, and if I was Price, I would have moved heaven, earth and Modi to get him to speak.
Nevertheless, this book is more enjoyable that Sardesai’s, which was an armchair account of the elections. However, a one time read. If you want more Modi, suggest you switch on your television and sit back, coz the man is everywhere. All the time. Everytime. Just like he was during the Indian Elections. And judging from the people’s reactions, we are still loving it.
- Apple Watch…my thoughtsThe Apple Watch preorders begin on 10th April..a replug of my thoughts when it was first announced…
- Around India in 80 trains – by Monisha Rajesh – My thoughts…Around India in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh My rating: 4 of 5 stars I don’t know how I came across this book, but I’m glad that I did. Not a fan of travelogues usually, since I am not much of a traveller myself. The Goodreads score wasn’t very encouraging as well. Nevertheless, I took the plunge… India…one country, birthplace of five major world religions, 22 scheduled languages, 29 states, 1.26 billion people…and now 80 trains… One thing that struck me right at the onset was Monisha’s writing style. Quite in the same vein as Alexandra Horowitz, whose book “On Looking…” I had read a couple of months ago. Add a dose of wry British humour and some Indianisms, and hey and pesto – thats Monisha for you. Well, the book per se is, as you may have figured out by now, an account of the authors journey around the Indian railways – which is a behemoth in itself, ferrying over 23 million passengers a day (yes, you read that right, A DAY) over its massive network. While I can empathise with Monisha’s dilemma on which trains to choose, she did manage to get a fair cross section, covering luxury, sleeper classes, mountain trains and even the Metro. And she did technically travel the length and breadth of the country as well. And what a journey it was. A lot of comments I read on Goodreads, pointed towards the erratic nature of the descriptions of the places the author visited..some were described in detail and others were just skimmed through. I tend to disagree. I see this book as the personal journey of the author, HER way of traveling India, and rediscovering what the country meant to her. I don’t think it was meant to be a travel guide; rather, a diary of her travels. Not to say that the book didn’t have any shortcomings. Her co-traveller came across as somewhat confused, and their fights kind of digressed into territories that we as readers didn’t really care much for. And the author did miss Kolkata, which I would consider sacrilege. That apart, the book was an absolute delight to read. Sample this: “The platform was bloated to bursting point. Passengers pushed to the edges, the odd one occasionally dropping off, like quarters in a casino coin-pusher machine. They simply wandered up a few girders, found a gap and hauled themselves back onto the platform, unfazed by impending death. This was just another one of many contradictions that made India so very curious. At any given time the country is in a hurry, racing to keep up with itself. In every sense Indians are in a constant fight to move ahead. People shove to board buses, push to get off trains and retrieve their baggage from overhead bins while planes are still taxiing. Yet at instances of genuine urgency, there is a distinct predisposition towards nose picking and bone” and this: “Between Jhansi and Bina, the sun and I became embroiled in a game of peek-a-boo. It darted over rooftops and ducked under trees, hiding behind rogue clouds. But it soon became tired of the game, turning pink from exhaustion and sliding down behind the hills, winking on its way out.” Her observations on Indians are spot-on. Usually, there is a tendency to be over-critical of ‘Indianness’, and usual accounts of travels in India acquire a sarcastic and a pessimistic tone. None of that here. Yes, she does make fun, but not in a snooty kind of way, rather, its like a member of the family jovially remarking on the other. Read this: “Indians register separately,’ he replied with a pseudo-Californian accent, refusing to make eye contact. He reminded me of one of my brother’s teachers at boarding school, who had spent a short time on sabbatical in Wisconsin and after his return began every lesson with an apologetic ‘please eggs-cuse ma yummerican aaaaccent’, which he delivered in a heavy Keralan accent.” and this: “As the sun finally set on the spectacle, the gates were clanged shut and the crowds drifted off, leaving a trail in their wake of popcorn, empty bottles, ice-cream tubs and teacups, amid the atmosphere of a cricket match that had ended in a draw.”
As the book nears its end, and Monisha reaches the conclusion of her journey…she realizes what India actually means to her. She realizes that her new journey has just begun…. And as the book neared its end, I realised too…how much I missed traveling by train…how much of India there was to be seen…and how much I missed home. My journey has also just begun 🙂View all my reviews
- The Red Sari – by Javier Moro – My thoughts…
The Red Sari A Dramatised Biography of Sonia Gandhi by Javier MoroMy rating: 2 of 5 stars
As i finished this book, I wondered…why in God’s name would the Congress want to ban this??The title claims this to be a dramatised biography of Sonia Gandhi…but it comes across more like a hagiography. More on that later. The book starts well. Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination opens the first few pages, and we are soon drawn into the life of the Gandhis. After devoting a few pages to the almost “Mills & Boon”-isque romance of Rajiv and Sonia, the author brings in arguably the most interesting character – Indira Gandhi. She captivates the imagination like no other, having led India through some of its most turbulent years. A lot of anecdotes in this section make it an interesting read. Sample this: (on being informed by B.K.Nehru that President Lyndon B. Johnson had asked him how Indira would like to be addressed) “Let him call me whatever he wants…” she said, and before her cousin had left the room she added, ” You can also tell him that some of my ministers call me ‘Sir’. If he likes, he can do that too” Or this: “Why doesn’t she tell me in person instead of writing me a note?” asked the Italian girl (Sonia Gandhi) on the verge of tears. “Mrs Gandhi finds it hard to express herself,” Usha answered, “she’s a rather introverted lady. But don’t worry about the letters, she also used to communicate like that with her husband and her father.” The book races through the Indira Gandhi years, describing how she handled internal and external pressures, electoral compulsions and an increasingly united opposition. Here again, there are a lot of subtle, yet very engaging excerpts. On a personal front too, the author manages to give us a detailed insight on the rise of Sanjay Gandhi and India’s weakness for her much maligned son. Her closeness to Sonia, and her apprehensions about Menaka (Sanjay’s wife), are dramatised well. At this point I could picture this as a well written Indian political soap, impossible to make now, but perhaps someday. And then it happens. Somewhere around the Eemergency, the author takes a marked turn…from being an interesting observer to becoming a staunch supporter. From then on, anyone named Gandhi is a saint and the rest are the vultures waiting to tear India to shreds. From Menaka ( described as loud, scheming and viscous) to Morarji Desai (Orthodox conservative urine-drinking Hindu), no one is spared. Its about here that Sonia begins to acquire a sort of divine grace, and the whole family is shown to be the best thing that ever happened, and could happen to India. The author manages to sugar coat Indira’s worst years (Emergency, Operation Blue Star) and the subsequent riots of 1984 are quickly swept under the carpet. At this point, the book begins to sound like one long eulogy to the sacrifices of the Gandhi family, their trials and tribulations and their “sense of duty” to protect the country from “Hindu extremists like the RSS and the BJP”. The author reserves nearly all of his venom for the Hindus, and soon goes from labelling RSS as extremist Hindus to all Hindus as extremists and vile. Sample this: “Every minute that goes by, the slogan of the Hindus, “India shines”, seems even more ridiculous, as if the voters had uncovered the falseness of that over-confident propaganda, which left aside most of the people, those that are not to be seen in the cities, but who now take their revenge from the burning plains and the remote villages.” AND “With her historic gesture, Sonia Gandhi has reminded Hindus that the real strength of their nation lies in its tolerance, in its traditional openness towards others, in its belief that all religions form part of a search common to all of humanity to find the meaning of life.” These are just some excerpts, the latter half of the book is one big “Sonia and India vs. the Hindus” story. The current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, finds a place of prominence as “her bitterest rival”. In 2002?? Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat then! The 2002 riots are described in detail, and a wholly one-sided version. At multiple instances, the author openly suggests that Sonia Gandhi, who by now has acquired a halo and two wings, is the ONLY person who can save India from “those Hindus”. I guess he forgot that 80% of the Congress Party is Hindu too! By the way, Rahul Gandhi also finds mention here, as the son who always wanted his mom to stay away from politics, and this: “And to cap this day of triumph, the news comes that Rahul has been elected as MP for the constituency of Amethi, a worthy heir of his father.” I wonder if the author feels the same way today:)) The last one hundred pages of the book are pure sycophancy, and unbearable really. There are books that are fiction. There are books that are fact. And then, there are books like this that are a mixture of both. The issue is that it is difficult to know if this is fact with a dose of fiction, or fiction with a dose of fact. The former is acceptable. The latter is dangerous. When a lot of fiction and opinion is peppered with actual facts and life incidents, there lies the problem of taking whats presented as fact in totality. As would happen to many reading this book.
The Red Sari could have brought out the turbulent legacy of the Gandhis, complete with their grossest mistakes. Instead, the author ends up SPINNING A YARN. View all my reviews
- NH10 – Bollywood movie – My thoughts…
Thrillers are, in my opinion, the most difficult genre of all. A good thriller has to be taut, tense, and constantly edge of the seat. Hindi filmmakers do not churn out many thrillers, and I’m not talking of the Abbas Mastan type popcorn thriller cinema (which is enjoyable as well, in its own way). I’m talking dark, edgy, no-holds barred, unapologetic. I’m talking NH10.
As I sit through Navdeep Singh’s latest, I recall Manorama Six Feet Under, which was striking, both as a debut venture and of course, Abhay Deol. This one has Anushka Sharma as the protagonist and producer. And does she deliver on both counts! The movie gets straight to the point…within 10 minutes we are on this road trip that we know is going to turn bad. And when it does, a roller coaster ride ensues. Not many twists and turns, and thats the beauty of it. The script unfolds in a linear fashion, and yet holds your attention in every frame. Its like when in childhood, playing the usual cop-n-thief routine, one would run with the ‘cop’ snapping at your heels…you feel the tension, you can feel them catching up, within a hair’s breadth…
What’s noteworthy is that the director takes up the issue of atrocities on women in Haryana and brings it within sniffing distance of our national capital (which isn’t the best place for women anyway). The scene where Anushka, an ordinary middle-class citizen, is advised to purchase a gun for her safety makes one sit up and realize the fact that this is an issue that has to be tackled immediately.
The background score does its part in maintaining the tense atmosphere, and lets the actors do the rest. Anushka is the man of the movie, and wears the pants literally and metaphorically. A strong undercurrent of misogyny runs throughout, from the snide remarks by her male colleagues to the obscene graffiti on the doors of the highway restrooms, and the protagonist deals with it very subtly, yet firmly. A welcome change from the screaming from the rooftops kind of reaction.
Neel Bhoopalam is there to fill in the space, and doesn’t have much of a role. Darshan Kumar and Ravi Jhankal excel in their roles as the main villains . But its Anushka who takes the cake, and the bakery. She lends a lot of spunk to the already well-written character, and there are scenes where one can’t help but clap.
The captain of the ship steers his second venture deftly, leaving us to wonder why he has made just two movies in seven years. Surely he should make many many more.
I had my deja-vu moments during the show, remembering another director who could serve up such fantastic fare in his heydays (cough cough Ram Gopal Verma). Sadly, that went into overkill mode fast enough.
NH10 brings back not only those memories, but much much more. Did you like Badlapur? This is Badlapur on steroids.
- The Aam Aadmi Melodrama…playing at a TV near you
Hey, I just became the unintended beneficiary of one of AAP’s freebies. I don’t live in Delhi but they have been generous enough to include me in their wholehearted effort of giving away everything free – be it electricity, water or soap operas. Ekta Kapoor (the queen of soaps on Indian television) just rushed to take notes. “I make soap operas, but even I am impressed…this isn’t a drama…this is a saga” she quoted. Kiran Bedi tried to say something, but Amit Shah stopped her (in time); he is too smart to make the same mistake twice. Which, unfortunately for Delhi, and fortunately for us, the public of Delhi weren’t.
So, one month after a historic, unimaginable, masterstroke, giant killer (I watch too much TV) verdict, all we have is a ten day vacation (wow, who goes on vacation the moment you start a job, some new record this), stings on stings in stings over stings (Christopher Nolan hangs his head in shame over this desi inception), daily press conferences, and accusations galore. And these are the guys who asked for other’s report cards…ahem.
But wait. All is not lost. We have some new contributions…to the English lexicon. Children, please note. What you were taught earlier was all wrong, partly coz “sab mile hue hain”. Here is the new (AAP certified) terminology:
Horse trading – POLITICAL REALIGNMENT
Madness – MENTAL REALIGNMENT
Physical assault – PHYSICAL REALIGNMENT
Lies – VERBAL REALIGNMENT
Cheating – MORAL REALIGNMENT
Verbal abuse – LEXICAL REALIGNMENT
Murder – SOUL REALIGNMENT
and so forth.
And while his “faithful” subjects fight it out on national television, King Nero cools his heels in Bengaluru. Waiting for the opportune moment…and then the master performance – some tears, some offers for resignation, and a lot of mush. Am so looking forward to the free entertainment.
PS: Typed out a short article as a tribute to the “10 minutes free wifi” that the people of Delhi have so generously been provided…
- Apple Watch…my thoughtsOk, I have always been an Apple fanboy. And I use only Apple. Well, almost. Now that I have to swap my collection of watches, for an Apple Watch. Or do I? Technology is trying to push the limits of how we consume information, and wearables are the latest in this trend. They have been slow to catch up though, with Google Glass being at the forefront and well…its been a while and Glass seems like it would take time to mature. Smart watches have also been around, and caught a lot of traction after rumours of Apple entering the arena started. Samsung Gear, the only noticeable attempt (of course, since it was Samsung trying as usual to steal a match over its premium rival) failed miserably. So now the industry has its attention turned to Apple to see what they have in their arsenal. Love the ads. On my HDTV, they are so good that I feel like walking up and plucking one right off the screen…or more. Gorgeous designs, they make all other smartwatches look pedestrian in comparison. The build quality is exceptional, as is expected from any Apple product. Even the straps look wow. To summarize, on the looks front, they have hit the ball out of the park…wait, I haven’t actually seen one in person. But its Apple, so common. No doubts there. Ok, usability. Hmmm…here is where I start slipping a bit. Of late, I have started to minimize the number of notifications that I receive on my iPhone, coz they are so distracting and create a sense of false urgency. Also, studies have shown that such notifications actually end up reducing productivity, and sometimes interrupting ‘the flow’ that is quite difficult to get back once you are done watching that cute dog play with the cuter cat. And sound notifications even more. Changing watch faces are good, but a limited appeal once you have toyed around for a week. Attending calls? Ahem. I remember when bluetooth headsets came out, it was quite amusing seeing people appearing to talk to themselves. Now the humour may shift to the wrist, like in those old James Bond movies where some of this tech was already commonplace…Can imagine the sight of people furtively contorting their limbs, alternating between speaking and hearing, when they could just as well use a headset and their phone which is literally 10 centimeters away. In short, not sold on the calling feature. Unlocking my garage door through my watch, apple pay, instagram…maaayybeee…not sure on that yet. Sending a heartbeat or a touch to a loved one? Now thats downright cheesy to me. Sounds like the Apple version of those ‘his and hers’ toys that are controlled wirelessly…err.. Healthcare? Yeah now we’re talking. This is one practical approach. In fact, a very sound idea. Using a person’s data to keep track of his or her health remotely, statistics on diseases and symptoms, keeping track of exercise routines (especially ones that involve running, walking and stepping), this is where I guess the Apple Watch can score well. And then there is the cost. IT IS PLAIN TORTURE, showing us so many options, so many straps, so much variety, and then asking us to choose. I for instance, may end up buying the Apple Watch and then 4-5 straps to go with them. At $249 a buckle, that would end up costing a fortune. Oh wait, the Apple Watch itself is around $900 (thats the silver one I like). The Apple Watch Edition, starting at $ 10,000 and going up to 17k, thats just too much money for technology. Too much even for bragging rights. So whats my take on the Watch? Well, its gorgeous (+1), costly (-1) and applications? Early days but the applications are what would make or break this product. Remove the cheesy stuff, get more practical applications on it. Make us want to use it as much as we want to wear it. This is no iPad; hell, early reviews of the iPad thrashed the product but we all know how that turned out. But this is different. There is a lot of overlap with my iPhone, and I don’t know if I want to throw out my watch collection just yet. Apple Watch. The keyword to ‘watch’ is POSSIBILITIES. PS: If you like this article, and would like to sponsor me a watch, I would go for the 42mm stainless steel case with link bracelet, and do throw in the black and brown leather loops as well please…thank you 🙂
- India’s Daughter – BBC Documentary – My thoughts…
The issue has now been rekindled. After the protests and subsequent outrage in the aftermath of December 16th, 2012, things had quietened down. The accused had been sentenced, the outrage mostly forgotten. Until the word spread that a documentary on this incident, made by a British filmmaker, would be shown on India’s premier news channel- NDTV. All of a sudden, the story re-emerged, with rival news channels expressing disgust at the thought of airing a rapist/killer’s misogynistic viewpoints, politicians rushing to ban it, and liberals crying foul. The documentary is now up on You Tube, almost immediately after it was banned by the Indian Government. And I just saw it.
My views on the incident itself are quite rational. Yes, the crime was terrible and the perpetrators deserve the strictest punishment. Would that be death? Or life imprisonment? Or, as so many raging on TV shows wanted- castration? Some suggested cutting off their limbs, others more horrific methods of medieval justice. The jury is out on what would be the punishment commiserate to the crime, and delving into that would be beyond my current scope. I stand by what Rahul Bose said on one of those many debates – the issue is mindset, and changing the mindset would mean starting from the basics…and would take 10-15 years at the least.
Back to the documentary. It follows the basic structure of any documentary of this genre…a description of the events, the aftermath, possible causes, and the way forward. What has made it sensational is that the documentary details out the views of the accused Mukesh Singh, who comes across as unrepentant. Also his lawyers, who in my opinion, need some detailed psychological counseling themselves. The views they air are disgusting to say the least. So yes, the documentary does come across as descriptive, trying to dig deep into the main reasons behind this horrific crime. To hide it, to say that these views shouldn’t be shown, is not the answer. Men should see and hear and understand how many other men think, and how men objectify women and don’t think of it as a big deal. Yes, they should see the bit of Mukesh Singh hidden in themselves, and be ashamed of it.
But what about the documentary itself?
Dirty street children. Poverty in India, with people making all sorts of false statements on India, that the filmmaker does NOT correct. Statements such as –
50% of Indian live below the poverty line
The Government of India allows 12-13 year old girls to get married
A Brit speaking about the shortcomings of Indian culture – the prevalent misogyny, the frequent rapes, acid attacks, pre-birth sex selections…so on and so forth. The absolutely essential close-in shots of the dirt on Indian roads, the slums, the GB Road prostitute joints, the statue of the Hindu gods on the bus during the fictional enactment of the rape (yes, the camera zoomed in twice on the statue and stayed there for good measure). Police brutality. A lot of Slumdog Millionaire, without the Oscars (yet, maybe this would eventually be sent to get some awards as well).
So am I that Indian who is like the ostrich, burying my head in the sand and refusing to see the mirror?
Would like to know why NDTV is devoting so much airtime on promoting this documentary. Surely not some altruistic motive of improving Indian society? Why does Mukesh Singh, a rape/murder convict on death row, appear on cameras with makeup? Why does the filmmaker fail to mention that the issue is not the mentality of Indian men; the issue is the mentality of men ACROSS THE WORLD…why not mention the campus rapes in the United States, the most developed society in the world? Or Sweden, which is the rape capital of the world? Why are the parents of Nirbhaya made to relive the incident again and again? What is the outcome of the documentary and its airing…will it result in quantifiable action to address the issue and create true resolution over time…or will it end up being churned around for a month for the TRPs and then back to normal?
Also, would British Government and society approve if Doordarshan or any Indian filmmaker commissioned a documentary about the 50% divorce rate, the higher incidences of rapes in their ‘developed society’, the racism and homelessness…would they approve?
Back to my question. Am I an Indian who is like the ostrich, burying my head in the sand and refusing the see the mirror?
NO. I recognise the problem, I am willing to do my bit to help overcome it. I am not shying away from seeing the mirror. I just don’t like the distorted way you are showing it to me.
- Whiplash – My thoughts…
My heart is thumping. I can feel the blood rush. I’ve just sat back on the sofa – a few minutes earlier I was standing and clapping…..my pulse must be racing…a spring in my step as I walked over to the computer…feeling pure joy and exhilaration.
Why..do you ask? Well, I’ve just seen Whiplash.
One of the most intense movies in recent times, Whiplash deals with the student-teacher relationship in the physical setting of a music conservatory. Miles Teller plays an ambitious jazz drummer, who gets taken in by J.K. Simmons, a borderline eccentric-harsh army sergeant philosophy foul mouthed jazz instructor. Simmons demands more than any average student can handle, and Teller gets the taste of this quite early into their relationship. The movie then plays out like a violent painting in progress, with music as the backdrop, and the ferocity (I couldn’t find a better word and am sure you will agree as well) of Simmons matched by the eagerness of Teller…the canvas acquires rich hues of blood and sweat (literally, and quite a lot of it in the movie) mixed with the passion of Simmons…
Being from a sports (martial arts) background myself, first as a student and then as a teacher, I more than identified with the portrayal of the characters and the dynamics between them. Simmons doesn’t hold back, he dives into the character head on, churning out one of the best performances I’ve seen in years. The intensity and passion he puts into his role is exceptional, pushing both the students, and himself, to the limits, and then beyond. Miles Teller stands up to him, in the role he plays and in performance. You don’t for once think that he is anything else but a young, insanely talented and ambitious drummer, and when the drum sticks create magic in his hands…you feel him and the music melt into each other. The direction is spot on, so is the crisp editing.
So will it get an Oscar? Well, its got five nominations…and I’ve seen the competition. Lets put it this way. 12 Years a Slave won in 2013, but I enjoyed The Wolf of Wall Street much better. Matt McConaughey won best actor…but I felt Leo deserved it. Whoever wins this year, Whiplash and Simmons are my choices for 2014.
The climax is arguably the best I’ve seen in a long long time, for this genre. And when the movie ends, the music doesn’t. And nor do you want it to. One cant help but spring up and applaud, eyes wide open at the spectacle you have just witnessed…blood rushing…pulse racing…pure joy and exhilaration.
Why? Coz Iv’e just seen Whiplash. Again.
- Badlapur – Bollywood movie – My thoughts…
The hero, the heroine, the villain. Three essential ingredients of any Bollywood movie. Sometimes the hero does become an anti-hero (Shah Rukh Khan says hi), sometimes the heroine becomes a vamp. Clearly defined. Not any more. Not in Badlapur. For this town is not a dish best served cold, it’s a dish that simmers on the stove, the ingredients slowly dissolving into each other…the characters blurring the traditional lines between each otherwise ‘defined’ roles until what results is an amalgamation of all, good and bad, right and wrong…but a dish well cooked.
The chef? Sriram Raghavan, the man behind the impeccable Johnny Gaddar, Ek Hasina Thi and an undercooked Agent Vinod. The ingredients? Varun Dhawan as the wronged, Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the target of Varun’s revenge, and a generous sprinkling of Huma Qureshi, Radhika Apte, Kumud Mishra and Divya Dutta, with a garnish of Yami Guatam and Vinay Pathak. The method? A seemingly straight revenge tale where Varun’s family is the unintended casualty of a bank robbery, leaving Varun with a burning desire to give back the grief he so got. And this would have remained a normal dish if it weren’t for the quality of what went into it.
We were so wrong. Three years back, it was a one horse race, and Ranbir Kapoor got a rude awakening when Ranveer Singh blazed onto the stage. But the dark horse turned out to be Varun Dhawan, commanding a variation in his performances that many of his seniors would love to have. To stand up to an actor of the caliber of Siddiqui is no mean feat, and Varun achieves it in every frame. Nawazuddin is first rate as usual. Huma should do more movies, her talent matches the very best. Watch out for the scene where she is forced to dance; her expressions are perfect. Yami has a short role, and looks lovely.
But the man of the hour is the director, who brilliantly carries the movie forward, inch by inch, keeping the audience guessing as to how far the protagonists are willing to go in order to extract their pound of flesh. And just when you think that the movie is going towards a predictable ending…he whips out another card and changes the game again. Brilliant.
Badlapur is a dish that will serve him the Michelin star. A shining example of noir. And Ranbir and Ranveer – watch out. Samay BADAL raha hai (times are changing) The three Khans are on the way out, and you guys were the only replacements…until Varun also came…to BADLApur.
- Hrid Majharey – Bengali cinema – My thoughts…
Shakespeare has inspired many a tale in Indian cinema. Vishal Bharadwaj has in fact made a fine career making movies based on plays of the Bard. For a debutant to take up Shakespeare is a challenge in itself, and Ranjan Ghosh manages to pull it off quite superbly.
The story is not new. What makes it different is the treatment. Bits of Shakespeare are sprinkled liberally, from the prophecy (Macbeth) to the jealousy that creeps in (Othello), each reference is used well and is intricate to the plot. The protagonist starts by having his views deep-rooted in logic (being a teacher of Mathematics) and has a chance meeting with an amateur soothsayer, who cautions him against falling in love. Not one to believe in such things, the protagonist goes ahead and falls in love anyways. How his life goes downhill from there, and how he deals with the complexities of his conflicts among logic ,love and destiny forms the crux of the story.
I liked the performances. Abir Chatterjee, Raima Sen and Indrasish Roy are well cast. The backdrop of the Andaman Islands makes the tragedy picturesque. A special mention for the climax – SUPERB. Just when you thought you figured it all out…there comes a pseudo-open ending…a what “could be” And that is what makes this movie special to me…
To see or not to see…that is really not the question here. Available with subtitles on You Tube. Go..watch…you will end the movie with a smile on your face and a tear in your eye…
- Roy – Bollywood movie – My thoughts…
Loved the premise of Roy. Unfortunately, the movie remained just that…a premise…
There is a scene in Roy where Ranbir is shown on a boat…and he remains there for the next 30 minutes of screen time. Why? Coz of writer’s block (don’t bother figuring this out, read on). Pretty much sums up the movie itself. Arjun Rampal plays a writer/director who is hardly shown directing, and is supposed to have helmed a successful movie franchise that is called…GUNS. Roy (Ranbir sleepwalking through the title role) is a figment of Arjun’s imagination, based on a master thief who is the news about the same time as Guns III begins shooting (without a script, I suspect pretty much how this movie was shot). Enter Jacqueline Fernandez, first in reality and then in Arjun’s story (which, incidentally, he types out on a manual typewriter:|) Then on, two stories emerge – Arjun and Jackie in reality, and Ranbir and Jackie in fiction. How they converge forms the rest of the story.
The premise of this movie is intriguing, but the shoddy treatment spoils it beyond redemption. Partly because of this being a debut film, the director is unable to decide if he wants to make a serious movie or a commercial experience. Hence you have dance numbers popping up out of nowhere and one-dimensional characters going nowhere. Jackie plays two half- dimensions actually – as a spectacle clad documentary filmmaker who is never shown filming; only drinking coffee and looking intelligent, and as an heiress/decked up doll who spends time looking rich, buying paintings and painting some herself. Ranbir does more damage post Besharam, and looks lost most of the time. Arjun spends the first half as a quasi-playboy and the second half looking like he just had tuberculosis.
And the movie is sllloowwww…..I kept checking my watch every 15 minutes and it just wouldn’t end!
Overall, a bad effort.
Another scene in the movie where Ranbir asks Arjun…now what? How will the movie end?…Arjun gives a bored response…I don’t know..and they take a drag from their cigarettes…Thats pretty much how I felt during the whole movie, and not in a good way…
- Delhi Assembly Elections 2015 – My thoughts…
Arvind Kejriwal just did ‘a Modi’…on Modi…
If someone had told me last year (or for that matter, even this year), that Arvind would single handedly decimate the BJP in Delhi, and cause the Congress to forego its deposit in 60+ of the 70 seats it contests, I would have a hearty laugh…and then some. But as the results rolled in today, it was obvious. The people of Delhi had given Kejriwal a thumbs up, and the rest of the fingers too…
So what went wrong for the BJP? How did Kejriwal pull off such a sensational victory?
By now, everyone (Lalu, Nitish, Omar, Mamta, hell even Sonia) would have hailed this as a victory for democracy, for secularism, for everything else in between. Never mind that this was a poll for 70 assembly seats, in one small (but important) part of India. Never mind that just nine months ago, the BJP scripted arguably the best victory in decades, in the general elections held ALL over India. Victory has many masters…defeat has none. So is this really the beginning of the end for the BJP? I don’t think so.
A few thoughts:
1. Vote share : As per initial estimates, the AAP had around 54% vote share, compared to 32% for the BJP. Huge difference, but when you compare it to 2013, the BJP has lost a about just 1% of its vote share. In other words, it has retained its core base. So where did AAP get its votes from? Yes…The Congress, which went from 24.5% to 9.8%, and the BSP, down from 5.3% to 1.3%. In other words, the traditional Congress voter didn’t want to ‘waste’ his vote, and hence voted AAP.
2. Kiran Bedi: We all knew she would be a possible scapegoat, but the truth is that she just didn’t have enough time to connect with voters. Also, in pure ‘vote-getting’ charisma, she was no match for Kejriwal.
3. ‘Modi” factor: No, this isn’t what you think. Modi trounced the Congress in the General Elections, using his ‘outsider’ card. He was the challenger…the man who rose from nothing to challenge the grand old party of India. The underdog. Cut to 2015…and Kejriwal became the ‘Modi’ of Delhi…the underdog…ridiculed by the people in power…denied official invites to the Republic Day parade…he became the commoner, the challenger. And did ‘a-Modi’…on Modi.
4. Freebies: Who doesn’t like them?
So what now?
Some voices have already started calling for a third front…which is basically everyone who is not BJP. A glimmer of hope has been seen…the Sachin Tendulkar of elections (Amit Shah) has been defeated. Modi magic didn’t work in Delhi, and so the swords are out. For the next many days, the media will crucify the Government, purporting the rout in Delhi as a referendum on Modi’s performance. The Budget session will be rough as well. All expected.
But reality will seep in slowly. The Modi Government has been on the right track, and policy wise, there is little that the opposition can find fault in. A lot of work has been done and a lot more is happening, and the public sees this. And Delhi is not the whole of India, its not even a big state. So defeat on local issues cannot possibly be seen as a defeat nationally. It also remains to be seen how Kejriwal 2.0 will perform, and more importantly, fulfill the moon and the stars that he promised to fetch for Delhi. There will be no third front, for it would mean cobbling together eleven PM aspirants (too many cooks…).
The Congress? Hmm…hmm…bring in Priyanka please…oh wait..she is Mrs. Robert Vadra. Doesn’t work. Hmm…Rahul Gandhi? LOL.
The BJP will also have to pull up its socks. The honeymoon period is officially over. There are important assembly elections coming up in Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, and 940 seats are at stake. Modi will have to throw in some short-term sweetmeats in addition to the long-term plans that he is focussing on. Stormy weather ahead for a while.
As for the AAP, welcome to the party. It was getting boring with the Congress. After all, what would one rather watch…India vs. Pakistan…or India vs. Afghanistan?
- Shamitabh – Bollywood movie – my thoughts…
What if you were born to be an actor…but didn’t have a voice?
What if you had the voice…but little else?
R. Balki is known to be a fan of Amitabh Bachchan (Cheeni Kum, Paa) and this film is no different. Amitabh’s towering presence fills most of the frames of Shamitabh, and his voice fills in even the rest of them. The premise is novel, and excitingly different. Dhanush, who made a big splash in Ranjhanaa, is back in his second Hindi venture and boy, the guy can act! I’ve seen his Tamil movies, and Dhanush has carved his own niche there as well. Shamitabh in a sense is semi-biographical…it revolves around the protagonists’ USPs – Amitabh’s voice and Dhanush’s dismissive looks.
Shamitabh is about a dumb, yet aspiring actor, who lives and breathes cinema, but cannot find work in Bollywood for obvious reasons. Enter Akshara Hassan, an assistant director, who sees his talent and tries to promote him, but who wants an actor who cant speak?? A quirk of fate find them Amitabh, a drunk with the voice that stirs a nation. So we have the complete package – the fabulous actor with his new found voice. How their respective egos threaten this arrangement forms the rest of the film.
Performances? Well I don’t need to state the obvious – Amitabh is pure genius, in the role of a drunk that he has performed after quite a while now. Akshara Hassan makes a quiet debut…don’t know how she would manage to fit into another movie but this one is fine. There is not much supporting cast to speak of. Dhanush shows us why he is still in movies in spite of highly unconventional looks and the body of a wiry teenager.
The movie held great promise, but is slightly dented by the screenplay (dragging at places) and the over-indulgence of the director as far as Amitabh is concerned. In some cases, looks like a fan video. A one time watch, unlike Cheeni Kum.
There are scenes in the movie where Amitabh keeps telling Dhanush that he (Amit) is whiskey and Dhanush is water, and hence Amit is more important. Akshara corrects him later, stating that Whiskey has 43% alcohol but the rest 57% is water, and they have to mix to be the best….The movie does play out similarly. Amitabh is the whiskey, but Dhanush with his 57% water steals the show 🙂
Watch it for them.
- Force Majeure – Swedish cinema – My thoughts
I admit that my closest brush with Swedish cinema has been The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The buzz around Force Majeure had been exceptional, and it nearly made it into the top 5 at the Oscar nominations for best foreign language film…and so I got down to it.
A family – man (Tomas), wife and two kids – out on a ski slope in France for a vacation. Picturesque setting, beautiful slopes and all is well. When an unusual daytime blast produces a controlled avalanche, everyone watches the spectacle. But then it seems that the avalanche will cover the patio…and Tomas runs away, leaving his wife and children behind as a white cloud engulfs the terrified vacationers.
The avalanche doesn’t do much damage though…except in the lives of Tomas and his family. He refuses to accept his cowardice…and his wife cannot come to terms with it. The children bear the brunt of this tension. A strong undercurrent prevails throughout the movie…where words not said hurt more than the actions that caused them.
Force majeure – an irrésistible force of nature. Can also mean a strong sense of self-preservation, of survival. The movie takes a close look at this instinct, and tries to open up a debate on conventional heroism and family values. The director Ruben Östlund makes ample use of pauses and spirited music, to convey the conflicts in the characters and situations they face. A lot of dialogue as well, questions raised on convention and marriage. And many answers too…
The cast is first rate, although quite unknown to me. The children have been cast well, and played their part to perfection. The natural canvas of the setting (in a ski resort) makes the movie look beautiful. At two hours though, it is a bit long. And I loved the background music.
Do watch it, with family. Because its about you. And them. At the end of it…a hug would be in order.
- AIB Roast of Ranveer Singh & Arjun Kapoor – My thoughts
A lot is being made of the AIB Knockout: The Roast of Ranveer SIngh and Arjun Kapoor, that was premiered on You Tube on 28th January. For the uninitiated, AIB (All India Bakchod for short) is a comedy shorts You Tube channel that has acquired quite a fan following due to their innovative and funny takes on real life situations ( Honest Diwali ) and celebrities ( Arvind Kejriwal and Aliaa Bhatt). The Roast is a new concept that they are bringing in, presumably the first of a series.
I understand that the concept of roasting is the opposite of toasting, where a roaster ( or roasters) trash a ‘roastee’ (or roastees) in a no-holds barred verbal slingfest. Bear in mind that nothing is off-limits, and hence a whole lot of bawdy jokes and wisecracks are made at the ‘roastee’s’ expense. And the roastee takes it all in good spirit, sometimes even returning the favour.
What I didn’t know was that they mostly had to be crass and always politically incorrect. The AIB Roast was just that – funny in places; I did enjoy the occasional witty liners, but when the joke invariably landed up at Karan Johar’s gayness or Shakya’s ‘blackness’ every single time, I started lamenting on the dearth of actual humour. Ranveer Singh (a big fan me is) even went so far as to comment on Abhish Mathew’s parents sexual positions, which I particularly found very crass and in bad taste. While America does have ‘yo mamma’ jokes that they don’t feel offended about, I don’t know if India is, or ever will be, ready for that brand of humour yet.
Frankly, after a while, it went from jokes to pseudo reality, with Karan Johar (his mom in attendance, wonder what she thought) making up for all those years in the closet. I wonder if they realized that we (cough cough) knew all along 😐 The online audience too, I suspect, was not too impressed, going by the fact that the three parts of the Roast video had declining views, with the first part scoring robustly and the second and third parts progressively attracting lesser viewers.
Being a sport is not equal to laughing at unfunny jokes…for that we have Rahul Gandhi. Nor am I against adult humour. Just that it shouldn’t be forced and laced with choice expletives as the main ingredient, coz that ain’t funny after a while. AIB has done some genuinely hilarious stuff before, and I have rolled in the aisles (of my home) holding my tummy,face contorted..laughing senseless. This roast, sadly enough, was just too well-done for my taste.
Genuine humour? Try Faking News or The Unreal Times…guaranteed to make to roll in laughter. For the rest, get f**k*n roasted, you mother f*k*in ch**ts…..that line didn’t really make you laugh now did it? My point exactly…
- On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes – My thoughtsOn Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz My rating: 4 of 5 stars
On Looking: Eleven walks…came highly recommended. I haven’t read Alexandra Horowitz before, and the reviews on Goodreads were not the most encouraging. Nevertheless, I did start reading…As the title suggests, and I suspect the blurb outlines, this book is about a few walks that Alexandra took around New York City. Alone, with her kid, her dog and a few experts. each time, a different person (yes, dogs are as human(e) too) and each time a different experience. She divides her walks into three categories – Inanimate, Animate and Sensory, and then goes on to discover (and help us readers discover too) a whole new world that she had completely missed on before. We look, but we don’t, is her contention. I do agree…and I don’t. Early into the book, Alexandra notes that it is the very ignorance of the large amount of information bombarding our senses is what keeps us sane, and helps us concentrate. But somewhere down the line, this ignorance/concentration has also led to us missing a lot that happens around us. In this, I do agree with her. Most of the experts she chooses for her walks bring to our notice different aspects of life that exists in that one city block we are most familiar with- ours. All good. Where I don’t agree with Alexandra is in the level of detail that her experts sometime dive into – there is one who reads fonts and deciphers ages of buildings and the like. While it makes an interesting read…I seriously doubt that we would go font-deciphering anytime soon. What is most refreshing about this book though, is the author’s writing style. Alexandra has a gift that I cannot describe with my limited capabilities for the written word. And so, I put forward some examples to further my case…sample this: With Kalman, walking around the block entered a fourth dimension. … Eventually, we made it from A to B, but not before visiting all of the later letters of the alphabet. … In front of her building she turned to shake my hand. “Nice to see you,” she said. And then, as if noticing my smile in response, she added: “There’s someone in my building who asked me, ‘How come you use that word, “see?” How can you say “I see it”?’ Well, I do see it. I said, ‘see’ has many definitions.” The walkers trod silently; the dogs said nothing. The only sound was the hum of air conditioners,” … she beholds her own block; passing a pile of trash bags graced by a stray Q-tip, she ponders parenthetically, “how does a Q-tip escape?” …turning her final corner, she gazes at the entrance of a mansion and “its pair of stone lions waiting patiently for royalty that never arrives. Did you get what I mean? Alexandra has an inimitable writing style, a penchant for rich and imaginative description…the way she starts on a topic and then digresses…not digresses really but branches out with anecdotes on related topics, a la Bill Bryson if you may…all of which make for a delightful read! This book thus can be read at two levels. One – what it is – looking around at specifics, seeing things and objects that we missed, knowing more about the small things that surround us, that seem mundane but hold the story of a million years (yes, limestone holds fossils of ancient animals )…acknowledging the odors that we smell but refuse to register…in short – being more aware…and in awe of how wondrous our world truly is. This is how I suspect many readers experienced this book. The second is a bit deeper. It goes beyond the walks, and into our whole lives in general. It deals with how we engage ourselves in everything we do. How we view the world, the way people behave around us, about us, towards us. How we view failure and success, how we deal with relationships. In the authors own words – ” Do not sag with exhaustion. there is no mandate; only opportunity. Our culture fosters inattention; we are all creatures of that culture. ……The unbelievable strata of trifling, tremendous things to observe are there for the observing. LOOK!” This is how I experienced the book…and in my opinion, this is what makes this book a winner…much recommended…READ! View all my reviews
- The Indian Republic Day
Ah, the Indian Republic Day! The tribute at the Amar Jawan Jyoti, the parades, the tableaus, the march past…the show of strength…
I remember when we were kids…switching on the television early morning, watching India at its finest, on Doordarshan (the only channel available). The commentary was a damper (very boring, and it hasn’t got better) but the excitement of watching the parade more than made up for it. There were cheers, some disappointments depending on how good or bad the Karnataka state tableau turned out to be…Watching the airshow, the planes flying past in formations, painting the sky with the colors of the Indian flag…and the record breaking motorcycle daredevils, who managed to somehow cram more people per square inch of bike space, every single year!
Over time, the number of channels increased and hence the options, and gradually the only thing that remained was the holiday mood. There was talk of even doing away with the so called ‘Soviet style vulgar display of state strength’, but thankfully sanity prevailed. The marches continued…its audience diminishing but its grandeur unscathed…But nostalgia nudges you with her elbow ever so subtly sometimes, and one yearns for those days. And then sometimes we do watch the parade, and become kids once again.
We need the Republic Day. To remind us of its significance yes, but also to bring out the sense of pride and ‘Indianness” in us. Once every year, India comes out dressed in full splendor, her children watching in awe as she proudly displays her diversity and her prowess. She shows us why we still have tears in our eyes and a lump in our throat when we stand for our National Anthem. She proves that we may have many squabbles, but we are all one family. One India.
Here is wishing us all a very happy Republic Day…JAI HIND!
- BABY – Bollywood movie – My thoughts
Akshay Kumar brings out his best in this gritty thriller that restrains itself from becoming overtly jingoistic…Frankly speaking, I wasn’t quite impressed with the title of the movie when it was announced. I still am not convinced. The movie itself however, is a different story altogether (pun intended). Punchy, gritty, tense, volatile, unexpected…and more, Neeraj Pandey helms what is arguably the best action thriller to come out of Bollywood in a long time. No over the top car chases, or over zealous patriotic statements (sorry Sunny Deol), or long drawn fight sequences, Neeraj keeps it real and throws in a more than a couple of surprises to garnish the dish. A big shoutout to the dialogues, which are so well woven into the scenes that the funny moments are provided by simple one-liners; its the scenes then, that create the humour. Akshay Kumar. He has this knack of bringing out some real gems (Oh My God, Special 26) from within his cacophony of releases , and this performance will stand out to be one of his finest. An apt characterization, Akshay’s character maintains the seriousness that this genre calls for, at the same time, delivers some sparkling lines that have you both laughing and clapping at the same time. And yes, Baby has many such moments. The rest of the cast is good, with Anupam Kher being the pick, in spite of a short role. Rasheed Naz plays Maulana well, but could have had a meatier role. Taapsee Pannu, again seen in a short role, has one huge clapworthy moment. Danny is ok, a major part of his role spent in receiving and making phone calls. The movie is long at two hours and forty minutes, and has no songs, but surprisingly, it feels much shorter. In fact, it almost zips through, and by the end you may find yourself at the edge of your seat , chewing on your nails and then cheering away!
One has long craved for a taut action thriller that pulls no punches and delivers the goods. Look no further. Watch BABY…today!
- 2014- The Election That Changed India – My thoughts2014: The Election That Changed India by Rajdeep Sardesai My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Over 850 million voters, the largest democratic exercise in human history, the grand old party of India led by the scion of a family that ruled most of post-independent India, challenged by one man from humble origins, the first true election in the social media age…the Indian General Elections 2014 had all the elements of a commercial potboiler. For a person like me who closely followed every aspect of this mega event, and enjoyed its twists and turns, this book was an opportunity to recapitulate the moments and to have an insider’s viewpoint on the incidents that led to the buildup, and finally the culmination.An opportunity well presented…but not quite well utilized. Rajdeep tries to weave a tale but ends up speaking of things that everyone knew already. There are some instances where he does come out with insights, but they are too few and far in between (one such instance is when he cites Kejriwal’s failed campaign in UP). Moreover, the story is said from his point of view – agreed, since he is the author after all, but then how many people would be genuinely interested in what he thought of the whole thing? Yes, if Rahul Gandhi or Narendra Modi had written about their experiences during this election, I would lap it up gladly. But as it stands, the Gandhi can’t speak and the Modi has moved on into his ’24/7 PM/CEO/Marketing Head/everything in between’ role, and the third (at least he thought he was) player (a certain MufflerMan) would mostly fill the pages with charges against everyone involved in the elections, culminating in a possible charge sheet against himself. And so we have to make do with Rajdeep. So what do we end up with? As stated before, a bland review that doesn’t do much justice to the blockbuster elections India witnessed. Maybe good for someone who shut off the internet, television and newspapers for the twelve months that preceded the D-Day. For the rest, savor your memories instead. View all my reviews
- The Bhagavad Gita…a Biography – My thoughts
The “Bhagavad Gita”: A Biography by Richard H. Davis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There have been many translations of the Bhagavad Gita, which is perhaps the most famous of all Indian scriptures, but this book is not one of them. Rather, Richard traces the journey of the Gita, from its oral renderings to when it appeared in written form…its different manifestations and interpretations…its journey from India to England and the States and Germany and then the rest of the world.
The book opens with the actual conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjuna; the dilemma Arjuna faces and how Krishna persuades him to engage in his duties, and in the process, teaches him the very essence of life itself. The author very deftly brings out various aspects of this conversation and lays the grounds for the subsequent chapters, where he connects these aspects to the the different interpretations of the Gita. A good portion of the book is dedicated to early manifestations of this text, following which he moves on to how the Gita left Indian shores through rudimentary translations by the British, who saw this scripture as a way to understand the Indian mindset. Richard then describes in detail the way Swami Vivekananda exploded onto the world scene at the Parliament of World Religions in 1893, thus introducing the teachings of the Gita to North America.
There are many aspects of the journey of the Gita that I was not aware of, for instance, the major role that it played in the Indian struggle for independence, both in the ahimsa movement spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi and the revolutionary movement as well!
A book attempted on this scale has to be backed up by excellent research, and Richard does not disappoint, to say the least. From the very start, it is clear that the author has not only done his homework, but has done it well. He has combed through (by his own accounts) over 300 translations of the Gita and recommended four of them to those who wish to understand the diverse ways in which it can be interpreted. In the process, he manages to hold the interest of the reader and give the uninitiated a basic tour of Hinduism and its most important conversation. This is not a religious book; rather, it is a successful attempt in deconstructing the universal appeal of the message contained in the Bhagavad Gita.
This book could have easily become a mundane exercise in history; instead, it stands out as a beacon in the study of a timeless piece of literature. The role it played in the Indian freedom struggle, and what it means in todays life….its all there, well researched and written in a pleasant narrative. Read it!
- The Science of Interstellar – by Kip ThorneThe Science of Interstellar by Kip S. Thorne My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is kind of a double deal – you have to see the movie (Interstellar) before you read the book. Anyways, I don’t know many (or rather, any) people who have not seen arguably one the best science fiction movies to come out of Hollywood, and hence I assume that you have. I also think that when the DVD of Interstellar comes out, this book will mostly be included in the package.Back to the book. There were a lot of puzzling concepts in the movie that stumped even an avid science aficionado like me, and so this book came as a blessing. Calttech physicist Kip Thorne, who served as the science consultant for Interstellar, breaks down the science parts bit by bit, putting all the concepts explained into three buckets – truth, educated guess and speculation. He then goes on to deconstruct the most intriguing bits in a language that us commoners can digest (although in some cases, he can’t resist going too deep into the subject). And so you are transported into the world of wormholes, black holes, singularities and time travel…one starts each chapter with many questions, and by the end of the chapter, one mostly has all the answers. And that, in my opinion, is no easy feat. There are a couple of chapters that you can skip, for they are too theoretical and detailed, but overall, the book is enjoyable to an extent that once your finish it, you would want to see the movie once again, this time as an informed audience! Go read it, and yes, let your kids be a part of this wonderful world too! View all my reviews
- Playing it My Way – by Sachin Tendulkar…My thoughtsPlaying It My Way: My Autobiography by Sachin Tendulkar My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Well, am Indian…cricket fan or not, we are all obsessed with Sachin Tendulkar. So much so that we used to switch off our television sets when he got out! So when he came out with his autobiography, we just had to buy it…whether we like it or not 🙂Sachin’s autobiography is like him – uncomplicated, focussed, and basically a commentary on his matches, with a few personal touches in between. Some trivia, some feelings, but largely just match commentary (from his viewpoint of course). Its funny that we expected more..Sachin has hardly been controversial ( and controversies maketh a good book) and has always given his best, without much complaint or diversion. And hence ‘Playing it my way” is the straight cover drive that he plays so well, not a helicopter shot that Dhoni will (hopefully) deliver when it is his chance to write an autobiography. Sachin always played under huge expectations…we wanted a 100 every single time he walked out to bat, and of course there were times when we were disappointed. Not necessarily because he batted badly, but mainly because of our own huge expectations…. This book pretty much feels the same way. Huge expectations, left a bit disappointed…but that isn’t Sachin’s fault now is it? View all my reviews
- My Top 10 : Books
The reading habit is fast dying…its decline hastened by, among other things, our decreasing attention spans (thank you Twitter) and availability of lesser alternatives (thank you cable television). Having said that, for many, reading has also made a transition – from paperback to electronic versions. I prefer the e-book mainly for its convenience (try carrying around seven thousand books) and additional features like inbuilt dictionaries and note-taking. It is this convenience that has got me to read more..and I did read quite a bit in 2014.
Here is my pick of the lot, and it includes non-fiction (mostly) and one exceptional piece of fiction. Again, these are books that I read in 2014, not necessarily books that were released in 2014.In no particular order.
Bending Adversity – Japan and the art of survival – by David Pilling
Japan has always been a sort of enigma. Certain aspects of its society remain quizzical, often misunderstood, yet there is one aspect of Japanese culture that everybody is univocal about – their ability to deal with adverse circumstances. Author David Pilling attempts to dig deeper, using the devastating tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 as an initial backdrop. He goes on to analyze many milestones in Japan’s history to investigate what it is that enables the Japanese to keep up their spirits, even when all hope seems lost. Sample this:
Especially for Japanese men, companies play the role of a religious community,’ one Japanese academic told me.26 There were company songs, company dormitories, company holidays and, of course, lots of company overtime and company drinking sessions. Matsushita’s official song, performed by workers wearing identical grey jumpsuits, went: We will send our products to the people of the world Our hard work and toil like the sound of water Gushing from the spring; industrial progress, industrial progress Number one for harmony, Matsushita Electric Excerpt From: David, Pilling. “Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival.” Penguin Group US.
Think Like a Freak – by Stephen J. Dubner, Steven D. Levitt
Of course you have heard of Freakonomics. And then Super Freakonomics. The author duo is back with the final act of their trilogy (or so I think it is), thinking like a freak. This time, they don’t dazzle you with their quirky take on economics. They teach you how they did it, how they thought different, and how you can think like them. And of course, in their own inimitable style!
The book cites many examples, from soccer kicks to stock market analysis, some of which frankly sounded quite simplistic and potentially debatable. However, the pros far overweigh the cons and as one breezes through the book, one ends up chucking with laughter and then pondering a while…
““Trillions of dollars have been spent on worldwide education reforms, usually focused on overhauling the system in some way—smaller classrooms, better curricula, more testing, and so on. But as we noted earlier, the raw material in the education system—the students themselves—are often overlooked. Might there be some small, simple, cheap intervention that could help millions of students? One in four children, it turns out, has subpar eyesight, while a whopping 60 percent of “problem learners” have trouble seeing. If you can’t see well, you won’t read well, and that makes school extra hard. And yet even in a rich country like the United States, vision screening is often lax and there hasn’t been much research on the relationship between poor vision and school performance.”
Excerpt From: Steven D. Levitt. “Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain.” HarperCollins.
The Science of Interstellar – by Kip Thorne
This book is kind of a double deal – you have to see the movie (Interstellar) before you read the book. Anyways, I don’t know many (or rather, any) people who have not seen arguably one the best science fiction movies to come out of Hollywood, and hence I assume that you have. I also think that when the DVD of Interstellar comes out, this book will mostly be included in the package.
Back to the book. There were a lot of puzzling concepts in the movie that stumped even an avid science aficionado like me, and so this book came as a blessing. Calttech physicist Kip Thorne, who served as the science consultant for Interstellar, breaks down the science parts bit by bit, putting all the concepts explained into three buckets – truth, educated guess and speculation. He then goes on to deconstruct the most intriguing bits in a language that us commoners can digest (although in some cases, he can’t resist going too deep into the subject). There are a couple of chapters that you can skip, for they are too theoretical and detailed, but overall, the book is enjoyable to an extent that once your finish it, you would want to see the movie once again, this time as an informed audience! Go read it!
“When Christopher Nolan told me how much slowing of time he wanted on Miller’s planet, one hour there is seven years back on Earth, I was shocked. I didn’t think that possible and I told Chris so. “It’s non-negotiable,” Chris insisted. So, not for the first time and also not the last, I went home, thought about it, did some calculations with Einstein’s relativistic equations, and found a way. I discovered that, if Miller’s planet is about as near Gargantua as it can get without falling in, and if Gargantua is spinning fast enough, then Chris’s one-hour-in-seven-years time slowing is possible.”
“I found that Chris’s huge slowing of time requires Gargantua to spin almost as fast as the maximum: less than the maximum by about one part in 100 trillion. In most of my science interpretations of Interstellar, I assume this spin.” ,
Excerpt From: Kip, Thorne. “The Science of Interstellar.” W. W. Norton & Company.
Look who’s back – by Timur Vermes
Was originally published in Germany (Er ist wieder da). Involves Hitler (ouch).
No, this is no Mein Kampf. Far from it. Its fiction, for one. Far from it. Author Timur Vermes takes a pariah figure, adds a liberal dose of satire, a bit of history, and a whole load of imagination, shakes it well, serves fresh! So what is the book about? Well, Adolf Hitler in full regalia wakes up on a patch of wasteland in Berlin…in 2011. Having failed to find his bunker, he takes up temporary residence in a newspaper kiosk. There he is discovered by some TV producers, who take him to be a Hitler impersonator of rare method-acting genius. Soon he becomes the star of their satirical programme. His rants against foreigners and the welfare state are both consumed as comedy and secretly admired by a German public fed up with modern politics. What happens next? Read the book to find out!
This is the only piece of fiction on my list, and that itself speaks volumes about how much I enjoyed this book. It came across as novel and imaginative, and very very very funny! The way Hitler views modern society and its quirks, all so alien to him, is comical and I just couldn’t get enough of it. Actually, I was a bit sad when it finished! Would love to see a movie adaptation, but then, don’t know if this would happen. Anyways, highly recommended!
“What especially pleased me, however, was that newspapers and periodicals, indeed every possible form of information was accessible. It was like a vast library with unrestricted opening hours. How I could have done with that! How many hard days had I spent making tough military decisions, after which all I wanted was to indulge in a little reading at two o’clock in the morning. Admittedly, Bormann did his best, but how many books can a simple Reichsleiter procure? Besides, space in the Wolf’s Lair was not unlimited. This wonderful technology, on the other hand, which is called the “Inter-network”, of “offered absolutely everything all day long and at night too. All one had to do was to search for it in a contraption called “Google” and touch the result with that magnificent mouse. Before long I established that I kept arriving at the same address: a proto-Germanic reference work called Vikipedia, an easily recognisable compound of ‘encyclopedia’ and those ancient Germans with exploration in their blood, the Vikings.
” Excerpt From: Vermes, Timur. “Look Who’s Back.” Quercus
At Home – A Short History of Private Life – by Bill Bryson
Bill’s book – A Short History of Nearly Everything – is on my list of books that everyone should read before they die (lets say once in a lifetime instead, die sounds to sombre). At Home nearly makes it to that list. The author takes up a topic that we don’t often think about often – the history of houses. How did our ancestors live once they came out their caves? Did typical houses have the same kind of rooms as they do now? The answers will startle you. Bill doesn’t stop at that…he uses the opportunity to dig deeper into the food habits of our ancestors, the way the bathed, the way they slept and even the way they relieved themselves! (the bathroom/toilet was a bit of a shock to me frankly. No way I would have survived in 17th century England).
Trivia abound. Did you know that the main catalyst for biological research was not some scientific curiosity, but the fact that aristocrats wanted to make their gardens more exotic than anyone else’s? Or that for much of history, a bed was, for most homeowners, the most valuable thing they owned?
I just wish that we had such books as kids, when learning history. It would have been so much more fun!
“Then in the Middle Ages the spread of plague made people consider more closely their attitude to hygiene and what they might do to modify their own susceptibility to outbreaks. Unfortunately, people everywhere came to exactly the wrong conclusion. All the best minds agreed that bathing opened the epidermal pores and encouraged deathly vapors to invade the body. The best policy was to plug the pores with dirt. For the next six hundred years most people didn’t wash, or even get wet, if they could help it—and in consequence they paid an uncomfortable price. Infections became part of everyday life. Boils grew commonplace. Rashes and blotches were routine. Nearly everyone itched nearly all the time. Discomfort was constant, and serious illness was accepted with resignation.”
Excerpt From: Bill, Bryson. “At Home.” Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
The Future of the Mind – by Michio Kaku
The human mind accounts for less than 2% of our body weight, but devours 20% of our daily energy intake…food for thought…literally??
Michio Kaku has been a favourite, for the way he takes cutting edge science and explains it to lesser mortals like us in a way that we can understand. His book – Physics of the Future – remains an excellent layman’s guide to what lies ahead in the technology space, for the next one hundred years.
In this book, Kaku deftly explains how scientists are now beginning to understand the mysteries of the human brain and making small, but steady, progress in the direction of completely unraveling how the brain process, stores and retrieves information. Kaku explains complex topics like telepathy, telekinesis, mind control and artificial consciousness to set up one wild ride, culminating in the ultimate question – can we live on forever? (the answer…read it in the book!)
This isn’t just food for thought. Its a gourmet meal…
“But although dreams have always haunted and mystified us, only in the last decade or so have scientists been able to peel away the mysteries of dreams. In fact, scientists can now do something once considered impossible: they are able to take rough photographs and videotapes of dreams with MRI machines. One day, you may be able to view a video of the dream you had the previous night and gain insight into your own subconscious mind. With proper training, you might be able to consciously control the nature of your dreams. And perhaps, like DiCaprio’s character, with advanced technology you might even be able to enter someone else’s dream.”
Excerpt From: Kaku, Michio. “The Future of the Mind.” Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
The Organized Mind – Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload – by Daniel J. Levitin
I don’t generally like self-help books, for reasons that go beyond the scope of this article. The Organized Mind is an exception. As the title suggests, Daniel has made the contents of this book very relevant to the person of today, who lives on a steady diet of television, Wikipedia and Facebook. How many times have we felt that even though we have so much technology at our disposal, we were better off twenty years ago? Is technology becoming a bane ?
Daniel takes the straight route, one of how we can adapt ourselves to this ever-growing web of technology, rather than trying to be utopian and shun it altogether. No master plans here, just simple steps prescribed. The beauty of the book is that once you read it, the steps seem pretty obvious! Daniel also debunks the theory of multitasking, saying that the brain is wired in a way so as to concentrate on only one task at a time, and when we do more, it in essence just shifts rapidly from one task to the next, hence tiring us and giving us the false sense of accomplishment.
“For most of human history, we did not have clocks or indeed any way of accurately reckoning time. Meetings and ritual get-togethers would be arranged by referencing obvious natural events, such as “Please drop by our camp when the moon is full” or “I’ll meet you at sunset.” Greater precision than that wasn’t possible, but it wasn’t needed either. The kind of precision we’ve been accustomed to began after railroads were built. You might think the rationale is that railroad operators wanted to make departure times accurate and standardized as a convenience for customers, but it really grew out of safety concerns. After a series of railroad collisions in the early 1840s, investigators sought ways to improve communication and reduce the risk of accidents.”
Excerpt From: Levitin, Daniel J. “Organized Mind : Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload (9780698157224).” Penguin USA.
- My Top 10 : Hollywood moviesI wish I could make this a list of my favourite films from world cinema. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t watch many. Next year however, I should be able to come up with a more inclusive list. For now, my top 10 from Hollywood. Keep in mind that this is my opinion of the best I saw in 2014, not necessarily released in the same year. 10. The Grand Budapest Hotel If there is a ‘Sanjay Leela Bhansali’ in Hollywood, it surely is Wes Anderson. A comparison unfair to both, but for persons unfamiliar with Wes’ unique narrative style and grand visuals, this is a start. The Grand Budapest Hotel combines satire, comedy, a bit of theft, history and mixes it thoroughly, garnishing with opulent sets and colorful scenery. The result? An enjoyable cinematic experience! Ralph Fiennes turns in a fantastic performance as a concierge of the said hotel, whose duties go well beyond the mundane…how he gets framed for murder of one of his guests and proves his innocence forms the crux of the tale. Supported by an able starcast, Ralph leads the movie into my personal top 10! 9. Enemy This is not a movie that many would like, but I for one found it quite intriguing. The movie is metaphorical, and as it progresses, one starts speculating on what is actually going on. Turns out that you would have to wait for the very last scene for it to make sense…and then you would want to watch the movie again, this time, better informed! Its like the Sixth Sense…the whole movie flashes by in the last scene and then you just have to press rewind (at least in those days of cassette tapes one had to…). ‘Chaos is order yet undeciphered’ says the opening line. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the central character(s) , one of them a history professor and another, a small time movie actor. The professor rents a movie to watch and is surprised when he sees his look-alike on screen. What transpires next is best left unsaid. Watch it. 8. Boyhood Richard Linklater (the Before…trilogy) needs no introduction. If you haven’t seen Before Sunrise, Before Midnight and Before Sunset…suggest that you stop reading this right away and go watch them! This movie however, is more than just a movie. Its like a real-life Truman Show. Linklater filmed this movie over a span of twelve years, chronicling the journey of a young boy into adulthood. It also stars Linklater favourite Ethan Hawke. As I understand, this kind of project has never been attempted before, and for that, I give full marks to Linklater. Watching the boy ‘grow up’ in front of your eyes, his dealing with the various issues that one faces during boyhood and the early teens, is almost surreal. Yes, the movie gets a bit slow during the third act, and at a running time of 165 minutes, it isn’t exactly concise…yet i feel that the scope of the movie justified its length. A great watch! 7. Predestination Ethan Hawke makes a second appearance on my list, this time through an Australian science fiction movie. There are science fiction movies and science fiction movies…this is the latter. Requiring a certain degree of intelligence (sorry fans of Transformers and everything Michael Bay), the story travels back and forth in time and revolves around a plot to bomb New York City. Director duo the Sperig brothers keep the narrative tight and the viewers guessing…and its only in the ending scenes that the whole movie unfolds in front of you (quite a fan of this genre btw). Some concepts can be quite mind-bending, but common, this is science fiction! Until proven fact of course 🙂 6. Guardians of the Galaxy An unlikely movie to make an appearance here, but I was pleasantly surprised when I watched Guardians…superhero franchises are super strong in Hollywood, with nearly every comic character turned into a series of movies ( some fortunately, like the Green Lantern, we may be spared the ‘pleasure of a sequel’). Guardians features the Marvel comics superhero team of the same name, with Chris Pratt leading the pack, and Zoe Saldanha (does she always look blue or green or orange in every movie??), MMA star Dave Bautista and Vin Diesel (as the voice of the lovable Groot). But the cake and the bakery belong to Bradley Cooper, the voice of Rocket, a genetically engineered raccoon and bounty hunter. Boy, he makes you whistle when he comes on screen! Arguably one of the best written characters in Marvel comics. The movie is bolstered by a fantastic soundtrack, aptly titled – Awesome Mix Vol. 1, a compilation of hits from the 70s and early 80s. The last scene has the promise of a sequel…by unveiling Awesome Mix Vol. 2…we are waiting! 5. Begin Again A simple romantic story, this one. Keira Knightley plays a singer-songwriter who is discovered by a struggling record label executive (Mark Ruffalo) and collaborates with him to produce an album recorded in public locations all over New York City. Adam Levine, the lead vocalist of Maroon 5, makes his acting debut. The songs are very soothing, the acting mellow, and a good feeling prevails over the whole movie. Keira surprised with her singing abilities (yes, she sings the songs herself) and Levine does a commendable job. There is this one scene, where Kiera sings and Mark watches her…and imagines a whole band playing around her and this lifts the song to a greater height…this scene will stay with me for a long time… 4. The Hundred-foot journey This movie is again a simple story about the owner of a restaurant (Om Puri) landing in France with his family, after a tragedy strikes him in India. Here, he resolves to open an Indian restaurant bang in the middle of the French countryside, much to the chagrin of his family (except the hero of the story, one of his sons) and the owner of a French Michelin star restaurant (Helen Mirren in a delightful role) situated opposite. Helen and Om are seasoned actors, and their performances reflect that, but for me, the star of the show was Charlotte Le Bon, who plays and aspiring chef and the hero’s love interest. She brings a very soothing presence to the character, and her understated performance lifts the film. Enjoyable! 3. Gone Girl This was a movie that I was waiting to see, not because I had read the book, but because of the buzz around it. Wasn’t in vain. Ben Affleck turns in one of his career best performances, but it’s Rosamund Pike who leaves the lasting impression. Carrie Coon also does well as Ben’s sister, and Neil Patrick Harris shines in a brief but pivotal role. The movie revolves around the mysterious disappearance of Pike’s character, and how her husband (played by Ben) becomes the prime suspect. But is all like what it seems? One takeaway from the movie – I will now surely read the book! 2. Lucy Two words – Luc Besson. Another two words – Scarlett Johansson. The resulting two words – Fantastic cinema! Luc’s Leon: The Professional has been one of my all time favourite movies, and Scarlett’s performances have always interested me. This movie has both, and the best of both. Luc zips through the movie so fast that the short running time of 89 minutes feels even shorter, much like an episode of 24 (the TV series)! The story presents an intriguing concept – what if we were able to utilize much more of our brain capacity? 20%? 40%? 100%? Scarlett Johansson plays the unlikely victim who, due to a strange mix of circumstances, gets the ability to utilize much more of her brain capacity than ordinary humans. All while being chased by a drug gang. The resulting car chases and fight sequences are typical Besson…fast paced, heart-in-the-mouth kinds, and a lot of bullets and guns. And it gets over so fast that you are left thirsting for more! Watch it, if you haven’t already. Girl power rocks! 1. Interstellar No prizes for guessing this one. Christopher Nolan hits the ball out of the park (or should I say galaxy) with this science fiction extravaganza. Mind you, this is science fiction, not science fantasy, so everything shown in the movie is based on actual science! And so the black hole with the shining ring around it (its called gravitational lensing, if you are interested), the tesseract, the extreme gravity causing slowing of time…everything is based on actual science. In fact, the makers have come out with a book – The Science of Interstellar, written by Kip Thorne, who was the consulting scientist for the movie. Story? The basic premise of the movie is intergalactic travel, through a wormhole open near Saturn. reasons? Well, as usual. To save the Earth. Treatment? Nolan brings in the emotional element in huge doses and for me, that really worked. The relationship between the protagonist ( Matthew McConaughey in yet another career-defining role) and his daughter (played by three different actresses ) was very touching, and well portrayed. The special effects? Those are pretty good nowadays anyway, and this movie is no exception. Any flaws? Well, if I had to be picky, it would be McConaughey’s odd way of speaking (he swallows words, sometimes whole sentences). Nevertheless, the best movie I have seen in a long, long time!
- My Top 10 : Indian movies2014 passed pretty quickly…don’t we say that every single year? Being a movie buff, I tend to look back every year to recap some of the movies that I saw, that stayed with me, that entertained me, and that I would like to see again. So here is my top 10 of the Indian movies that I saw in 2014. Mind you, this list has movies that I saw in 2014, not necessarily released in 2014… 10. Bangalore Days Anjali Menon does have a knack of showcasing bittersweet family relationships , and Bangalore Days continues this trend. Set in the growing metropolis of Bengaluru, the film traces the journey of three cousins and how their move to the big city changes their lives in different ways. The tale is simple, yet the message profound. Although it drags a bit towards the end (the movie could be at least 15 minutes shorter), Bangalore Days leaves a pleasant taste in the mouth. Not to mention a bit of nostalgia as well… 9. Soodhu Kavvum This movie introduced to me Vijay Sethupathi, who has created a niche of his own in Tamil cinema. I found it hard to believe that the movie was directed by a debutant (Nalan Kumarasamy), for its treatment was exceptional. The script surprises at every turn, and there are many twists and turns in this one. Was so enjoyable that I watched it twice in a row! Wonderful performances, watertight script and fresh direction, this movie is a must watch! 8. Miss Lovely How can a movie have Nawazuddin Siddiqui and not be watchable? (Kick being the sole exception, but even there, Siddiqui was the only thing good about it!). Director Ashim Ahluwalia shows why he won a National award on debut in 2005. Based on the sleazy C-grade industry of the 1980s, it is tough to place this movie in a particular genre- is it noir, is it melodrama, or a mix of many elements that make the end product a genre in itself? I don’t know. Its sad that this movie, while being recognised in film festivals abroad, didn’t do very well in India. Can tell you this though – watch it and you will thank me. 7. Citylights Features another dependable combo – Rajkummar Rao and director Hansal Mehta (of Shahid fame). This time, well complemented by Patralekha, who makes a fantastic debut. Although this is a remake of Metro Manila, the director seamlessly transports the story into rural Rajasthan, and shows the travails of the young couple who is forced to leave their home and come to the big city. The desperation, the glimmer of hope, the compromises that have to be made..and the painful conclusion…its a pleasant wonder that this movie did well for its genre. Watch it for the lead couple. 6. Haider Shahid Kapoor has been the unlucky one. His movies, barring a few, have not really been able to showcase his immense talent. Haider (based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet) is one of the few movies that gives him ample space, and Shahid does the best of it…and more. The subject is controversial, but the treatment is pure Vishal Bharadwaj. He selects the best of the lot (Kay Kay Menon, Irfan Khan) and then bowls a googly by casting Tabu as the central character of Ghazala Meer. She takes away the movie from everyone else, and leaves us wondering why she doesn’t do more roles! Backed by an awe-inspiring musical score, Haider is arguably the best movie Shahid Kapoor has done…and will do for years to come. 5. Aankhon Dekhi Director Rajat Kapoor tells a tale of a middle class family headed by Bauji (Sanjay Mishra in his meatiest role ever) and how an incident changes the way Bauji sees life, and how this incident affects his relationships with his daughter, his wife and his brother. Hilarious at times, the movie takes a view on interpersonal relationships in a common middle class family, that has not been seen in quite a while now. Every member of the cast performs exceptionally, and so the film belongs to not just Mishra but everyone who acts in it. Delightful! 4. Agantuk Some may consider including a Satyajit Ray masterpiece in 4th place in a list of contemporary movies as blasphemy, well to them I say – I commit this crime again before the list ends. Having dealt with that, lets move on. I watched this movie in 2014, and thats why its on the list. For lovers of Bengali cinema, this may not be the masters best work (considering the high benchmarks he set). For lovers of cinema in general, this movie just cannot be missed. Loved the way Ray takes a simple story and turns it into a philosophical journey, complete with interesting dialogues and thought provoking insights into how we perceive people. Its available with subtitles on You Tube so don’t wait. 3. Drishyam Mohanlal is one of the world’s greatest living actors and he shows us why. The plot of this movie is similar to the Japanese movie Suspect X, although I have not seen the Japanese flick yet.Georgekutty ( Mohanlal’s character) is a self-made man who lives in a village in Kerala with his small family; his own little world. A crisis threatens everything that Georgekutty has worked so hard for, and how he overcomes it and protects his family forms the crux of this thriller. From the onset, we are quickly absorbed into the world of Georgekutty ( Mohanlal’s character) and the story holds our attention to the unexpected twist in the last two minutes. Don’t bother about the language, grab a DVD with subtitles and you will enjoy this movie. 2. Nayak Sacrilege again! Satyajit Ray makes his second appearance. Refer film No. 4. and lets get on with it. Uttam Kumar is a legend of Bengali cinema and this movie sees him playing a movie star. Sharmila Tagore plays a small-time journalist, who happens to travel on the same train as Uttam Kumar, and seeks an interview with him. Through the interview, one comes to know many facets of his personality, the myths that surround celebrities and how Uttam Kumar deals with his inner demons while playing his ‘role’ as a movie star. Both leads bring so much maturity to their performances, it gets mesmerizing. I wonder if Bollywood has adapted this movie yet; even if they do, I wonder who could do justice to such a complex role. Again, on You Tube with subtitles. See it. 1. Queen If there was one movie that defied expectations, surprised everybody and brought about a worthy successor to Vidya Balan, it was Queen. I have always been a fan of Kangna and consider her the best of this generation, and with this movie, she proved it. Oh every little thing she does in the movie, every single expression,is perfect. The soundtrack rocks, the dialogues (co-written by Kangna) hilarious and the story of a small town girl coming of age – excellent. Frankly, I hated the name of the movie when it came out, nor did the trailers really set the tv on fire, I didn’t even watch this movie first day first show, but the movie proved to be a pleasant surprise. My top Indian movie for 2014. The scene that stayed with me? Kangana climbing onto the table in a disco, taking off her sweater, waving it about wildly, and just as we expect her to chuck it into the crowds…she stuffs it into her handbag. I fell off the chair laughing!