Monday, June 30, 2008

Adhirsam

When we talk about the Food empire and the associated Sweets Kingdom, Adhirsam should find a place as the chief of a council of sweet ministers. Ladies and germs, this is a fantastic sweet. Very underrated. For the uninitiated, it looks like a large Cutlet or Patty you find inside a Burger or a Sub but tastes very sweet. Every time I see an Adhirsam, I can't help but think how it could easily be part of a self-praise Rajinikanth song. You know, the one that goes 'dark and rough on the outside but sweet on the inside'. We could even have Rajini morph into a Jaggery syrup to drive home the point. Adhirsam has show biz potential. Sometimes, Adhirsam has been stereotyped into a Devasa saapadu (food made during death anniversaries) and has unfortunately been served along with the devasam team of sweets such as SuiyyaN (another Jaggery based sweet) and Ellu Urundai (er...Won't explain. Couldn't, even if I wanted to). However, Adhirsam isn't always a devasam sweet. People still make it as part of the Deepavali menu and during some other functions. Update: I forgot to mention that adhirsams are forcibly thrust on the groom during marriages. At least in my marriage during the segment where I have to eat my last-bachelor-meal with another bachelor, they shoved a gargantuan adhirsam down my throat. The one with more dough than Jaggery. It was so massive that I thought three people lifted it and got the act of shoving photographed too.

Adhirsam can't be made by anybody. Its not a 'i feel like eating it today evening so let me quickly do it' type of sweet. Its a hard sweet to make and people almost always ruin it. The key aspect of making an adhirsam is getting the softness of the paagu correct. The Jaggery paste that you make and mix with dough is critical. If it becomes too soft, it won't fry well in oil and will probably break in pieces. You make it hard and you have people, in the dining table, literally tearing out the Adhirsam with a cutting-plier. Some adhirsams even give a 'katak mutak' sound because their edges have been fried like an appalam. I hate those. You have to get the softness right. The reason why grandmothers consistently hit that optimum point the way Glen Mcgrath bowls on the C of U is because of experience. Years of Maamas throwing back stone hard adhirsams on maamis has led to this development of laser sharp perfection.

Parthasarathy Temple, Thiruvallikeni makes the best Adhirsams in the world. I say this with considerable Adhirsam eating authority. In all my years of eating adhirsams in a variety of devasams, deepavalis and what-nots, the ones from Mr.Parthasarathy's stable ranks first. Some people have severe problems with temple food. In a discussion about Adhirsam, I always have to mention my father and his hatred towards temple food. He generally has terrible problems with eating food outside. Several times he has even asked Saravana Bhavan waiters to wash their hands. Temple food, to him is an anathema. Just seeing it makes him go cranky. Stories have been doing the rounds in my family as to how he emptied a bucket full of temple prasadam (kesari) into the street garbage tin (The reality is that in those days the garbage tin was a cylindrical pipe made of stone with holes on both sides). The stories became very interesting when people described how his father-in-law gurgled in fits upon seeing the prasadham empty out into garbage.

'Viragu aduppu' (old fashion stove which used wood as fuel) was the reason temple prasadham generally sucked. They wouldn't close the lid of the vessel while cooking and smell of burning wood would invariably find its way into the Kesari. Hygene was the second, and most times, an inevitable casuality. Visits to Parthasarathy temple would invariably lead to arguments within my family. My dad rarely visited temples and he'd agree to come to Triplicane only because Partha's sarathy welcomed his guests in an A/c room. I secretly thought he argued with me in the hope that it would force my mom to stop bringing him along to temples. While we were doing our second pradakshnam around the complex, my dad would try innovative ways to prevent me from buying temple food. Sometimes he'd try the "I am the ultimate authority" trick and preempt me. "No Adhirsam today. Lets not even get into that argument again. Lets just walk straight back outside" he'd say and walk quickly towards the exit half-knowing that I might not follow him. Of course I wouldn't hear of it. The Adhirsams would already be dancing before my eyes seductively. I would then bring up the point that temple food was at least cleaner than the 'Kai yendhi' Bhavans. We'd typically be arguing loudly by the time we were in front of the food counter. Adhirsam was Rs 5, which most times made my father's eyes pop out. He would then get into a vitriolic argument with the Adirsam mama about the astronomical prices. Not to mention the cleanliness and other 'ness' the mama behind the counter had never heard of. Sometimes, I'd wait for my father's standard punch dialogs; "kai kaal ellam soap pottu nalla thekkanum saar" (wash you hand/legs with soap). Poor bharjara mama would be non-plussed at the sudden change of fate Mr. Parthasarathy inflicted on him.

In my opinion Parthsarathy temple's kitchen (madapalli) wasn't a model of cleanliness but the conditions there were acceptable. They were better than many other temples and they did the best with what they could afford. Let us just say, I had to earn every millimeter of that adhirsam, I finally got to buy. If people decided to give Six Sigma awards for perfection in Adhirsam, Parthasarathy temple would win it. Easily. As my cousin would say "chaaance'a illai". Their Puliyodharais could be easily faulted. But not Adhirsams. Not even 1 among a million of them would be .0001 standard deviations away from the optimal taste. They'd made rich Adhirsams with liberal application of ghee. Typically the exterior of most adhirsams are at least slightly hard. Here, you'd find them to be cotton candy soft. They would just melt in your mouth. Ah! ambrosia. It is really food for the gods. Every time people made adhirsams and give it to me, I can't help but think of these rock star Thiruvallikeni Adhirsams. These weren't like the normal sized ones made at home. They were XXXL sized and looked like a small dosai. The consistency with which that mama makes the adhirsam is so amazing. When S. Bhavan was bulding up in the early 90s people wondered at the consistency level of their sambhar, coffee and idli. Thiruvallikeni will probably go unsung in annals of food consistency but it will forever get a special mention in my heart.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

1

Sometimes people have to make tough decisions. Generals make tough calls while entrenched in the heat of warfare. CEOs make decisions that impact billions and billions of dollars. Politicians make decisions that can change the course of a civilization. There are decisions and then there are decisions. The greater ones reside in another stratosphere altogether. These decisions are so tough that even good Generals, CEOs and Presidents struggle with it on a daily basis. As one sleeps soundly after a hard day's work, one becomes involved in deep-slumber dreams. These aren't dreams where you are busy turning up to school naked. The one where everybody else is in uniform but you realize you are naked and you seem to wanna do something about it, but do nothing about it. You aren't in dreams where you have to rewrite university exams, 12th standard exams over and over again in arbitrary locations. You aren't chased by snakes, cars and more snakes. You are in a pleasant dream that you certainly will not remember the next morning. You are happy and there are a lot of people around you. Everybody is happy. When all this is happening you hear a faint murmur. It is as if some people in your dream are whispering to themselves in hushed tones. Whispering about you. The murmur then slowly becomes audible and then suddenly it turns into an instinct. The body suddenly feels cold and then it hits you.

You gotta go.

Well, if you gotta go you gotta go - yes? No. Its not as easy as it sounds. You are not fully out of your dream yet. At this moment, if you want you can pick back those multiple threads in your dream and slumber on. Getting up and going is probably the toughest tasks in the history of mankind. Its tougher than refusing a Masala Dosai on-the-house in Saravana Bhavan (well not really that tough - but you get the point). Sleep. Ah! the amnesia of the common man. Takes us away from the worries and boredom of our world. The happy place that we all can go to for a quarter of our living day. Sleeping and dreaming is the ultimate male dream. Its the only time when society demands that you do nothing but sleep. Which mad man would get up and go? It is cruel. But then this call is unlike no other call. Among the few things that can conquer sleep, the call of 1'kku is the most potent. That is why at 2 AM in the morning you have to make the toughest decision you will ever make during that day. The decision on whether -

to go or not to go

The first time you can ignore it and go back to La La land. The first time is easy. You can easily return to that fantastic dream thread that you momentarily suspended to process an interrupt. But the joy is short lived. The fantasy world that you waft into slowly gets cold and freezes. Now you don't hear a murmur. Its almost as if someone is upset that their parcel order for Barota in Saravana Bhavan came with Sambhar instead of Kurma. They come back home pour the contents of the small plastic bag on the Barota and find to their horror that it was sambhar. Suddenly you have disgruntled customers in your dream. You hear voices in your sleep shouting at you in an irritated tone. You cannot ignore it anymore. The inner 'temper' rises and you dream of water hitting the walls of a dam with furious rage wanting to be let out. You dream of an inverted Saravana Water Can from which water is flowing down into the base container. It is almost as if there is a separate life inside you that is screaming to be let go. You dream that you are Sigourney Weaver in that Aliens movie where that Alien tears her stomach and escapes outside. Now you have no choice. You gotta go. Sleep has been conquered.

Walking towards the bathroom in the dark is a challenge in itself. Everything is dark and it seems that the entire house has gone to sleep. Have you wondered how different your house looks at 2 AM? The exaggerated silence makes your house look like somebody else's house. A fairytale house where strange creatures live in silence. Once you sense that you are nearing the bathroom door you stop and wave your hand forward to feel the door. There is no door. You are just waving your hand and hitting the wall, instead. In the days when one was newly married, the wife would hear the noise get up and ask "are you all right?". Now of course when one makes such noise the wife turns, buries herself under the comforter and says something that you hope you misheard as "quiet" or "shut up". Well, one is never sure so one walks forward. You know you hit the bathroom when your head bumps on the door. Meanwhile, in downtown the alien inside you is screaming in high pitch.

Switching on the bathroom light is a trick in itself. You try and do some guess work on the location of the switch and sort of make a motion of pushing up the switch. Only to realize that you just scratched the wall. You have switched it on so many times during the day and it looks ridiculous that the switch wouldn't be where you think it should be. If someone was filming all this, it would be a hilarious video of a blind man standing in a room and scratching the wall. Although the thought of you looking like a fool crosses your mind, you still stand there feeling up the wall and moving the hands up. Because you can't afford to go in the dark. Although the bowl is a bigger target than a switch, aiming should never be taken for granted. Even an amateur shooter would tell you that aiming with a .42 Thomson pistol is easy but the larger the gun, the harder it is to aim. Mr. Johnson is kinda queer at 2AM, you know. Undependable. He rises before the sun. You don't want to be aiming at the bowl and hear the sound of liquid falling on a plastic bag. A few more desperate scratches on the wall and your elbow hits the switch, your instincts hang to that spot for dear life and you finally find the switch. Suddenly the room lights up. After the tank is empty and you come back into the comforter, you try and remember the point in your dream where you left off. Arrogantly assuming that the dream is like a parked Lambretta scooter that one can simply pick up and continue driving. One can never remember. Its amazing how all that dream information is shift-deleted. Its common man's amnesia for a good reason. You not only forget stuff you knew before you went into amnesia but also stuff that happened during it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Movie Review: Sex & The City: So this is how Women Porn looks like!

Several (several) years ago, when one walked into small-ass theaters that screened "adult" movies such as Sirocco, Aval, and 'The swan in Love' (OzDude - ahem! Ahem!) - one would never find women in the theater. Probably women found the movies or the people watching these movies objectionable. Sex and the City, I suppose, is the equivalent of 'matter padam' for women. It drones on and on about feelings and emotions. There were also some 'bit' scenes about some designer handbags, designer bridal dress, which evoked howls and serious squeals of applause from the women crowd. Men subject to a screening of this movie would become eligible to apply for POW privileges. Permanent turn-off.

I badly wanted to watch Iron Man. Everybody I knew had seen that movie. So I bartered to give company for this movie for a return favor to see Iron Man. That was how, I found myseelf being dragged in to a screening of Sex and the City. While walking into the movie hall - I was more scared than I was in those good old 'Raja theater' days. I was hoping nobody would see me. I also counted the number of men in the hall. There were 6 men including me. The movie hall was one scary place. With a movie hall full of women - 'silence please and switch off mobile phones' don't mean anything. Zero impact. Most of the women kept talking on the cell phone or talking to each other discussing the dress those 4 on-screen women were wearing.

This movie was as realistic to me as 'Independence Day' or Star Wars. It is so far out there from my world. All the talk about 'feelings' got me wondering if New York was Battle Star Galactica and these 4 women were invaders from Alpha Centauri. If women don't get why men watch porn then I should say - men don't get why women watch its "artistic" counterpart. Jillu is correct when she says, one must've watched the TV Series to get this movie. I have that great qualification. For the past 2-3 years I have suffered this TV series like no other man. Runs, re-runs, day-long HBO marathons has been played in my living room and sometimes I had no choice but to watch it. I know the basic plot. Before the movie started, I was filled in by my resident expert on what had happened so far. I was so up-to-date that I felt I knew better than Sarah Jessica parker, when she did a title sequence voice-over to bring the other 5 men in the movie hall up to date. "oh! she left out all those superb details" was what all the 300 odd women fans in the theater said when Sarah was done. To enjoy this movie, one must get into the mood and vibe of the TV series. Which means you need to be extremely patient and not scowl when a discussion about relationship takes 10 minutes and is quickly followed by another discussion on 'empowered women', and another 10 minutes on 'honesty and women' and another one on 'happiness and women'.

This movies starts off from where the TV series ended. Carrie Bradshaw, the author of the column 'sex and the city' and its associated boring novels, decides to move in with Mr.Big and that leads to marriage. The whole movie revolves around this plot, Carrie's Page 4 features, her dreams of a perfect marriage, he dress choices, her gay wedding planner, Big's last-minute nervousness and the triumph of true love over lavish weddings. If you aren't screaming in excitement at this point then wait. There is more. Charlotte, my favorite of the 4 girls (because and only because she is hot) is pregnant finally. So the movie tracks her fear to eat food in Mexico, he fear of running while pregnant, her sense of contentment. She even poops in her dress. I guess you get it by now. Samantha, on the other hand, is with her Hollywood boyfriend in LA. She feels less empowered and does not want to be a second fiddle to her actor boyfriend, who places 'feelings' above sex. She wants to be in control of her life even at 50. I think this is a pitch on liberated women. So understandably, she is extremely turned on by her neighbor who does it with different women everyday. Miranda is very busy with work and hasn't had sex with her husband for over 6 months. So much so that she has let hair (gasp! horror!) grow on her legs like a "national forest". Her husband in a moment of weakness sleeps with some one else. So her story revolves around how he still loves her and if all his 'apologizing is enough to erase mistakes'.

There you go. This is Sex and City - the movie. The countless women in the theater were howling and clapping for many scenes. Scenes that were as interesting as watching the cow dung dry on my Mambalam milkman's wall. In case the boredom prevented one from getting it - this is a movie that tries to bring out some sort of irony by showing the wants of one woman, which the other women have but don't want. The only scene I liked was when Mr. Big doesn't show-up for the wedding. As for the movie, it is was a punishment. Well worth it because I liked Iron Man.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Amplification

It is incredible that people who do not know anything about Chaos Theory or Butterfly Effect send so many forward emails explaining what a chaotic system is. As if they suddenly discovered a new toy, pretend they understand it and want to show it off to everybody. I agree that Dasavatharam and chaos have a connection. It is a very chaotic movie.
One should see Sliding Doors and Run Lola Run on how small changes amplify over time. They would be my best examples of movies based on this concept. Instead one sends emails like "the table caused Kamal to move to the left side, the auto caused Kamal to take a right turn and so everything is chaos theory". That is not the only forwarded email floating around. See this comment section for every forwarded mail regarding Dasavatharam. I understand that the average Damilan needn't know anything about real Dasavatharam and its stories. So I get the fact they are suddenly over excited that there are 10 avatharams and send nonsense mails on their connection to this movie. That mail would have been more logical if it had connected Appa Rao to Duryodhanan. One wonders why they didn't consider SaiBaba (not the 1950s guy, I mean the one with Afro style haircut) to be an avatharam. He does. I bet he is very offended with these forwarded emails. However, I am surprised that educated folks who know to send/receive emails believe so much in that 'What is a chaotic system' forwarded mails that they send it out with staunch belief. Kamalagasan must be laughing his ass off.
No wonder Kamal thought that showing a butterfly on screen is enough to cause a hurricane in people's minds.
P.S: ok. This is my last post on Dasavatharam

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Girl I saw in Gym

She walked in wearing some sort of a formal dress and a sweater on top. She wore office shoes. Got on the Treadmill. Speed 2.0. Incline 0%. She was on it for around 15 minutes. Out of which she spent 2 minutes on the cell phone. Then she left.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ashes

There was a time when people were funny. Not any more. Standing in line to get my Dasavatharam ticket, I saw (no heard) the usual stereotypical people who hang around theaters and talk loudly for the benefit of others. Its hard to assign the psychological basis for trying to impress people in public places. Impressing people whom you don't know and you will never see, seems futile. Blogs and TFMpage forums exist. So they can, I suppose. Ability to talk thamizh and be understood in a public place in US gives some people the kicks and they cash in on it during events and cinema theaters. So there was this gang of 7 boys and 1 girl. 4 of those boys were loud and boorish. They were doing the formulaic thing of talking loudly to the girl, ottifying her to impress other unknown people standing by. They were also trying to impress her and did the usual vaazhishal things to her. They belonged to a large gang of 20-30 people. Almost all of them decided to pass loud comments during the movie. While it is true that I didnt pay $15 to listen to these idiots, the least they could have done is be funny. Unsurprisingly, all those people cracked poor jokes and were consistently annoying. The concept of 'Ottifying' is dead. 'Vaazhishaal' reigns supreme

As luck would have it they sat right next to me, behind me and in front of me.

Last summer, I watched a fungus called Sivaji thrice and the 2nd viewing proved to be better. Dasa is bad but not Sivaji-bad. Being a Kamal fan and all that - I wanted to see Dasa another time given the radically re-adjusted expectations. For the second viewing we booked a 9:30 PM show to specifically avoid desi parents who bring noisy kids to the cinema hall. That didn't work. I found that I was stuck between gangs of boys who thought their stupid comments were actually humorous and desi parents whose kids wouldn't shut up. Maybe those parents hoped that the kids would eventually sleep. But they didn't. A kid kept asking loud questions to her dad every time the audience laughed. Her dad wouldn't shut her up. I felt like slapping the kid like the way Srividhya did in Punnagai Mannan. As for the comedy guys. These were 'achu-bichu ambichu' guys who would be spit on if they ventured to make a loud comment in PerInbaVilas theater, Nellai. In sleepy town America they assumed that they were some big pistha or dada.

Unfortunately, theater jokes have had a sudden demise. I have made similar posts like this before and probably will do so again. People and their comments aren't funny anymore. I vaguely remember movie-watching experiences where people used to be 'witty'. They passed comments that were genuinely insulting and hilarious. I remember enjoying listening to the comments of the theater crowd in many places from Palaymkottai to Thanjavur. Nowadays, people aren't original and mostly people mimic the same movie dialogs with the same accent. Suddenly the yuppie crowd has discovered the coolness of watching a movie first-day-first-show and we have terribly unfunny people trying to be a hero in theaters. Its as if the Goundamanis, Thangavelus and Viveks of the world have been buried dead and we are now left to deal with Y.G. Mahendrans, Charlies, Kaathadi Ramamoorthi, Surali Rajans and Karunas of the world.

A better idea would be to burn the DVD of MMKR and put an obituary for humor in 'The Hindu'.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dasavatharam Review : Reject (Updated)

Dasavatharam does not resemble the 10 avatharams that God took to fight the evil man. It more or less resembles Hiranyakashabu, who sought that he be killed neither by man nor beast nor in sunlight nor in the dark -or Ravanan who was arrogant enough to seek that he be killed by no asura, no god, no devas - or Kamsan. Dasavatharam gives a feeling that some idiotic man thought he had it all figured out. That he had covered all the loopholes. There were the hyped-up 10 roles, Asin, Mallika, Aascar Ravichandran, his marketing, huge music launch extravaganza. He probably thought all that would ensure that the movie would be successful. The irony of all ironies that Kamal Haasan would never forget is that very much like the stories of the 10 avatharams, God as usual struck from unexpected sources. In this case it was in the form of Story, Screenplay and Dialog. The 3 aspects of the movie that was personally manned by Kamal Haasan killed the movie. It is hard to pinpoint which of the three is worse. They do get reasonable competition from poor stunts, poor direction, cheap CGI and some unimaginative acting. But the three stand as the top reasons why this is such a bad movie.

When the movie was advertised as the first movie where an actor essayed 10 roles, I wondered - no I hoped that - this gimmick wasn't the movie's only selling point. Why would one mention it so much? Ajith in Citizen did that mistake. An actor playing 10 roles is not why I would go and watch any movie. That's a bad reason to go watch a movie. The story that necessitates the 10 roles and one that binds those characters together in a single cogent screenplay would make the movie worth watching. Thats what I was expecting out of Dasavatharam. The connection, the essence that makes it all look sensible. MMKR was a movie magic because everything, the roles, the dialog and the story flow just made sense. In Dasavatharam nothing makes sense. When the movie started with "first time in the world where an actor is playing 10 roles" - I was taken aback at the cheap gimmick. Who in the world cares? Whats that claim going to fetch? The story does not require that there be 10 characters. Most of them cannot effectively influence the path of the vial. So - their infuence is contrived. In fact most of characters are plain idiotic. Bush does not influence it and Ranagaraja Nambi does not influence anything. I was predicting that Bush would influence the vial by not informing Indian Govt in advance about the impending Tsunami. Because in that context the tsunami was more beneficial than destructive. But the movie was so vague in this aspect that I lost interest.

Humor is probably the biggest casualty in this movie. the dialogs were boring, stupid and my god were they unfunny. Kamal haasan has given 'asattu' jokes new meaning. There were a few good to lame jokes that Balaram Naidu (spanned the spectrum from "Rao'oda Rao" - to - "speak 5 languages in telegu") cracked for the front benchers but pretty much every single dialog was a mess. If this is the best humor that Kamal Haasan can come up with then he should let Crazy Mohan or someone do the dialogs. There is no need to talk about the songs. They were all bad. Every single one of them. Himesh Reshamaiyya or whoever it is could have farted and that would have been better music. Because multiple Kamal Haasans fight each other, CGI is important. And since most of the movie is filled with such stunt sequences one would hope they better be good. They are not. There are strange close-ups, jarring slow-motions, and odd fast-forwards that look weird. The continuity is completely gone. And it is impossible to achieve some sort of acceptable continuity or fluency in the stunts given the constraints Kamal has set for himself. The least he could have done is try and lift a Perumal Kovil Utsavar and test if it can be lifted so lightly and thrown around like a barbie doll. With Kamal Haasan flying around and jumping buildings and cars like the way Rajinikanth used to do in the 80s - means that the stunt department gets zero marks. The Tsunami scene is over hyped. It looks ordinary. So lets not get into that. Among actors - Asin is plain irritating. I am pretty sure most of the viewers would have been happy if the Asin character had been shot dead midway.

The story is rather simple. I don't suppose anyone can spoil it. A biological weapon is on the loose and the scientist who invented it tries to protect it from being used by a terrorist organization. Christian Fletcher, an ex-CIA agent who represents the terrorist organization is the best of the 10 roles. While his accent is stylish and impeccable, he looks funny. I mean the make-up. Its pretty bad. But in this movie you have to take what you get. The problem with Kamal Haasan playing white male characters like Bush and this ex-CIA guy is that they don't look like real people. Remember the movie 'Mask'. In the last scene the villain puts on the Mask and takes a grotesque form. Kamal Haasan has a similar unshapely (and oddly large) face while essaying both these roles. Most times when Fletcher fell down or got beaten up, I wondered if the make-up would come off. Krishnaveni Patti and Balaram Naidu get joint second place. The Japanese guy was superfluous. The Dalit guy is ornamental. That Kalif Ullah character, especially his slow voice, was plain irritating apart from being unneccessary (he does not influence the path of the vial). Since I travelled the Chidamabaram -> Madras route extensively last summer, the route that the characters take was jarring. After a point I couldn't relate whether Avtar's sing's concert (the hospital etc) was in Pondi or Madras. The movie was in too much of a hurry to make it clear. If that is the case then it shouldn't have taken a partial dig at details. Kamal Haasan continues to get tangled in the language boundaries. He did a similar mistake in Hey Ram. He has Japanese girl , Kalif Ulla (who is not a native speaker), and even Bush speaking Thamizh. This actually reduces the movie into a mockery. The caste-based caricatures and the stereotypes that he makes is actually very immature. Several times I thought "che nee ivalavudhaana".

Screenplay is the third leg that breaks. The screenplay just wanders and drags for most part. The first Rangaraja Nambi part was a separate episode in the screenplay. Not exceptionally well connected to the main story in my opinion. After that disconnected bit, the story attempts to flow in a single thread the way MMKR flowed and the way Mumbai Express tried to flow. The problem is that the Nambi episode is very serious and high adrenalin stuff. That sets the tone of the movie. Balaram Naidu and a huge part of the movie is in a comical tone. The inconsistent tone is confusing for the viewer. Kamal Haasan tries to connect them using chaos theory. MMKR did that better. This movie has its moments, but there were quite a few 10 minute segments that just dragged. Dragged on and on and on. It was bloody boring. After a point one began to wonder what the hell was going one. There were so many scenes that were just unnecessarily there. And they had horrible dialogs. He could have edited out 1 hour from this movie and still made it look as good. In summary, Kamal Haasan fell for his own hype. His giant ego blinded him and probably made him believe that the 10-role novelty and his immature arguments about god and science would carry the movie. He ends the movie showing-off the hard work he put into this movie with a self-praise song. That won't help either. If you are throwing out nonsense, your name better be Rajinikanth. Otherwise it won't work. If he spoken to Rajinikanth and asked him what went wrong with Baba, Rajini would have told him that a movie would crack open and fail the moment you start pushing your personal agenda, belief and arguments. They start intruding into every aspect of the movie. Dasavatharam fails because Kamal Haasan bit more than anyone could ever chew. It is an egomaniac's fart. Don't go anywhere near it. It stinks.
Trivia Update:
1. Asin plays 2 roles Kothai & later Andal ( both are names of the 12th azhwar called Andal who is Periya Azhwar's daughter). The real Andal is an Azhwar who is perennialy religious and madly in love with Lord. Govinda. She dreams of marrying god and writes potery to that effect. Here the name of the 'perumal' and Scientist Kamal is 'Govind' and Asin loves both of them.
2. Connections to Vishnu Purana's Dasavatharam Trivia: Boovarahan (Obvious: The Boar - Varaha Avatharam; his issue in the movie is digging the earth and sand), Balarama naidu (obvious), Govind/Krishnaveni-Patti can both be Krishna Avatharam - but lets assign avar Krishnaveni Patti as the Krishna avatharam (since Krishna is also a common name for a woman) and since Govind is Govind Ramaswamy and has a monkey called Hanu - he should be Rama avatharam. Kalif Ullah was the opposite of Vamana Avatharam (Tall vs Short). The Japanese Kamal had a name similar to Nrihasimha Avatharam (Narasomo or something). Since Ranagaraja Nambi drowned can we say there is a loose connection to Matsya (an avatharam where a fish warns the King of impending flood) or can we say he was Koorma avatharam because he lay in the bottom and churned the sea to create a tsunami? The word Fletcher means 'arrows' or the 'maker of arrows'. Though Parasurama wielded an axe, I'll generously call Christian Fletcher a modern Parasurama because he is angry and kills everyone in sight :-). Kalki has no/slender connections to Bush and Avtar Singh unless someone enlightens me (The best I can think of is Singh = singham and so Nrihasimha).
3. In this movie - Ramaswamy Naicker's son Govind loves a girl called Andal - I thought this was a poor joke. Kamal even explained it twice just in case no one got it.
4. Purusha Sooktham can be heard in the background when Krishnaveni Patti throws the vial into Utsavar.
5. Govindaraja Perumal is the name of the moolavar that Kulothunga throws into the see.Scientist Kamal is called Govind.
6. Rangaraja Nambi's first dialog is amusing - he jumps wierdly in the air and says "Adiyen Ramanuja Dasan'. The sub-plot here is that; Nambi assumes that the Chozhan (a childhood friend) is demanding that Nambi should reveal the whereabouts of Ramanuja. Kulothunga II even calls Nambi's attention to the fate of Kurattalvan (who was blinded with a hot iron rod because did not reveal such information when asked). Napolean as the Chozhan speaks Chen-thamizh like Vadivelu - kolai pannifying 'la' and 'zha'. Asin's chen-thamizh is ridiculous.
7. Following 5 & 6 above ; The name of the person who has put the case against Dasavatharam in Supereme court is 'Govinda Ramanuja Dasan'. Irony.
8. Sattrumurai's "Pallandu" verse was briefly recited (using the wrong metre) in the song 'Kallai Mattum Kandaal'.

LSE VIII

I pity Seattle people who have booked tickets for today's Dasavatharam 8PM show. I am gonna be there.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Arangetram

(I recently finished reading AVM Saravanan's Autobiography. Fascinating book. Here is an "interesting" excerpt from this very good book. Read it and you'll know why I say this particular excerpt is interesting. All copyrights/credit rests with AVM Saravanan. The book was written in Thamizh and I translated this small segment into English.)

"Why not produce our own movie?" we thought aloud. My brothers agreed. While I had been helping my father for years with several aspects of movie production, I hadn't produced my own movie end-to-end. We then approached my mother and communicated our wishes to her. She was happy to hear this. However, Appachi had to approve this. Mother, on our behalf, sought appachi's permission. "Why not? Let them do it" he said and we were overjoyed. 'Maanam Periyathu' was the first story we discussed. But it did not shape up well. We didn't want to do a half-baked story as our first movie. So I continued searching. Vellaisaami, our ex-employee and faithful friend, informed me that Jaavar Seetharaman had been discussing a story with appachi. We inquired further and understood that Jaavar had been discussing a story called 'pattuvum kittuvum' with father. However, appachi had told him that while the story was good, AVM could not do that movie. When we learned that Jaavar was in discussions with another studio, we ran to appachi and told him that we were interested in Jaavar's story. We were in for a lucky break. He informed us that Jaavar was visiting him that afternoon. That afternoon - the moment Jaavar found out we were interested, he gladly gave the story to us. The story 'Pattuvum Kittuvum' was made into the movie ......

"Why Prakash Rao?" they asked. I was impressed with the work Prakash Rao had done in 'Amara Deepam' and 'Utthama Puthiran'. But Prakash Rao was an outsider. AVM had its own team of directors. I was asked why we should look outside and call Prakash Rao. We paid our directors Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000. But Prakash Rao asked for Rs 40,000. We discussed this with appachi. He didn't want to stand in the way of my enthusiasm and approved. At that time 'Daisy Rani' was a child artist who had impressed everyone with her role in 'Yaar Paiyan'. We thought of casting her for the movie ....

One day, when all this was hapening, Dr. Sara Ramachandran visited my house. She had brought along a small kid with her. He was probably three and a half or four years old. Dr. Sara visited my mother frequently and we had not seen this kid with her before. While she was talking to my mother, this small boy was sitting outside with his hands tied around his knees. He had a grumpy, sad face. When my mother came out, she asked Dr. Sara, "Why is this boy so sad?" Dr. Sara looked at the boy and said, "oh! I just brought him along. I sort of know this boy. Once he knew I was coming here, he just joined me. He said he really wanted to see AVM Chettiyar. He just accompanied me. I had no choice." Dr. Sara then informed us regarding the boy's sad face, "he is angry because we have been here for some time and I have not properly introduced him."

"He would like to act," she said as a matter of fact.

Then the small boy sang a few songs. It was afternoon then. Appachi had a habit of having a small post-lunch siesta. He rang the bell when he woke up. This was the signal for the domestic help to serve coffee for appachi. This was his routine. The bell rang at that moment. 'Show him to your appachi' said mother. I took him along. Appachi had the habit of switching on the bed side table lamp during the day. He also had a strange habit of turning the lamp upwards towards the ceiling. The light focused on a spot in the ceiling and gave a pleasant glow to the room. When he saw the boy with me, he asked "who is this boy?" I introduced this boy to Appachi - "Appachi, this boy wants to act. A short while ago, when we were downstairs, he sang the Hindi song 'chalti ka naam gaadi' and some other hindi songs". Appachi looked at the boy and asked him "can you act like Daisy Rani?". The boy nodded and said "I can". As the boy began to act, appachi turned the glare of the table lamp on his face.

Kamal Hassan was in the spotlight for the first time in his life.

"Show this boy to the director and Gemini Ganesan," said appachi. I coldn't help but ask, "for what role?". Appachi replied, "the role that you have booked Daisy Rani for". I protested, "Daisy Rani is popular. She has earned some fame after acting in 'yaar paiyan'. She is also acting in Hindi movies. We have already booked her for Kalathur Kannama and paid Rs 10,000 advance..." My protest was in vain. Appachi had already decided, "I think this boy would do better than her. He is fresh and bright. I think it would serve us better if we cast him".

Director Prakash Rao, Gemini Ganesan and Savithri liked Kamal Hasan at first sight. The Make-up test was done and okay'ed soon. I escorted Kamal Hassan to the shooting spot. The song was 'kangalil vaarthaigal puriyatho'. This was first cinema shooting that Kamal Hassan saw. We had already shot the song sequence.We were reshooting some parts of the song. The first time we shot the song sequence, we had mango trees in the background. Then, we were in the middle of the mango season. So we had shot most of the footage with real mangos in the background. When we realized that we had to reshoot parts of the song, the mango season was long over. So we had fake paper mangoes hanging from the trees. Kamal Hassan was a kid and did not understand that the mangoes were duplicate ones. He asked Gemini Ganesan "I want that mango". Gemini played a prank and gave Kamal Hassan a fake mago. Kamal bit the mango, spat out saying "aiyai...yai ...dupe maangai" and threw it away. We then proceeded to shoot a scene that was supposed to take place in a house. This was the first time Kamal was seeing a set of a house and cried "aiyai...yai ...dupe house". I liked the innocence. And then things became interesting. Kamal Hassan's first shot in front of the camera was a scene where Savithri feeds him 'upma'. Kamal held on to the upma in his mouth until the shot was done. He had not swallowed it. After the shot, he ran out and spat the upma and said 'ayaiyai... dupe upma'. He refused to believe that the upma was real. Only after assistant director S.P Muthuraman ate the upma, did he believe it.

Kamal Hassan was a naughty kid. Sometimes in the middle of the shoot, he would disappear. We would find him in the A/C room with appachi. Sometimes he would climb the guava trees and not come down. We still have not cut down the Guava tree. We have retained it in memory of Kamal Hassan's childhood.

The viswaroopam that Kamal Hassan has taken today has both stunned and pleased me.

--- As written by AVM Saravanam in his autobiography '60 Years of AVM Cinema'

Friday, June 06, 2008

The 80-20 Rule Vs Education

Disclaimer: The argument I am trying to put forth is slender and has millions of counter-arguments indicating otherwise. Tons of data against it. It is one of those topics where it is hard to be decisive and logical about. I wanted a particular slice of an argument to come out. For that I needed to make an unpopular assumption. So I did. If it has not come out well in all the noise and clutter of this post then treat this post as some twisted form of entertainment.

'Neeya Naana' (You Vs Me)is a debate show in Vijay TV that occasionally very good. In all my years of watching TV - I have never seen this particular beaten-to-death topic being debated in such a brutal style. A few weeks ago there was an episode where the topic - 'does formal/school/college education help one become successful?' was brought to debate and I still can't stop thinking about it. One team was filled with "uneducated" people (as in 8th std pass) in veshtis and the other team was 'echukated' parties (as in M.Phil/ PhD / MBA ) in pant/shirt. The debate population distribution was biased, deliberately I may add. All the uneducated people were entrepreneurs, filthy rich and unbelievably successful. All the people in the 'educated' team were, to put it simply, losers.

While Gopinath, the moderator, did not say it aloud, the debate assumed that we educate ourselves to make money. Let us go with the assumption. It is a fair assumption. We never asked the question 'why get educated at all?'. We probably should but rarely do. The important thing is - We don't know why the people who funded our education did so in the first place. Every time a child asked this question, its parents yelled, "otherwise who will give you a job? What will you do for food?". So I'll take a guess - For middle/lower-middle and poor class people, most definitions of 'success' (one that is both caused by education and stated by people as #1 purpose for investing in education) that hovers around the mean and 99% of the bell curve - Money is the 'necessary' condition for success. People who don't have money for next N-generations invest in *formal* education because of its ROI. Everything else - satisfaction, happiness, contentment, pursuit of religion and bla-bla satisfies the 'sufficient' condition and is a by-product of having some money in the kitty. Importantly, these things don't operate in a world that is mutually exclusive to pursuit of money. You can have both money and happiness etc. The rest of the post holds this assumption to be true.

In the debate that spanned 3 episodes - The simple question that the uneducated team repeatedly asked and a question for which the educated folks consistently gave poor responses was - 'what the hell did you accomplish by studying? What have you earned?'. The educated folks kept saying crap like 'I am loyal to my employer' or completely nonsense like 'I do service to society by teaching' etc to defend themselves. Because in this crowd none of the educated people were really rich. On one hand there were uneducated Vanniyars from north (not south) Thamizh Nadu, more specifically Goundars from Coimbatore who had lost their childhood/education to father's death, sorrow and poverty. They just rocked in the debate. They were literally bleeding money. On the other hand we had losers like that Iyer mama and Mudaliyar type people who were 'middle-class' losers who had no major childhood deprivations, financial or otherwise, but were crying, and I mean literally, that they did not get a medical seat in 1965 because of 'reservation'. I found this interesting. Education has somehow taught people, directly or indirectly, to work in a 'profession' where work is bartered for money - but still put passion (or something similar) above money. People fundamentally do work in exchange for money. But they have been taught that maximizing the moneyreceived in that exchange is lower form of success and something else is a higher form of success. Children who were put in school to earn money in the future are taught similar things. Is it unintentional? Why is it fashionable to view money as a non-primary target and an inferior form of success?

The key aspect that was different in the debate from all the other debates that have happened before was that in this case - the rich people were happy people and unashamed/unapologetic of being rich. Completely different from MGR and Rajinikanth movies that the thamizhan was used to. Those movies glorified the poor by giving them credit for being happy and criticised the rich for being unhappy as a result of having money. Here in the debate, every time the educated people said something like 'Mere paas Ma hai' the uneducated-rich said "mudri naayee, I have mummy, daddy, gaadi, bungalow, bank balance and lots of happiness". Whatever the educated people said that they had by virtue of education, the uneducated-rich claimed that they already had, didn't need it, or could simply "buy it" - easily.. And this was hilarious to watch. Mainly because it was true - in their individual cases. Money could buy other forms of success. Not all types of success. But more than you think. In the past, the direction of such debates have always been 'orchestrated' by actors/politicians/TV-Channels to appease the uneducated-poor and to dupe them that they aren't any worse off. This debate was orchestrated to glorify the uneducated but used a radically different method.

The summary given by the 'expert' guest had a lot of common sense in it and probably reflected what everybody was thinking - that one should view the uneducated's success as an inspiration but they are an exception and not the rule. We all get the fact that education increases probability of getting employed in IT firms and other salary paying companies and decreases the probability of a person remaining poor. It has been successful in delivering some sot of minimum money back guarantee. I am not contesting that the process has no value. But there was a common thread that I noticed in this argument about educated people. They took 2 different positions on education depending on the context. When challenged 'why should one get educated at all?' most arguments assumed that earning money (employment) was the primary purpose of getting education. But they quickly disassociated themselves from that purpose once the context changed to a time when people have finished education. When asked "now that you are done with it, are you earning good money?" - they rambled on about satisfaction and happiness. Let us keep aside the bias in the debate sample population, all the cliches surrounding 'padikaatha medhai', exception vs rule arguments and answer the simple question posed by Gopinath - "is education a disadvantage? Does it make you less prone to be an entrepreneur?, does it dampen your money earning spirit? does it cripple your freedom of thought?"

The answer is yes.

It simply is. Over time - formal education has put man in situations where he will get locked in as a salary receiving person. It give man something that he will later become afraid to lose. It teaches an ordinary man, who started off wanting to earn money, things like principles, passion, happiness. Education overemphasises these factors and makes him believe that these factors are mutually exclusive from money. And he uses these factors as excuses for not earning money. There are people who are naturally passionate about something and don't care about the money. There really are people like that. But not all the people who claim to be satisfied with 'passion' 'happiness' and 'principles' are genuine. They say this as an excuse to complain against their lack of success. The reality is education makes people inflexible, conservative and pursuers of the comfort zone. The very same person who draws Rs 6500 in a govt job every month might behave differently if he weren't educated and had no prospects of getting a govt job.

I also have my doubts on whether educated children of rich-uneducated men will go a level-up on their parents. Let me take an example of 2 friends, one of whom is very close. Both these friends had reasonably uneducated parents. The parents went through a difficult childhood but they had the drive to make it big. They made big money. Their sons did engineering and M.S with the hope that education will make them more successful (as in rich) than their parents. Both faced some very tough moments getting a career started/going-on. When talking to them in their most frustrating moments, I found that they were trying to make things work in the salaried construct. They couldn't unshackle themselves from the purpose their M.S or other 'formal education' stuff had built them for. They were sort of aware that they were falling into what they called 'this middle-class mentality' but they still wanted a job in Mechanical Engineering or software. They weren't passionate about the field. But that was success to them. An immediate one too. After a while, one guy said 'screw this' and became an actor. The other guy is still doing a job for salary. However, both were less dynamic and less entrepreneurial than their fathers. I thought 'Education' was the reason.

The common thread I observed after hearing all the educated people defend themselves (by making escapist statements) was that education killed some passion in people to earn money. Person wants a job that correlates to his most recent education and so becomes myopic. The minimum cash flow that happens when one is in a salaried job becomes a burden. If one wants to really become rich, one almost always has to give up that sustenance cash flow. And when one fails to sum up the courage to do it, one quotes vague things like principles, work-life balance and other stuff. The reality is that one does not need to give up any of those factors to become rich but education makes one think otherwise. The small fraction of educated and uneducated people who turned out to be filthy rich entrepreneurs were people who were clear in their objective. They wanted Return On Intelligence. Maximum money for their time spent working. They were clear about that and worked towards that. This made them more agile and more flexible to do things (very very legal legitimate things) that an educated man would refuse to do. In fact they would love to do things an educated man would not like to do, ever.

In short, the commercial purpose of education has become diluted. People lose the drive and the passion to become rich as a result of it. They become blunt instruments. Education tells them that pursuit of money is an uninteresting and superficial process - When the opposite is true. A business man who runs a chain of restaurants is viewed with the same disgust as a scientist who pursues the $1 million that a Nobel prize comes with. People view seekers of money as less of a person. So, they settle in salaried jobs and wait for death.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Oh! No!

I have been living under a rock and am catching up on news from last month. Yet another nerdy-geeky ABCD kid with spectacles won the Spelling Bee contest this year. I can't imagine the amount of publicity this is getting. This will probably motivate a generation of desi kids to become geeks. I think Indians in US produce more spectacled-geek kids every year than any other immigrant population. I hope there will come a day when Indian kids in this US will go beyond spelling the word "s p o r t" and "p h y s i c a l a c t i v i t y".

There is nothing more annoying than watching spectacled ABCD kids on TV and you-tube indulging in spelling words or naming capitals of countries. Will I ever get to hear of a kid who actually gets to be in a sports team? Will 2nd-gen desi ever become popular in baseball, basket ball, or football? Maybe I missed it. But is there anybody in this category at all? The farthest people have gone is put the kid in some soccer class (that is offered as a package set with a piano class). That too after 8th grade all forms of physical activity vanish. I can't imagine why a desi parent would be proud of saying that their kid won a teen science award or a spelling-bee thing. Evalavu naalaikku da ithaye pannuvenga?

And - Whats with ABCD kids and spectacles. Every time some one mentions a 2nd-gen kid, the image that pops in my head is spectacles, dental braces and playing playstation/x-box. Gives one an impression that spectacles are an Indian tradition. In all my years of living in the US - I haven't seen an ABCD kid w/o glasses or dental braces.

Niruthanum. Ellathaiyum Niruthanum.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

Watch out for David Fincher's latest movie. It tells a fantastic story. Adapted from a short story by Scott Fitzgerald, this movie tells a story of a man who has a curious life. He is born as an 85 year old and ages backwards. When he is 50 he falls in love with a 30 year old (Cate Blanchett) and he continues to grow younger, until he is 5. It has been interesting tracking news reports of this movie from the time David Fincher announced it. The technology, research and ideas (on Brad Pitt's reverse ageing process) they have used in the movie are said to be enthralling. Fincher is an underrated genius. I hope this positions him for an oscar recognition.

Watch the Trailer below. They began showing the first trailer of this movie during Indiana -3 movie. I couldn't get an English Trailer in You Tube. All I have is a Spanish version. But it shouldn't make a difference. The trailer looks really good.