Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Movie Round-up: 2008

2008 has been a poor year for Thamizh movies. Here is the best and worst of them. Disclaimer: I haven't seen Poo, Bommalattam and Abhiyum Naanum.
Best Movies of 2008:
8. Jayam Kondan: This movie kept everything simple from story to presentation. It was entertaining and did not indulge in too much of nonsense.
7. Poi Solla Porom: If this is a faithful remake of Khosla ka Ghosla then I wouldnt have been super impressed with that too. So-so movie.
6. Velli Thirai: Interestingly presented story on an aspiring film maker's frustration, IP theft and other bad-luck oriented things. The hero's reaction to his fate is sometimes too idealistic and timid. Overall an interesting watch.
5. Saroja: Fraud movie. Copied. But at least well presented. Venkat Prabhu, I suspect, is due to come up with new tricks. This one tells us his well is dry.
4. Vaaranam Aayiram: There were disappointing aspects to this movie. Some needless elements. But I thought it had good spirit, ambition and the overall entertainment value was very good.
3. Saadhu Mirandaal: This was a very interesting movie. It could have been a really good movie but for some reason it settles for much less. Comedy + revenge-suspense-thriller genre.
2. Anjathey: This movie is the kitchen sink of 2008. It had every genre baked into it. There were some moments in the movie that was totally impressive and a few moments which made you wonder if should be doing something else instead of watching this movie.
1. Subramanyapuram: An unpretentious movie that appears honest until the end. Without ever losing its entertainment value. It consistently gives a "this could have really happened" feeling. I loved it.
Worst Movies
5. Aayudham Seivom: Its in this list because the DVD somehow found its way to my living room. I can't believe C. Sundar is actually a hero. "C" center folks deserve to be made fun of for encouraging him. Yaara koluthanumnu theriyalai. I stopped watching the movie after a point.
4. Indralogathil Azhagappan: "Adi pidichu pona" story and Vadivelu.
3. Dasavatharam: Pretentious Kamal trash. A man with a large ego ate a sumptuous meal. Farted. Then caught the fart in a plastic bag, buried it in a septic tank with 4 eggs and dirty shoe. Took it out after 10 years and sprayed the contents on the public. Apparently a few drops of 'sandhanam' was mixed in that spray. He called the few people, who noticed it, as thamizh people. The rest, he called them "medhaavis".
2. Bheema: Gay trash.
1. Kuselan: Rajini trash for idiot fan boys.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Once Upon a Time I was 'Youth'

It is good to meet people you went to college with. It reminds you that once upon a time, long long ago you were a teenage boy. As the conversation progressed, names and images of forgotten people were context-switched back into main memory after a long time. My teenage phase may have happened before stone age and right after ice age but it made me feel a little happy today.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Movie Review: Slumdog Millionaire

So I did not think this was a great super duper uber fantastic greatest movie of all time. It is a good movie. Very entertaining. But somehow the kind of buzz (some even mentioned "Oscar") this movie has been getting misled me to believe this is a movie phenomenon. Maybe it will get an Oscar. We had the "black" Oscar year, the "gay" Oscar year, so maybe its time for the sweetly timed "Mumbai" oscar year. I am bored of people in west developing this habit of telling Indians that the India of the slums is the real India. There was a time when I drunk the kool aid and all this was nice to talk about. Now when some Indians tell me that too.. I wonder about credibility. Apparently, these people are trying to tell me that have lived and experienced a nuance regarding India's poverty. Something that has escaped me and the zillions of other people where have grown up in that country. I strongly believe that there is no 'real' India or that there are so many 'real' Indias that it is not worth examining which is more real. If this movie is seen as a 2 hour stereotypical Bollywood fantasy - it is thoroughly entertaining. If people start reading athi-bhayankaramulu philosophical undertones into it - it is nonsense.
All the stereotypes that the west associates with 'poverty', 'street fighter kid', and 'India' etc are here in this movie. If an Indian had directed it - it would have not been this successful. The stereotypes are presented in a checklist fashion. 1. Show extreme and unbelievable poverty to shock the white man - check. 2. The cute (and he is super super cute and lovable - I have to give that) innocent kid who is wronged by destiny of life - check. 3. Indian teachers are dhoti wearing kid-beating people - check. 4. Hindus are bad (that is the only acceptable secular view nowadays) - check. 4. Muslims (replaceable with any minority) are oppressed - check. 5. Show extreme gore being committed to earn money - check. 6. A kid from slums has nothing to loose so will run with the vagaries of life - check. 7. Bollywood masala (nonsensical love and stereotypical gangsters) - check. 8. Overly optimistic and positive ending that shows that the wronged deserve their luck however far-fetched it might sound - check. 9. Show the cliched and boring Taj Mahal to the white man - check. 10. Show extreme poverty and exploitation juxtaposed with India's riches again and again - check. So this movie is not special. Pudhupettai did better in some aspects.
There are merits to the movie. As a fantasy fiction Vikas Swaroop's story and Danny Boyle's depiction is extremely fast paced. The fact that they used "Who wants to be Millionaire" as a narrative instrument is a very good idea. However, I did think that the background for a few answers were too contrived and in general made the movie a little bit over the top. The arrow of the story does pierce through a slice of Indian life and shows a particular possibility of exploitation. The actors playing slum kids but speaking English with a touch of Brit accent was slightly concerning. The success of the movie shows an old but reliable Max Mueller trend. That the western world will welcome, with open arms, any story about India, as long as it is colored by and told by one of their own. Oh! yeah -> it needs to show only negatives and stereotypes. I am glad they didn't show an elephant. Maybe, Anil Kapoor was compensating for that little oversight.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Movie Review: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

This is one of the best movies I have ever seen. It fundamentally deals with the ephemeral nature of life and leaves a permanent impression in our minds. There was not a dry eye in the house and when the movie ended the claps flowed from the audience spontaneously. I wouldn't be surprised if this swept the Oscars. David Fincher continues to amaze me. Ever since I saw se7en in Santham (1995 - it ran for a week there) I have been a fan and he has continued to out-do himself movie after movie. The story of Benjamin Button is adapted from a short story by Fitzgerald of the same name. The story itself while being extremely unique and curious is also presented in a fascinating manner. There are some movies that leave you with a rush of adrenalin and some with a lump in your throat. This movies does both. It seeks to inspire, put life into perspective and there were several moments where I struggled to fight back tears.

It is a curious story because the central character is born as a 95'ish old man. Benjamin lives the early part of his life as a doddering old man in wheel chairs with arthritis, deafness and teeth problems. While externally he seems to grow in reverse - internally mind wise he seems to be growing normally. He lives his life adventurously taking his chances and flowing the way of the wind a'la Forrest Gump (The movies share the same screen writer). He meets a 5 year old girl when he is 90 and later marries her when their ages intersect in their 40s. Then, as she grows old, he "grows" into a teenager, a toddler and an infant. As I said it is a fascinating story. While we are not told repeatedly that Benjamin is ageing downwards, it is sort of there as an undercurrent during all the events we see. It adds so many layers of complexity to the movie and makes every scene seem rich.

David Fincher's presentation techniques is always unique. Right from Alien 3 (which won the best cinematography Oscar) to Panic Room (where we see that single shot sequence progress from the 3rd floor down the house int the key hole, out of the hole and into the window) he has this unique style of visualising the movie. Here the contours of the movie keep changing with time. It starts with a highly sepia'ed touch in the beginning, reminiscent of video cameras in charlie Chaplin movies and then moves on to 1980s look and feel. Here he amazes everyone with his side stories too. In the Fight Club there were several sub-stories on soaps, car faults that kept amazing us. Here, we see a man's narration of how he is struck by lightning seven times. Given the title of this blog, I was so happy to see that sequence. Every time they showed that man there were peals of laughter. He says "I was standing there mindin' my own business and lightning struck me". And I could have cried. Then there was a sequence where Brad Pitts voice over describes a collision course of two objects as if guided by destiny. Wonderful.

Overall, this movie is an ode to the possibilities of life. It was a fantastic idea to have Benjamin start his life in an old age home where people come to die. Since at the beginning people don't know if Benjamin will grow old and die or just live along - everything seems temporary. It sets a context that tells us how valuable Benjamin thinks life is. What it means to do what you want, fail, start over again and do a new thing when you want it. It is the possibility that scares the hell out of people stuck in 9 to 5 jobs, wasting their lives by doing work they don't like. Just for the sake of survival. Another layer below that the movie talks about the transience of everything. There is a dialog Brad Pitt says in Troy (approx) "Gods are jealous of us because we are mortal. You will never be more beautiful than you look now. You will never experience this moment again. You will never be young again". This movie just defines that emotion. At another layer -this movie makes us think if there any difference at all between growing old and growing young. "We all end up in diapers" she says with a sardonic smile.

Apart from Fincher's artsy'ly paced story telling including his occasional indulgence, the movie greatly benefits from Brad Pitt's performance and the person who wrote the dialogs. From Brad Pitt's nervous excitement as a 90 year old kid to his calm demeanour as a teenager is all part of a splendid performance. I don't think he has done a better role. The dialog writer sometimes deals only in punchlines but nevertheless does a great job of making us notice the power of words. I am going to be rooting for this movie at the Oscars.
P.S: Interesting. I am tempted to fund the successful defense of this man during trial.

Movie Review: Valkyrie

I have 4 movies in the watch list - Frost/Nixon, Slumdog, Valkyrie and Benjamin Button. so I went to the theater thinking I'll buy whats available. So i bought tickets for continuous shows. 7:30 PM Valkyrie and 10:30 PM Benjamin Button.

Valkyrie, directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men, Superman, Usual Suspects), is a very taut thriller that documents one of the several assassination attempts on Hitler. It is a motion picture based on a true story. And it is a very good movie that is unfortunately limited by the necessity to stick to facts. If this were not a true story it would have had more entertainment potential. There are several movies that have documented stories surrounding Hitler. Nazi, Germany and Jews. Yes, the Jews have suffered and yes! Hitler was a bad guy. The collective angst of the sufferers have not died out. At least in Hollywood. So here is one more movie that tells us the story from the German perspective. There is going to be one more, starring Daniel Craig, next year. So frankly, I am getting tired of it all.

Valkyrie is a story from the German perspective. There are no Jews shown and no atrocities shown. This movie tries to tell us that there were good among the Nazi Germans too. Those who did not agree with Hitler. Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg is a German army officer, played by Tom Cruise, who leads the assasination attempt on Hitler and comes up with a rather curious plan to take over Germany after Hitler's death. The Wikipedia link provided above should provide all the gory details on Stauffenberg and Valkyrie. As far as the movie goes, it kept me riveted on the edge of my seat. The disadvantage of the movie was that almost everybody going into the theater knew the ending. However, the movie did well to have a firm grasp on the viewer's attention until the last minute. There were moments we almost feel and will in favor of the characters we like. This movie, although, shows us glimpses of Hitler and even has him mouth a few dialogs -> never shows the sequence of events from Hitler's perspective. It focuses on Stauffenberg's world and events as it happens to him.

Tom Cruise plays the lead role with his usual intensity. He has the Kamal Hasan factor where the actor always surfaces above the character and makes us notice the actor more than the character. In this movie it does not hurt because we are made to believe that Stauffenberg was a similarly intense, cold and determined person as portrayed by Tom Cruise. The plot kept us all informed about what was being planned and the efforts required by different parties within the resistance movement to make the plan work. So it was fun to watch the plan go astray, like all plans do, due to a variety of reasons. General Friedrich Fromm is another interesting character played with a lot of grace by Tom Wilkinson as a person with a foot on both sides of the fence. The dialogs and negotiations Tom Cruise does with various parties were delightful and ranged from blunt/direct (the way he recruits his assistant) to extremely subtle (his conversations with Fromm). All in all it is no Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan but it is certainly worth going to the theater.

P.S: I was too tired when I came out of Valkyrie so postponed the Benjamin Button ticket to today

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Singing: Across The Border

Sometimes an oft-repeated age-old Ke.Pe. 1430 discussion provokes heated debate. Yesterday a debate broke out in my family on singing. I casually mentioned that it was more pleasurable to listen to a really good female singer as opposed to a really good male singer. Obviously such views are perception based and not measurable objectively. This did not mean that a female singer by default was better than any male singer. Just that if you compared the "really good" among them - the woman, to me, seemed slightly better. The small extra dimension that a woman provides while singing is the difference. when it comes to film music -> I argued that the historical lack of good female singers in Thamizh movie industry is what made people assume that "nobody can beat SPB, Jesudas etc". I never say anything complimentary about women so people arguing in favor of "male singers were better" thought I was putting "same side goal". My dad surprisingly also put "same side goal" by stating that D.K Pattamal and M.L.Vasanthakumari were much better in their peak compared to MBK or Maharajapuram. Such debates never gets solved. They needn't be. But it is fun to have them.

Moving on, here are two videos - one from the Kerala version of super singer and one from the Thamizh Nadu version. Both these videos feature the best singer of this year in the competition trying to sing a very difficult song. Both singers sing the same song. I have to say that the Kerala version of this competition, in general, is much better organized. It seems to have better sound infrastructure and quality. Some of the feedback given is also very nuanced and interesting. When you think of Kerala and music there is a perception that the culture of music has permeated well into that state. In Thamizh Nadu carnatic music is restricted to few sections of the society. Not that folk songs are more prevalent. It is as limited in its spread if not more than its carnatic sister.

Roopa Singing Udhaya Udhaya (Note: she cannot speak/Understand Thamizh)



The comments from Judges are also interesting.

Ravi Singing udhaya Udhaya



As an interesting "extra" here is Roopa singing my favorite song "Gangai Karai" from Varusham 16. This is a very difficult song to sing. "Mottai" in a rare interview (Source: Random IR forums) said that this was probably the only song he ever composed in "Thodi" raagam. That it was a hard raagam to compose for film music and if he made a slight error here and there it would "degenerate" into another raagam (Sankarabharanam ?). Jesudas sang that excellent song.

Here is Roopa trying Gangai Karai Mannan.



Here are the originals

Udhaya Udhaya



Gangai Karai Mannan

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Blogs, Twitter, Mumbai & Hanumar Vaalu

Ever since the Internet began to pretend that it had more value than free porn, things have mostly been disappointing. The Internet has clearly underperformed in its non-porn avatar. However, that is a story for another day. I made a draft post on the mainstream media's coverage of how blogs and twitters were "helping people" during the Mumbai blast. I forgot to post it. So here goes the following.

For the past 2 months, I haven't been reading other blogs as much as I usually do. So, I haven't read any of the twitter updates or all the "live blog updates" during the mumbai attack. Presumably these were started and publicized during Mumbai floods, blasts and other similar events with the professed intention of "providing information" and "helping people". Popular bloggers who link to these blogs with comments like "great coverage" or "he is covering this by the minute" have also misled me. I now suspect that these popular bloggers have just linked these blogs/twitters for the sake of "doing something" without bothering to read them and understand their value. The question in my mind is -> has this has led to a "network" effect where other bloggers believe (because the big guys believe it) that there is value in these "live blog updates" thereby causing more links to these type of blogs? Has this unintentionally allowed those blogs to bubble up to the top of search results and thereby propelled them into TV Media's radar? Or, did the TV media do what the popularbloggers did? Pick an arbit twitter/blog out of their asses and called it "good coverage".
The TV based media either don't understand blogs/twitters and have simply reffered to these blogs/twitters just to cover their asses or have done it just for the sake of appearing well-informed. You know, like the way grad students refer to arbit IEEE papers (that they've never read) in their thesis bibliography page. The media thinks these blogs/twitters already possess great value. This cannot be true. I cannot imagine how those blogs and twitter updates would have helped people. Baring few exceptions (I don't know if any exist)- the people who update those blogs could not know more information than the media, police or the team manning the standard helpline number. I cannot see them providing a new angle to the story beyond what the dozens of screaming media channels provide. In some distant future, post critical mass, I can see these blogs and twitters potentially covering the small events (before they become really big) and tip off the mainstream media. But currently they aren't a replacement/alternative for covering big events.

I have a karuthu as to why this sudden and freak claim to fame happened for blog coverage of terrorist attacks. The average overweight guy sitting at home, playing video games, and feeding off library books - feels angry that he cannot be a superman and cannot rescue earth from the Doomsday monster. So, much similar to the way that girl in my office started a signature campaign/letter to Manmohan singh and created a lot of useless buzz, this person must've have started a "live coverage blog" to satisfy his own ego. You know "just to do something". Many people who have overdosed on "Rang De Basanti" must have felt the need to do "something" and have joined this. The main reason why I fear the Internet may provide us something dangerous before giving us something useful is because -> It provides people, who are inherently lazy, an easy alternative to useful/productive work (one that involves a lot of undesirable hard work). The crux of the danger is that this alternative provides similar levels of satisfaction and infinitely more popularity.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sherlock Holmes Primer (DVD & Books)

From the time CBSE syllabus threw "The Blue Carbuncle" at me in VIIIth Standard, I have been huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. Many years later, while at Grad school, a nice boy called Anush Mohandass (The "Colonel") loaned me "Sherlock Homes as published in Strand Magazine" (which I promptly lost after reading). Thanks to that - my obsession with Holmes was renewed and kept me company during the dying stages of my Masters thesis. Having exhausted the original series of books - I found new life for Sherlock Holmes in Dallas. While living in the world of UNIX geeks, where people showed their macho'ness by typing long command line well..er.. commands with a lot of 'grep'ping and pipe'ing - a colleague (another huge Holmes fan) and I dabbled with the Diogenes Club Dallas chapter ( I know!). The club had a description that went like;

There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town.

My colleague then introduced me to a new world of Holmes Fan Fiction (which gets boring after a while like the way most James Bond fan fictions do) but more importantly he introduced me to the wonderful world of Jeremy Brett. Granada Television had gone on to create a fantastic TV series based on Conan Doyle's works. At the time I read the comprehensive collection of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, I constantly wondered if it could ever be played out visually with the same thrill and quality. A book inherently can offer the reader insight into the wonderful dimension of a character's thought process and takes you through a reasoning and analysis sequence that is hard to recreate in a visual medium. In some cases, not all, the best a visual medium can do is to offer poignant background music. But that does little to compete with the power of a great book. As I read story after story - the visuals that popped in my mind simply had no bounds. If anybody attempted to instantiate those books into a concrete visual, I was sure many would simply disagree with that interpretation. However, Granada's inteerpretation and more importantly Jeremy Brett's interpretation of Sherlock Holmes can only be described as - magic.

A few English actors have a 'style' associated with them. Sometimes, when I see them, I am reminded of why Rajinikanth is so loved. There is a sense of uninhibited flair about them. A unique almost idiosynratic style that distinguishes them as a cavalier character. Pierce Brosnan played that stylish person in Remington Steele. His mannerisms, expressions, the way he opened a car door, shined and held his shoes (remember Rajini-Poornam in Thillu Mullu), held a wine glass, picked up a phone or tipped a waiter - was so cool you'd be ashamed to even try and imitate that. John Cleese brought out a style in Fawlty Towers that I would consider as inimitable. Jeremy Brett's style sweeps you off your feet. He brings an intensity to Holmes that would have had Doyle's approval. At the same time he is sarcastic, contemptuous and so disdainful that you almost feel you should learn to insult as well as he does. There is line that Holmes utters - a loan from Shakesphere;

" Age doth not wither nor custom stale my infinite variety"

My father used that line at the drop of a hat. You should hear Jeremy Brett say it to Watson (at 5:50 minutes in the video) in the darkness as they stalk Professor Moriarty's henchmen. It is said as a ferocious whisper with the appropriate pauses and a style that makes you feel you should try and say it too. In Silver Blaze he makes an observation that - to me - defined the essense of Holmes. Yes, the most popular dialog in Silver Blaze is Holmes response "That was the curious incident" to Gregory's exclamation "The Dog did nothing in the night time". But there is a moment where he says ( at 2:00 minutes in the video)

"You see. The value of imagination. It is the one quality that Inspectior Gregory lacked. We imagined what might have happened, acted upon the supposition, and find ourselves justified."

In effect Holmes defines what we simplify as intuition. And you should hear Jeremy Brett say these line. You will hear sarcasm, derision and regret all at the same time. Brett has a way of pronouncing words that makes you notice. There were times when I paused, rewinded a particular sequence just to hear him say a sentence in a particular way. In Doyle's stories Holmes states his theories on a person's deductive capacity and compares that with the way we instinctively add two numbers (as opposed to manually go about the additive process with our fingers). Such theories were fascinating and certainly worth stating. Parts such as these, which I liked in the stories but that were missing in the DVDs (TV series) were Holmes theories about knowledge. Holmes abhors unnecessary knowledge. While he knows a lot about Chemistry, playin violin and Forensic Sciences - he professed zero knowledge on Literature, Philosophy, Astronomy (he didn't know that the Earth revolved around the Sun) and politics. His theory was that a person's brain simply did not have the bandwidth to support lot of information and needless information ate away at a person's existing capacity/resources. The DVD though it referred subtly to Holmes drug addiction ("cocaine" injections) did not detail it as much as Doyle did.

Books & DVD:
With this holiday season purchase - I believe I have all the Sherlock Holmes Books & DVD sets ever published (Including the Basil Rathbone ones). A couple of DVDs are still in the mail and once I get it my collection will be complete. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 56 short stories and 4 novels. Out of the 56 stories 52 were written as if Dr. Watson wrote them for newspapers. 2 were written by Holmes in first person and the other 2 were written in the regular third person format by Doyle himself. The four novels were 1. A Study in scarlet ( I couldn't find a Jeremy Brett TV adaptation) 2. The Sign of Four 3. The Hound Of Baskervilles 4. The Valley of Fear. The last 3 novels are available in DVD. Additionally available in that DVD are The Master Blackmailer, The Last Vampyre and The Eligible bachelor.
Conan Doyle's short stories were later compiled as the following Anthologies. However the stories in the Book Anthologies and the DVD set differs as noted below. It is dissapointing to note that not all stories were made into TV adaptations.
The DVD contains different stories picked from different places : A Scandal in BohemiaThe Dancing Men, The Naval Treaty, The Solitary Cyclist, The Crooked Man, The Speckled Band, The Blue Carbuncle, The Copper Beeches, The Greek Interpreter, The Norwood Builder, The Resident Patient, The Red Headed League and The Final Problem.
The DVD contained none of the above stories because the "Adventures" DVD took most of the stories. But contains -> The Three Gables, The Dying detective, The Golden Pince-Nez, The Red Circle, The Mazarin stone, The Cardboard Box
The DVD contains The Empty House, The Abbey Grange, The Second Stain, The Six Napoleons, The Priory School, Wisteria Lodge, The Devil’s Foot, Silver Blaze, The Bruce Partington Plans, The Musgrave Ritual & The Man With The Twisted Lip.
There was no Boxed DVD set available in this name.
The DVD in the same name contains Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax, The Problem of Thor Bridge, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Illustrious Client, Shouscombe Old Place, The Creeping Man.
We all know how great the books were - I can't stress how fantastic the DVD series was. Jeremy Brett and David Burke were a great team. Brett and Edward Hardwick were an even more awesome team.
Non-Jeremy Brett Visual Adaptations: There are many Holmes TV adaptations. Roger Moore and Basil Rathbone are two popular actors among the many to play Holmes. I have to say Basil Rathbone series was way better than Moore. The DVD set of 10 Sherlock Holmes movies contains "Dressed To Kill", "Secret Weapon" and "The Woman in Green". All three are exciting stories and engrossing inspite of not being part of Doyle's works. It also contains movies that were not played by Rathbone.
Sometime next year, I hope to write a series of posts reviewing each episode (or at least each DVD disc individually) featuring Jeremy Brett.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sachin: Thalai Pola Varuma

I wish I was there in Chepauk today for this. 10 years ago - we (about 30 of my batch mates) were there in B stand cheering his 155 against Australia. What would we all have given to be there today.

With those 2 ODI innings in the C & B series in Australia and with this - a 4th innings century, not out, to finish a record chase - Sachin is on his way to check off some of the trivial criticisms that has distracted people from his achievements. One is compelled to feel that he needn't have done this to prove his greatness as a batsman - but it is nice that he did so anyway.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Great Yeskape

Human beings, I suspect, have not figured out sentient vs non-sentient beings correctly. All these years we have been regarding certain objects as non-living / inanimate objects that do not have a mind of their own. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Take for example objects like TV Remote and Cell Phone. They are constantly plotting to get away from us. They secretly hide behind the sofa cushions and discuss evil schemes to somehow escape their master. Consider this scene that is common in every household - It is a normal weekday evening, you take the TV remote, switch on the TV and sit down in front of it. You suddenly remember that TV would look much better with a cup of coffee. So you get up, make some coffee and come back to your seat and voila!

The remote is gone.

Sometimes all it needs is 1 minute and 40 seconds to make its getaway. You sit there in despair and shout "It was just here. How did it get away?". Needless to say by the time you organize a search party and locate the remote, the coffee has become very cold. Sometimes the TV remote plots its escape on a longer timeline. It does not escape until you go to sleep. It tries to gain your trust by befriending you and staying with you until you go to sleep. The moment you go to sleep it flees like the way Robin hood does after he has had a session of hot love making with Little John's little sister. You wake up in the morning and you see that the cupboard is bare and the remote has fled its coop.

Cell Phones are also very good in plotting against us. It has got more exposure than the TV remote. It has been around, it has travelled with us and so has talked to other people. There is no way a TV remote can run away while humans are driving the car or while they are at someone's place for dinner. TV Remotes never get that kind of opportunity. Several times human beings have kept their cell phone on the counter to sip a cup of water and then be surprised to find out that the phone has disappeared. You can never take your eyes of them phones. Cell phones have a disadvantage that remotes don't have. You can call these things and they have homing devices that forces them to reveal their locations. You can never call a remote control. But some mobile phones are clever, nay evil. They make sure that they aren't well charged and once they disappear they quickly get into low battery mode and become invisible. Sometimes they deliberately put themselves in vibrate mode and go under cover.

It is unclear as to exactly where these objects want to escape to. Their destination is often a well-kept secret. They seem to be biding their time before they finally make their move. Most of the times when you eventually find them, they are under the cushion of the couch with their faces covered. Two remotes and cell phone lie there, clinging onto themselves for their dear lives, crushed and squeezed between two cushions. The moment we locate them and say "ah! there you are" they seem to put on innocent faces and act as if they actually got lost. "No mister! we were just eating the crumbs that fell off your plate and we fell down" they say to us and show the dosai crumbs smeared on them as proof. Who would believe them? They are trying to get away. We know that. Like the other day, I found out that my cell phone had got away as far as my car and was hiding under the driver's seat ready to drive away to another place. We know that they want to get away. Humans have caught on to that secret. However, where they want to go - that still eludes us.

The cell phone clearly wants to take my car with it as it escapes. That much is clear. Because it took my car keys along with it. It took my wallet and driver's license too. Its planning on robbing me. That is for sure. What I am terribly concerned about is that it wants to alienate my wife from me and elope with her. An idea that, disconcertingly enough, she is not so averse to at the moment. For example - a few hours before I located my cell phone trying to get away with my car, I noticed that my car keys were missing. Car keys are dangerous slithery little creatures that man has ever known. They are mean and ruthless. Sometimes it stays in the car and locks itself in. So now you need car keys to get to the car keys. No other object can boast of this kind of recursion. It is some sort of a space-time warp within itself. I found out that my car keys were missing while searching for my wallet. That is when I uncovered this hideous plot where a bunch of remotes, cell phone and car keys were trying to rob me of my wealth and family. Sure enough my wallet was gone too. Where do I find it ? Under the driver's seat. Next to the cell phone.

What irks me about these creatures is that they make me look like a fool in front of my wife. Sometimes they cling on to me as if I am some sort of a escape vehicle and they drop themselves into the fridge, bathroom shelf, cupboard etc like the way these soldiers parachute out from an airplane into enemy territory. They use me to plan their escape routes. Would you believe it if I said my remote-control used me to get as far as the bathroom. They were near the wash basin running towards the commode when we caught them. My car key is especially evil this way. Once, I found my car keys inside my dishwasher. It is that cunning. Over time, their idea has been to humiliate me so much that my wife would lose her respect for me and begin to admire them for taunting me so much. Men have extra-ordinary search stamina when it comes to searching for car keys/phones/remotes. They search for a whole milli-second before alerting the search party. Since this relates to life, death and science - we yell "Houston! we have a problem".

After much persuasion this so called search party arrives at the scene of the crime. The search party, naturally the woman of the household, does not respect our tantrums. We know this is a big thing. We know that these things are trying to do away with our wealth. But the search party is not privy to this. So they look derisively at the man and say "So you've managed to lose it again". Something strange happens when the search party begin their operations. These objects - the villains that they are - quickly surrender themselves to the search party. They run out of their hiding places so quickly that it seems as if they were right under your noses - (or) under your laptop, under your unwashed tiffin plate, under your socks (which somehow has crawled all by itself on to the center table to aid these creatures) - all the time. The search party would then give the man that look. A look that would send the car keys into delirious raptures of joy. A look that would ultimately drive the cell phones to destroy mankind as we know it and set up its own world where humans try to escape them instead of the other way around.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

"I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something."

"What are we holding onto, Sam? "

"That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for. "

Monday, December 01, 2008

Complete Lack Of Humility

Why do people assume that they can solve any problem? There are so many complex scientific experiments/theories that fail miserably in quantum physics, medical science and such fields that also involve tax payer dollars. Do people say "we must do something about it" and start suggesting solutions to these complex scientific problems in unconnected fields? As a matter of fact people don't even understand what was attempted and what actually failed. They sometimes cannot even come up with a valid criticism. In those cases, do we not accept that we don't know shit?
When it comes to terrorism, religion, governance, counter-intelligence - which are as complex if not more with thousands of moving parts and heavy randomness - people seem to assume that they know everything and start suggesting solutions to the government/RAW/Army etc? Like these people know better about terrorism and such things than the resident subject matter experts. Is there no humility left among people anymore? Where do these legions of geeks, engineers, coders and accountants get this arrogance from?
Do these self-righteous folks realize that certain problems may not have any solution at all? What gives them the right to assume that all problems have solutions?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ezhavu Bill

When I become the Prime Minister of India, I will introduce a series of constitution changing measures that will aim to severely limit the freedom of press in India.
First among those measures will be a special bill set to motion in the parliament called "The Ezhavu Bill". This bill will create a law banning the press from photographing or video graphing dead bodies, funeral processions, oppari sessions, crying relatives and friends, amavasya tharpanam, soundi related activities. They cannot even provide clips of 10th day or 13th day activities or interview soundi brahmins.
Barkha Dutt/Sardesai types who violate this law and intrude other's sacred privacy will have all the above activities expedited for them - all of which will of course be shown live in DD.

The Resilience Of Mumbai

This nonsense has been bandied about in the media for almost a decade and it is insulting to every body's intelligence. I am surprised Mumbaikars don't take insult to the constant reference about "mumbaikar spirit". I would if I was from Mumbai. So dear idiots who keep going on and on about the mumbaikar spirit - have you ever stopped, paused and wondered about just one question.
Do mumbaikars have an option?
You praise them for going back to work after terrible terrorist events. Do they have an option of not going back to work? Middle class life is about paying back loans, feeding children, feeding dependents, paying for medical charges, paying for old parents livelihood, paying school bills etc. None of that can wait because a terrorist happened to hit your city. If you don't go to work you are screwed. Screwed beyond belief. So this livelihood is hard enough as it is. Terrorist events make it harder and this talk about spirit when they really don't have an option is mind-numbingly stupid. They would love to be able to not go to work. If they all had 10 crore ruppes in their bank - they would just not go out at all. They have to go to work because they are not rich. Most factory workers and hourly laborers can't wait to go to work because they are in desperate need for money. They will go back to work even if half the city is blown away. That is the mumbaiker spirit for you in a nutshell.
Poverty.
So shut up with all this. If terrorist happens to hit some old town in Bihar or Gummudipoondi or Iraq - people there still have to go to work and they will. There are many other professions where workers get slapped and abused by "clients". They go back to work the next day. Nobody talks about "spirit" or "resilience".

Thursday, November 27, 2008

TV News Channels, Aaracha Maavu, etc

Today, in order to see something about the mumbai attacks, I turned on CNN with much trepidation. There is always a potential that you can end up watching it for 2 days and ruin your vacation. I remember 2-3 incidents where I got into watching the TV phenomena of "breaking news". The first time was when a mad Steffi Graf fan stabbed Monica Seles. Second time was when the twin towers were destroyed and the third time was when that nut case Korean killed everyone at sight at Virginia Tech. I never watch the news because most of it is useless information and never helps you become a more informed person (or) improves your knowledge of the world. It in fact confuses you with so many details that you become more of a random person. In fact my hunch is that people who don't watch the news (with the sort of obsession that has become common) are as informed (if not more) as the average news channel junkie. Many times, I sympathise people who watch news too much for the sake of gaining knowledge. Thinking about this made me realize what my actual problem with "breaking news" phenomena was.
They don't have enough news.
They really don't. Their entire news information about an event can be summed up in about 1 paragraph, which should take an anchor about 1 minute to read it out. The remaining 52 hours and 59 minutes of "live... breaking news" type coverage is all "aaracha maavu". They keep repeating the same thing again and again and again. Many people are interviewed - they all say the same thing. Many anchors "on the field" are dialed into the news room. Those news anchors say the same thing. Sometimes you can feel the news anchor searching for words, there is an awkward pause and then they go back, re-summarize the events so far and say the same thing again in different words. The excuse given by American news channels is "for those of you who just joined us". Indian news channels don't even care about this. They say the same things about 3000 times with the same intensity and passion. It makes you feel that the same terrorist attack has happened again. Again and again for 3000 times.
The news/media people don't intend to provide accurate useful news. If that happens it is just an accidental side-effect. "Breaking news" is like a Vijay/Ajith movie. They are eager to be the first people to give a funny name (such as "war on mumbai") to sensationalize the event, provide action and thrills now and then to wow the audience and sprinkle some "items" here and there. In not so distant future, I certainly see sexy-dance-by-hot-news-anchor as part of the package. Then there are bloggers who write the same information several times condemning terrorists asking questions to nobody in particular (such as "what are we as a country doing about this" etc). Not realizing that even having an opinion about most events is useless. Thankfully, the news people have stopped mentioning "the mumbaikar spirit". That used to add to the loads of useless crap people put out in the name of news.
Come to think about it - my blog has the potential to be an excellent news channel. Both provide worthless information in voluminous detail. When satellite TV boomed in India and every old man I knew began watching news with obsession - I told my father, periappa, opposite house old man that people who watch BBC and those who read Opinion pieces in Hindu are very boring people. That they should watch MTV instead. A decade later I stand by those comments (minus the MTV part).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Theater Crowd

I have written about this topic before and I am slowly getting tired of writing about it. Seattle theater is probably the worst among the desi theaters I have seen. Makes the Irving theater look like Sathyam. The sound system is horrible and the volume unacceptably low. Which makes the usual noisy, manner-less desi theater crowd all the more annoying. This time, instead of the usual idiot-boys gang, we had a gang of 10 or so girls seated in front of us and the rest of their gang (another 5 girls) seated behind us. Maybe they were students or maybe they were having a wives-day-out thingie. But every single one of them were annoying. I wish all the theater chairs were electrically wired so that I could zap the shit out of every annoying female.

These girls had come along to cheer Surya and jollu vittufy him. Fair enough - completely normal. Somewhere along the line they thought there comments were funny, that they were cool or worse that they were doing "samaaa galatta". This is where I began to have problems. Frankly, I have seen very few women who are genuinely humorous. Very few. These women were not among them. The "great progress that women have made so far" (seinfeld reference) in a variety of fields does not extend to the field of "theater galatta". Based on the evidence on display in the theater, the feminist movement has a long way to go in this department. These girls were making "kekke bukke" jokes and howling (not even properly) like donkeys every time Surya came on screen. Not a single comment was impressive. And they were talking continuously throughout the movie. Apparently one of the idiots was called "shanthi" and so every time the "shanthi" song played, people in the back row yelled "shaanthi". To which she vazhinjufied "adi po ya" or some shit like that. The back row continued to yell her name even after the joke had been killed and buried after 10 such yells. This unfortunately made that girl think that she was some sort of a cool gansta head chic. So she starts to yell lousy, un-funny and totally boring comments.

Men weren't much better. An idiot behind me kept asking his wife "what will happen next?". Every scene he wanted to know what will happen next to Meghna, Surya, Priya and a host of other characters. His expression of intense curiousity continued until his wife shut him up with "padatha paathu tholaiyen". Shouting comments in theaters should be left to niche audiences in Madras. Nobody in America should even try for it. In general, people should shut up and let others watch the movie. Reminds me of this guy (he owns the lolluexpress web page), who came to watch a movie in Columbus, OH. He had come alone (as in wasn't part of a gang) and kept making these stupid comments through out the movie (he kept calling out every actor's name and said "hey - he looks like a police constable man"). Until someone shouted back and asked him to shut up. Finally he had to leave the theater. What bugs me is the thought that this Shanthi and gang will go home and tell their husband/friends, "we had sooooo much fun ya! theater'la orey galatta panni kallakittom theriyuma".

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Movie Review: Vaaranam Aayiram

Gautham Menon recites a fantastic ballad in "Vaaranam Aayiram". It is unlike anything he has done before. This movie wastes no time in showing us that it is straight from his heart. The honesty of the emotion and the singular purpose of bringing out the value of a father in a person's life is immediately evident. The movie has several flaws. They poke you and force you to notice them even if you don't want to. But I didn't mind them. There was no flaw that diminished the movie's appeal. The overarching emotional force field that Gautham lays out (and reinforces several times over) around the movie is so strong that I was willingly sucked into the moment. The larger picture that this movie paints is wonderful even if some of the finer details of the painting has smudges and crinkles in them. Ultimately, given the subject matter handled I suspect this movie will appeal more to male audience who resonate with the theme of the movie.
Vaaranam Aayiram tells us a simple and age-old story - about the the valuable influence of Krishnan in his son Surya's life. Surya, an army major, is on his way to execute a rescue mission in Jammu. His helicopter receives a call from base letting him know that his father just passed away. During the long helicopter journey, he sits in the helicopter peers pensively into the clear blue sky and remembers his father's presence during the defining moments of his life. The entire movie is told in slices of flashback almost reminiscent of Alaipayuthey's . Both father and Son are played by actor Surya. The movie opens with a sequence that leads to Krishnan's death. The first time you see Krishnan (A 70'ish old man played by Surya) - the affected gruff voice and the exaggerated old-man walk makes you wonder if it is anyway reflective of the quality of the movie. Thankfully it is not. As we are pulled into Surya's story - we quickly forget the fact that Krishnan is also played by the same actor.
Although the movie claims that Krishnan is struggling finance-wise to make both ends meet, Surya's story is that of any upper-middle-class kid brought up in Madras. Gautham brings out all the finer aspects and emotions that people my age experienced while growing up. The influence of MJ, Arnold, pop music, Ilayaraja, Manirathnam, Godfather, Robert Frost are all brought out very nicely. This in a way includes only a small subsection of the audience and alienates a large section of the audience. However, Gautham goes overboard by making most of the dialogs play out in English. Gautham belongs to a generation, which was taught to ignore Thamizh and express most thoughts and emotions in English. So - to him - it is a language that appears to be a honest vehicle that brings out the subtle emotions that he wants to convey.
Krishnan's role as a parent is again very urban-middle-class. Few fathers and sons who belong to that category should be able to relate to him. Many might not. Krishnan loves his wife openly and unabashedly ( a very positive attitude for his generation - because people who were like him were traditionally ridiculed). He indulges his son like a friend and appears to play the role of an influencer rather than an autocrat. It might be hard for many to believe that such relationship is possible in India (especially in Thamizh Nadu). But as counter-intuitive as it sounds - it does happen. My father still can't stop talking about this movie. I know many father-son types who can relate to this. However, I am sure many in my extended family would dismiss this movie as an "english kaaran padam". Many scenes had a stamp of class in it. When Krishnan drops his son off at the hostel and makes that comment about letters (I wrote several letters to my parents and cried every time they dropped me and left) was fantastic. He lets his son know that he is no longer a boy but a man in his own right. What a nice way to motivate a boy! Simply remarkable. There are many more such moments. This is just a tip of the iceberg.
I did not find this movie too long (I can see why some thought a few scenes were scene unnecessary). I wasn't looking for quick entertainment and was quite prepared to sit back and let the movie flow into me. It could take however long it wanted to pause, linger and create its own moments. I was in no hurry. Gautham does not hold himself back. He goes ahead and expresses every single thought of his in his own terms. Reminded me of Manirathnam's Iruvar (although VA is not in Iruvar's class). Surya's story is that of a young, fearless (and quite reckless) boy who follows his instincts and "lives life in his own terms". Surya falls in love with Meghna and pursues her to the end of the world. He lives through life's great disappointments and grows up to be the man who has seen it all.
This might not be Gautham's own story but may have certain elements of his life incorporated into it. Sameera Reddy looks really beautiful. Divya Spandana isn't bad looking either. Surya impresses with his eye movements and his body language. I couldn't believe the scene where he played a 15 year old school boy. In May 2007 when Karthi told me about this with great surprise, I didn't quite get it. Now I do. The scene where Surya expresses surprise when Sameera reciprocates his love was remniscent of Jyotika's surprise when Surya agrees to marry her in "Kaakha Kaakha". Divya's proposal to Surya was also very similar to Jyothika's proposal to Surya in the same movie. I liked the emotion in both the movies. Among songs, I liked "Adiye Kolluthey", "Nenjikkul Peithidum", "Mundhinam paarthene". The rest were poor.
Gautham needn't have made the movie's flaws this noticeable. Nobody gets 99% in B.E. That too in REC, Trichy. Forget about that ridiculous visa interview - what visa did Surya get to go to the US? How is he in valid visa status? His business that he starts as a vendor for TVS and TI is confusing. The dappan-kuthu song, the Delhi adventure and the montages of army Surya were unnecessary and could have been edited. Usage of words like "kiddo" and "honey" shows needless hollywood influence and sounds out-of-place in this movie. From a commercial POV, I couldn't help but feel that this movie is too sophisticated and too self-indulgent for the mass audience. The audience is not known to be a patient and Gautham Menon, switches modes from ganster-cop type movies, and really tests the patience of this audience. I was happy he brought Annanagar Tower back into movie focus again. It is a location of many memorable movie scenes and it is a welcome return.
What particularly disappointed me towards the end was the recitation of the first two lines of Andal's "Vaaranam Aayiram" and the explanation of its meeting. While the movie's name and story might have made a lot of sense in Gautham's head and script - its translation into the movie medium may not have been that effective. The mention of the title in the last scene actually reminded me of S. Ve. Sekhar's "Kaatula Mazhai" ending dialogs where the actors deliberately say the title of the drama just to ridicule the habit. Another thing - When I saw Prithvi Raj, I really thought "dei namma Babloo da" (just the way the actor feared in his interview).
When Ayitha Ezhuthu was released and Karthi got me tickets for First Day show - we had an interesting post-movie discussion on engaging the audience that I find relevant to VA. He asked me if I experienced "high-points" during this movie?. Apparently these "high points" are considered important for a movie. Directors aim for scenes that take the audience emotions to a high. They try to wow them every now and then. Convetional wisom holds that the number of "high points" is proportional to the movie's success. Vaaranam Aayiram does not have that many high points. It does not have many twists or turns. So if this theory is right, this movie will not click. But its a damn good movie.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Michael Jackson, Mustafa Jackson & Manickam Jayakrishnan

Years ago I used to be an MJ fanatic. Swore by him. I still do. But this 'loosu payal' seems to be making the news for all non-musical reasons. Rediff, for all practical purposes, is a sleazy tabloid. I wouldn't put anything past them. However, reading this news item (with a bucket of salt) still caused raised eyebrows.

They began talking to him about their beliefs, and how they thought they had become better people after they converted. Michael soon began warming to the idea. An Imam was summoned from the mosque and Michael went through the shahada, which is the Muslim declaration of belief," the source revealed. Mikaeel is the name of one of Allah's angels. "Jacko rejected an alternative name, Mustafa meaning "the chosen one", the source added.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Movie Review: Quantum Of Solace

I am currently reading a book by John Cork & Bruce Scivally, which deals with the history of Bond movies, the background behind-the-scenes stories and all the small little things that went into making Bond movies. It is a fascinating book with excellent photographs. It tells us about the many ideas they've tried with Bond and the number of ideas they wanted to try but didn't have the courage. The timing of reading that book fits in well with the release of the latest Bond installment. Having spent a good part of my life as a maniacal bond fan, reading Ian Fleming novels and digesting obscure Bond trivia, I was more than enthusiastic about Quantum Of Solace. Casino Royale was a refreshing movie in many ways. It finally tried out an idea of the rugged, cruel, thug like Bond that Ian Fleming envisioned. They would've executed it in 1987 with the Living Daylights had they managed to extricate Pierce Brosnan from the Remington Steele contract. But that is history. Daniel Craig is the new exciting Bond who might've got a nod from Fleming.

We already know that Daniel Craig as James Bond is a brute. He fits the description of Ian Fleming's bond - rugged, handsome-but-not-a-chocolate-boy, well-built and most of all a cold blooded animal. Casino Royale showed us that Bond. It was exhilarating. It gave us the adrenalin rush that many of the previous Bond movies did not. It revived an enterprise that was going stale, an enterprise that had locked itself by trying to stick to a 60s formula. The problem with this movie is that it does not build on the platform that Casino Royale had so wonderfully established. The only new thing this movie provides is more of the new Bond. But we've already seen that. A coincidental pattern in Bond history is that the movie that introduces a new actor playing Bond has been slower paced and a little bit more introspective. The second James Bond movies of those actors (From Russia With Love, Man With a Golden Gun, License To Kill, Tomorrow Never Dies) were all fast paced action thrillers that didn't waste too much time with dialog but filled the movie with once chase scene after the other. Not Quantum Of Solace.

Quantum Of Solace starts in a frenzy though. It has the traditional pre-title scene where Bond does the impossible and escapes from near death situations. This movie is a bit more edgy with its camera work. It has these first-hand view kind of quick shots where you get to see the action the way the Bond sees it. The editing is all extremely fast paced and slick. But it is hard to figure what the hell is going on. There is lack of clarity. Some sequences are awesome but most make you wonder "what is really happening". The title credit do show the traditional images of naked women, guns and bullets but isn't as impressive as some of the previous title sequences. I didn't think too much of the song either (by Alicia Keys). The movie continues to be fast paced in the post-title sequence also. Makes up a few silly scenes along the way. However, suddenly mid-way through the movie, the pace changes abruptly, the movie slows down and lingers unnecessarily on moments that have no larger meaning.

This new Daniel Craig sequence of Bond movies recreates some of Ian Fleming's concepts. This Bond looses a girl too and seeks revenge. This movie introduces a new secret organization much similar to Ian Fleming's S.M.E.R.S.H or S.P.E.C.T.R.E. This secret organization also has penetrated most intelligence agencies in the world. All very good. But the crux of the movie's plot is just too small time. It is almost like some small country will have water problems if Bond doesn't intervene (I am trivializing of course). Compare that to satellite eating satellites and world destroying moon stations. Don't get me wrong. The movie entertaining. But its got no new tricks. Offers very few surprises and the action sequences (maybe because of astronomical expectations) aren't that impressive. Somehow when I left the movie I had a feeling that I saw too many little things - some impressive and some not so much - that didn't add up to anything greater than the sum of the parts. The only consoling thing is that this franchise has opened up possibilities that the previous versions did not. So better luck next time.