Thursday, May 26, 2005

The "This" pointer

This was on my to-do list for a long time. A self-referencing this pointer was in the pipeline for sometime and it just came out now. I would like to post three things about me that are relevant to this blog.

  • A long time ago ( and no I won't say "in a galaxy far far away".. oh! I already said it) some of what I wrote actually came out in "The Hindu". Although I have no pretensions of being a Nirmal Sekhar, I still am happy about that fact. The problem with the online version of "The Hindu" is that it does not contain everything that comes out in the actual paper. The other problem was -- unless the editor, whom I correspond(ed) with, sent me an email saying "here see... your article" kind of url, I sometimes didn't even know if my stuff got published. My parents were never in Madras when I wrote these and so they wouldn't spot some of the stuff either (because they appeared in Metro Plus - Madras edition).

    In the era where Hindu comes online ( which is much different than the morning coffee-sipping Subbulakshmi-suprabhatham Hindu-reading era - which was when I thought that writing for "The Hindu" is the most adventerous-thrilling thing anybody could do), I have managed to spot URL's of 3 of my articles. The first one was about high school exams, which happened to be my favorite topic of discussion. The second one was something more personal and I remember feeling good when I wrote it but reading it now I feel slightly embarassed. The third one was back again to my favorite topic of engineering syllabi. I remember this one creating some amount of controversy and people did not take very well to my rather..blunt views. So much that the editor I spoke to requested me to tone down my future articles. People who knew me sent me personal emails telling me I did not know stuff. I just took everything as a sign of encouragement :-). Reading this now I still feel I was right and the article is still relevant.

    I heard from a few friends that they saw another school related article in metro plus (since it is June this is apt now) but I never saw it online. I just assumed it was not published. I also heard from 1 other person that he saw an article of mine regarding a Sathyanarayana temple that is close to my house but I never saw the online url. I don't think I even have the word doc with me to put it in my blog. I remember writing another one on campus interviews but that too lost into oblivion.

    Oh! and how can I not write about cricket??!! This article, which would make the English teacher(s) who taught me spelling turn in their grave (or in their beds due to nightmare- which ever is applicable), was published in It actually was flashed in Rediff's main page and then was the main cricket news item for almost a week. At the time I wrote it - I remember being very angry then that people did not understand Indian Cricket in the correct perspective. I guess my emotions got better of me ( and my spellings) . Reading it now ( at a time when I don't care if anybody understands cricket or not) I feel it reflects what was relevant at that time. The only regret about this article being - I praised Ganguly too much unnecessarily.

  • Now, I see my sitemeter telling me that the number of hits to this blog has crossed the 10,000 mark. There has been some remarkable ritcher-scale-level activity in the past few months, especially the past week.

  • One kind gentleman from teakada website has asked me if they could syndicate my blog. Although I know little about teakada and even less about the word syndication that is outside of X-Files, I am intriguied by the word teakada ( which I guess means Tea Shop). After watching thousands of Goundamani-Senthil comedies where both of them have fun in-and-around the Tea Kada area, I think it is worthwhile being syndicated (like I know what it means) by teakada. I am not sure what still remains for me to be syndicated by teakada ( I guess I just need a worn out lungi and 75 paisa to gain admittance into a real tea-kadai) so all this may be premature. When I started out, I wanted this blog to be a good diversion, from what I was doing in my other alternate life ( as Superman or Batman saving lives can be demanding). I remember writing because.. I just wanted to write. I am surprised (pleasantly) that now more people want to read it.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Episode III - Revenge of The Sith

The Sith movie Cast There is a neat little dialog that goes between Senator Palpatine and Anakin Skywalker, overlooking a blue spherical baloon with things flowing inside. As Palpatine is talking - I am thinking " whats this spherical thing? Is it some sort of entertaintment? Why was it conceived and put there? What was Palpatine doing before Annekin walked in? Just staring at some blue round thing?". Anyway back to the all important conversation - This conversation is the "connector". It connects all aspects of the prequel and binds it to the original episodes. It bares the motivation for Anakin Skywalker to become Darth Vader. You know that by the hush in the audience and huge murmers and whistles coming out from the people. It is a moment where everybody goes " So this is how it happens". And you could feel it around you. There was no need for the Seinfeld like sushing. Everybody is tuned in. Palpatine talks about things that Anakin has not been told by the Jedi council. He speaks highly of a Dark Lord who could prevent death. " He could create life as he desired" and " he taught everything he knew to his apprentice but he was killed in his sleep by his own apprentice" . I was connecting something here. Is he saying that THAT Dark Lord is Anakin Skywalker's father ( given that Skywalker was conceived without a father - which is why he was considered as THE ONE by the Jedi council --Does it ring a bell now :-) ? ) and that Senator Palpatine was the apperentice who killed Skywalker's father? If this is true and If I, sitting in Sathyam Theater, without the help of any force, but with only the incessant sound of ring tones of cell phones (so much for not gadgets talk even if people dont want to), brought into the theater by mannerless idiots can deduce it - Then why not Anakin Skywalker who, according to Obi-Wan, has already become a Jedi that even Obi-Wan cannot become in all his life.

The dialog for this movie is slightly better than the Attack of the Clones. This doesn't sound encouraging does it? Movies dubbed from China have better dialogs than Attack of the Clones. There is a scene where Anakin senses that Obi-Wan has been in Amidala's house ( Apartment?) and he asks her why Obi-Wan was there. She says, "Obi-Wan asked me to watch out for you. You have been under a lot of stress lately". I was almost half-expecting Padme to say " take two asprins and go to bed honey!". Inspid, un-imaginative, near-death-boredom-inducing is what I would call most of the dialogs. Add Anakin's out-of-place (southern ?) accent to the mix and you are already choking in mediocrity. This is the movie where Anakin has to be persuaded by the Darth Sidious to join the dark side, by exploiting the weakness in Annekin that Yoda constantly warns about. Dialogs are crucial in such a movie. George Lucas can summon all the special effects in the world, and he does so with amazing detail, but people don't notice details. Sci-fi channel watchers and geeks do ( I should know.. I attend all their meetings). People love drama and drama is aided by dialogs not by special effects.

Yoda the greatest Philosopher in the Modern Movie World The conversations between Senator Palpatine( Darth Sidious - if u didn't know this by now its really not a spoiler) and Anakin sometimes rise upto the expected levels. Some of what Yoda says is good but by and large dialogs are the biggest let down in this movie. A serious drawback considering that the actors would be mouthing them in their green suits inside studios with nobody around. It challenging to say lifeless dialogs in a real theater setting but to say them in green suits - 'alone' - knowing that your scene would later be attached, using computer imagery, to a large scene with alien beings present - is not awe-inspiring to give a moving acting performance. I couldn't spot a single scene where the actors would not have to be digitally stuck into the picture like the other droids and aliens. Take this scene for instance - Obi-Wan and Yoda come back to the Jedi temple and to their horror find even the younglings dead. Obi-Wan before he leaves the temple sees the archival-hologram (or video-recordings)of the Jedi temple to find out what happened. I imagined how he must have really enacted it. He must have been in his green suit in an empty room looking down at empty space and he must imagine that he is seeing Anakin Destorying the young Jedi's - and then ACT. Later the hologram of the video-recording is attached digitally, Yoda is attached digitallly and the whole Jedi Temple is created virtually - by the ILM folks. Obi-Wan learns for the first time that his "brother", his padwan has slipped into the dark side. In a scene that is ripe for a good performance, a crucial high-moment -- his face shows as much emotion as a bag of fertilizer.

George Lucas It may appear that I am critisizing too much - but I am really not. It is just that it is very difficult not to notice these things. I actually liked the movie. This is the best of the prequels by a long way. Thats mainly because its got really good story material. Its good to see a completed jig-saw puzzle , even if the last few pieces were easy to fit in. I liked the full arc of "The Star Wars" story. Of how youngsters ( Qui-Gon) disobey elders ( Yoda). And in spite of the good intentions of the people around him, the path of Anakin Skywalker eventually followed his destiny. This 6 part series has shown the possibility of 'good' to truimph over 'evil' under the most dire of circumstances ( Which is what 4, 5 , 6 shows). It also shows the inevitabvility of cock-sure people to bring evil upon themselves ( which is what 1, 2 and 3 have shown us).

It is true that strong attachment to anything brings about jelousy and all the pithy words about hate, fear anger are quite true. Anakin Skywalker fell to the exact same emotion that Yoda predicted would be his doom. His sin of secretly marrying Padme came with a set of "protective emotions" that incongruently mixed with his Jedi powers to see the future finally becoame the core of the reason why Annekin fell to the dark side. Obi-Wan who intially was not in agreement with Qui-Gon to train Annekin *had* to follow his masters dying wish. And Yoda much like Bheeshma Pithama can do nothing about it because "it is destiny".

George Lucas Ofcourse comparing the prequels and the sequels are easy. The sequels win hands down. No! it is not because old timers always want to say they had the best of things. It is true that growing up has its own disadvantages. Yestarday, at the wonderful newly-renovated Sathyam Theaters ( and I might add that of the three places - EpisodeI-AMC-Ohio, EpisodeII-Cinemark-Dallas and EpsodeIII-Sathyam-Madras the last was the best by a big margin), I saw young children completly swept of their foot on seeing this movie. George Lucas has created this mythical Star Wars world which has endless possibilities for children like it had for me many years before. Wooden Johnny Socko watches, match boxes that become Star Trek communicators gave me a sense of power or transported me to a fantasy world. Today - Giant Robot looks funny and I am tired of watching Star Trek 500 times. The whirring rattle-snake kind of sound of the light-saber in the sequels used to thrill me then. Alec Guiness was too old to hold a Tea Tray let alone the light saber. But his grace and his on-screen stature was stunning. At the risk of re-repeating myself the effort that goes into creating minute details in special effects is too much. A lot of time and effort is spent on it because technology allows you to go into those details. But such details were not required when the original sequels were done, instead the effort and focus was alternatively spent on writing good dialogs and creating powerful characters. Here too many characters and events are cluttered and there is less depth in each character. Alec Guiness impressed me in one movie what Ian McGregor (whose beard and moustache have been altered to make him look similar to Alec Guiness' face cut) has been trying to do in three movies. When the Jedi fight using the light sabers in the prequels they seem too close to each other for a sword fight and there is really no athletic ability or speed. I guess, since they are holding nothing in their hands when they are acting it, they have no sense of how to clash swords.

In spite of a slightly negative commentary this movie is like no other movie. It scores a 85/100 and I felt it could have got a 95 instead. But that does not mean it can be spoken in the same breath with other pedestrian movies. This is like the MIT of the movie world. Star Wars is certainly one of the most influential movies I have seen in my lifetime. My childhood is certainly thankful to George Lucas for the sense of imagination Star Wars has provided me.

Edit1: It was heartening to note the cheering and whistles going on during the movie. The way certain scenes evoked similar reactions from almost everyone tell you how much Star Wars has influenced our generation. As my Dad, who had accompanied me, pointed out - 90% of the people were between 15-30 years old. There was collective sadness, quite palpable that too, when Anakin finally turns to the dark side. It is clear that Yoda is the most popular character in town today. There was a huge cheer when Yoda did ...actually just about anything. Yoda's fight with Count Dooku send the audience into raptures of joy some 3 years before, I was not quite expecting the same reception here but was pleasantly surprised with a huge roar when Yoda in Rajini-Jackie-Chan-ishtyle knocks of the people who try and assasinate it. The final Light Saber duel with Sidious got thundering roars of approval whenever Yoda whacked Sidious. The other most popular character was certainly Chewbacca. The Ewok got one big roar from the crowd and ear shattering whistles in the few seconds it made an appearance. With appearances in SNL and many other TV shows, Chebacca is the only character that even today can give Yoda a run for its money. The irony is Chewbacca doesn't say anything at all in the movies. Vader got some applause. Luke, Leia and both the moons of Tatooine were cheered. It was a "I have seen this before" moment.

Edit 2 Anniyan Trailor: Saw Anniyan Trailor for the first time during the Star Wars interval. Must tell you it is really impressive. I think we are about to see India's first genuine superhero movie. From what I figured Vikram falls into some water container like thing ( no.. he doesn't become Obelix) and he is bitten by some animals. A frog was shown and he seems to fly around and catch goons in dark alleys and beat em' up. I saw a replica of the Matrix scene( where Neo beats up 100s of agent clones) - here Anniyan beats up 100s of Karate person clones. Quite impressive I tell you. There is Nedumudi Venu, Prakash Raj and Vivek ( I suspect the last two are police officers searching for the murderer - which is Anniyan). My intuition says it gonna be similar to but better than Gentleman/Indian

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A Star Wars Primer

The Star Wars Cast I thought a quick summary of all the previous 5 Star Wars movies will help the uninitiated to catch Star Wars III while it is still in the theatres.

I have tickets for the 7:00 PM show today (So it IS First Day First Show for the third time in a row). Return of The Sith releases only in Sathyam, Madras on May 20th ( simultaneous release with movie halls in the US). Sathyam Cinemas, according to me, has become the pioneer as far as Indian movie halls are concerned. According to today's "The Hindu" - It is the only theatre in India that is screening Return of the Sith in Digital Format. According to my "friends" in Texas Instruments, Dallas, Kiran Reddy of Sathyam Cinemas, visited Dallas to purchase TI's new Digital Projectors. This means the film won't come in a box ( or is it a can?) but it will come in a disk. The major relief when Digital Cinema became a reality in US cinema was the doing away of compressed sound as the digital media did not require sound to be compressed. Sathyam is showing Star Wars III, 4 shows a day and the tickets are available fairly easily. I got mine day before yesterday.

Disclaimer: So here is a recap of those 5 movies. I am extremely lazy today. I dunno why? I can't summon the strength to write/think. So what I have done is write as much about the Star War movies as I could and whenever I felt lazy/bored I took Star Wars story outline ( not opinions but just the raw story) from the web and modified it as much as my laziness allowed me to (About 75-80% of this blog is my stuff the other 20 is web remix). So excuse me if some of this is innacurate or insipid. This is the best I could do under the stupor. Given that I have poured in 100's of reviews to IMDB, I thought taking a few from them isn't a sin. And this is mainly to get novices geared up for the last of the six episodes. If you are new to Star Wars and you find that I am dropping a lot of names and new concepts - be patient and read on everything is explained at some point or other in this blog. Things will fall into place ( remeber "your focus defines your reality" )

Vader vs Kenobi Star Wars IV ( The New Hope): The first Star Wars movie, later renamed as "The New Hope" was released in 1977. Its release at a time when sci-fi was going out of fashion and revived the special effects industry. ILM, the team that did the special effects for Star Wars,have now become full-fledged special effects creators in their own right. This movie was released with taglines like "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." and a neat "Coming to your galaxy this summer".

Star Wars The story briefly goes like - In a distant galaxy, many many years before the creation of Earth, advanced civilizations have evolved. The galaxy is ruled by an Empire. This evil Empire ( led by Darth Vader an ex-Jedi) arose from the ruins of an Old Republic that was in power for generations. Darth Vader and the evil empire seek to control the entire galaxy and destroy the Jedi's. There are local uprisings here and there against the Empire itself as some entities begin to break away from the Empire and waging a rebel war. This is a story of Good Vs Evil. Where the Empire is evil and the good are the rebels led by Princess Leia and supported by whatever is left of the Jedi. There are many battles between the Empire and the rebels. In one battle, a technical blue print of the insides of a space station/ warrior ship, called The Death Star, falls into the hands of Rebel spies. Death Star is a battle ship that can pulverize an entire planet and Darth Vader uses the Death Star to conquer the galaxy. These spies are headed by a Princess Leia( with a really weird hairstyle), who belongs to the Imperial Senate (in other words rebels i.e the good people). She, under the cover of a diplomatic mission to the planet Alderaan (where the blue print of the Death Star is stored), smuggles these plans. She is captured when her space craft is attacked by the Empire. She hands over the plan to R2-D2 and C-3PO, two robots and instructs them to hand over the plans to a person called Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Luke Skywalker stays with his foster aunt and uncle on a farm on a planet called Tatooine. He is eager to leave the planet and join the Academy, but his uncle needs him for the next harvest. R2D2 lands on Skywalkers' farm followed by his friend C3PO. R2 then takes Skywalker into the desert and they eventually meet Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan is an aging member of an anciet order called the Jedi. Jedi Knights were once flourishing and were protectors of the Republic. Now there are barely a few Jedi Knights. Oh! Ya there is Harrison Ford in the mix too. Han Solo (the character that Ford plays) is a mercenary. He is cynical and is a smuggler. His companion is an Ewok ( another species like the Humans) called Chewbacca. Solo's spaceship ( The Millenium Falcon) is specially made. It is one of the few ships that can touch warp speed (as a result of certain modofications). Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobi employ Han Solo to take them to Alderran for re-enforcements. Solo first joins them purely for the money and then for Princess Leia and then for the cause. First they plan to reach Alderran to get more men to rebel and fight for them but Alderran is destroyed. So Solo, Skywalker and the robots must rescue Princess Leia Organo on their own. In the process of rescuing Leia, Skywalker finds out that he has "extra-ordinary" reflexes and speed. Obi-Wan Kenobi (who already knows that Luke Skywalker has jedi blood in him) makes Luke aware of his Jedi-capabilities (more on Jedi concept in Episode -1 explanation). Although Luke is too old, Obi-Wan feels he can be trained to become a Jedi. Skywalker in an amazing show of grit and talent almost single handedly blows up the core of the death star and rescues every body. The final scene is extremely good. It is the battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader. darth Vader was once a Jedi who falls into the dark side and becomes a bad person. When Darth Vader was a Jedi Ob-Wan Kenobi was his Teacher. Jedi's have a concept of Master-Padwan pairs. Where a master is assigned a padwan (learner) by the Jedi COuncil ( a group of senior Jedi knights). Once upon a time Obi-wan was the master and Darth Vader was the padwan. But now now that Darth Vader has turned to the evil side they are enemies. Darth Vader kills Obi-Wan in the End battle scene thereby bringing the number of Jedi's to a bare minimum. The significance of this scene will be felt even more after seeing Episodes II & III ( infact in Episode II Obi-Wan specifically mutters to his padwan " who do I get a feeling that you will be the death of me" ).

Frank Oz as Yoda Star Wars V - The Empire Strikes Back :

This is my favorite Star Wars movie till date ( I dont know what it is with me and part-II's). Released with tag lines such as "The Adventure Continues...", "The Star Wars saga continues" and "The battle continues...". Hans Solo, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and the robots are now living in the Ice Planet called Hoth. Skywalker receives a premonition-telepathy kind of message from Obi-Wan Kenobi to go to Dagobah. While others flee Hoth when the Empire attacks them, Luke flys with R2D2 to Dagobah. Here he is introduced to Yoda for the first time. Yoda, a senior Jedi, talks english in a sexy-cool way ( backwards actually). Meanwhile, Han Solo and Princess Leia go to planet Bespin, to seek help (the idea is to rebel against the Empire by getting more help) from Han's old friend and gambler named Lando Calrissian. Here they are ambushed by the Empire and are imprisoned by Darth Vader. Luke leaves Dagobah in mid-training to rescue his friends. While Luke fights Vader in a Light Saber ( the weopon that Jedi's use - there is a separate cult following for the light saber) battle he learns that Vader ( the " I am your father" dialog) is his father. Hans Solo is given as a gift/payment to crimelord Jabba the Hutt. Han Solo owes money to Jabba The hutt and Jabba has sent out Bounty Hunters to search and bring Han Solo back to him as a prisoner. Lando Calrissian (whose father was killed by Obi-Wan in Episode II) is one such bounty hunter. He strikes a deal with Darth Vader that if he gives Darth vader Princess Leia, Vader will allow him to hand over Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt. Meanwhile Darth Vader uses Princess Leia as a bait to make Luke Skywalker come to him so that he can convince Luke to join the dark side. The key dialog in this movie is when Luke leaves Planet Dagaboh. When it is suggested that if Luke dies or falls into the dark side (as a result of him meeting his father) the Jedi order will become extinct. At that time Yoda says " No! there is another"

Frank Oz as Yoda Star Wars VI - Return Of The Jedi

So The Jedi, after years of hiding make a come back in this movie. Released with taglines like " The Empire Falls....", "Return To A Galaxy... Far, Far Away" Luke's father is Anakin Skywalker, who underwent Jedi training under Obi-Wan Kenobi. Anakin Skywalker was brain-washed by the Dark Lord of the Sith and became the apprenctice of the evil emperor. The Sith, who are the evil Jedi'a, also have a Master apprentice pair concept. Luke learns this secret and also understands that Leia is his sister. The "another" Jedi is Princess Leia. Thereby the competition between luke and Solo for the love of Princess Leia ends. When the movie begins Darth Vader and the Empire are building a new Death Star. Han Solo is a prisoner in the hands of Jabba the Hutt. Luke Skywalker, R2D2 and C3PO try and free him. Princess Leia - disguised as a bounty hunter - and Chewbacca go along as well. As the Emperor ( The Senior Master of the Sith Order - which is the evbil side of the Jedi Order) himself oversees the construction of the new Death Star by Lord Darth Vader and the evil Galactic Empire, smuggler Han Solo is rescued from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt by his friends, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Chewbacca. Leaving Skywalker Jedi training with Yoda, Solo returns to the Rebel Fleet to complete his battle with the Empire itself. Hans Solo is put in charge of a group of soldiers to take out the shield generator protecting the Death Star. Luke, however, surrenders to Vader's soldiers on Endor, and is taken in front of Vader's boss - the Galactic Emperor - on the Death Star for final corruption to the Dark Side of the Force. Luke, unlike his father, refuses to be lured into the dark side and kills off Darth Vader in a glorious final battle scene.

The Whole Prequel Thing: After making three movies in 1977, 1980 and 1983 George Lucas decided to make something called as the "prequel". Where prequel, as opposed to the "sequel", talks about events before the original movie's timeline. The life of Anakin Skywalker becomes the central theme of the prequels. At the end of the Star Wars magnum opus - the 6 movies essential talk about the life and death of a person called Anakin Skywalker. A person who was born without a father, one who had extra-ordinary potential to become a jedi and one who unfortunately was lured into the dark side.

Qui-Gon Star Wars 1 - The Phanthom Menace (1999): This movie was released with taglines such as "Every generation has a legend. Every journey has a first step. Every saga has a beginning." and "The Force Returns May 19th ". I saw this in Columbus, Ohio. Standing in line for close to 2 hours to get a seat in the movie hall on the first day. I did not like this movie very much. People say "Attack of the Clones" was the worst of the series. Somehow to me this character called Jar-Jar completely sucked the fun out of the movie. Plus I found the movie too serious and less "human" than the earlier installments.

An IMDB patron narrates the story of Phanthom menace in a nice way so I will save myself the typing and reproduce it - It is a distant galaxy ,much before the origin of the planet Earth. Advancements in technology and science have allowed the evolution of millions of worlds that are otherwise in many respects still primitive. These worlds are somewhat loosely allied into an intergalactic Republic, whose capital world is the planet Coruscant, a planetary city. Upholding order for the Republic are the Jedi, an order of warriors endowed with near-super power derived from self-generated fields of energy known collectively as The Force. Within the Republic, dissident worlds have banded into an alliance known as the Trade Federation, and the Trade Federation is locked in a dispute with the peaceful world of Naboo. Two Jedi knights, Qui-Gon Jinn and his youthful apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, have been sent to Naboo to help mediate an end to the dispute, but Nute Gunray, an alien viceroy, orders them to be killed, and the two Jedi discover upon their escape that the Trade Federation will launch an invasion of Naboo. With the help of a well-meaning but hopelessly subliterate alien native of Naboo, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan land on Naboo to rescue her ruler, Queen Amidala, a ruler whose rule is a mixture of monarchy and republican democracy. Escaping Naboo, they are attacked by a Federation base star and are forced to land on the distant planet Tatooine, where in seeking parts to complete their journey to Coruscant they encounter a young boy, Anakin Skywalker, a slave who possesses a gift for the savagely dangerous sport of podracing - a gift that Qui-Gon deduces is part of a genetic makeup perfect for the Jedi Order. Anakin eventually joins with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, and in the process attracts the attention of one of Queen Amidala's handmaidens with a dramatic secret, and all reach Coruscant, but endless and pointless debate within the Republic's Senate leave them no choice but to strike out on their own to liberate Naboo, a task made all the more difficult because a traitor within Coruscant has at his command a dissident Jedi warrior who seeks the death of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. - End IMDB narration.

Darth Maul While Qui-Gon wants to train Anakin Skywalker to be his Padwan learner ( Apprentice),the Jedi council is much against this. Qui-Gon persihes in his battle with Darth Maul and Obi-Wan Kenobi takes up his Master's dying wish and decides to tutor Anakin ( Even though Obi-Wan was initially unimpressed with the idea of tutoring Anakin.

Jedi Star Wars II - Attack Of The Clones (2002): I stood in the queue in Dallas, Texas Cinemark movie halls from 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM for seeing the 8:30 show. The movie hall atmosphere resembled a Rajinikanth movie atmosphere with people inside bringing their own light saber's plastic balls etc. There were soo many people dressed as Jedi for this movie. This movie was released with the tag line " A Jedi Shall Not Know Anger. Nor Hatred. Nor Love". This essentially says what the story is about. Once inducted into the Jedi order, the Jedi's cannot marry, cannot fall in love. They should not succumb to extreme emotions like anger etc. Like Master Yoda says " Fear is the path to the dark side. For fear leads to anger. anger leads to hate. hate leads to suuuffffeeeerrrring". Yoda was right - Anakin Skywalker - was not cut out to be a Jedi. He falls in love with a girl much older than him, Padme Amidala. I don't blame Anakin though. Natalie portman who plays Padme is quite a chic. Man is she beautiful. I would renounce my Jedi oaths in no time for a chic like Natalie Portman.

JediAgain some queen or other is in danger in a Star Wars movie. Padme Amidala is a senator now ( according to Naboo laws - A queen retires after some age) and someone tries to kill her - again. While Padwan ( and now grown into a boy)Anakin is asigned to protect her, Master Obi-Wan goes in search of the killer. Just to cover the parts that are relevant to the story line. Anakin falls in love with Padme and she responds to his love after resisting initially. He also find out that his mother ( who was shown as a slave in Episode -1) has brutally murdered. So he experiences anger and emotion. And so becomes ripe for corruption.

The other aspects of Episode -II story is ornamental. There are people with names like Dooku ( come on!). Dooku was once Yoda's Padwan and later on was lured to the dark side. The fight between Dooku and Yoda was the higthlight of the movie. Dooku has built a clone army large enough to attack and kill the republic. At the end of the movie the Jedi are fighting the army of clones, Yoda predicts bad future and Anakin marries Padme Amidala.

Star Wars III - Return of the Sith: This part should logically connect Anakin's fall from grace and his slipping into the dark side. He should obviously have 2 children ( Luke and Leia Skywalker). He should become Darth Vader and then take over the republic and destroy it to the state where we found it in Star Wars IV.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Book Review: State Of Fear - Michael Crichton

This book reminded me of something I learned in school - the kid who gets first rank in class doesn't always know everything. Sometimes, at least initially, even he/she is surprised that he/she can do so well in academics. Over time, I developed some of my favorite "Life's Lessons" theories.
  • The brightest kid in class (according to the report card) does not know everything
  • He/She by any strech of imagination cannot be classified as "intelligent" based on academic performance alone.
  • The other kids are always in awe of this category of "bright" people.
  • The "bright" kids need not require facts to win a intelligence-based argument. Their reputation will take care of their victories.
  • Most students who support this "bright kid" do so blindly. Without veryfying the facts. For most people strongly belive that the "Bright Kid" is right and they don't want the truth to interfere with that belief.
  • The evaluation of the academic performances of the "bright kid" is done on merit initially and then it shifts to the "Auto Pilot" phase where the "Bright Kids" reputation begins to dictate the teacher's evaluation of his/her answer paper.
  • In other words, the teacher, at the beginning of the evaluation knows the paper belongs to the "Bright kid" and this knowledge leads to the belief that the kid will do well in the evaluation. Regardless of the facts this "target outcome" influences the evaluation to somehow meet the expected outcome.
Why I enjoyed the State of Fear by Michael Crichton, is because it deals extensively on two of my favorite theories
  • Reputation matters more than the truth.
  • Research agenda influences research outcomes.
According to Michael Crichton (Author of Jurrasic Park, Congo, Disclosure, Great Train Robbery) our science books were/are completely wrong. Global Warming is a hoax. A hype generated by organizations with an agenda. Michael Crichton is an author who writes fiction novels with an undercurrent of real scientific research. He is more of a scientist who presents his viewpoints through intense analytical arguments. His narration style is a cross between a litigation draft and an IEEE research paper.

The State of Fear, like The Five Patients ( or is it The Terminal Patient? ), is more non-fiction than fiction. The fictional elements of the novel merely serve as a medium to express Michael Crichton's research on this "dubious concept" called "Global Warming". The footnotes quote real research journals and the graphs and the arguments refer to research papers published in the real world.

Global Warming is a concept that we are all familiar with from 9th or 10th grade science syllabus. It is kind of shocking to note that the common man is capable of believing a carefully orchestrated concept without questioning its validity. Crichton quotes 2 other examples. One is a concept called eugenics, which proposed a theory that weaker races (like jews and some other colored races) were growing in population thereby diluting the stronger and more intelligent races. This led to weaker races being eliminated, sometimes through gas chambers, to maintain the high proprtion of the so called stronger race. The number of Dignitaries who seemed to have endorsed euginics is too staggering. Just about every who's who in the science and literary world seems to have strongly backed this theory ( and later hid in embarassment). Global Warming's popularity shows that people blindly believed whatever was published in the Media just because some famous names were quoted to back the concept (The reputation factor). Just to quote an example that comes to my mind is everybody on the street beliives Michael Jackson molested children or Mohd. Azharruddin accepted some bribe. No convincing evidence is required because we like to believe it.

Global Warming, briefly, is a phenomena where the temperature of the earth is purported to be on the rise because of the depletion in the Ozone Layer (apart from many other causes). The generation of Carbon-Di-oxide seems to be the major reason why this is happening. A common definition of Global Warming would look something like this " The term 'global warming' refers to the accelerated warming of earth's atmosphere that is believed to result from a buildup of one or more greenhouse gases (primarily carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) due to human activities. Human factors that contribute to global warming include the combustion of fossil fuels, nuclear fission and forest burning. In Australia, continental average temperatures have risen 0.7oC between 1910 and 1999, and are expected to rise by 1.0 to 6.0oC by 2070 . In comparision, globally averaged air temperature is projected to rise by 2.5oC (with a range of uncertainty of 1.5 to 4.5 oC) by the year 2100 . To put a 2.5oC temperature change into perspective, the temperature difference between a glacial and an interglacial (i.e. intervening warm periods between glacials) is about 5-6oC ."

Do a google on "Global Warming definition" and you will get such a definition. What Crichton says through this book is that such a definition is one big fart. I especially loved the way he mocked at the die-hard environmentalist caricatures. People who have no idea about forests, landslides, atmosphere, wildlife, completely condemn industrialization using this tool called "Global Warming". The characters which represent the "There is no Global Warming" point of view, repeatedly seem to poke the pro-environmentalists with questions like " Are you a scientist? Are you a person even remotely educated in anything environmental". How true!( reminds me of the time when I asked the people who committed project schedules if they knew anything about programming or the technical aspects of the project) most of these so-called environmentalsts are movie actors, rich folks desparate to cling on to any agenda. It does give some social status, self-rightoeusness and moral satisfaction to imagine that we represent something noble. So these people blindly believe in and advocate the anti-global warming movement.

What are Crichton's own views on this subject? Although his conclusions at the end of the book are more "neutral" and "politically correct", from the book and the research material quoted in the book, it is evident that he is arguing that the "melting of glaciers" or the "increase in temperatures" are hyped. The statistics (like the definition above )pick one or two "convenient" examples to show an increase in global temperature. The truth is that the glaciers are actually expanding instead of shrinking. The temperature is actually decreasing in most places as opposed to increasing. The book wonderfully argues how little we know about the environment, let alone preserve it. It systematically exposes how incorrect almost all global climate changes predictions have been and how ignorant these "wildlife society" , "environment preservation society" kind of organizations have been in promoting a pro-environment approach. It significantly quotes all predictions of warming in the past and how inaccurate these predictions have been. It primarily exposes our ineptness in measuring anything environmental. It also deals with Crichton's pet subject - that human beings are too insignificant (actually more insignificant than termites) to cause any large scale damage to Planet Earth. I bought a similar argument of his in Jurrasic Park. The one in The State Of Fear is equally convincing. The book conceedes that some of the warming (like the warming in New York) is as a result of human activity. But he says it is more due to concretisation than anything else. The book argues that we are part of a general warming trend (in some places) that started since the 1850s. Since we werent pumping out CFCs in 1850s Global Warming in effect is a statistical fudge by "interested parties".

I do not know much about global warming. I never did anything pro-environment except throw a few cans into the right dustbin. My thoughts on this subject have been kindled, a s aresult of this book, but it is still inconclusive. The aspects of this book that gave me the kicks were assertions that

  • We dont know crap about environment
  • There is no such thing as "Leaving nature alone". Man has to interefere with nature because, to put it simply, he already has interfered and so is part of it. ( A wonderful example quoted was "if you want to prevent deforestation why dont you prevent the elimination of chicken/small pox. Both are anti-nature. why is one better than the other?". How true!
  • Any measurement or projection regarding temparature and climatic increases are completely inaccurate because we dont know how to predict anything about the environment. In short he says "an educated guess is still a guess"
  • All research institution that were set up to research "whether global warming is a real phenomena" will invariably conclude that global warming is indeed happening. Because that is the expected outcome . Because that is the outcome which has a lot of reputation and because that is the outcome that will gurantee research funds.
Yes! this book was a paradigm shift for me in terms of Global Warming. But it only re-enforces my belief that Michael Jackson was right when he said " it is not what is really true that is important. It is what the media says( with quotes from reliable sources) that is important. Not only important but whatever the media says becomes the truth too". Yes! Perspective is indeed reality. The number of people who died in Kosova is defined by the newspaper I read in the morning. The number is 250 if I read "The Hindu" and 320 if I read the "Indian Express". Both are "truth options". Whichever paper I read first becomes my reality and the latter becomes someone else's reality.

Apart from the interesting revalations on Global Warming, there is not much drama in the book. There are infact many long monologues about scientific issues concerning Global Warming. Some parts border on preachiness. There are logical loopholes in the plot and the end fizzes away like many other Crichton novels. But I guess its besides the point. Its an enjooyable read if you have time to spare. I did not have the luxury. It took me 4 months to complete the 567 pages and I paid a lot of money as library dues. Plus I had to re-read some parts(when I discontinued after long gaps) to get the context. The last 100 pages, I just wanted to get done with the book and save myself some money

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

University exams: Changing the Answer Papers Snafu.

This blog is regarding the news item found in The Hindu here.

We all know the drawbacks of a centralized examination system. This is a system where you have your answer sheets taken to a common place(a place where answers sheets from other colleges are sent too) and corrected by professors, from different colleges, affiliated to the same university. To protect the identity of the answer paper, dummy numbers are given and there is a database known only to certain university officials that match dummy numers to the original numbers. This system is prevalant in India from Xth grade final exams to all University level semester exams.

Ours is a corrupt country. There is no doubt about that. In any sort of administration there is corruption and this system is no different either. Do you think this dummy number crap evaluation system is safe from corruption?"There is corruption in all countries. even America is no exception" say some idiots. "Fuck you", I say to those idiots. " Worry about your own darn country", I say again. Anyway...screw these idiots. Most readers know (like they know a 50Rs can take care of traffic cop) that this happens. Why do they know it? Why do they think that even after getting a failing grade they still have a chance. Because everybody has heard at least one story in their lives on how "these things" happen. I can say with comfortable assurance ( and so can just about anybody who has finished college anywhere in India) that *** No administrator at any level that conducts any sort of exams, can claim with a straight face that there has been no dishonest/immoral act committed in his purview***. From XthStd, XII Std to Universiy exams at all levels, tampering of grades/marks/question paper/answer paper have happened and will continue to happen. I, without any measurement tools but with only intelligent conjecture, conservatively estimate that at least 5% of all results would be as a result of tampering.

So who is to blame for this? Students? Administrators? Both is a good answer. The administrators are certainly to be blamed to start with. The examination evaluation/correction system is so filled with incompetency that the students can easily come up with a justifiable argument as to why they are forced to tamper with papers. Any Judge will uphold that argument. Imagine! then, the level of incompetency among those who are in charge of evaluation. Let me tell you, the evaluation of most exam papers is so insincere so opaque that it defies all logic. When I was in college about 10 years before, I knew going into the exams that I would get 8 random scores generated in my mark sheet, a few months after the exams. Somehow for me, while the overall average-score (of the 8 subjects put together) reflected what I expected, the individual scores defied all logic. I think this was true for most students - while the average overal score reflected their ability, their individual scores had nothing in common with their performance in those exams.I remember in a paper called "Network Theory", I got 45 on 100 (which is the called the "stamp" score i.e you are stamped as pass by giving the minimum possible pass mark). In an exam called "electric circuits", people who had not answered two or three 12 point questions scored 97 and 99 out of 100. I never had that sort of luck. I only got to see the downside of this random number game. I distinctly recall doing the Network Theory exam very well and was expecting something in the high 90's. I know! I know! all students have an over inflated mental image of the performances. I had it at some point too. But the bubble was burst by the time I was in Engineering. I had no qualms in dicussing the question paper with someone after the exam was over. Infact, while many people disliked post-mortem, I wouldn't rest until I had done a comprehensive autopsy on how I did my paper. Me and my friend, lets call him logic ramani -- we would would ram the qustion paper to submission until we got a decent picture of how much we would score. I had this weird habbit. From XIIth standard, I would put an "expected score" on the top of my question paper and then after the results were announced, I would go and put the "actual score". Any decent statistician would resign from this habbit after he/she got a 20% match rate after the first two semesters. But I chugged on. Because I knew I shouldn't take the evaluation of some blind greedy idiots to be an indication of my predictive abilities. I knew that even though I was a student, I could at least evaluate something better than those buffoons who were paid to do that job.

I'll tell you what! Most of the times, I really thought that there was no correction going on at all. I used to imagine that the answer paper evaluation was done along these lines ( its a joke ofcourse but it could be true also :-) ) -- There would be a board of people in a room discussing each candidate on a case-by-case basis. When my name came up the board would discuss. "Bharath...hmm..lets se..idolizes tedulkar..runs behind aishwarya rai posters...eats too much pani puri in gangotri... pest to the teachers...studies only the day before the exam".. "what do you say Srinivasan (HOD Matheatics... go figure)"..."What do you think he should get". Then Srinivasan would rub his vazhukku mandai up and down and put the tip of his pen inside his nose and say " he is average.. give him someting around 75%". Then the convenor of the meeting would say "Kaathimuthu..(the attendant).. generate 8 numbers using the srand function so that the average score comes between 74-76". And so my answer paper was generated. So were everybody else's answer papers. "She got long legs and a sexy body..give her a 83"... "this dude wears the same shirt everyday to class ..he stinks give him a 62% with 3 arrears"... "I am planning to marry my daughter to this bloke some day.. give him an 85"..."This fellow stares at my wife in a weird way.. give him a 51% with all pass"(the worst of all decisions) After we get our results, my friend would scratch his head and say "95... in Antenna and Wave propagation...and I didn't even know there were 4 maxwell equatios.. I thought there were just 2". About 20 people in my class got a score between 81-85 in "Statistical Theory of Communication" and about 70% of those didn't expect to pass that exam.

I remember a "controller of examinations" telling my father, " your son will always say he did the exam well sir! Will I believe your son or my professor". While my dad should have said " your professor is an under-sexed lazy bastard who just wants to make a fast buck by correcting as many papers as he can ( because he is paid by the paper)", he merely said " can you please". I saw my answer paper. The SOB who was supposed to have evaluated it..did not evaluate it at all. There were some random check marks here and there and no points given for 80% of the questions. Then upon closer inspection, in a small font 4 size characters, I found a zero put under the question number of each answer. I immediately knew that this paper was found uncorrected, when I made my complaint and just to tally the score with what was reported in the answer sheet, the assoles had made an attendant write points on my answer sheet that would total to the reported score (and the answer paper would appear as "evaluated"). I was standing near that controller of examinations at that time and inspite of repeated warnings from my father to keep my mouth shut, I told him " But this paper has not been evaluated at all. None of the questions have been marked right or wrong. They have been randomy struck down". To which he replies... and this is rich.." You should focus on studying rather than blaming other people for your performances". The morons have no compunctions in dishing out moral lectures when the least they could do is shut up. The adminsitration surrouding the exams is so riddled with holes that it really has not right to give out moral lectures. Since it is also the disciplinary body, it loses all credibility, when it chastises any student for a crime (like the one in the link shown above). On seeing news reports like this, I am thinking " how many of you bufoons would get caught if I unleashed the CBI on the administration"

Next come the students. Who are also certainly culpable. Blame it on the management again to admit near-sighted ignorant bumpkins from "thookunayakampettipalayam" because they gave fat donations. In my first year, I had a classmate (whose name and village, I don't recollect..the village cannot be spotted in the India map) who did not know how to move variables either side of the "equal to" sign. Well you know.. the x + y = m - c can also be written as x = m - c - y. This dude couldn't do this. He did not know multiply became divide when it was pushed to the other side of the =. These students invariable keep two to three arrears (backlogs due to failing grades) each semester. These are the students who chase papers, who do all those immoral acts to pass the exams. The students who had 1 or 2 arrears over all were the poor ones who worried if the scores would affect their careers. They were the ones whose parents woke up at odd hours to give them Horlicks and Maltova and worried like hell until they passed. People who had 28 or 35 arrears during their 8th semester didn't care a shit, they never told their parents about their results ( one guy told his parents that the results of all 8 semesters is traditionally released after the 4 years are over.. guess what! his parents believed him) and just magically cleared all their arrears in the 8th semester. It is like they paid in bulk to clear the exams. They completed the supply-demand link in the corruption life-cycle of the examination system. Who cares whats in the answer paper? What goes into the computer is your actual score. So if the computer guy can be bribed you have nailed the system. This happens everywhere in India. The govt turns a blind eye to it. Why? because "why would I believe you instead of trusting my own professors". The students in the news item (linked above) changed the answer paper after it was submitted for centralized correction and before the identity numbers were replaced with the dummy numbers. I see my college's name has also been mentioned in the news report. What a shame? My college was a pretty reputed college and really was not known for these kind of activities, when I was a student. It was one of the best private colleges in the state (the seats would get filled up on the first session of the first day during engineering admissions). I am kind of ashamed, as an alumni, that this has happened in my college.

At least nowadays things are better. If you pay a lot ( a lot) of money you get a photocopy of your answer paper from the university legally. And for a hefty sum you can get the paper, re-totalled and re-evaluated. In my days there was no such thing. Once we submitted our answer papers, retotalling our answer paper was the only option. And if you were not in your final semester, a pre-printed "Dear John" card which has " we totalled your answer paper.. we are sorry to say that we still think you sucked badly in that exam" would be appended with your postal address and sent to you.

The only thing, that can reasonably be called a solution to this whole "evaluation" issue is that a photocopy of the answer paper should be given back to the students on the same day they write the exams ( the university makes another photo copy keeps a local copybefore it sends it for evaluation). And when the results are announced, the "evaluated" answer papers (or their copies) should be given to the students and an independent body should verify if what is being returned matches what was submitted. This should all be done free of charge instead of fleecing the students with more fees. This would also ensure that the student's paper is actually avluated instead of random number generation. Other than this, I don't see an alternate solution to this answer paper correction system. The US system of internal evaluation will not work in India. If such a system was introduced (as it has been in some colleges) then you would see students being treated as slaves by the teachers(as it is also happening in some colleges). Next thing you know -- students would buying stuff like diapers to sanitary napkins for the teachers families. The students would be terrorized and forced to wear military style unforms and probably even salute the teachers everytime they walked by. An internal evaluation system involves honesty and love for your work. Something that is certainly not found anywhere in the our educational system, where the faculty scenario is plagued by low-pay complains, lack of motivation and complete absence of any competition.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Theatre Drama: 1000 Udhai Vaangiya Apoorva Sigamani

Venue: Kalaivaanar Arangam, Chepauk, Madras.

Okay! so this is a classic drama. It was first staged in 1981 and its been performed on stage around 900 times . If I were to rank all the comedy dramas that have been released so far, I would struggle to choose between "1000 Udhai.." and "Meesai Annalum Manaivi" for the number 1 spot. Both make you laugh until your stomach hurts. I have listened to "1000 udhai" on tape around 300 times and "Meesai Aanalum Manaivi" ( loosely transalated as "she is your wife even if she sports a moustache" parodying, one of the many old sayings that works on enslaving women, which goes like "even if you are married to a stone, you should treat the stone as it were your husband" )around 400 times. Lets say if one of the actors/actresses in either play is hit by a bus, I(or any of my old OSU roomies) can step in (and atleast mouth the dialogs right)

Why is 1000 Udhai so great? S.Ve.Sekhar, the writer/actor of the play, hits one of his best patches as a comedy writer in this play. He plays a carefree youth, who does not want to work. Life is so simple in his world. So uncomplicated. He is not interested in a serious career and expects his father to responsibly feed him, while he runs behind chics. The first time I got hooked on to S.Ve.Sekhar, I identified exactly with this part of Sigamani stereotype that Sekhar played in all his dramas. I seriously tell you Sigamani, the character that Sekhar plays, makes me jealous. All the 300 times I heard it in tape, he made me jealous everytime. This was the first time, I have seen this drama on stage ( and thereby fullfilling one of my life-long ambitions :-)..although it is inappropriate to mention another ambition in this blog..watching MJ perform live will remain an unfulfilled ambition). My parents, grandmother and wife accompanied me. They created such a big fuss about me spending Rs.750 on "some comedy play" and after the drama got over they didn't say a word. Every time Sekhar cracked a joke on his father, I'd look at my father and say " you see what I am saying.. this is what I have been trying to tell you for so long". Sekhar explains the reason why he resigned from his Nth job. His reasoning goes like this "I was walking in the sun selling chocolates to unknown people and suddenly a thought hit me. Why should I waste my time earning money when my father is there to take care of me? Isn't it an embarassment to work when your father is still there? Won't my friends ask me why I was working? Won't they wonder that something was wrong with my father's health and that is why he has sent me to work? I thought about all these things and I immediately resigned my job".

You know what? That is true. I am not taking about carpe diem. Every time, I am writing some code to get something working, I am thinking "why? why should compiling something without "warnings" give me uninhibited pleasure? What is wrong with me?" So far, I have told my father at least 20,000 times that he should have become a politician when he was young. Not a day goes by when I don't yell at him for being non-filthy-rich. No! Even Rich is not good enough. Rich makes you nervous, you have to protect stuff and be afraid you'd lose all that hard-earned money. Filthy rich on the other hand is richness as a result of tax payer's money. There is no pressure in that. If my dad had become some M.P or M.L.A and looted the country like every other MLA, I would have given up studies long ago and would have chased chics in expensive motorbikes. Screw the economy and the IT industry. Unfortunately he thinks my values are screwed up and I think his perspective on life is screwed up. I know why men are forced to take up jobs. I think if they had no jobs and a lot of money, they'd run behind chics and trouble 'em. So Women as part of large evil conspiracy ushered in the Industrial Revolution and created the job industry ( and then they later complained about glass ceilings just to make it sound as if the concept of working was men's idea). Working 10 hours a day and sleeping another 8 hours occupies a significant amount of time and dissuades men from chasing chics. My wife asks me, " Don't you have any ambition Bharath?". Yes! men have ambitions. But we don't want money. Money brings more work and we really don't want more work. We aim to be lazy and do nothing all day for the rest of our lives. If earning a lot of money gets us there, then we will do it. We want to become CEO's statesmen, senators, lawmakers. All for what? So that we can become filthy rich and we(or our children) can laze around like a bum. CEO is more like a transitionary phase. I'll tell it to all my women readers. Don't let men kid you around with "I am serious about my career" kind of crap. Your dude is building a career nest so that he can sleep in it. Spending a life lazing around is the ultimate ambition ( retirement is the fullfillment of that ambition, when you are too old to enjoy it) for every man. That Sigamani could do that without being so filthy rich irks me and makes me idolize him.

The beauty about "1000 Udhai" is the dialog flow in the first 40 minutes. It flows in a rocket like speed with jokes competing against each other to exit the dialog pipeline and escape into the audience. The audio cassette will not have the first 15 minute sequence, which is only available in video or on-stage. The actors start the drama on a "put on" sad note mistaking it for a serious drama (then in the 80's serious dramas were aired on Tuesdays at its aired round the clock) and Sekhar drives them away to go and dress up for the Nala-Damayanti historical drama, which in-turn goes kaput because his father comes on stage and beats him up. In the audio casst, the drama begins at this point- i.e from the point where Sekhar comes home, still in his historical dress, to face the music of his father. There is some girl's father (Vajravelu) who is also present in the house to complain about Sigamani's flirtations with his married daughter. The joke riot speeds up from this point to unbelievable proportions. Until the "donation collector" Anjey-venki guy comes up with his "jillu jikku,pumpu, thambu, dumukku" bit. At that time you are laughing so bad that Sekhar takes pity on you and slows down his stuff.

I really missed watching this drama along with my Ohio State roomies. We practically talked to each other in drama dialogs. Each of us had listened to almost all Sekhar/Crazy Mohan dramas hundreds of times. Stuff like " aathu enga aaya", " sir first class phamily storeey sir!!" ( Satellite Samiyar) , "athu vada naatu prechanai engalukku thevai illai" ( 1000 udhai), " Vijiiii my sweet little potatoe daughter" ( Kaatulai Mazhai), "Kulikarthu illaya..very good policy"(Kaatula Mazhai) were spoken as part of our regular conversation.

Yesterday, "1000 Udhai" was enacted fully, from the mistaken sad-drama scene. The cast has changed considerably ( well.. its been 24 years). Sigamani's father ( You want to know his name.. :-) ..its Viswanathan. Now as a trivia guess who is the fellow who gives him the "recommendation letter" ?) and Vajravelu are the only old faces. The blind Senapathy role in the historical goof-off Nala-Damayanti was then played by Manager Seenu. He is now missing. The "papli, komli" guy is missing. Most of all Sunda, Sekhar's right hand dude is missing. The sad thing for me was that I already knew the dialog flow so well. I could not help but notice, some glaring omissions by the actors. Sometimes they screwed up and then adjusted on-the-fly. It was painful to see some new actors butcher the smooth flow of the drama. Sekhar, having done this 900 times, himself screwed up in a couple of places. Some punch lines were just forgotten or abandoned ( Oh! man the way he jumped lines on the Pannaiyar-Pannaiyar's wife would have bought tears in the eyes of a drama purist).

Sekhar's dramas have declined in quality after Sunda's death. His later dramas have become more political and less funny. Even this drama was polluted with some Jayalalitha dialogs. Reminding us that now Sekhar is now very close to the Chief Minister and quickly becoming a force in the AIADMK party. He himself says so in the drama. Although I love Sekhar's old dramas, I have never liked the man himself. He seems too much of a narcissist. Too anal. He only cares about two things (a) himself (b) money. During his visits to Columbus, Ohio, I was dissapointed by the way he staged "Periappa" and "Alwa" back to back and ransoming the audience for more money. Ofcourse the audience made fun of him because after all his pro-tamil speeeches he couldn't get his daughter to sing, one single Tamil prayer song. The way he ill-treats his co-artists is also evident in the way he abuses them onstage (in the pretext of telling a dialog) if one of his co-artists miss a punch line. Poor Astrologer Chidambaram was called "moodhevi" ( and that too after getting a dozen P>Chidamabaram reference related jokes) and that too not so subtly by Sekhar, for missing a (rather important) dialog.

In the end he put the national anthem and thanked the audience for standing up patiently when the anthem was played and requested them to support theatre dramas. All that was good but somehow you tend to get a feeling that man so talented would have done more justice to his drama field if he was less ambitious ( politically that is). He almost seems like he doesn't care about the quality of his dramas. "1000 udhai" is still interesting because it was written by a Sekhar, who cared a lot and was more dedicated to his work, than the Sekhar who now mouths the dialogs to just make a fast buck.

Anniyan Music

It may be the costliest movie ever made in South India (30 crores). It could end up as one of the best releases of a pretty good director, Shankar, who is one of the very few in India, who has the credibility to make a decent sci-fi thriller (which is what this movie is purported to be).

But the music is not upto scratch. Although I hate comparisons. All the 5 movies that Shankar has released so far, the music has always met (or exceeded) expectations and was never a let down. This is the first time I am hearing every song and I am thinking "wtf.. whats goin on here..". Harris Jeyaraj may have something going for him in Minnale and Kaakha Kaakha but he has never shown the brilliance that ARR seems to throw out so casually. Purely based on the CD and having not seen the picturization ( sometimes HJ songs appear better in a picture context like 12B), I have to say moving to HJ from ARR is a bad decision.

I hope the movie is good. I still have strong expectations of Shankar making a comeback after a very poor ( and extremely forgettable) boys. Anniyan stars Vikram . It is supposed to Shankars most ambitious project. This is a script that he initially wrote for Kamal Hassan ( the movies was named Robot then). I think every year at least 2 (at the most three) Tamizh movies make a visit to the theatre worth the trip. And if Manirathnam or Gautham Menon do not make a movie this year, this could be the last Tamil movie for me, for the year. I hope its good. I like shankar.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Superman Returns

Superman Kal-El was rocketed out from the planet krypton by his parents before Krypton exploded. Moving from the Red Sun of Krypton to the Yellow Sun of the earth Kal-El developed super natural powers. Growing up under John and Martha Kent, he finally discovers his real history.In the fortress of solitude, he discovers his true history and becomes Superman. Well! thats what you learn from the movies!! But if you are a big fan of comic books as I was, then you would have learned so many things about Superman that the movies could never possibly tell you.

Superman Returns is the next in the list of Superman installments, scheduled for release in summer of 2006. Warner Brothers have very recently sent out an initial Superman Photo for press distribution. I think they did it mainly to calm the fans and reassure the fans that the producers know what they are doing. For fans who were initially shocked to learn that Nicolas Cage was once offered the role, this photo must definetly comes as a relief. Brandon Routh fits the part very well. I was rooting for the Smallville dude but then I guess the producers might have felt that he may not be a "fresh" material. It is surprising that Superman, who is the most popular among comic book heros, does not get as much Hollywood attention as he deserves. While Batman, Spidey and X-Men are having a decent run, it is about time somebody revived the Superman franchise.

Do you know the excitement involved in buying a new Superman comic book? As a 2nd standard kid, I remember standng up on my toes and peeking into the library man's bag when he came for door-to-door lending book delivery. I'd try and push aside my mom and voice my srong opinion to the man " did you bring Superman comics ?". I'd ask him. He would usually disregard me. Who wants to talk to some over enthued kid when there is the dreary business of delivering "Ananda Vikatan" Kumudham" and "Kalki". If we were alowed to borrow 5 books every three days. Then once every 2 trips I got to have a say in the choice of 1 book. I had to multiplex between Action/DC comics, Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle and Champak everytime my turn came. Superman was not just a childhood fantasy, it was alternate life/dream world, a person could easily slip into. It sets the tone for a person's life. From spending hours in class, drawing the "S" symbol of superman to getting hooked on to Seinfeld 20 years later because he loved Superman, the comic books dictated you taste, choice and lifestyle preferences.

Superman Superman was the king among comic book superheros. Every time Clark Kent morphed into Superman, you would fantasize a dozen scenarios where you would like to molt the crappy strechland drawers( colloquial for half-pants and strechland was the buttonless elastic waisted half-pants that was in vogue then) and the checked T-Shirt you bought from Luz ( in front of Kamadhenu theatre) and become Superman. You want to go underneath the table in your class and become Superman ( in the fantasy other class mates go.. WOW!). Drawing the Superman symbol was the initial challenge. Many people graduate from that point and actually get to draw the whole superman. Since I sucked in drawing and stuff, I pretty much took a long time before I could draw a decent "S".

SupermanThe comic books shows all the great strategies to get children hooked on to it. You have a normal geeky Clark Kent and if he can become Superman then you are wondering " so can I". The comic book traces Superman from the discovery of his superpowers to the point where he began to fly ( He merely jumped/rocketed from Point A to point B before he learned how to fly). Did you know that the very first comic book also featured Lois Lane, and they worked for The Daily Star (as opposed to the daily planet)? Did you also know that Superman's arch foe, Lex Luthor (Played by Gene Hackman in the movies) had red hair when he first appeared in Action Comics. He later was shown completely bald. It was late in the Superman Comic book series did Supey learn about Kryptonite, and realized that he was indeed from Krypton. Reading this at the same time when ET and Star Wars were released, I truly belived ( like Fox Mulder) that aliens existed.

So imagine my joy when I found out they were making Superman movies. At a time when you wanted to know more and more about Superman's world ( and thereby incorporate it into your own fantasies), Superman movies were like a dream come true. Superman After getting promoted from a fan to fan with full fledged internet access, I learned that Superman in the silver screen started much earlier thn what I had imagined. According to various sources in the Internet: Fleischer Studios,in 1941, started an animated Superman cartoon series. The 15 or so, episodes was made using technology that was considered sophisticated then. The first Supey TV movie was released in 1948. It starred Kirk Alyn, as Superman. If you search IMDB you will also find that there was also an Indian Superman Movie in 1960. In 1992, when I was in X'th std, Superman was "killed off" by Doomsday. this was splashed as headlines in The Hindu's Young World. I thought he would never return and saved the cut-out of the paper. But he returned anyway and finally defeated Doomsday. In 1996, Superman married Loisin both the comic book and the TV series Lois and Clark.

Superman The first Superman movie, which until today, many consider to be the best, was released on December 15, 1978. This covered Kal-El's transit from Krypton to Planet Earth. In this movie all the characters, Jimmy Olsen, Louis Lane (Margot Kidder) and Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) wereintroduced. The only villian in this movie was Lex Luthor. The top scenes in this movie for me were 1) Clark Kent becoming Superman for the first time in the fortress of solitude,2) Clark Kent catching the bullet with his hand to save Louis Lane, 3) Superman catches Louis Lane as she falls from a helicopter and he tells her " don't worry, I got you" and she says " but! who's got you".. a cool Supey moment 4) Oh!and who can forget Superman turning back the clock to save Louis Lane.

Superman II, according to me, is the best Superman movie.. ever!!. This movie had everything a fan wanted. Three horrible villians from Krypton ( and this includes General Zod ) and Lex Luthor. The three criminals of Krypton, who were condemned to the Phothom Zone as prisonors, are freed accidentally by Superman, when he detonates a bomb. The best scene in this movie is the fight sequence between Superman and the three villians. Although there is no clear victor in that scene, the exchange of super powers is simply thrilling. The final scene in the fortress is worthy of mention too.Superman

Superman III is probably the worst of all superman movies. I hated it. It tried what Spiderman II successfully acomplished. It detailed the travails and pressures associated with being Superman. Superman cracks down under public pressure to contantly keep saving lives. He drinks in public and does bad things until the good Superman takes over. Badly directed, poor casting, a nothing storyline made this the most boring of all Superman movies. Almost a sabotage, from which Superman movie franchise never really recovered. Superman IV was a more action packed one, where Lex luthor steals Superman's hair froma museum and adds it to the package of nuclear bombs, which Superman intends to throw into the sun and destroy ( A Quest for peace). From the chemicals that Luthor added, emerges a evil villian with incredible superpowers. One can say that this movie was at least an atempt at entertanment.

The new movie Superman returns should breath some fresh air into the Superman franchise. Bryan Singer ( The director of the X-Men series) is in charge of this movie. I am happy to hear this news because both installments of X-Men were pretty slick and nicely taken. The quality of movie making and the costume design were pretty sophisticated in X-Men. Louis Bryan Snger is the right guy to do justice to Superman. From the photos of Brandon Routh revealed to the public, experts say he has already gone for tradition instead of being a rebel (which it seems he was in the X-Men). Superman wears the red underwear on the outside and also has the small "S" on his belt that was not found in any of the movies/animated series that I have seen. It seems this costume stems from the 1930's version of Superman. Louis lane is played by a person called Kate Bosworth (seephoto). Although Margot Kidder comparisons may still arise, I hope she works. The love element and Louis Lane have always been a vital factor in the movies. ESC Entertainment (Constantine, The Matrix: Reloaded); Stan Winston is designing the Superman costume And the cast are as follows: Brandon Routh (Clark Kent/Superman), Kate Bosworth (Lois Lane), Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor), Frank Langella (Perry White), James Marsden (Richard), Sam Huntington (Jimmy Olsen), Eva Marie Saint (Martha Kent), Kal Penn (Stanford), Parker Posey (Kitty Koslowski), Stephan Bender (Young Clark Kent), Noel Neill (Previously Wealthy Woman

The Plot, it appears, continues from where Superman II left off, Six years after Superman's victory over General Zod,(and Ursula and Nod). Superman returns to earth after an absence and finds that Lex Luthor rules the earth along with an old enemy from Krypton.