Thursday, April 28, 2005

What's the sexiest "item" in your Pencil Box?

Moving to and working from a new office after a long time is kind of fun. Instead of the traditonal boring desktop, I have been given an even more boring laptop. But at least this one pretends to be hi-fi. Here I don't have to type my password to log on - there is a scanner on the laptop and I have to press my fingers aganst the scanner and the fingerprints are my password into this laptop. Ain't it cool :-). To amuse myself during the day, I grab a cup of coffee and I just keep logging out and logging back in just to play with this scanner.

So I was given a notebook ( the real one with paper and stuff), a pen, a pencil, a sharpner and an eraser as part of my startup kit. Looking at so many school-like items I began to think.... "Pencil Box". Then I began to think "when was the last time I had a pencil box". Never is what my friends would say if you asked them. Never is what they would say if you asked them when was the last time I owned a pen, a pencil or an eraser. Nobody brings Pencil Boxes to work. You are considered to be a nerd if you brought along a pencil box to work. I don't think people bought one of those things to college either. A loser ( if you are a boy - girls bring pencil boxes to their retirement parties), is what you could be called, if you brought one to college when it wasn't examination season (But I would never call such people a nerd or a loser because I am indebted to them :-) and frankly! they impress me). So I guess high school was the last time one was expected to roam around with a pencil box.

In 1983-1985 - Remember the box that was released after we won the 1983 World Cup. The one with Kapil Dev holding the trophy aloft. Later, there was one with Gavaskar holding the Champions trophy aloft. The most famous Pencil box I have seen is the dark red one that goes by the brand name called "Natraj". It had a painting of Nataraja on the box. Buying a new geometry box was the only known form of orgasm to many primary-secondary school kids ( 2 years before I saw a middle-aged man carefuly inspecting a Pencil Box in Landmark in such a style that made me wonder, if it still is -- to some grown ups too). I have to admit it was exciting then to buy a new geometry box. Ofcourse I'd loose all the contents in, lets say, about a week. Then I'd go and pick a fight with anybody who I suspected, had stolen my stuff. There are ways to mark your pencil box items as yours. People sometimes wrote their intials on the back of their sharpner/eraser. But given that at any point in time, any school had 12 murugan's, 27 senthils , 72 Anands, 98 Subramanians (including the History teacher and Headmaster) and about 273 Srinivasan's (including the Principal and definetly including the Math teacher as all Math teachers as per Education Act of 1951 had to be named or renamed as Srinivasan) - it became very difficult to claim ownership of a sharpner with just a name on it. A stamped affidavit, duly notarized and finger printed was what was in order.

I also strongly believe that the Pencil Box is a mirror of a person's pysche. I have observed at least 2 girls, who seem to protect their pencil box(es) with fierce territorial intensity. One is my cousin and the other is my wife. Both have a peculiar habit of arranging their pens and pencils in such a way that all the nibs and sharpened ends face the same side. I say peculiar only because these pencils and pens would still continue to function and perform their duties if they were arranged differently. However, these 2 ladies were (and still are) not in agreement with me on the topic of arrangement Vs actual functionality. They, for some reason, get agitated if you try and change that order ( and believe me I have tried it just for the kicks and then got badly kicked by one very mad woman). From these observations, I think a pencil box can be associated with certain psycological patterns that are present in the deep dark recesses of the human mind. Certain other people who kept their pencil box in order, also were subjects of my wonderment. Their Pencil Boxes, were neatly organized with 2 erasers ( the second one was for the express purpose of loaning it to me), a sharpner, a set square, a scale, 3 pencils (ditto), and 2 pens ( ditto). OzDude at school and color king a.k.a the guy who "walked" with actress nadhiya at college (both visit this blog regularly) were two prime examples I can think of. " A virgo is systematic" my mother would say to my over-committing "gemini" father. " A virgo has everything organized, always prepared and spotlessly clean", she used to thunder when my dad produced one of his famous last-minute crazy-mohan-kind-of confusing bail outs. Looking at OzDude and Color King, both of whom were unabashed virgos, I would say that this attribute is true. Both of them at different points in time responded to the emergency wail - " machi! forgot my pen.. please gimme one.. " that I let out almost every other class. Both of them had clear counts on the number of pens they had loaned to me, including counts on the pens I had not returned. The best thing is they would think it is their responsibility to request me to return back their pens after the class was over. I had carefully trained these two over the years to behave this way :-)

While everything else that colorKing did fitted in with his pencil box mannerism ( you know the ever sincere, class first, college first category), ozDude was a mystery. Why? because ozDude was a bum like me. We were always the first two to be kicked out of class and rarely popular among "intellectual" circles. But they way he would confirm to the characteristics of a completely different species, when it came to things like packing and pencil box, would always amaze me. When I almost expected him to accompany me in the "I forgot my pencil ma'm" head scratch, he would silently open his pencil box and voila! 2 pencils would gleam in splendour.

Returning back to the topic - which is clearly the more important- Whats the sexiest item in your pencil box? We have to meticulously investigate the contents of the geometry box to answer this question correctly. The geometry box came with a particular pattern and arrangement. There were plastic partitions inside the box, like rooms in a house. One room would house the eraser. The sharpner sometimes also went into a separate room. I suppose both were moody enough to warrant privacy. The pencil, compass and the divider would roam around the box freely like sluts( which is why you get this dodack dodack sound when children with school bags run. It is the sound of the pencil, compass and the divider madly knocking the walls of the box, demanding to be let out). Below these three items were the scale, a protractor ( dunno what the hell this name means) and two other pieces which call themselves the SetSquare.

Let me digress to a whole new topic for a moment. Whats the deal with these two things called set squares? What purpose do they serve? I swear!! in all my years in school geometry, I have never used them. Not even in exams. Come to think of it -- what does the divider do ? I have to say in the house of a pencil box -- the pencil, sharpner, eraser, scale are the real bread winners. The others are, as the popular phrase to refer to unemployed youths go, "thandasoru" ( na-laayak in hindi). Some people say that, they have seen these set squares been used for drawing parallel lines. BS! I say, A scale ( and some times even a protractor) can be used by us warriors to draw a parallel line. We don't need no setSquare. Nobody has seen a divider been used for anything other than tying a rubberband inbetween and use it as a sling. The 2 setsquares and the divider are two of the biggest scams in the geometry box industry. Since the manufacturers of the geometry box were illiterate, the makers of plastic who produced the scales and the protractor, cheated them, and passed along two other vague set of plastic instruments and an iron thing into the geometry box. The ignorant students, when they first saw a geometry box in 4th grade, they waited and waited. Hoping that someday when they grew big enough, they would get to use these three things. Maybe they thought using them was gaining some sort of an adulthood. That day (using them not the adulthood), I am sorry to break it you, ladies and gentlemen, never came.

My vote for the sexiest item in the pencil box would be the eraser. I carefully keep saying "eraser" instead of "rubber" because of the obvious reason. As soon as you landed in the US, the first thing you are told by seniors is " dude! dont say it as rubber. Here rubber means condom yaaar!!". And we nodded our heads seriously and considered that moment, an ephiphany ( the other one being "five into four" means nothing in Uncle sam's land and you have to say " five times four" if you wanna say it at all). Somehow the eraser is too sexy to be used to just... erase stuff. It seems to have that " I am actually more than what you think" look. It seems to signify a hidden sensuality or an arrested sexual instinct. It almost seems logical that the eraser was kept in a separate room in the geometry box -- to protect it from the dangerous compass. Children on seeing an eraser somehow get the feeling " man! what a sexy little thing this is! I am sure there must be something more it it". They can't believe it can only be used for erasing stuff. Its worse than knowing the truth about Santa. "Its so soft and smooth its got to do something better" cries a kid. So the eraser manufacturers made the erasers smell good. That improved the sex appeal further. The children tried to write stuff on it, bite it and even tried to eat it. Sometimes they poked the eraser with the compass and the pencil. Right this moment, children are still probing ( or is it groping? :-) ) the eraser trying find some untapped potential or hidden sexuality. The manufacturers, just to make things more exciting, went a step ahead and started sending half-dressed erasers into the house of the geometry box. So that, later, the children could strip them naked. yeah! Then there were imported erasers -- "Staedlers" ( or something that spelt like it). They were big and strong (something for the women folk). They came in tough wrappers and did not undress that easily. Somehow the makers of the eraser have kept the aura of the eraser alive. The eraser seems to exude an exotic feeling of mystique and magic that till date keeps tempting children to explore the eraser until the end of time (or until the eraser is replaced by a member of the opposite sex).

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Music Analyzed - By Dr.Lakshminarayanan

Ilayaraja is a classic story of rags to riches. A man from a remote village from down south comes to Madras with a harmonium box and two brothers. He is completely broke and struggles for a living. He then makes it big. Not uncommon but then again not a trivial acheivement. He actually goes on to compose for the Royal Philharmnic Orchestra and an Orchestra in Hungary. Places where no Indian has gone before. The difference between Ilayaraja and others is that he is more of a geek variety. He is a purist. He is not your Deva or Anu Mallik. He is not even the Burmans. He is a level above everybody India has ever seen. People who have interacted with him and those who have seen him record have been amazed at the way the man thinks in "notes". It has been observed that he can visualize the music he is composing in its literature form. He writes his tunes in paper. His orchestration is considered not only the best in India but comparable worldwide. A simple uneducated man with humble beginning, Ilayaraja is considered a genius. If he had a PR machine, people say he would have gone places. But then Ilayaraja is too much of a purist. He seems to loathe publicity like we would hate a rattle snake. He has given maybe 2 TV interviews in the past 3 decades.


People who understand the technicalities of raagams and the nuances of western classical music are the ones who are really stunned by Ilayaraja's magic. For a man who has been unexposed to western classical music for a good part of his life - Ilayaraja has shown amazing propensity and talent in picking up the subtleties of that craft. When most of todays musicians seem to earn the millions without knowing what a "counterpoint" is? Ilayaraja, who is considered to have the potential of a Bach, a Tchaikovsky or a Chastakovich, leads an unnasuming life. He rarely speaks but the magic of his ragas and his orchestration seem to do all the talking. I grew up in the AR Rahman era ( and I love Rahman too) but Ilayaraja still mystifyes and captures my imagination. He would always be the true unsung hero in my books.

In the good old days when Internet was in its early days, there were no blogs no yahoogroups abd we barely had a search engine that was worthy of mention. Things were, as they said, evolving. Now things are still evolving but we seem to be at a more advanced stage in the evolution cycle than, say a decade before. There were newsgroups.

Dr. Lakshminarayanan Srirangam Ramakrishnan is a doctor in Norman, Okhlahoma, USA. He wrote 15 articles on Film music and did a critical analysis of each music director and the use of certain raagams by different music directors. When I was new in the US of A and quite new to this email thing, I was stunned by the amount of forwarded messages sent ( a separate blog in this later). SideNote: to the "forwarded mail" saga, the small girl, who was a daughter of a Seimens employee was dying of cancer then and still dying even now, when I got the same forwarded mail 6 years after I got it for the first time telling me the girl was dying of cancer. So in that era, which was some 6-7 years before, I received 15 forwarded emails from a friend containing articles by Dr.Lakshminarayanan. I was simply stunned by his brilliant exposition of all things film music. He appeared to me as a carnautic music expert and he definetly understood raagams and the technical aspects of music in-depth.

Ilayaraaja I am a person who is retarded in such fine cultural things like carnatic music, I was awestruck by Dr.Lakshminarayanan's knowledge on this subject. I was thinking "here is a doctor who is also so specialized in what he learned as a hobby". As I was backing up my computer, I started reading some of my archived emails and slowly got engrossed in that when I found these forwarded emails. I thought I should publish these articles here just to keep this alive.

These articles were sent by Dr.Lakshminarayanan to the Recreation Music Indian Classical and Social Cultural Tamil newsgroups ( yes! the same ones in which another famous internet author Ramesh Madhavan posted).

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Lakshminarayanan Srirangam Ramakrishnan in a mutual friend's house in Dallas, Texas. I had already read all his articles extensively and was almsot star struck while talking to him.

The list of articles and their links are

1)Ilayaraja - Chakravagham, Malaiyamaarutham & Kaapi:: In this articles Dr.Lakshminarayanan talks about Ilayarajas music in the movie Chembaruthi and his use of Chakravagham, Malaiyamaarutham & Kaapi

2) Gowrimanohari, Hemavathi, Karaharapriya, Sriranjani:
This articles talks about music from M.K, Thiagaya Bhavathar, K.V.Mahadevan's Thiruvilayadal to Ilarayarajas use of the above mentioned ragas in movies like Guna.

3) Ilayaraja & Subhapanthuvarali, Panthuvarali, Mayamalava Gowlai, Lalitha:
This article talks exclusively about Ilayaraja and his handling of these raagams in some of the popular Kamal and Rajini movies.

4) Ilayaraja (and Kunnakudi Vaidhyanathan)- 4 ( Thodi, Kalyani, Amir Kalyani, Saranga): Here he talks about violin and Ilayaraja's favorite raagam, the Kalyani.

5) Ilayaraja Vairamuthu, Rahman (Kedaram, Sankarabharanam, Nalinakanthi): Here apart from analysing songs that have the above ragams he describes the function of lyrics in songs.

6) Ilayaraja 6 ( Rishabam/Madhyamam - Hamsanadham ) : Here he analyzes music from Manirathnam's to ramarajan movies.

7) Ilayaraja -7 ( kanakangi, Sudha Saveri, Rasikapriya ): Here he analyzes music from Sindhu Bhairavi to AVM's Pudhumai Penn.

8) Ilayaraja 8 ( Names & groups of Ragas, Rajanis, Bhairavis, Vivadhis): Here he details the Kalyani ragam and talks about Ilayarajas music to AR.Rahman's music in detail.

9) Ilayaraja 9 ( Thiyagaraya Krithis, Hindolam, Chandrakauns, Saramathi ) : Here ha talks about Sain Thyagaraja, patenting and Ilayaraja's "how to name it". did you know "muqquabula" and "chandralekha" are raagam based songs?

10) Ilayaraja - 10 ( Western Classical, vasantha, Poorvi kalyani, Hamsanandhi) :Ilayaraja's use of eastern and western classical music. Review of the famous "andhi mazhai" song. He also talks about sex. AR Rahman's music and Jingles are also mentioned.

11) Ilayaraja-11 ( Humor, Brindhavana Saranga, Sudha Dhanyasi, Arabhi, Kaanada ) :Here he talks about humorous situations and songs surrounding such situations.

12) Ilayaraja - 12 ( Birth of Ragas, Thodi, Suddha Dhanyasi) : Here he talks about the birth of ragas, birth in general. He also talks extensively about Ilayaraja's usage of the rare Thodi raagam.

13) Ilayaraja-13 (Copying, Shruthi, Suddha Saveri, Hindolam, Aandholika, Madhyamaavathi, Bowli, Sriraagam) : Here he talks about copying of songs, common misconceptions about copying. Here he explains the technical detail of what really "shruthi" means and also talks about a bevy of raagams.

14)Ilayaraja 14 ( Sex, Reethigowlai, Chaalanattai, Nattai, Gambheerai Nattai, Vakram) : Here he talks extensively about sex and the "vakram" factor. He also writes extensively about the various strains of nattai and their uses in film songs.

15) Ilayaraja 15 ( Dharmavati, Genesis, Shanmugapriya, Lathaangi, Vijayanagari, Sivaranjini & Conceit) : Is Ilayaraja conceited. Do brainy/successful people have conceit? Lakshminarayanan has his views on it. He also talks about movies like "Azhagan" and some old classic tamil songs.

Disclaimer: I know nothing about carnautic music or western classical. I am just a good listener. So all views music or otherwise expressed in those articles are Lakshminarayan's and his own. Since I am not gaining any money out of this blog one canno say I have violated patent rules by exposing these articles. In the Linux Global Public Licence world, everything in the internet domain is for public knowledge ( ofcourse Harvard Business School disagrees with such a view). Ofcourse you have to credit the source. Which I have done. Moreover I have published these aricles with a goodwill of making the public more aware that such articles and people like Lakshminarayanan exist.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Nightie ( Updated with the Lungi )

Now..... I like women. It is not as if I consider them to be my enemies or some sort of an object of ridicule. I always appreciate them. Ask my wife!! she will tell you how much I appreciate and observe women. From Manisha Koirala, Aish, Trisha to Reema Sen, I have profound appreciation for the women folk. So much that sometimes she has to tell me explicitly to stop appreciating them so much.

But then what is day without night? So I have my critisisms about women too. At a time much prior to now, when my wife was not my wife, but just a person I was talking to - I asked her this question " Do you know about this thing called nightie ?" Confused and half-suspicious that this could be a trick question, she said "! I know about this thing called nightie." Now... the difficulty in deciding about stuff like marriages is that you have to ask certain tough questions. Questions, which may ultimately decide the level of compatibility and thereby the marriage. It maybe too embarassing to ask such questions but nevertheless essential before committing to the "I DO". So I asked her "Are you one of those chics who wears this nightie thing to the temples, to the milk booth to buy milk, to the market to do grocery, to the bus stop to drop off kids, to the neighbor's house for idle chat". I asked again " Are you that kind of a person.". Thankfully the answer was "No! I am not that kind of a person."

Now! the reason why this question was important is not so much because of the fear that your loved one could belong to that wretched category of women but more because it gives so much pleasure to trash the kind of women who fall in this category. And it would really be difficult to pass all my sarcastic remarks and verbal abuse at these women, if I know fully well my loved one is in that category. Even worse the temptation to remark at such obscenity is so high that you would rather say something and get beaten up by your wife than not say anything at all. Thank god! I did not have to walk that road. She hates it as much as I do.

Now! what do women think when they buy a piece of dress that is called nightie? Do they realize that five of those seven letters in the word "nightie" forms a word called NIGHT -- that actually gives the dress a purpose and meaning? If they do realize it, then why do they insist on wearing them during daylight? Do they feel nobody else will notice it is day? Much like a person who kept picking his nose when he sat on the passanger seat of my car 3 days before - who thinks that if he does not look at me while he picks his nose - I won't notice that he is picking his nose and sprinkling nose-shit in my car. Have you seen that? Have you actually seen people picking their nose in public? They are so focussed on locking the damn goop in their fingers that they actually think nobody else is noticing them. They are thinking in the minds "I almost caught the darn thing.. its slippery now.. wait I'll catch it with my ring finger.. thank god nobody is seeing.. my hand is completely blocking my sight but not to worry.. I know nobody is seeing me. Even I can't see myself and even if I don't wash my hand before dinner it is not a problem I did not see me pick my nose so I never did it". These "nightie" clad women are like that. They actually think that if they don't look up and see the sun -- people will think it is still night. And people will not notice the ghastly dress that they have come out wearing. This pretension gives them the right to goof off and parade this ugly dress in public. Now I am not critising the nightie because its not an Indian dress or because in some Tamil Sentiment way it shows the women to be a slut. No I dont think of it that way. I think its tasteless, useless and sometimes a very scary dress. Go ahead wear a bikini and strut yourself -- I will clap all the way and cheer you on. But a nightie!!! chic you are givin me the creeps.

These are the levels in which women wander outside in this hideous costume. (a) They just wear it like a ghost until 9:00 in the morning -> (b) they wear it all day long -> (c) they actually wear it outside the house while talking to neighbors -> (d) they wear it outside when they do grocery ( you know while buying vegetables sold by the mobile-cart-pullers) -> (e) they wear it until the bus stop where they talk with other "nightie" clad women (a hag consortium) -> (f) they wear it to the temple. Now among these obsceneties ( which are difficult to distinguish in terms of their obnoxousness factor) the one that stands out completely is the nightie to the temple. They have finished their bath, or so they would have us believe with all the sintoor and viboodhi on their forehead. So they know that they are well past the nightie time. But they choose to (a) wear the nightie for that day's night early in the morning itself (b)re-wear the dirty nightie from yestdarday. Eitherways it does not make a difference as far as looks are concerned - both look pretty dirty. Why nighties to temple reach unknown heights of abnoxiousness is because of the "dhupatta" factor. I have never understood the saree. I dunno why a dress has to be worn the way a saree is worn.

Let me digress to the topic of sarees for a moment just to set the context. To me saree is a reflection of man's cruelty women, much the same way a veshti ( dhothi) is a reflection of women's cruelty to man. In the olden days when man saw and understood for the first time the differences between a man and a woman, he saw the difference in the anatomical structure of a woman. He also may have noticed women were physically weaker than men. So he wanted to dominate his woman. He said "here lady! there are 5 pieces of cloth here. Each piece incrementally covers the vital parts of your body. go wear them!". The woman, who had never seen a saree before, dutifully starts wearing them one by one. After 4 of those 5 pieces have been worn the woman notices that althought the important sections have been covered there are still some "gaps" that result in moderate to negligible levels of nakedity. She thinks "Will I be warm enough? Won't other men stare at these still naked parts?" When she notices the 5th cloth, which is our famous saree, she is happy. She thinks, "Here is a bedsheet like thing and I can happily cover my whole body with it. At least I will be warm". But men those days were smart.. "aha", the man says, "Wear this bedsheet sort of cloth in such a complicated style that it will extensively re-cover what has been already covered but will only marginally cover the previously naked portions." So the woman wraps meters and meters of this cloth around in a style that requires 4 PhD's and 10 years of study to master. But to her horror! she finds that her nakedity has not significantly diminished. She has ended up naked in the places that were already naked before this weirdly long cloth was worn. But she never asks " if its redundant why the hell do I still need a saree? " Lot of cloth but not so bright..the women were in those days. Meters of cloth is expended, wasted and particlarly aimed at covering and recovering the same body parts. This makes me suspicious of the medeival man. I think there may be a third ( the second one was obviously to stare at ladies mid-riff section and make all the rain dances and a billion dollar bollywood industry possible) and yet unidentified reason as to why this saree strategy was adopted by the early man. Makes you wonder if the undisclosed idea was to cover up a specific part of the body so much that other people wont recognize that the anatomy of a women's body was different from that of a man( fits in with the medeival mentality doesn't it?). I think saree's express purpose is to hide the concept of any anatomical differences between a man and women's body. So much so that it is not a problem if some small parts are still naked but the delta parts ( the ones which signify anatomical differences) must be masked. In short they want to mask the differences in the top half of a woman as much as possible.

Salwar is a dress that I can vaguely understand. There are no confusing knots and turns. It is simple pant and shirt but just that the shirt is longer. "Dhupatta" on the other hand is baffling. It almost looks unnecessary. Given that some piece of cloth is already covering the top half, there is no need for a another one. But I have noticed women suddenly wear a dhupatta when elders or strangers come visiting. This dhupatta serves the purpose that the saree serves - masks the anatomy. I bow my head to the medeival man. He has not only acheived his purpose but also made women actually respect his devious plans. Men Rock!!!

Now why did I mention all these things? Coming back to the topic of the Nightie. When a woman wears a nightie there are no complications that comes with a saree or a salwar. This darn dress is so ghostly that you are left wondering if there is any other body part apart from the head. This ghost like structure is so vapid that it hides the entire person let alone any talks about top half, bottom half, structure etc. But the women are still not satisfied. They take a dirty towel. A towel so dirty that it has been used to wipe off everything from baby shit to the fungus like dirt underneath the fridge. The women take this towel and wear it across their nighties like a Dhupatta. Why? is it because it masks their anatomy in the top half of her body? is it because of sheer habbit? is it because women, like those nose-pickers mentioned above, think that if they wear this dirty towel other people would think they are actually wearing a salwar and would approve them without giving a second look. I have no idea. I only know what the nightie eventually does. It takes away all the gracious structures that women are known for and replaces them with a legless ( and dirty) ghost. Why do you need a dirty towel for? where is the sense in this?

Some women who have bore the brunt of my sarcastic comments have shot back and attacked men's habbit of wearing shorts. I have only one defense in that regard. You forget the shorts. Consider the small handkhercheif that men wear - the cloth called komanam. The nightie is worse, more undignified and more ugly than the komanam. Because atleast the komanam guys have reached the maximum capability of their dressing senses. They can't help their situation and have settled to their wretched states. But women on the other hand are doing what Seinfled said, they take a look at themselves in the nightie and say "This is it!!! I have worn this. I am not going to improve upon this! Damn my wardrobe I am just wearing this and going out".


The Lungi was an interesting topic thrown at me by Atta Girl. It is an undeniable fact that only the men who wear lungi think it is even remotely close to good. I have never heard any woman say " that lungi gives him the sex appeal". But then men as a rule aren't shy to wear dirty stuff. It is also undeniable fact that lungi is so horrible a dress that there ought to be a law against it. My gripe against the lungi starts with the design and then its colors. Does it have to be that checked. The horrible thick stripes that run across it. What sort of a dress is this? And whats with the blue and brown color. Men who wear lungies - I have a news flash for you - You look horrible in it. This is the only dress that can rival the obnoxiousness of the nightie.

Lungi is like cheating on a sack race. You have a material that worse than a sack on you, but you have the bottom part cut out to enable you to walk. whats the deal aren't the judges watching you or something?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Mumbai Express: Sheer Genius: Pushpak All over Again

Note: This movie has been released in Hindi simultaneously with a complete different cast. This blog only reviews the Tamil version. Btw it is recommended that the Chandramukhi review found here be read first

Mumbai Express

" Are you saying, you are giving this money to me for free!!??" asks Ahalya ( Manisha Koirala). Avinashi ( Kamal Hassan), who is completely deaf, listens through his ear machine, understands the question and enthusiastically replies "yes! I am saying, I am giving this money to you for free". Manisha, a bar club dancer, mother of an illegitimate child and one who is looking to make a fast buck to build a nest, pauses and considers, for a moment, what Kamal had just said, and seems to wonder to herself "is this guy for real?" Then her mind begins to work tick tock tick tock. She draws from knowledge gained through the Machiavelli 101 course that every child is taught as soon as it is born, and acts in a way that further expands her knowledge base on this subject.

This is a movie - where when two people are talking to each other, both have no clue as to how incorrectly he/she has understood the entire situation and the identity of the other person. While one tries to outwit another person, he infact is outwitting and eliminating himself. The beauty of it is, we the audience are gods. In what can be called as the supreme form of voyuerism, we know exactly who is who and whats going on. We are thrilled at the way the situation has developed itself into this mix. Only Kamal can do this. And thank God ( this time its capital G) for giving us KamalHassan.

Mumbai Express Kamal Hassan's Mumbai Express deserves to be released in Hollywood. Watching a Kamal hassan movie immediately after a Rajinikanth movie is like adjusting the sensitivity dial from Angstorm units to Light Years. A completely different set of standards need to be applied to Kamal Hassan. This movie is slick and is the definition of cool. If I dare say so - not many in India are good enough for this kind of a movie. Just to throw away 90% of the pop-corn sundry audience, I can tell you, there are no songs in this movie (well... there were 2 half-songs -- one of which was the highlight of the movie). I loved this movie just for this fact. Many will dismiss this as a half-"comedy" movie ( after comparing it with MMKR) and most will not appreciate the movie for what it is. This is a work of sheer genius and like many other Kamal movies, will only be appreciated by serious movie watchers. If Guy Ritchie had thought he was a master in the art of robbery-kidnapping-money-mystery-confusion movies and assumed that he had this genre Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Madonna must have sneered and told him to go Snatch a Screenplay 101 from Mr. Kamal Hassan. Story, Screen Play and Dialog is by Kamal Hassan and the direction is by Singeetham Srinivasa Rao ( the Pushpak combo). Siddarth's Camerawork is clear. Has that dusty foggy feel to it. The color contrasts in the movie are low, like it was in Kaakha Kaakha. The sets, the dresses all converge to the same color and give out that dusty grey look. This I believe are attributes and reflection of the "look and feel" aspect that better movie makers like Kamal and Manirathnam decide in their drawing board. They pre-decide certain stylizations that will give a specific look to a movie. Thiruda Thiruda and Kaakha Kaakha are good examples of this.

There is nothing to the story really. You can write the following on the back of a PTC bus ticket " 3 people try and kidnap a child of a wealthy Mumbai business man and things go wrong ". From the way the movie begins, until the very end, Kamal Hassan's script jumps, dances and talks all by itself. I have to say even though this was the second movie I was watching in the same evening, I couldn't help jumping with joy and thinking "He has done a good movie.. finally". I hated, and pretty passionately too, most of his movies from Devar Magan till Vasool raja ( barring the odd Mahanadhi, Hey Ram, Anbe Sivam and Sathi Leelavathi). I Hated Panchatathiram, Avvai Shanmugi, Thenali, PKS.. everything. But this movie is a classic and easily among the Top 10 Kamal movies.

The reason why Kamal is one of the best ( if not THE best) minds in the Indian movie industry is purely because of the casual way in which he starts the story. It flows like a single stream which grows and becomes a river and then becomes a big ocean. Like a relay race where one passes the baton to another, there is only one single thread in the script. Do you recollect those games where cards are all arranged in order and when you knock of the first card its knocks the second one and starts a cascading effect. This whole movie is one such big movement of one thing leading to another. There are only 8 or 9 people in the movie. Thats it! totally about 9 actors. And about 7 people exchange dialogs between themselves. Who speaks what and to whom is extremely important in this movie. Its is an Integrated Chip design logic kind of a thing. The script has been so carefully constructed that the events or dialogs must work like clockwork for the script to come a full circle. It sets up identities of people and how each person perceives the identity of the other person. All required for the grand finale. I will not talk about the last half-hour of the movie. Its just pure brilliance! "Amazing" - actually was the word I was searching for.

Mumbai Express Three people start the movie. They are engaged in a serious conversation. No time is wasted. No multiple stories and disconnected introduction scenes that warm up a movie. The first 4 lines of dialog as soon as the movie starts, tell you the story. 3 goons want to kidnap Businessman Chettiyar's (Santhana Bharathi) son. They seems to be rehearsing on and on, every step of their kidnap plan. In a casual way the movie shows how each guy meets with some mishap or the other and gets injured neccesitating a replacement.

The pace of the movie is deliberately slow( in a very cool way) to begin with but picks up pace as the movie progresses. The three people are called A, B and C ( that is what they are called in the movie). Each holding stake to "33.33%" of ransom. C falls sick after drinking necessitating a new C. The new C should not distrub the old C's 33.33%. So new C is a relative who does it as a favor. New C is Kamal Hassan. NewC sometimes calls himself newC. And NewC allows A to narrate the entire plan without telling A that he is completely deaf. New C moonlights in A's job because A's hand is bitten by a horse and A "falls asleep" while kidnapping the boy. newC also gets B injured and adds a D to the team in a small accident. While newC does the kidnapping and quadraples the ransom money (because he really doesn't know how much to ask for), collects it, poses himself as a police officer. He is a good guy. Believe me! he is the only good guy among the 7 people. When he does most of the things he actually does, he really doesn't intend to do all those things :-) get it ? The other 6 people are very bad people who fend for themselves. And this is just the beginning of the story!

I can go on and try and narrate the entire movie but it would neither be fair nor possible. This is a movie of mistaken identities, confusion, tricksters taken in a very slick way. The movie has "ironies". Tons of them. The last half-an-hour is a laugh riot with the title of the movie providing the final and the biggest of all ironies. As I struggle to explain this story with any sort of coherence, I realize more the genius of the script. The way the Vande Mataram song has been shot speaks volumes of the minds behind this movie. It is absolutely hilarious and should be spoken about for a long time.

Kamal hassan, the actor, Kamal hassan the script writer and Kamal the dialog writer compete against each other for the honors. The use of analogies (" Fan in an A/C hall to signify a concubine") is brilliant. Here is a virtuoso movie maker at the peak of his talent. The dialogs and situations concerning the child are excellent. Pasupathy, Vaiyapuri, Nasser, Ramesh Arvind( I couldn't believe he was the insurance agent), Santhana Bharathi and Manisha all do an excellent job. I recommend even the most hard core Rajinikanth fans to watch this movie. For the "ladies" crowd who love to hate Kamal Hassan -- this movie has no vulgar scenes, no rain dances and nothing offensive about it. Its a very good family entertainer.

I was asked about a hundred times on which of the 2 movies are better. It is easy to say "both are equally good". But I won't do that. Maybe I am from the old school but not giving out a personal opinion because of political correctness theory - that to me sounds like fear. In a good world people would and should like decisiveness. Even if such a decisive opinion does not really endorse their personal beliefs. Chandramukhi is a very good movie. But Mumbai Express falls into a completely different strata. It would not do justice to this movie if its clubbed with Chandramukhi, no matter how good Chandramukhi is ( at its level). Movies like Mumbai Express is really what makes Tamil cinema a cut above the rest and it is certainly the better of the two movies.

Disclaimer: I thought Guna was a better movie than Thalapthi inspite of Manirathnam directing Thalapthi.
Dislaimer 2: I am not a Kamal fan :-)
Disclaimer3: I don't think Mumbai Express will run well in the BO.
DIsclaimer4: I dont think Chandramukhi will run either
Disclaimer5: I dont care about Disclaimers 3 & 4

Chandramukhi: Must Watch: It is really a movie!!!:


Note: The plot or Story line is not revealed

Minutes after the movie opens, a gang of rowdies sent by a politician attacks SenthilNathan's (Prabhu) construction-site-inspection-van and try to "behave indecently" with the girl engineers in that van. The gang members are shown chasing the girls in slow motion. That is when someone kicks one of the gang members, kicks him so hard that the goonda flies about 100 yards from the point of impact and lands on a car, smashing its windshield. The camera zooms to the sky, comes down back to earth, the wind is roaring angrily and the dry leaves are flying all over. The camera settles down on the bottom part of a shoe and gradually zooms outward in slow motion. Voila! For the 153rd time -Rajinikanth is revealed! The grand backgroud music that accompanies his introduction and the ear-shattering whistling that goes on in Udhayam theatre, makes the occasion surreal. Wait! Its not yet over! Rajinikanth has just kicked somebody and he has not completed his kick. The camera then captures Rajinikanth in mid-kick, his right leg raised upward like Jackie Chan. It then captures all the angles of the kick using the now-famous bullet-time technology. Rajinikanth brings his leg down and rotates his right leg in a circular fashion and a mini tornado forms around his leg, thereby raising the dry leaves above the ground again. He then throws something in the air, which people automatically assume to be a cigarrete, the camera captures the upward motion of the thrown object and when it directly lands in his mouth, you find that its a BOOMER bubble gum ( he has given up cigarettes for this movie). The rest of scene shows Rajini jump on top of a person's shoulder, pivot to his right, kick someone on the face and then Rajini pauses in mid air ( "in mid-air mind you" did Seinfeld say :-) ) as if to say "Jujupee to you - Newton's second law of motion" to pivot magically to his left and kick another person. The scene ends when Rajini throws people around and makes them attain escape velocity. Jokes aside I was enjoying every moment of this and was clapping furiously.

Abhay After a scene like this and dialogs like "I have come back after one year amma! I just want to make everybody happy", I was thinking that it is very tough to take Rajini for the character that he plays - Saravanan - A Doctor of Psycology. The real rajinikanth is so explosive that he permeates into every character he plays. So much that he is obligated to explain his break in making movies - to the audience - through his character. I was thinking, I should sit back, enjoy and evaluate the movie in Rajinikanth's own parallel movie world, with its own set of rules and laws ( much like the James Bond ones). But I was wrong! Rajini plays a character close that of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and the movie follows a classic Poirot kind of plot. This is really a movie. What I mean by this is - unlike many other Rajinikanth movies - this movie has a rock solid story line ( a proven one at that in Kannada/Malayalam too). When was the last time you sort of tensed your arms and legs feeling scared, like the way you do in a horror movie - for a Rajinikanth movie!. This movie if it wanted to could scare the B-Jesus outta you. Rajini for most part of the film does really become and play the role of Saravanan. Not only that, he is not the main dude in the movie! He merges into the background and comes forward when the script makes it necessary. Rajinikanth has chosen quality over grandoise. A rare thing indeed. Though it is extremely difficult to make Rajinikanth look credible as a Doctor of Psycology, this movie comes as close to acheiving that as any movie can( albeit not completely).

Abhay P.Vasu has obviously broken down a very heavy story line to fit it with the requirements of a Rajinikanth movie. A very difficult task in itself. The story is so good that probably even after hours of chipping away at the script and de-intelligenc'ing it for the palatability of an average Rajini Fan, it still carries a lot of weight. However, P.Vasu in this movie has shown poor attention to detail. There are too many logical flaws to pen down. I wouldn't wanna be a party spoiler and harp about logic in a Rajini movie but these flaws aren't introduced for the sake of Rajini. These are errors created by the director because of the choices he makes in deciding how the movie progresses. He could have very well avoided these flaws and made a better movie without compromising on the "Rajini" factor. The problem that the movie poses requires that the Doctor of Psycology ( Rajinikanth) should solve the problem and not anybody else. The movie creates huge gaps in logic to make that possible. A little thought and clarity in scripting could have made that possible. Bottomline if someone like Kamalahassan or K.Bhagyaraj was asked to write the screenplay instead of P.Vasu himself, this movie would have worked much better. There are jarring cuts in the way movie progresses and some scenes follow each other so quickly that we are left with a "drama" feeling than a movie feeling. Apart from the script P.Vasu has also done a poor job extracting performances from the side-artists, especially Nasser, Prabhu and K.R.Vijaya. The "drama" feeling is especially prominent in the first half an hour where you almost get the feeling these actors are "acting" the part than actually "living" the part. This was not true for some of the earlier Rajini movies.

Abhay The plot, which I will not reveal, is a complex one. It involves two perspectives - and the viewer is privy to only of the two perspectives. The other perspective is something only Rajinikanth is privy to. The story evolves and changes direction as a result of some of Saravanan's(Rajini) decisions. The movie pauses at a point where the problem(the viewers are still not aware of it) is so interwined that, only Saravanan can solve the problem. He then narrates, in Poirot style, the second perspective to everybody ( the viewers are synched up with Saravanan at this point) . This is when Kurosawa's old and famous technique of showing the same scene from two different camera angles is once again used in Tamil Cinema ( although this may have been used in the Mallu movie which won Shobana the national award). The final few scenes wonderfully reveal the second perspective and makes you slam your head with your hands and say "I saw this scene! why didn't I notice this". After you hear Saravanan's narration, you understand that if the problem is solved Saravanan will die. You are thinking! "Wow! Rajinikanth dying" that never happens unless its a double action movie, does it? You are not sure. This movie is delightfully so far away from the Rajinikanth formula that you half-entertain the thought of such a possibility.

The last few moments are the best part of the movie. Jyotika delivers the best performance of her career. Man! She was really good. It is very difficult to appreciate her without revealing the plot but I will try my best. When the telegu song was played, the way one and then later two artists danced to that tune was simply impressive. It was mind blowing. Anybody who is a general movie-goer should not miss this movie thinking " ah! who wants to go to a rajini movie". The fantasy re-enactment of the Chandramukhi story was excellent. I always held that Rajinikanth can act wondefully well in a negative role ( Anybody who has seen avargal knows that). Those few moments reveal his potential in that direction.

The camera work is good but scratchy in certain places. Again some atention to technical details ( not something associated with any of Rajini's directors) could have made those special effects look better. At least the beginning introduction scene where Rajini stands with one leg in kicking motion could have been done better. The way it is right now - it is plainly obvious someone's leg has been digitally cut and pasted. And - oh! my god! enough of gravity defying Rajini jump scenes. Are we still in the 80's? Although the songs, except the kite song, is nothing to write home about and actually irritating ( especially the title "devuda" song), they were taken very well. Colorful, lot of people - 100% Rajini style. The background music was impressive though. I have to make a special mention about the lighting. The selective lighting on Jyotika's eyes and the change of filter colors to dark red and brown during certain critical moments makes the scene appear more menancing. If you remove the lighting and the background music, you may notice the reduction in impact the scene creates. P.Vasu because of his experience making Apthamthra, does very well in creating the horror movie effect. One thing, he could have avoided silly things like putting Sivaji ganesan's photo in the beginning of the movie, P.Vasu and Sivaji's son Ramkumar appearing in that Devuda song to say "repeat" etc. The whole movie is taken inside a single building with the layout of the building being vital to the plot. Sometimes we don't know where the North room is with respect to the other rooms in the castle ( Watch Panic Room for good example of how to deal with an analogous requirement) . When someone is shouting for help and the "evil" chases them, we do not know where they are running. We also do not know why Rajini is the only person to hear Chandramukhi's midnight dances. With a little bit more attention to detail, he could have sorted these things out and made the movie even better.


To sum up. I was very happy to see Rajinikanth do such a movie. He should do more movies like this. Unfortunately ( judging by the jeering whistles in the last few scenes) not all the public may appreciate such sincere efforts at movie making. But for purists sake he should try it anyway. This movie is a must watch. It has a good story and an outstanding performance by Jo! Go watch it.

Friday, April 15, 2005

New Years Day TV Programs Review

Note: As I write this blog, I have in my hand tickets to Chandramukhi in Udhayam theatre for the Matinee show on Saturday April 16th and I also have tickets for Mumbai Express evening show in Kasi theater. When? again on saturday April 16th. You heard it right. I havent seen a tamil movie for almost 7 months and suddenly I see a Rajini and a Kamal movie that too on successive shows. Its a mega double header today.

According to me the world is now divided in two halves - those who have tickets to Chandramukhi and/or Mumbai Express and those who dont. At this moment, I stand like a colossus -- on top of the world looking down upon people - even those who have tickets to one of the two movies let alone none.

New Years Day Review:

On April 14th, by the time, I tore myself from the TV and started to office, it was 30 minutes past noon. Determined not to miss any of the important programs, I woke up at 6:30 Am and madly kept switching between 8 channels for 6 hours. I had not seen the previews each TV channel showed so I had no prior knowledge of what was going on each channel. So each time i change dchannel I went like "wow! see its this program.. its that program". This time Sun TV started the morning on a big not with 1 hour of Balamuralikrishna. One doesn't need to be any sort of expert on carnautic music to appreciate good ol' MBK. 20 years of listening to him on your dad's radio ought to be sufficient to write 2 lines about him. He sang my favorite "thillana nadhri dhim.." and even risked singing a few Tamil songs.

The Patti Madrams ( The debates):

This is another tradition that is unqiue to Tamil Nadu. No big day/event/function is over without Solomon Papaiyah passing a judgement. To this tradition, if you add the debate chaired by Dindukal Lioni - it is a grand occasion in itself. There is a new debate topic chosen every time and two teams fiercely compete with their point of views. Debators like Raja are extremely popular ( they receive whistles before they start to speak. Can you believe that). This time Solomon Papiyah's debate centered around "is village life equalant to heaven on earth or city life". Lioni's debate centered on whether "cinema people have killed Tamizh with their English titled movies or whether the public has killed the purity of spoken Tamizh" and the other guys debate (there was another guy who was pretty funny) was more Boys Vs Girls kinda of issues ( something like " do women prefer luxury more or men"). All debates were equally interesting and the speakers exchanged profound point of views. It was pretty humorous with the tradional digs on film lyrics prevalant in all three debates. Sorry! If I am not able to say the results of the three debates. By the time the judges delivered their verdict I had already surfed to a different channel. I was actually multi-tasking between 4 channels all day long.

But the debate that stole the day was a special debate organized by Mylapore club . This debate's topic was " Are cricketers more popular and more commercially viable or are TV stars". On the cricketers side were Kris Srikkanth, Sivaramakrishnan and my favorite favorite hero/cricket journalist Nirmal Sekhar. On the side of TV stars were Y.G.Mahendra, Mohan Ram and Bashki ( the dude from hari giri assembly). This show was a complete riot with Srikkanth standing up and shouting that the other team members were idiots. Y.G.Mahendra kept on talking about match fixing until one lady from the audience came up grabbed a mike and said in a chaste brahmin tongue "this Y.G.Mahendra is too dominating, he never lets anybody talk. You are very hollow sir! very very hollow person! you please do not talk anymore".. Bashki summed up the debate by saying "this debate is anyway stupid. it is so full of nonsense that I seek your apologies in advance if I make a mistake and make some sense in my speech.". I have to say that although Y.G.Mahendra is an idiot and rarely acts dignified, he did make some sensible arguments. Srikanth and team were the clear winners acording to me ( Judge ARS predictably called the mach a draw) purely because, and I quote Srikkanth, "these idiots did not even understand the topic".

The interviews

Madhavan is a pretty interesting guy. No kidding! he is really intelligent. The way he explained his choices, his thoughts and his preferences showed him as a person who understands movies very well and really values every single movie he makes. His experiences with Kamalahassan on the glycerine issue was pretty interesting.

The other interview with Surya was pretty ordinary because the interviewer did a bad job of it. He planned the interview in such a way that both would be walking when they were talking. The interviewer kept walking ahead of Surya after asking the question and appeared more interested in where he was going than listening to Surya's answers. Surya was left answering in a disconnected way as if doubting if anybody was interested in his answers at all. His points were pretty interesting and he spoke from his heart. The good thing about both interviews was both the actors did not digress outside movies. They did not give us New Years advice, no talks on philosophy, lectures. Good! I hate movie stars dishing out free advice on life.

The final interview with Rajinikanth, Prabhu and P.Vasu was also interesting because of the love and respect these people had on Sivaji's family. After Kamal,Rajini is doing a movie for Sivaji movies. am not sure if they are saving TamilNadu's royal family from some debt but its a good deed indeed.

Anyway I should rush now for Chandramukhi matineee show. I have not read any review concerning these two movies and I am going in with no expectations. It is good to go for 2 big movies having not read any reviews. I have conciously avoided reading "The Hindu" or Rediff for this reason. okay biyeee.


I have been working out of ITPL Bangalore for the past 2-3 days. I usually have no respect for these tall rising buildings and the "fancy" structures these software industry is throwing out, but ITPL is not bad at all. The buildings are quite huge and the place is crowded with just about any high tech company that you can think of.

Yesterday I was walking around thinking; " how do they clean the outside parts of windows and glass exteriors in these multi storey buldings". Today I got my answer. They have a movable vehicle in the terrace. A cabin tied to two poles in the vehicle is rolled down and the vehicle can move horizontally in the terrace whereas the the cabin goes up and down the exteriors of the building. There are 3-4 people sitting in that cabin and they have mops and other cleaning stuff to clean the building. I noticed that if they start on one side of the building at 9:00 AM they could take upto 4:00 PM to complete one side of the building. Speaks a lot of the size of the buildings ( or the meticulousness of their job).

But I was thinking something else too. Working in normal conditions, I probably visit the restroom at least once everyday. These 4 people are out in the open working at a considerable height above the ground (with a lot wind etc) - how do they manage when they want to visit the restroom. Given that it must take at least 40 minutes to move the cabin either to the terrace or the ground and another 10 minutes to reach any restroom from there. The guys need at least 50 minutes advance notice of "sensing it" before they can actually go. After an intense argument with my friend that in case of an emergency they would just 'pee' into a bottle/tin/bucket up there rather than risk damaging their kidneys by holding it up - we called the argument a draw. We left thinking -- Well at least they work in a cabin "with a view".

ITPL has everything that now represents modern India. It has these fancy buildings, star bucks, KFC, McDonalds, JukeBox, less-dressed-chics ( there are about 50 calls centers here). Watching very old buildings of the textile/garment manufacturing companies located nearby and these fancy buildings, I couldn't help feeling that this whole fancy-building thing is unreal. It simply is. The textile garment place is reality of what can really be afforded. I wasn't sure if these software companies could really afford to erode all the parks/lakes/trees and just go on building these high rise buildings. Having seen and lived through the "dotCom" boom and bust stage, I cant help feeling cynical. Will this last long ?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Travels: The Switzerland Honeymoon

There are many disciplines in the art of thieving. I will mention two of the more important ones.

1) Theft by Stalking: A situation where the thief follows the targetted victim and waits for an opportune moment to relieve the victim of a valuable item. The thieves in this category are professionals and are usually well planned.

2) Opportunity based Theft: A situation where the victim unknowingly seeks out the thief and presents the thief with an opportunity to steal. Not taking the care to stalk and regardless of whether that particular time is the most ideal time to steal or not -- The thief identifies (a) the person as a possible victim and (b) the situation as an opportunity. He then goes on to relieve the victim of a valuable item. This is the riskiest of the two thefts. Thieves in this category, though quick thinking, are usually desperate and steal because an opportunity has presented itself. They maybe not neccesarily be professionals but amateurs, who occasionaly dabble in theft based upon need.

15:37 PM , March 2, 2005
Bern Railway Station, Bern, Switzerland.

"Its gone!" shouted my wife. "Kaanum" she again shouted in Tamizh. The moment she uttered the words, I experienced something, which many people experience rarely -- something that borders on an ephiphany. I entered a process of intense mental and emotional computation. At the end of the process I would go on to understand the impact of what exactly happened to me. I would compute the consequence of that loss and feel the emotional pang of such a loss. In short, I would have learned something new ( an ephiphany) and would experience the power of that knowledge. But that would be at the end of the process. During the process, I was comprehending the information presented to me and verifying if it was indeed true. It felt like I was walking in a confusing maze. It seemed never-ending.

14:30 PM , March 2, 2005
Zurich Airport Railway Station, Zurich, Switzerland.

The train started exactly at 14:30 PM. Reaffirming the belief that the Swiss built all those watches for a very good reason. They maintain time like their lives depended upon it. throughout my stay in Swiss to the dot really meant to the dot. It was just one hour since I landed in Switzerland and after claiming my baggages, converting USD into Swiss francs and learning from the Railway-station-ticket-issuing lady the intricate details of travelling in the train-networked Switzerland, I boarded the Zurich -> Bern train. My itenerary looked like Zurich -> Bern -> Spiez -> Interlaken. Interlaken was my destination for the day. At Bern I had between 15:30 and 15:39 to change to the train that went to Spiez. And at Spiez I had between 16:05 and 16:12 to change to the train that went to Interlaken. Being the paranoid person that I am, I tried to confirm the information I had, with a person standing at gate 4 in Zurich station, "Does this train (the one that stops at gate 4) go to Bern". He replied in an English accent, " yes! this does go to Bern". Inside the train, we spent out first few moments in Switzerland enjoying the amazing view through the window. The train sped through Zurich and on the way to Bern we were getting glimpse of the beauty Switzerland could offer.

15:30 PM, March 2, 2005
Bern railway Station, Bern, Switzerland.

Our train from Bern -> Spiez started from Gate 6. Luckily the train from Zurich arrived at Gate 5. This meant we had to just walk across the same platform to board the other train. We got on to a compartment in the train at Gate 6 and decided to go to the top half of the double-decker compartment. We then realized, after getting in, that unlike our previous train this wasn't a double decker train at all.

15:50 PM, March 2, 2005
Bern -> Spiez Train, Switzerland.

We were sitting in our seats stunned by the loss of the valuable object. I had shouted aloud to everyone "its stolen" "its stolen" -- but nobody seemed to care. People looked up for a moment and then... just went about their business. For ten minutes -- in a train hurtling towards Spiez -- we were sitting dumbstruck. My wife had already began saying "what sort of bad place is this? we can't even differentiate the thieves from the good people. Everybody is so well dressed.". She had seen the theft - live.

15:36 PM, March 2, 2005 ( 3 minutes for the train to start )
Bern railway Station, Bern, Switzerland.

After realizing that this was not a double-decker train, we just moved along the aisle, debating on which of the many empty seats ( Let me just say that Swiss trains are less crowded than Bombay trains :-) ) we should take. We had walked nearly until the other end of the compartment, before we finally decided on the ideal seat (view-wise) and sat there.

As I was sitting in my seat, I did my usual "Is this train going Spiez" survey to another gentlemen sitting behind me. He did not understand English and consulted with his colleague sitting next to him and finally said " ya!.. ya! this train go to Spiez". Happy that I did not have to get worried about getting lost for at least another 30 minutes I kept my luggage, sat down and began to relax. Then -- my wife began to take the inventory of our luggage.

15:38 PM , March 2, 2005 ( 1 minute for the train to start)
Bern Railway Station, Bern, Switzerland.

I woke from the emotional process that had lasted the entire 2 seconds after my wife had shouted "Its gone" . I blinked in disbelief. A lot of things had happened in the 2 seconds. It seemed like I had live through the ice-age, until the process finally ended and became the moment, where I realized it was truly gone. The baggage-holder like shelf above me ( the shelf that is attached to the wall a few feet above the seats in all trains -- including the ones in India) was empty. My bag lay there a few moments ago.

Now, I knew for sure the bag was stolen and I could hear my wife saying " he moved his bag closer to our bag and took them both away. I could see him doing so in the reflectionof the mirror in front". She rushed to the back of the compartment checking behind every seat. I rushed towards the front (which was near) and towards the door of the train. I realized that my passport bag and two other bags were still lying unattended in my seat. I shouted aloud "somebody stole my bag" and ordered my wife to be close to the other bags and rushed towards the door. I said to her "never leave those bags". She came back and sat near those bags terrified. I ran to the door looking out in the hope of finding a person running with my bag in his hand.

I did not see any such sight. As I started to get out of the door, I stopped myself. One thing I had decided upon with certainity in the last few seconds was: I was not leaving the train. There was just 1 minute for the train to start and my wife with all the baggages was sitting inside the train. She had the cash and I had the travel papers. Both of us did not have a cell phones. At that time, We could not afford to get separated. I looked out as far as I could and I did not see anything that was even remotely worth pursuing. I returned back to my coach disgusted, dissapointed and worst of all defeated.

15:55 PM , March 2, 2005
Bern -> Spiez Train, Switzerland.

When the Ticket Inspector came into our coach, a lady sitting 2 seats away from us, whispered to the Ticket Inspector in furious German. The Ticket Inspector then came near me and said "that lady says, a person took your bag and went into the first-class compartment. Would you like to come with me and check if he took it by mistake ?". A new wave of hope opened up. I got up and went with her after telling my wife " do not leave the side of our bags at any cost". And walked towards the first-class coach with renewed vigor.

2 seconds before my wife had said "Kaanum"

Before she shouted "It is Gone" - I remember my wife taking the inventory and asking me "where is XYZ bag ?" I told her "its there in that shelf above us" and remember looking up and seeing the bag. She shouted at me "Will anyone in their right minds keep it there?". The funny thing about the pre-shouting-"its-gone" phase was -- A set of things happened and I remember all of these things happening -- (a) I was thinking this is Swiss and its a safe place (b) I heard my wife say "he is moving it closer! he is taking the bag" (c) I got up with intention of bringing the bag down -- just to avoid an argument with my wife (d) I was thinking " what..closer.. who.. which bag". What I don't remember is -- the sequence in which these things happened.

All I heard when I completed the motion of getting up was "Laptop Bag Kaanum" ( The laptop bag was missing). Then as I looked at the empty shelf, I heard the words "Tts gone" and "Kaanum" again - and then -- I went into that 2 second block.

16:00 PM , March 2, 2005
Bern -> Spiez Train, Switzerland.

Barely 4 hours after landing in Switzerland, I was sitting in the First Class compartment of a train going to Spiez after a futile search. I told the by-now-deeply-concerned ticket inspector that my bag was indeed lost and we both sat down to write the complaint papers. I was a victim of one of the more interesting varities of theft - Opportunity based Theft - the gentleman sitting behind me and his collegue had realized when I asked the is-this-train-going-to-Spiez question that I was a tourist.

Not taking the care to stalk and regardless of whether that particular time is the most ideal time to steal or not The thief (those two gentlemen) identified (a) the person ( that is me) as a possible victim and (b) the situation ( i am a tourist) as an opportunity. He then goes on to relieve the victim of a valuable item ( my laptop) . This is the riskiest of the two thefts.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Movie Gods are Smiling: The last & final clash of the Titans

Diwali 1991: Albert Theatre/Udhayam theatre: The rain scene is shown. It is the Rajinikanth introduction scene in the movie. A phenomena never heard of in any other movie industry. This is when the excitement is at its peak. Manirathnam better than any other director knows how to whip up that frenzy. The evil police officer is being punched and he sways in the rain as a result of the impact of the punch. Then.. the puncher, Rajinikanth is revealed to the public. As he pauses in slow-motion in the rain to deliver another punch -- the noise of the theatre crowd is deafening. Currency notes are being thrown from the balcony seats, coins are being thrown. At least 300 people are whistling simultaneously. The atmosphere, to put it euphimistically is electric. Nobody outside TamilNadu will experience the emotion and the charge that the opening day of a Rajinikanth movie generates. People outside can barely comprehend this kind of mania (normally associated with Michael Jackson fans).

That Diwali the greatest war in Tamil Nadu's movie world was on. Kamalahaasan's eccentric and experimental Guna and Rajinikanth's Dalapathi are released on the same day. 8 of TamilNadus top actors like Sathyaraj, Prabhu, Vijaykanth to even Pandiyan release a movie each the same day. But Dalapthi rocks like no other movie. The explosive combination of Manirathnam, Ilayaraja and Rajinikanth lead the pack leaving everyone else behind. Although Guna was brilliant in patches, his movie as a raving lunatic who kidnaps a woman and dodges the police in the hills of kodaikaanal failed to impress. The war that year belonged to Rajini and Rajini only.

1992 Diwali, Udhayam /Albert / Abhirami Theatres: Rajinikanth is humbled. After an unprecedented sucess run of 4 movies (Thalapthi, Mannan, Annamalai, Yejamaan) his Panidan flops BIG TIME. Kamalahaasan's classic Devar Magan wins not just a national award but was India's entry into the forign film category at the Oscars that year. Kamalahassan won the war that year hands down. Sivaji Ganesan who played a cameo in Devar Magan knew exactly what the war was about. He had, once upon a time, weilded the same sword that Kamal then weilded. Unfortunately due to fan clashes and market reasons the two iconic stars mutually decided never to release a movie on the same day! ever again.

But not quite so!

Tamil Nadu, to an outsider, is in many ways a perplexing place. I personally think it’s a crazy place filled with impossible people. When it comes to good ol' TN there is no middle ground.A freakish variant of dvaitham philosophy is prevalant. No kidding! Seriously! Hear me out -- A phenomenon is present and its complete opposite is also juxtaposed along with it -- just to make things interesting. Tamil Nadu always manages to evoke strong reactions from people all around the world. " ywack! I hate that place" to "oh! My god! It’s the center of my universe". By some twist of fate or extreme sadism on the part of the powers in the heavens above -- a complete set of incongruous people have been thrown together to live in one single province. "When will these people realize that there is a world beyond Arakonam" my uncle in Pune would thunder in frustration, when most people in TN completely refuse to acknowledge the existence of people & civilization outside its borders. As far as any Tamilian is concerned the only bad thing in his state is the highway signboard which says " Bangalore 357 Kms". I would attribute the "extreme attitudes" to Darwin's you-know-what theory. The maniacal way in which it rejects all foriegn laguages is attributable to how it evolved historically. This is a state which houses the oldest language spoken in the Indian subcontinent and constantly boasts about Tamil being one of the 7 classical languages in the world. Its status of being the only lanaguage with an unbroken link of 2 millenia puts to shame even Latin ( which is apparently another classical language to have suffered many broken links). There is a kind of a fierce territorial instinct that almost rejects any thing that even remotely threatens its language. This rejection instinct seem to be encoded into the gene system.

The inherent incongruity is the key here. The sharp contrasts, oxymorons and the obvious contradictions makes the place look jarring homogeneous as well as unbelievably hetrogeneous. This is what confuses the outsider. In the land of temples where Tamil literally equals and rivals Sanskrit, in terms of religious texts and slokas, there exists India's biggest atheist movement. A movement which was so fierce in the late 60's that its diety breaking practices prompted the erstwhile freedom fighter Rajaji to pawn off Thirupathi to Andhra in exchange of the moolah-filled Madras to save Lord Balaji himself. Admist people who won't see beyond Arakonam, there exists a status as the 3rd biggest NRI exporting state in India. The land of agraharams and mad superstitious beliefs went onto to become the only state with the gall to arrest a religious head like Sankaracharyar. The quintessential Tamilian that Mr. Karunanidhi is -- has repeatedly lost to an rank outsider, a Keralite called M.G.Ramachandran and a perceived outsider (albeit incorrectly perceived as a kanndiga) Ms.Jayalalitha. John Woo would give his left hand to make a TN based story that would continue with his tradition of making a dvaithic A Vs B films ( you know where there are always two fierce rivals.. just two and they always have a gun pointed againt each other in close-up).

The movie world also has its ADMK Vs DMK kind of war between two fierce rivals. Unlike many places is in India, Bollywood is non-existent in Tamil Nadu. The popularity order is Tamil Movies -> Hollywood -> Telegu Movies -> Bollywood. Sharukh Khan could be a laundary detergent brand as far as people there are concerned ( just to emphasize the "land beyond arakonam" theory). This intense movie industry has seen two generations of Sivaji vs MGR, Kamal vs Rajini and Ilayaraja Vs A.R.Rahman. People have spent millions of hours debating who is the best ( you can include Gavaskar Vs Srikanth here). There is always the clear war between 2 people in TN. And suprisingly in a state which rejects outsiders, a hardcore native is always pitted with a non-native and the support given to both parties are almost equal. In the 50's 60's and 70's The quintessential Tamilian, the son of thanjavur and according to me the greatest actor to have ever graced the earth, Sivaji Ganesan, faced a fierce rival in the mallu that was MGR. Their kind of one-on-one clash for success and popularity in the tinsel world is something exclusive to TN alone. Kamalahassan, a native born in Ramanathapuram continued the tradition and waged a on-screen war with Rajinikanth, a Kannadiga. The Kamal Vs Rajini though it started off rather modestly grew into gigantic proportions in the 80s and early 90's. Surprisingly in both cases, the natives were the "real actors" and the non-natives the "pure entertainers".



Kamal Hassan

Kamalhaasan has carved a niche for himself in the film world. Here is an actor/director who really understands movies and makes a bulk of the cutting edge movies in India. He falls into the "movie geek" variety. He is a genuine movie buff who can probably write a thesis on Kurosawa, Coppolla and Scorcese. He is a learned Bharathanatyam dancer, has also worked as a choreographer in movies and one who can talk at length on James Brown's dance moves. He is a singer and quite a good one at that. Apart from being India's best actor he can definitely write screenplay, dialogues and direct as well as any other person in India. His stories are well thought out, often rebellious and deals with subjects that either bring out the land's culture very well or causes the people to think deeply of values and issues. He is unbelievably articulate, has pretty strong viewpoints, definitive goals and can talk about writers from Betrand Rusell to ancient texts like Purananooru and Tholkaapiyam. In short his is the resume every aspiring actor wants to have. Although any avid movie buff would salute in respect to Mr.Kamalahassan, he would not get any points from the traditionalists on the topic of his personal life. He is a suspect atheist and critisises, quite openly, societal structures like marriage and relationships. People (the ones who usually dont get his viewpoint) hate him passionately and ladies ( ofcourse! there are the ladies) dislike him for being the "womanizer".


Rajinikanth is well... Rajinikanth. Nobody can say anything more! He is the complete oposite of Kamalahaasan ( Remember we are talking incongruency and Tamil Nadu here). While Kamalahaasan has 2 wives ( and 2 divorces), 2 children outside of marriage and is alleged to have been involved in many temporary relationships, Rajinikanth has quietly setup a family life and established a healthy position in the society. He is deeply religious (and so has impressed the "ladies" and family crowds) and unlike kamal not a ruthless person ( he would be willing to let go of smaller gains for a larger spiritual gain). As a person he is anything but articulate. He has no personal views and rarely, if ever, makes a profound statement. He is as superficial as it gets as far as movies are concerned. Often his movies have no plot, nothing of substance to offer. His dialogues are colloquial and simple. Unlike Kamalahassan who was a child artist, and worked his way up as a choreographer, side actor, assistant director, actor, director. Rajinikanth moved from being a bus conductor straight to an actor. Rajinikanth is the lottery ticket everybody wants to win. He literally hit the jackpot and has cultivated it admirably. Rajinikanth has several things going for him. He has a lovable persona, and is easily darling of the masses ( at least 3 times as popular as Kamal is). His style thing (the way he tosses and catches a ciggarette with his mouth) certainly sets him apart and is quite catchy. So catchy that the Japanese love him like anything and call him the Dancing Maharajah. While only a small cross section of the society has the intelligence to grasp Kamal, Rajini's messages are simple and can be understood by the common illitrate man. His plot lines are usually humorous and very entertaining. His movies are usually the perfect entertainers where you can just go have fun and come back. His main claim to fame was to make the common man identify with him. While for kamalahasaan the story comes first, Rajinikanth stories are usually tailor made to support his role as a average joe who falls in the middle-lower economic class category.


After more than decade of silence these two have decided to release a movie on Tamil New Year's day. The last time they released together Sun TV had not yet setup shop, Star TV was just peeping inside India and ARRahman had just done 1 movie. Although Ilayaraja ( possibly India's greates music director and probably the only and last person to lay claim to the composing hall of fame) as the Music Director of Mumbai Express seems to have outlasted A.R.Rahman ( who has no release this time), the truth is Ilayaraja is composing because of Kamal's strong preference for him. The actors careers have changed considerably. Kamalahaasan has gone one to bigger and greater heights as an actor and director. Rajinikanth has reached unimaginable heights of popularity (to the point of even contemplating a political career which he embarassingly had to forgo). Kamalahassan, this time, is coming up with a bilingual(in Hindi and Tamil) called Mumbai Express. Rajinikanth is doing a remake of a Malayalam-telegu-Kanada movie called Chandramukhi. While Kamalahassan as usual plays an atypical role of a circus bike rider ( you know how they dangerously circle a big sphere). Rajinikanth surprisingly ( and unusually) plays the role of a psycologist ( wow!) in a movie that promises to have a good story line ( the Kannda and Mallu versions are incredibly sophisticated it seems). The excitement is understandably high. I can't help but feeling that this is the last time such an event is about to occur. With the next generation stars diluted and multiplied, I do not forsee the dvaithic wars anymore. Ofcourse the new generation folks like Vijay ( ya and Bipasha is in Sachin) and Dhanush ( in Balu Mahendra movie) who are releasing a movie the same day are serious contenders.

Will the older Generation win? In the last battle of Rajini Vs Kamal who will win ? I can't wait until April 14 to find that out.