Monday, April 30, 2007
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
So, I was 28 and, once again, I had no job. I had good writing credits in New York, but I was filled with disappointment and didn't know what to do next. I started smelling suede on my fingertips. And that's when The Simpsons saved me. I got a job there and started writing episodes about Springfield getting a Monorail and Homer going to College. I was finally putting my Harvard education to good use, writing dialogue for a man who's so stupid that in one episode he forgot to make his own heart beat. Life was good.
And then, an insane, inexplicable opportunity came my way . A chance to audition for host of the new Late Night Show. I took the opportunity seriously but, at the same time, I had the relaxed confidence of someone who knew he had no real shot. I couldn't fear losing a great job I had never had. And, I think that attitude made the difference. I'll never forget being in the Simpson's recording basement that morning when the phone rang. It was for me. My car was blocking a fire lane. But a week later I got another call: I got the job.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Friday, April 20, 2007
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Junior Singer Champion: This is such a good program. Its crap like American idol/Indian Idol (I sincerely hope Sanjaya is voted out) but its much better. And it is for kids. Initially I thought 'kids program, must be full of rettai kural, adhiga prasangi crap'. However, the program turned out to be really interesting. The part that I liked was the instant rejection and a firm no. Usually Thamizh culture (or Doordarshan) dictates the prevalence of 'compensation prize' crap and every kid returns home a winner of sorts. Probably because of our silly adherence to this thing called 'gandhian principles'. Here they actually say 'you suck', which is really a good thing. There was one kid who didn't know any of the new songs and was singing 'pazhani malai murugaiyya'. Seriously, I don't know which fruit factory produced this fellow. But this guy had a good strong voice. The person who most impressed me was the Oviya of the Oviya/Kavya sister duo. I thought Oviya was a sure-shot shoo-in. She had such an awesome voice, poise and confidence. however, she wasn't a straight select and was put on a wait list before being sent in later. There was another Gajini character, who kept on insiting that he be selected. He should have been rejected with much more rudeness than what the judges showed him. I am more than impressed with judge Tippu. There was a specific singer, who seemed to be singing all right but wasn't really firing on all cylinders. Tippu quickly found the song that would showcase the singer's voice to the max potential (Ilamai ennum Poongatru). The singer, though didn't know the lyrics very well, sang it so beautifully. Super Program.
However, I wasn't impressed with the April 14 programs.
Vivek'ungo: Half-a-day was spent with Vivek on TV. Didn't like most of it. Poor quality comedy. Especially the 'Jillunu Oru Jodi' and 'Valluvarungo' part.
Interviews with Bala, Vikram: On one hand, 20 years ago, Doordarshan, with Military disciple showed manai matchi, Thyaga Chudar, Vayalum Vaazhvum, with amazing precision (7:03 PM) and never bothered to cater to the audience demand. On the other hand, Network TV wants to milk money out of every single person who has a TV. Every emotion is out for sale, I suppose. Your small crushes, your love for your mother, you thoughts on a the goat poop next to your almamater, everything can be recorded, shown on TV for profit. Just because there is some audience for it. This whole thing of bringing an actor's personal circle into TV and making his school principal, doctor, friends exchange gifts with him - is extremely silly. But some TV director out there is thinking "If you are an actor and have an emotion, I can sell it for you". All this wet pant talks about childhood friendship, hospital friendships sounded a little whorish to me. Kamal Hasan and Rajinikanth are seriously awesome compared to these young stars. One actually has strong and good opinions to offer, the other shuts up because he has none to offer. These pip-squeaks come and shag on TV with their stupid ninny stories.
Neeya Naana: This has got to be the worst show on TV. Ever. It should already be common knowledge that most Indians (in this case Thamilians) who appear on TV talk shows are extremely immature idiots. People who resort to ad hominim every 3rd nanosecond aren't showing some outlier behavior. This program brings that specific immaturity to the fore. This is the second 'Neeya Naana' I got to watch. The first one was the " Is IT spoiling our culture" crap and this one was on "Last bench students Vs First Benchers". The amount of generalizations, stereo typing (" she is corrupt, urupdaama poravan"), and ad hominim (" her face looks like a bajari", "she dresses badly") made me wonder why I wish Veerappan wasn't dead. If I were Veerappan, I'd just round-up all these people back stage and kill them, very slowly and with a lot of cruelty.
Koffee with Anu: this is a decent program. I saw the Chennai-28 team get interviewed. The people were so relaxed and kept cracking so many jokes. Very real and enjoyable. I learned that the 'Saroja' song is from this movie. Funny
Friday, April 13, 2007
The maturity with which this has been conceptualized and presented is simply awesome. I can't believe this is someone's debut movie. There are some moments, which take you to another level. One - the fact that this is a person who does re-recording and gives 'voice' to the movie when the movie is still in its silent stage, but can't give voice to a person is one of those cute little ironies. Made even more special because its not explicitly dealt with but just subtly suggested. Second - the 3-4 minute silent sequence where he walks on the road with his ear plugged. The pin-drop silence - when so much is happening and makes you wonder if you have lost audio - was simply superb. This is a kind of a movie which doesn't even need a climax to deliver the payload. From the first minute it is a crescendo that keeps delivering payload every now and then. What amazed me was the dignity with which the movie was handled. That is why I liked it so much. If at all this movie missed somethings, I would say it missed Ilayaraja's magic. Two main actors who dont speak tamil fluently/without an accent was a mildly noticeable but forgiven.
The professor whose mind is frozen in time, in 1984, completely disturbed me. Seriously, thats a raw-nerve-touching role. And so well-acted out. If this director is so good that he can think of such a role and present it so wonderfully, then there is more to come from where this movie came from.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
"She further said provisional admissions based on the half-yearly examinations had been given to select students, causing severe emotional and mental stress to other students and parents."
"students getting lower than the cut-off mark are told to find admission elsewhere for Standard XI."
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Sometimes parties are fun and some parties are hilarious. You meet and learn about different people, who can narrate weirdest of stories from their sordid past. Since one guy in the group was guitarist and was taking viewers requests and some sang along. The night progressed in a hippie-style-weed-spaced-out fashion. Arguments happened. Strong opinions were expressed. Before you know it - the clock ticket 2:00 AM and the major portions of the argument was yet to come. Someone was a captain of a university basket ball team, the marathi dude was a TV/advertisement actor. The guy from Madhya Pradesh, claimed he played for the MP Ranji team in the 1997 season. I don't know much about MP cricket, but he claimed that seniors systematically pushed down juniors if they felt that the junior threatened their places. This happens even in the national team, it seems. Plausible, but allows for argument. Then late late into the night, someone got into the mood and we s-video'd (to the TV) and cheered some famous (but extremely ridiculous) cat-fights that happened in 80s bollywood movies (from youtube). The arguments are the best part of a party. It ranges from professors, bottom of the pyramid, fair and lovely, switching-cost of having an affair, tendulkar, yahoo's strategy, gossip, H1B visas to tightness of some actress thighs. Next day morning you get up and you don't even remember the argument, except for the fact the some homework is due in 1 hour and you have no clue what that home work is. Everybody who knows that information is sleeping. But you still feel that the night was time well spent. College life has its own charm. I leave you with some of those famous cat fights.
(someone here is Tabu's sister)
(I dont even know what crap this is)
Monday, April 09, 2007
Anywho moving on to things cricket. Of all the years of watching the man, this is the closest Sachin Tendulkar has come to getting dropped. He is so close to getting dropped that I'd be surprised if he isn't. A part of me thinks that the BCCI is playing things smartly. Clearly the stupid Indian fan is (a) disgruntled, (b) wants some heads chopped off, and (c) thinks people who beat 1:10000000 odds to be part of a leading share holder in a billion dollar industry, are overpaid. The BCCI needs to appease the least common denominator. Any head of this organization who has a 2-digit IQ will put on a show of castigating a few senior players only to include them laater and then slowly shepherd them to a graceful retirement. BCCI, although regarded as a very stupid organization, isn't nearly as stupid as the PCB. PCB changes captains after every world cup defeat. After our 83 victory, Kapil Dev has been the only Indian captain to be be sacked immediately after a WC exit. Azhar miraculously survived 3 WC exits, 2 of them were quite ignominious. But after every defeat, the team was shuffled big time. Krish Srikkanth, Ravi Shastri, Kapil Dev, Kiran More, were dropped after 92WC to make way for growing youngsters like Sachin, Kambli, Manjrekar, Mongia, Kumble, Srinath. After the 96 exit Sidhu, Kambli, Manjrekar, Prabhakar, Raju, were dropped for new talent such as Ganguly, Dravid, Agarkar, Venky Prasad, Jadeja, Robin Singh, S Ramesh. The 1999 exit saw Jadeja, Robin Singh, (later) Azhar, Prasad, Kumble, Ramesh make way for Yuvraj, Kaif, Zaheer, Harbajan, Sehwag. However 2003 to 2007 was exempt from big time changes. Less number of changes than even what the 1983WC - 1987 WC transition underwent.
The only significant change in team composition between the 2003 World Cup and now was the stupid inclusion of this Uthappa fellow instead of wobbly Kaif. We did not change the team in a big way. Was it because we had an awesome team in 2003? I didn't think so. I wish Tendulkar hadn't fired the way he did in the 2003 world cup. It hid a lot of errors in the team a la' 1996. If the readers remember the 96 WC, except for the Pakistan game, Tendulkar had pretty much decided the fate of all the other victories (and defeats). Even the games we lost (against SL & Aus), we were moderately competing by virtue of his 90s or hundreds. In the semi-finals, if he had carried on beyond 60s (until the freak run-out by Kaluwitharana, he didn't seem like getting out at all), we would not have lost so dramatically and might've gone through to the final. If that had happened, the Kamblis, Manjrekars and Sidhus of the world might have survived and people like Ganguly/Dravid might not have crept into the team. The 2003 World cup was the best (or worst) case scenario of 1996 WC. It was clearly another Tendulkar Show Part II. The biggest difference between the two was we won, instead of losing, against Sri Lanka. Was that difference big enough to retain the entire team? For example Ganguly and Sehwag barely scored against test nations. They played badly. Really Really badly. Harbajan didnt really set anything on fire. But the stupid Indian cricket fan, who saw the final game, forgave the bowlers who gave 359 runs in the finals and blamed Tendulkar for getting out in the first over. According to this fan, we did not lose the game in the first over we bowled nor in the first half of the game. But the stupid fan says we lost it when Sachin (not ganguly, sehwag, dravid, yuvraj or kaif but just Sachin) failed to get us past 359 in a world cup final against a bowling attack like Australia. It is the same stupid fan that the BCCI must appease now.
While I believe in Mark Twain's logic that popularity of an opinion has a strong correlation with stupidity of that opinion, I think this time around we have hit an exception to that rule. I believe that there is cricketing merit for Sachin to be dropped from both forms of the game. In fact I am rooting for him to get axed. My reasons for this may be slightly different and irrelevant compared to the logically solid reasons given by the stupid indian cricket fan boy, such as "he was over paid, choked, selfish etc". Usually in the past regardless of what this stupid indian cricket fan thought, Sachin Tendulkar had cricketing merit to stay in the team. If you disregarded nonsense criticisms like "selfish, personal record player" etc and simply did a statsguru, on his last 10-20 games, you would find that he had a decent average at a good strike rate. You couldn't drop him on cricketing logic. But now he's got 32 odd aversge in his last 20 ODIs and 25 odd average in his last 10 tests. Regardless of where you come from these are bad numbers. Those who argue that statistics aren't everything will be surprised when the 2007 World Cup winner is decided based on numbers. Whether Greg Chappell did or did not do anything substantial as a coach, he could at least be proud of one thing. His biggest achievement as a coach was to facilitate, in some way, the sacking of Ganguly. Rightly so, because Ganguly wasn't scoring at all for close to two-three years. Greg can now be potentially be proud of one more thing. He probably has done the same posthumously to Sachin. To put it simply Sachin can't put money where his mouth his. If I were Raju Bharathan, I would say, its the empty Tendulkar vessel that made a lot of noise in Times of India. The only other line of argument that has any sort of validity is - if BCCI let Azhar, Kapil and Ganguly stay in the team based on past achievements, why shouldn't Tendulkar stay? That is a valid argument that points out a consistency issue and not a merit issue. Time will give an answer to that. If I were to argue for Sachin, I'd clearly say that relegating him to the middle order was a bad idea. Mainly because it never worked. Greg Chappell claims that Sachin will milk the bowlers during middle overs. The only thing he looked like milking was caribbean cattle. It is a stupid logic with absolutely no cricketing merit (unless you consider something as mundane as 'do it for the team' - as cricketing merit). There is no statistic, real cricketing logic, or evidence to support that (a) Tendulkar will do well in middle order and (b) someone like Uthappa will do better than Tendulkar as an opener. What Greg Chappell's stupid logic has done is (a) deprive us of a excellent opener (b) given us a mediocre opener (c) given us a mediocre middle order batsman in Tendulkar. So we have moved from "good opener but no middle order batsman" to "no opener and no middle order batsman". There is no way anybody can contest that there is a better ODI opener than Tendulkar for India. Even the most stubborn Ganguly backed off from that kind of inistence during the previous world cup. Greg Chappell's misplaced confidence in Tendulkar as a middle order player has embarrassed not only Tendulkar but India as a whole. To say that opening is an "easy" job when India didn't have any sort of opening partnership going at all is either complete ignorance or total stupidity or both.
To conclude, while it is easy to make an argument that Tendulkar be dropped, it is not so easy to request for youngsters. We have no real youngsters who can a immediately replace these seniors. During every other world cup the 'youngsters' had already established themselves in the team and facilitated the seniors to be axed without severely distorting the results. If we went ahead and dropped Sachin, Ganguly, Sehwag, Harbhajan and Dhoni - I am not sure if the people replacing these blokes will really improve our fate. We might lose the test series against Bangladesh. On Tendulkar - I wish he gets dropped. It was horrible to see him bat during the 3rd test in South Africa. It suggests that he has deteriorated beyond imagination. If a shock treatment does him good (and I suspect that it will) - then good for him and India. On his part he can do a Laxman (Laxman refused to be considered as an opener for tests and won his middle order place on merit) and clearly say that he is in contention for the openers spot and not anything else. It will end a lot of nonsense that has been going around in the name of 'team spirit'. India will then start searching for a real middle order player instead of 'managing' and shuffling players up and down. Mean while here is a YouTube video spoofing Sachin. Reminds me of what dravid said on fringe players - "If you put yourself in a position where there is doubt, you deserve to be axed. You should make sure that there is no doubt". Tendulkar, right now, deserves to be among the laughing stock of Indian cricket.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Rashomon is a story where several people narrate an incident, as part of a testimony, in a court house. The 15-20 minute incident is quite simple, a husband and wife are travelling across the woods. A bandit has sex with the wife and then kills the husband. This is pretty much the only thing you can say for certain. These are the facts of the case. Everything else is open to interpretation. To begin with the aesthetics, rain is used very effectively in this movie. It sets the mood of the movie. And its not just a drizzle. When the movie opens, rain pours in torrents as we are shown two people (a wood cutter and a priest) who are sitting and staring at the rain. They are confused and shocked beyond belief. We want to know why and there is a character introduced on behalf of us, to speak and interpret for us to ask them why. The movie then moves on to a splendid sequence of the wood cutter walking through the woods. There are many firsts in this scene. For the first time in cinema history, the camera focuses directly on the sun. Another first, and this happens throughtout the movie, is the use of mirrors to reflect sun-light on an actors face so that it becomes visble in the darker part of the woods. As the cinematographer later explains, this scene of the wood cutter walking was taken in a single long shot. The trail of the camera is like a S-shaped rail. The wood cutter walks in a straight line from the top-right-most point of the letter 'S' to the bottom left most point. The camera moves along the 'S' shaped trail while continuously focusing on the woodcutter. The beauty is you don't even realize this until somebody explains it to you. This wood cutter, who provides the first testimony, claims that as he was walking, he saw (a) the hat of a woman, (b) a rope - and upon walking a few more yards - (c) the dead body of the husband. A priest is called upon to provide the second testimony. This priest adds nothing more except for the fact that he saw the husband and wife (on a horse top) walk by him.
The movie picks up speed, when the bandit, who is captured, narrates his part of this story. This is the first time you are told what happened in those woods that day. You are told why and exactly how the sex and the murder took place. After the bandit, himself, confesses to this gory crime and owns responsibility for both crimes. You are left wondering, what else remains. He is guilty. And then the wife shows up for her testimony. The way her story contradicts the bandit's story is intriguing and very interesting. However, at the end of her narration, I was left wondering if she would have said what she said, if she had heard the bandit's testimony. In any case after her narration, you know that both the bandit and this lady might probably be lying. But there were just 3 people who saw the incident. The wife and the bandit have already the narrated their versions and the husband is dead. So how do you know for sure what really happened. Kurosawa, the rascal that he is, springs a surprise by letting the dead spirit of the husband narrate the story through a sorcerer. This is an unexpected and a very interesting narration. Of course it contradicts both the bandit's and the wife's story. It contradicts those stories in a way that leaves you suspicious of both the bandit and the wife. So much so that I as a reiewer cant confidently use the word 'rape' and instead choose to replace it with 'sex'. However, at this point you don't really doubt the version of the dead man. After all what does a dead man have to gain by lying? This version has to be the truth.
Sunday, April 01, 2007
The Subbudu phenomena started when he sent a review of Sathur Subramaniam's rendition of "Ni irunga enil" (in Atana). Subbudu first tore into the singer's lack of respect for lyrics and his failure to bring out the emotional essense of the song. He said something like "He sings as if he is threatening a person sitting on tree-top to come down". Subbudu added "come down or I'll break your leg - is how the tone of the song goes". Kalki, while calling him adhigaprasangi, encouraged his sense of humor. While it all started in humor, Subbudu was actually beaten up in Thiruvaiyaar, and was even sued for his severe criticism. Not that Subbudu didn't ask for it. He was bold enough to criticise works of many eminent singers right from Muthusami Dikshithar to Madurai Mani Iyer. Nobody was sacred to him. Not only did he make fun of MD Ramanathan's gimmicks and funny gestures while singing, but he was also one of the initial people to point out the eroticism in certain "devotional songs" and made fun of people who sang them for religious purposes. I can't imagine how his blunt comments like "suttralavai kuraithal ulagam sutralam" (he asks a dancer to slim down a lot) might've affected an artist. But however, harsh he has been, one cannot fault him for being incorrect (except for the popular instance where he apologized for misinterpreting Dikshithar's Gamanashrama raaga as nishagam). My father ( a big Subbudu hater and my chief source of Subbudu knowledge) disliked subbudu for destroying the career of many young and upcoming artists. His criticisms were so sharp that it destroyed the confidence of young artists. But at the same time he had a keen eye on talent and if he saw talent in young artists he encouraged them no end. I like subbudu. I think India needs a person like him. He gives character and definition for one end of the spectrum. The closest he has come to "apologizing" for his profession was when he said "Kaaram irunthaalam Krodham illai".
In an era where carnatic music was either Sanskrit or Telugu, Subbudu supported Kalki's call for more Tamil based songs. He thought Jugalbandhis were nonsense. He was particularly unimpressed when second-rate musicians from the North were being honored unnecessarily just because they sang Hindustani music. While he bluntly criticised those musicians for their mediocrity in the columns he wrote in Delhi papers, he had this to say about Hindustani Vs Carnatic Music - " I am also listening Hindustani music from my birth. I am also commenting upon them in Delhi papers. I am writing without being afraid of any one. In fact, there is nothing great in Hindustani music apart from the purity of the shruti. It is because of the lack of purity of shruti that South Indian music is not perhaps appreciated in the North. Further in Hindustani music, every artist specializes in specific aspect – khayal, dhrupad, thapa, thumri etc. So far as rhythm (tala) is concerned, they are still at an elementary level.".