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.
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.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Saurav Ganguly

Note: I am currently going through a busy phase in life and so cannot sit down and write in leisure. Here are some random memories I have of Ganguly (not all of them are negative and not all of them are about cricket - since it is not fashionable to write about cricket w.r.t Ganguly);

Before I get too far into a post about his retirement, let me put out a disclaimer that I am not a big fan of Ganguly. Kumble and Ganguly are among my least favorite players in the senior group of 4-5 players who have been around for over a decade. In a way, I am saddened by the fact that the team I grew up with is slowly getting dismantled. Ganguly has provoked fierce debates and probably has broken friendships among cricket followers. Above all he has been integral part of the team that has brought great joy to many in the past decade. I am genuinely sad to see him leave the game. I did not expect him to get out first ball (in his final innings) and had a lump in my throat when they showed a slomo of him taking a look at the sky before beginning his final walk to the pavilion.

Here are my series of posts on Ganguly and his cricket career.

1. Ganguly Series I : Ganguly's Selection & First test Tour.

2. Ganguly Series II: Ganguly As a Test Batsman

3. Ganguly Series III: As a Captain.

4. Ganguly Series IV: On His Aggression

5. Ganguly Series V: Ganguly as an ODI Player.

To sum up, he was the kind of character who was needed for Indian cricket. It was my dream to see India winning test matches and Test series outside the sub continent. Ganguly made that happen. I also respected him because of his ability to do unpopular things. Intentionally or unintentionally he made people criticize him. Intentionally or unintentionally he just carried on with his stuff. Most paths to success aren't difficult but hugely unpopular. Every time, the stupid Indian media toned up its criticism against him - it was a good contra-indicator that Ganguly was on the right.

Ganguly Series V: As an ODI Player

As an ODI Player: As a batter he was almost as good as Sachin in ODIs (barring a below par WC record). I was surprised to see him play longer in tests as opposed to ODI. I had always thought he was a better ODI player than a Test player. He did not start as a quick scorer when asked to open. I remember the rather slow century plus stand he had with Sachin. But he adapted his game and improved his strike rate. His stand back, make room and loft over the point/cover region was a splendid shot to watch. His failure in the 2003 world cup was unforgivable (he did fail against all test teams and scored heavily against minnows). Trying to demote Sachin (it was attempted before 99, 2003 and 2007 world cups) to middle order was a stupid move and when it finally happened under Dravid in 2007 we saw its impact. Choosing to bat second in a World Cup final was the stupidest decision I have ever seen him make. Makes me wish we hadn't won the Natwest Trophy at all (I suspect the NatWest chase prompted him to do this). These negatives aside, I thought he learned the art of making big scores in ODIs. he was quickly able to get to a rhythm where he timed his risky shots period and his high percentage shots period very well.

My favorite ODI innings: 1. Both his 100s in the 99 Australia tour 2. His century against RSA in 2001 (in RSA) 3. Century during Bangladesh's Independence Cup finals.

Ganguly Series IV: On His "Agression"

On Aggression: I did not think much about removing his shirt in Lords or making Steve Waugh wait for this toss. I did not think the latter was a deliberate strategy. Both these weren't important contributing factors to Indian victories. It was media exaggeration and some nonsense that could be fed to the stupid public. He seems like a lazy guy who could be un-punctual and that is a more probable reason as to why he was late for the toss (the first time). Ganguly won games because he had a good team, which performed at the right time. The team fundamentals were good. The batsmen (especially Dravid) scored heavily and consistently during his captaincy. A team that was constantly pumped up and eager to win. While aggression and "looking at the aussie back in the face" was a icing on the cake - it was not the reason why we won. It is the layman's inability to tell the difference between a switched-on/punped-up team and a "rowdy agressive" team that led to so many trivial theories on his aggression.

Ganguly Series III: As a Captain

As a captain: His stint as a captain was more impressive. Something about his captaincy made things work. In the past things did not work for other people who may have had better ideas. The *thought* that the team can win under any sitation was more internalized under him. That looked impressive. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what made him click as a captain. I don't think anybody can. That is because nobody has the visibility into the kind of hard work he might've put into it. There are a million factors that go into creating a winning team. Some of it is planned and some of it is random. It is impossible to isolate a single reason and articulate it. Even if one can the public cannot consume that. Most people who try to explain his success are just lying, poking blindly (like the way I am going to do momentarily) or feeding what the public are capable of digetsing.

I thought his key move was to de-emphasize the 'Sachin' factor. He did not find team combinations that revolved around Sachin (which was common during Azhar's phase) and instead tried to build a team that had a solid foundation and good players. He probably learned "what not to do as a captain" from Sachin. If Sachin can be dropped and not missed (unthinkable in late 90s), credit goes to Ganguly. His second and most impressive achievement as a captain was dropping Anil Kumble. I have never stopped admiring him for trying to find an alternative to Kumble (I suspect Kumble will have a Ganguly-special section in his Autobiography). For a good period Kumble was never a certainity in the team and all credit to Ganguly for that. One may argue that Kumble came back strong after that period - but at the time Kumble was dropped, he really had it coming ('The Hindu' newspaper of course lick-assed Kumble for being the "silent victim" or worse "silent fighter" and some such nonsense). For a significant period of time I thought Kumble had existed in the Indian team purely because of a lack of alternative. Harbhajan became that alternative during Ganguly's tenure.

One cannot deny the selection of players like Zaheer, Yuvraj and Harbhajan or the presence of John Wright as an influencing factor in Ganguly's success. I am not sure if Ganguly had a say in their initial selection (Bhajji had debut under Bhai's captaincy, Zaheer/Yuvraj came in during Saurav's second ODI series as captain) but he stuck on to some good players. Many captains before him had good players. Under his captaincy, they seemed to be themselves instead of trying to play like a machine. It was almost as if he had released the players from something that held them back for while.

In my view, another reason why Ganguly did well as a captain was because his core team had played together for a longer-than-average period of time. They had seen most tours multiple times(They all toured England, RSA, Aus & WI at least thrice) and so learned well from their experience and began to improve with every trip. Plus Ganguly cut through some nonsense and got what he wanted in terms of support staff and infrastructure. He was fairly decent in giving chances to selected players. If I had to pick a blot, it would be S. Ramesh, Murali Karthik, Rahul Sanghvi and a few other people who were not provided adequate chances. On the bowling change, field placing aspects - I thought he was just as good as any other captain - nothing exceptional. The above are just theories. None of it may be true. The important thing was at the end of the day he won more than any other Indian captain. It’s like Seinfeld saying to George "I am just like you but only more successful".

Ganguly Series II: As a Test Batsman

Ganguly as a Batsman: I really thought he would break Azzu Bhai's 3 centuries-in-a-trot on debut and go on to be someone like Lara. At a time when India was a 1-man team, anybody to support Sachin was a blessing. A heavy scoring player like Ganguly was what India needed. He did not break Azhar's record and got out for 69 in the first ever Border-Gavaskar trophy (do any of you remember the ugly trophy they put out then?). After his sensational debut a couple of tests later, he started to fail with the bat. Especially, the games he played after coming back from injury (Laxman made his debut during Saurav's absence). Donald & Co got to him in Kolkata and then he was exposed by pace & bounce in South Africa. When Dravid & Ganguly scored again in Johannesburg - a rare abroad victory was in sight (Kumble's poor bowling on 5th day screwed that one out). Just when I thought he'd score heavily in WI - he showed us how not to bat there and played one of the slowest innings ever. My illusion of a 'super' Ganguly was gone and I was thinking "drop this dude already" (which thankfully Sachin did in Guyana).

After that point I began to view Ganguly as a undependable test batsman who 'may' click once in a while. Australia had uncovered his leg-side weakness (in a Singer Cup series in SL) and for a few years he struggled to rectify that chink. Until the end of his career he did not blossom into a consistent super batsman. He kept getting out while in fantastic form (1999 Aus tour and 2007 Aus tour) or he was in horrendous form (2001 Aus tour). He just never went to that next level. Over time - people viewed Ganguly either an average batsman who maximized his potential or as a super talented dude who underperformed. I went with the former view. When he scored, India always had a good result but that (obviously) does not mean he scored during all crucial times. Of the fab four, he was least likely to turn up and score big when India was tottering on 67/3 or 37/5 etc. Doesn't mean he never did. He did it less frequently.

Additionally, I thought of him as a lazy sportsman resembling the 80s cricketer. His running between the wickets, his general focus while at the crease, grounding the bat etc were fundamentals he either partially or completely ignored. Getting really good at these could have made him a better batter but I guess he wasn't a sort of a guy who liked details. His off-side play was much talked about. It was truly exceptional. It was however diminished by his lesser-than average all-round strokes. Maybe the fact that he was a natural rightie playing left-hand bat was the reason (cricketers are usually other way around) - he was literally zero on the leg side for a while (people bowled to him on the pads and he appeared to swat the air blindly). As a result, I thought, he went for really low percentage shots on the off-side and kept getting caught behind (or at slips). He might've exited earlier if he had not developed his leg side play to average levels.

My favorite Ganguly Test Innings: 1. 98 Against Sri Lanka in Kandy 2. A nice 60 in Adelaide (1999) 3. The 144 in Brisbane 4. The 2 half centuries he scored in Johannesburg (97) 5. 75* in POS WI (2002)

Ganguly Series: His Selection & First Test Tour

His Selection: Ganguly's Test Debut was symptomatic of his entire career. One of the things that always bothered me about Ganguly was his selection. From his debut to the end of his career, his entry or exit into the team had little to do with his scores. It was arbitrary factors such as the famous East Zone quota, Sambran Banerjee, the collective anger of Bengal, differences with coach, change of selection committee, selection based on imminent retirement - which either got him in or kicked him out.

Memories of His First Test Tour: After India's semi final fiasco in the 1996 world cup, it was kind of evident that the board was looking to make some big changes to the Indian team. With G.R Viswanath in as chief selector I was anticipating two things (a) More players from Karnataka and (b) No players from Tamil Nadu [That turned out to be reasonably true with the Indian team at some point in time having as much as 6 players from Karnataka]. In the sidelines something else was happening that did not get much attention until Ganguly came into the picture. The mandatory 1-ticket-for-east-zone was doing some musical chairs. After the 96 WC, when we toured Sharjah to play Pak & RSA (this was when Dravid made his ODI debut) small media hullaboo was made when the East Zone Quota was given to some dude called called Prashant Vaidya (who played 2 games and went away). Then we played a few games in Singapore and the left to England amid controversy.

The bigger controversy was that Kambli was dropped on disciplinary grounds in spite of having a 50+ test average. The smaller controversy was that the East Zone ticket was given to some dude called Saurav Ganguly. The papers constantly reported the Mumbai lobby perspective. ESPN made its entry into India and the 96 England tour was the first tour shown on ESPN (as opposed to Prime Sports). Since the cable operators weren't awake to this change - not all of them showed ESPN - so all my friends had to gather in a place where ESPN was on. We had a month long lead-up to the English tour and it wasn't uncommon to find every press reporter worth his salt writing a critical comment on Saurav's selection. The current chief of selectors Krish Srikkanth wrote several such articles. Ravi Shastri, Sunny Gavaskar weren't exceptions (they liked Mhambrey's selection of course). I do not recollect a single article that did not diss Ganguly. The first time I saw Saurav bat was in the tour games (the tour games were shown on Prime Sports). More specifically, in games captained by sachin as opposed to the regular captain Azhar (who was at the height of Sangeeta Bijilani episode). Strangely enough, Saurav's actual test debut also happened as a result of a non-cricketing reason. In one of the most bizairre developments seen in the cricketing world, the completely mad Navjot Sidhu walked out midway during the England tour in a huff (he had argued with Azhar about some stupid thing and left the touring party). Furthermore, Manjrekar was injured. So Ganguly/Dravid debuted in Lords. Thank god for Sidhu's madness.

In a way it was change of guard. Ganguly took over Kambli's batting spot and Dravid eventually occupied Manjrekar's spot.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dr. S.M. Srinivasa Chari

Renowned Vedanthic scholar and author of many books on the subject of Vedantha passed away a few days ago. He was 86 and passed away in Los Angeles, CA. About 4-5 years ago, I picked up his book on "Vaishnavism, Its Philosophy, Theology & Religious Discipline" out of the blue, while browsing at a bookshop in Madras Central Station. We read and - sometimes - write about big renowned authors and their writing styles. There are times when I wonder about intelligent people who - because they chose to write about esoteric subjects - were condemned to anonymity. These were authors who lucidly conveyed their thoughts in an effortless manner and took you through complicated subject matters in little baby steps. Dr. SMS Chari is one of those unsung authors. Several times while reading the book, I'd come across a well presented nuance and wonder about the good fortune that led me to randomly purchase that book. Some of the books that he has written are as follows
1) Vaishnavism - Its Philosophy ,Theology and Religious discipline
(2) Advaita and Visishtadvaita based on Swamy Desikan's Sata Dhushani
(3) Fundamentals of Visishtadhvaita based on Sawmy Desikan's Tattva Mukta Kalaapa
(4) The Philosophy of Vedanta Sutras
(5) The Philosphy of Upanishads
(6) The Philosophy of Bhagavad Gita
(7) AdhikaraNa SaarAvaLi of Swamy Desikan
(8) The Philosophy and Theistic Mysticism of the Alvars
(9) Para Mata Bhangam based on Swamy Desikan's SrI Sookthy dealing with Sva Paksha Sthapanam and Para Mata Kantanam .
Source: Oppiliappan Kovil Sadagopan

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Peter Roebuck - The Vayishal Master

Sometimes, I wonder what Peter Roebuck smokes before he begins to write. He started off as a decent sports writer and had all the requisite equanimity. Reading his columns at some point used to be refreshing. Then he got popular, became sought after and became the Australian voice in Indian cricket media. At some point, surely, he must have noticed that fair criticism is allright in India as long as it is not directed at Indian cricketers. I guess he must've figured out this key aspect of his Indian readership at some point. That they viewed every white man with fair degree of suspicion and regarded the white man as fair and unbiased only as long as he praised Indian cricketers to the sky. Maybe he quickly found out that common sense, calling a spade a spade, and merit based praise/criticism was not favored by Indians. This may be true in Australia too but its moot and what do I know about Australian people anyway? What has baffled me is my recent suspicion that he thinks, he shouldn't write about cricket in cricket articles.
There is no real need to criticize Indian cricketers right now (at least their cricketing skills). This team is better than the current Australian team and are in general doing much better against them. But Roebuck seems to be "umm kottifying" by habit and has stopped writing about cricket. Right now, if I was asked to second guess what Roebuck thinks about Indian readers, I would say the following. He thinks that a majority of Indian cricket readers are idiots, they want cricketers to be compared to Bollywood heroes and written on par with Hindu mythological gods. That they would take flowery language and fake praise anytime over anything grounded in commonsense. What else can explain this complete piece of nonsense?.

Some men prefer to follow a predictable path and their stories tell of a slow rise to the top and an equally measured decline. To that end instinct is subdued, contention avoided and risk reduced. That has been altogether too dull for Ganguly. Throughout he has toyed with his fate, tempting it to turn its back on him so that once again he could surprise the world with a stunning restoration. Something in him rebelled against the mundane and the sensible. He needed his life to be full of disasters and rescues, and comebacks and mistakes and memorable moments. To hell with the prosaic. At heart he is a cavalier, albeit of mischievous persuasion.

Maybe I have read Roebuck too much. Maybe too many cricket articles are coming out today compared to the frequency of cricket articles in the past where weekly sportstar and daily The Hindu was the standard serving. But it is nauseating to hear the same thing being said about cricketers again and again and again. And half of it isn't about cricket. If its Ganguly, there are a few standard things Roebuck says about him- removing shirt in Lords, making Steve Waugh wait for toss, and century in Brisbane. With Kumble its "fighter". With Dravid its "technique". With Laxman its wrists. There is definetly more to the game and these cricketers than these standard cliches. I wonder what Laxman, Dravid and Kumble are thinking when they read Roebuck. Is it too much to expect cricket writers to write about cricket? Can't they write about real stuff? What the hell is this?

He did not give much ground to the modern game, with its fitness and diving and running between wickets and morning training and all that rot. It was brave of him to remain apart, for it left him exposed to ridicule, forced him to justify himself. But Ganguly was not scared of the pressure. Perhaps he needed the extra pressure the way a veteran car needs a crank. And, just in case, he had the populist touch. If Anil Kumble was the colossus, Sachin Tendulkar the champion, Rahul Dravid the craftsman, VVS Laxman the sorcerer, then Ganguly was the inspiration.

[bold emphasis in quoted para is mine] Here, he is explaining someone's inability to dive and field as a "brave" deliberate thing. I hope Gaundamani watches cricket, reads Roebuck and says "Ithellam avanukke theriyaadhu da nayee". Looking at the way his recent articles describe the game and its players, I wonder if he is watching the same game I watch. He seems to be explaining a game in the parallel world where collossuses, craftsman, sitthal, maesthri, kundu oosi vikkaravan, sarayam kaacharavan are playing cricket. I recognize that he is now being paid by Indian media and *has* to jalra. But athukaaga ippadiya. You should read his stuff in Sydney Morning Herald. He doesn't write cricket anymore. Total fantasy fiction stuff.
Reminds me of what my periappa said about every white man he didn't like; Worst fellow ba avan. Kaasu Vaangittaan.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Michael Crichton

One of my favorite authors passed away this week and I am extremely saddened by this. I have read all of Michael Crichton's novels. I got introduced to him at a time when James Hadley Chase books were my definition of a "novel". His precise, tight, technical-type fast paced narration style quickly made me a fan. While on a trip to Ooty many years ago I read my first ever Michael Crichton novel - Andromeda Strain. I enjoyed it so much that I stayed in my hotel room and read the book while my parents went around Ooty. I don't think I have followed any other author's works as much as I followed Crichton's. I couldn't but admire him when he coolly commented that Jurassic Park the movie did not match the standards of his novel.
Although Airframe, Prey, Timeline, State Of Fear and Next weren't up to his high standards they were immensely entertaining and he was taking direct digs at popular thought/opinions (which was the reason he became my favorite author). I will forever be in awe of the small nuances he brings to his narration techniques, his peculiar and effective use of italics, his construction of chapters and the choice of topics.

Crichton, who helped create the TV show "ER" and wrote the best-sellers "Jurassic Park," "The Andromeda Strain," "Sphere" and "Rising Sun," has died in Los Angeles, his public relations firm said in a news release. Crichton died unexpectedly Tuesday "after a courageous and private battle against cancer," the release said. He was 66.

Crichton also invited controversy with some of his scientific views. He was an avowed skeptic of global climate change, giving lectures warning against "consensus science." He later took on global warming and the theories surrounding it in his 2004 novel, "State of Fear," which attracted attacks in its own right from scientists, including NASA climatologist James Hansen. Crichton was a distinctive figure in the entertainment business, a trained physician whose interests included writing, film making and television. (He was physically distinctive as well, standing 6 feet 9 inches.)

He published "The Andromeda Strain" while he was still a medical student at Harvard Medical School. He wrote a story about a 19th-century train robbery, called "The Great Train Robbery," and then directed the 1979 film version. He also directed several other films, including "Westworld" (1973), "Coma" (1978), "Looker" (1981) and "Runaway" (1984).

In 1993, while working on the film version of "Jurassic Park" with Steven Spielberg, he teamed with the director to create "ER." The NBC series set in a Chicago emergency room debuted in 1994 and became a huge hit, making a star of George Clooney. Crichton originally wrote the script for the pilot in 1974.

"Michael's talent out-scaled even his own dinosaurs of 'Jurassic Park,' " said Spielberg, a friend of Crichton's for 40 years, according to The Associated Press. "He was the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the Earth. ... Michael was a gentle soul who reserved his flamboyant side for his novels. There is no one in the wings that will ever take his place."

Crichton was "an extraordinary man. Brilliant, funny, erudite, gracious, exceptionally inquisitive and always thoughtful," "ER" executive producer John Wells told the AP. "No lunch with Michael lasted less than three hours and no subject was too prosaic or obscure to attract his interest. Sexual politics, medical and scientific ethics, anthropology, archaeology, economics, astronomy, astrology, quantum physics, and molecular biology were all regular topics of conversation."

Though most of Crichton's books were major best-sellers involving science, he could ruffle feathers when he took on social issues. "Rising Sun" (1992) came out during a time when Americans feared Japanese ascendance, particularly when it came to technology. Disclosure" (1994) was about a sexual harassment case.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Poornam Viswanathan

One of my favorite film personalities passed away recently. "All India Radio, seythikal vasippathu Poornam Viswanathan" was how he started at 5:30 AM on the morning of August 15th, 1947. He was the first Thamizh AIR radio announcer of free India and "India is a free country" were his next words. However, Poornam's claim to fame stems from the variety of character roles he has played in Thamizh movies. He is one of those majestic characters who made small roles look important. Those roles would have been condemned to anonymity if someone else had played them but people like Poornam Vishwanathan (or my other favorite character actors V.K Ramaswamy and Shanmuga Sundaram) gave richness, aura and life to those characters. Most TV/movie viewers regard Poornam Viswanathan as a household personality. A grandpa type person who seems to have been with us forever. Nobody wonders when he came into our lives. Not many can remember the year he made his movie debut. He has been there in most movies we care to remember and we take that for granted. Even if he did not have black and white movie to his credit (he may - but thats besides the point) we would still regard him with fondness that we reserve for veteran actors.

In his movies, he was mostly the innocent man. Ethical, often victimized, but one who tried his best. There were some notable exceptions to this too. My memory isn't what it used to be so I putting the following out with a higher-than-usual probability of error. Somehow, when I think of Poornam, I am reminded of the set of short-story series he did many years ago for DD. He did about 2-3 different short stories each spanning 2-3 episodes. One was about a middle class man's travails and another was set in the pre-independence era, where Poornam tries to avenge an English Durai. Those stories were really impressive and we got to see Poornam hog the limelight, which was usually never the case. Another forgotten but classic movie comes to mind when I think of Poornam. It has been many years since I saw this movie and I can only vaguely recollect it. How many of you remember the movie where he forges his daughter's caste certificate to indicate that she is a Scheduled Caste woman? Lakshmi plays the daughter who grows up to be an IAS officer (gets in through reservation). Poornam pretends to be her Gumaastha. She gets caught one day and there is a court case etc. It got a national award and was shown as part of Sunday afternoon DD series. If anybody remembers the movie's name please let me know.

Among his popular movies; Anjali (I love the way he says "Mrs Shekhar" and "society"), Mahanadhi, Thillumullu (his dialog "unga appan perusaa onnum sonnadhu kedaiyathu" somehow stays in the mind), and Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu stand out. He was criticised for his role in Moondrampirai. My least favorite role was the one Poornam played in 'Aasai'. He overcooked that role. My most favorite Poornam movie would have to be Varusham 16. As a head of the family who tries to unite two different factions in the family, his was an endearing and touching character. The scene where he deals with his goat getting shot is a magic movie moment. The situation was carefully constructed to touch an emotional nerve and the way Poornam delivered that scene was simply heartwrenching.

In my grad school days 2 sentences gained immortality among all of Poornam's Mahanadhi dialogs. They were "vayasu aayiduthu veggietariyan", and "appo nee brahmanan illaya" [said in Poornam style with the correct amount of give-up-ness or shock]. My grad school roommates repeatedly used the dialog to tease their meat eating/chivas regal amukkifying 'iyer' roomies. The dialog become so popular that we began to say these two sentences for pretty much everything. It did not require an explicit relevence for us to say these sentences. We just said it. People - who were lazy, who kept getting out first ball, who had pot belly, who had no energy or enthu - kept saying "vayaasu ayiduthu, vegetarian" - as some form of an an excuse. People - who watched porn, who made lewd comments on women's anatomy, who didn't understand sanskrit words, who basically did anything (normal or abnormal) were subject to "appo nee brahmanan illaya comment". At one point N.Indians grad students were saying this to other N.Indians without knowing the meaning of this sentence.

Poornam played a sad and serious character in Mahanadhi, which itself was a very serious movie. The fact that his dialogs in that movie are now being used in jokes and mimickry situations is a peculiar legacy that Poornam leaves behind. His stammer "athu..athu.athu vandhu vandhu" was his trademark filler before he began a sentence and this has become legendary. He is probably the most mimicked among all non-hero non-comedian non-villian characters. It probably speaks volumes about his unique intonation and voice. One can imagine how these characteristics were his assets during his radio career. But it is surprising to note that he translated that uniqueness to his movie stint too. In my mind, he joins small-role legends such as V.K Ramaswamy, Shanumuga Sundaram, and Major Sunderrajan. People who stood out in small character roles not just for their performance but also for the uniqueness they brought to the role. They delivered dialogs in their own idiosyncratic ways and while doing that they oddly enough reminded us of sombody we knew. That's why they are memorable. Poornam Viswanathan, his voice and his trademark stammer will live for a long time in our minds.