Sunday, December 21, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

We have always been suckers for underdogs. Maybe we see something of ourselves in every David who takes on the seemingly invincible Goliath. Maybe a part of us aches to be the common man who rebels against the establishment. 'Slumdog Millionaire' taps into this springwell of emotion while lulling the nearby center of logic into a nap. The David of this story is a young Jamal who finds himself at the center of an implausible run of events that has left him close to winning millions in a gameshow. These events are running on a track that Jamal hopes will take him to his final destination, his love, Latika.

The screenplay is the prime mover of this movie. It whizzes you through like a fast train to Borivali. It does not stop to give you the Lonely Planet spiel about Mumbai. It cannot for the only objective of this movie is to tell the story of Jamal, not to add to your general knowledge. This it does through a series of flashbacks. We are taken along for the ride to watch the kid grow into a man and then to cheer him on when he is at the threshold to riches. The camera captures much of this ride wonderfully exposing a side of Mumbai that is not seen very often. Given that the narrative doesn't bother to provide the explanation, the camera pulls off the double duty expertly, showing us what we need to know. Back to the screenplay, there are no incidents to show how observant Jamal is or how fantastically photographic his memory is. Nothing at all that really explains how he knows obscure trivia. You just understand that he needs to be on his feet just to survive in a world which treats his ilk as something disposable. The out of place luxury in his otherwise slumdog life is his love. This he pursues despite the dire circumstances he finds himself in.

All 3 actors who portray Jamal fit the role like a T. But Dev Patel has the most scope and doesnt waste an inch of screenspace offered to him. From dogged determination when he is looking for his love to silent pain when she turns him out of her house, his earnest face conveys them all with ease. The camerawork again adds to this via some nicely composed close ups and great lighting. Irrfan Khan walks on as the police inspector who in listening and questioning Jamal, substitutes for the audience. From language to body language, he essays the role perfectly. The other characters are aptly cast but the Jamals are brilliant.

Though there are images moving on the screen for the first few minutes, the chant of O..Saya is what really kicks this movie off. Rahman's score sets the tone for several other scenes and showcases the creativity of the man in a format we are not quite used to. Even the bollywood musical style Jai Ho at the closing titles, while seemingly incongruent with the rest of the movie, is a fitting finale that the crowds need after watching Jamal triumph. The soundtrack has already won some awards but he is now up for a Golden Globe and despite being a household name in India, is a relative unknown to the West among the other names in the race. I am rooting for him to bring this one home. Of course he doesnt need this validation, but this is one underdog for whom we have always been suckers. Jai Ho !

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Fists full of fun

A little known corollary of one of Newton's laws states that the amount of fun a handheld object generates will quadruple every 2 years. By that count kids today are having about 18 million times the fun that I had growing up. Fun, during those childhood years, depended on the availability of certain things - a messy toy, an active imagination or at minimum, an irritable elder sibling. As a result on boring vacation afternoons, you could either do your holiday homework (the first oxymoron I inadvertently learnt) or worse, watch UGC programming on DD.

That was until the introduction of the handheld,technological revolution that was the ball maze. I never knew what it was called back then and I cant remember what I would call it when telling my mom that I lost it. Maybe that is why I never got in trouble for losing it - how can you lose something that never existed? But I digress. You know what I mean - round, plastic casing, transparent plastic window looking into a maze trapping two or more steel balls. Hours of my childhood were spent trying to defeat gravity and jittery hands in guiding those lonely balls to join the party at the center of the maze. If I got too irritated, I could just shake the thing hard and transfer my irritation to the elders. Alternatively I could just break the plastic on top and add those two balls to my growing collection of small, shiny metal balls. Later - go back to the exhibition, point to that round thing with my hand, rinse and repeat. I never counted how many of those balls I collected. Not enough would be my best guess.

The next stage of pocket playmates was with the somewhat strangely named water video game. At least my friends called it that and, caving to peer pressure, so did I. Since there was no video involved, the etymology remains suspect. If the ball maze taught one that intense concentration without success led to irritation, the water video game imparted the great lesson of patience. The rather simple interface consisted of a rectangular, water filled plastic case and one large, rubber button, only a little unlike the interface of a fruity phone. Depressing the button caused some behind the scenes magic and the water reacted by churning and causing tiny plastic rings to float up. Did I mention transparent plastic window looking into the water? There was one so you could watch in amazement as the rings would go up and then float down in extreme slow motion and in the process, attempt to drop over the swords of two vertically affixed swordfish. The objective was to somehow make sure you get the most number of rings on the sword. My strategy was to start off by applying violent pressure to the button and then praying fervently. Did I say that this was a variety of handheld fun? I apologize. This was clearly in the category of ancient Chinese water torture. The first part of my strategy of course soon led to the tearing of the button and the water would be reclaimed by the parched Chennai atmosphere with the same speed that a tanker full of water is drained into colored plastic pots. Turns out water was also the source of fun for this game and into the trash it went. To make life more pleasant, I had to revert to trapping strange worms and lots of leaves in horlick's bottles in the hope that they'd grow into butterflies or at least moths. Sadly, I wasn't allowed to carry that around in my pocket.

We can now play first person shooters and racing simulators in mind bending color on a device that is smaller than my water video game and the interactivity is at such a level that you can grow dogs virtually, let alone caterpillars. I am not jealous. In fact if there is one thing I've learnt, it is that nostalgia is infinitely marketable. My plan for world domination is to release the two games I described above as games for handheld devices and then watch them fly off the virtual shelves of app stores. However I am hoping there will be some magic happening between now and the release date so that these games automatically program themselves. I shall use the same strategy that I used while playing those games - concentrate intensely, wait and pray, fervently.

p.s The ball maze is already out - but I have high hopes for the water video game. Somewhere some kid is waiting to be taught patience.

Thursday, December 04, 2008


Rebecca has been haunting me to get this posted for the last few weeks. The movie is a close to faithful adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's book of the same name and Hitchcock, on the extras DVD, does not hide his displeasure, irked with the novel's lack of logic. A plain,young girl falls in love and marries a young widower. She goes to his mansion where she finds his first wife inhabiting, in spirit, the mansion and its residents. The glamorous Rebecca is the first wife and her death is the mystery that must be solved. It is rather striking that the young girl does not have a name while the iconic R of Rebecca makes its presence felt in every scene despite the fact that not even a photo of her is shown in the movie.The Criterion collection extras DVD had so many extras that I didnt have time to watch all of them before I had to return it. I caught the best of it though - screen tests and Hitchcock's remarks about more than 2 dozen leading ladies who auditioned for the part that Joan Fontaine finally got.

Daphne Du Maurier's other, more famous work is Gone With the Wind. Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind was also produced by David O.Selznick. Apparently he was working on Gone With the Wind when he decided to bring Hitchcock to work on other commitments he had undertaken. Good thing he did. He set Hitchcock free in Hollywood and this "other commitment" won an Oscar for best picture in 1941.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

of really long songs

'Manmohini morey' from Yuvvraj is the longest Rahman song that I know of. The last time I heard it, it ran a continuous 35 minutes or so. Impressive for a song that Rahman originally tuned to run about 3 minutes. The song is a techno marvel sans the meaningless repetitive lyrics that always seem to accompany such beats. What lyrics there are, are sung in a classical style that one expects will pair with those beats like Wall Street and common sense. But the combination is an aural revelation which I would liken to to a beautiful fractal equation, if not for my utter mathematical ineptitude. This song might beat Yakkai Thiri for the longest Rahman song in my library. However there is no way it will get close to the sheer number of plays which stands closer to 10s of thousands.

In case it interests you, I also mused about the really short pieces earlier in this piece

Monday, September 22, 2008

Gambling on memory

The flame of the match did a brief, lively dance before it was snuffed out by the strong beach breeze. I lit a second one. Cupped with both hands, it lived the few moments it took to light the cigarette.

I took a long drag and looked over at my friend.

"Do you remember," the words were exhaled with the smoke,"the time we used to play cricket on this road? We used to spend entire afternoons here playing game after game."

Another long drag and more words came out more smoke,"That monument thing used to be the boundary. They always made me field there."

"Because of your exceptional fielding skills, I am sure," the friend offered slyly, and added,"And it's a memorial not a monument."

I glared at him and continued."I know every brick of that memorial", emphasizing the last word more to indicate annoyance. "I've climbed up and down those stairs so many times while waiting for someone with superhuman powers to come to the crease and swat the ball there."

"So you must know about the guy they built it for. I bet you a 100 that you can't name him." Words spoken by his confidence in my observation powers. The lack of those powers that is. But he was in for a surprise.

"That's the easiest 100 I've ever earned. His name was Schmidt. K A J Schmidt. Cough up the 100."

As he reluctantly pulled his wallet out, he asked,"So you really know all about that memorial?"

"Yes," I answered absent mindedly. My eyes were on that crisp 100 rupee note making its way out of his wallet.

"So for another 500, can you tell me when Mr.Schmidt carried out his heroics?"

I hesitated. I had never been good with dates. History class had always been a blur. The Industrial revolution while helping nations progress had also left an indelible low mark on my 10th standard marksheet. Maybe I should turn this offer down. Then I remembered the plaque on the bottom corner and blurted out, "1984. It was in 1984 that he drowned rescuing others from the sea."

The 100 rupee note started receding into the wallet like a turtle head into its shell. He smirked.

"Hah. He saved those souls in 1930. The monument was renovated in '84. Now how about that 500."

I remembered the other plaque on the inside clear as day now. I glanced back up at the vandalized memorial.

"I hate nostalgia."

This snap is from a while back. Some kind souls have since given the memorial a makeover.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

keepin' it real

i switched on the tv last night expecting to see Hillary recite paeans to the democratic donkey and barack. for a moment i was startled to see jerry springer introducing a group called the dc cowboys. as 7 men started to square dance, i thought to myself, god what has the DNC turned into. my shock subsided as i realised it was the tuesday night episode of 'america's got talent'. this is what comes out of having a garishly decorated stage with multiple large LCDs at a political convention.

reality shows are the fake swiss army knives of television. they fill in the empty void of the idiot box during summer, help americans learn how voting works (you start by flipping a cell phone open) and are incredibly dull . from choosing the chef most capable of cursing at his/her employees while garnishing foie gras to dogs that show character in the face of a trumpeting elephant, everything goes on today's reality shows. here are some ideas that show producers haven't thought of yet. they will get to these eventually (they have buildings full of rooms full of monkeys on typewriters). i am just speeding it up a bit

big fish little phelps
different shark species are trained by olympic coaches to perform synchronized swimming routines. the final winner gets to swim with michael phelps and compete for 4 of the 8 olympic golds. no fish will be hurt during the filming of this show. we cant give the same guarantee about phelps though. this will be judged each week by guo jingjing, manju bhargavi and eight cephalopod judges from oceans other than the ones that the sharks came from to avoid partiality.

this is real! really!
reality show producers compete with each other to produce the ultimate reality show. each week they will get a set of people on whom they will film a reality show and find out more inventive ways for at&t/verizon to suck people dry maximize revenues. season 1 has clowns competing with iphone app programmers who are fighting with folks who think they can beat jim kramer..literally. notice how i cleverly left out a set of reality show producers thus avoiding the infinite loop it would have caused. this one is judged by the geico gecko and the aflac duck. who better to judge a reality show than a talking lizard and a duck that does not know how to quack.

3 AM
we are already watching this one. it is aired once every 4 years and lasts about 2 years. it starts with the donkey team and elephant team steadily eliminating one candidate after another till only the richest is left on either side. however this is the least real of all the contests. most of it is scripted to avoid a slight chance that one of the candidates utters the truth. variable such as a vulnerable diebold voting machine and random chads on will be available to add suspense to the proceedings. the show producers are seriously considering introducing cell phone voting as they found that american idol gets more votes than the population of the united states. the winner gets an alarm clock that will wake them up at 3 AM and a lifetime supply of rechargeable batteries. you can be the judge of this one.

Friday, July 25, 2008

an easy route to heaven

just so i make things clear, this post has nothing to do with religion. rather it has a lot to do with that philosophical place in everyone's mind that is referred to as heaven. it means different things to different people and i found mine relatively easily. all that was required was an awesome visit to india and then returning with suitcases loaded with sweets. i am getting ahead of myself

here then is the proper route to heaven. the ingredients you need are as follows ( somewhere between the title and now, the route became a recipe but the destination er.. objective remains the same)

1 superduper trip to india (getting married while there is optional..if you ask me i would like to get married on every trip)
1 suitcase full of adhirasam ( preferably the ones that were made as part of the wedding, or grand sweets at adyar makes equally good ones...murukku, mixture optional)
1 additional suitcase with backup adhirasam (some moron at the airline may reroute your adhirasam suitcase to San Diego, though the barcode clearly scanned for ORD)
1 microwaveable plate
1 microwave
1 fridge - 2 teaspoons ( i kid, i kid. everyone knows u need at least 3)

first frantically open the suitcase that has been delayed by about 48 hours to make sure your adhirasam packets are safe and then carefully, lest they crumble, transfer those ghee-fogged packets straight to the freezer. then, (this is very crucial) sleep well and lose the jet lag. now you are ready.

transfer one adhirasam carefully to microwaveable plate.if u dont have one, feel free to use the microwave's rotating plate. but please clean it first. more crucial steps follow so pay attention. once in microwave, set the timer to 30 seconds or lesser BUT dont let it stay there for the entire 30 seconds. if you did that you just created a veritable hockey puck/discus . rather after every five seconds, remove the plate and gently ( i didnt know how else to make this sound decent) assess the ahdirasam for softness. when sufficiently soft, remove plate from microwave. wait a few minutes, then when you cant take it anymore, break a piece of it and place it on your tongue. there. you just reached heaven.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

monumental visage

kamal could've added just one more element and boosted dasavatharam to another level. instead of the introductory ilakkiya tamil sorpozhivu he engages in at that horrendous rendering of a stadium, he could've requested aby baby to do a voiceover. i'm guessing amitabh's tamil would fit between junoon tamil and khalifulla's ridiculous diction. so more unintentional fun for the tamil folks and instant love from our hindi speaking brethren. even better, kamal should've thought of a 11th role as amitabh but then the title wouldn't have fit.

apparently surveys done a few years back revealed that aby baby had the highest recall among desis. thus his face or voice is on nearly everything you use on a daily basis. he is on for some hair oil, pens, chocolate, suits, tvs, banks and so on. soon a stage will come when a kid watches sholay and will remark to his appa that jai looks strangely familiar to the thatha who was hawking bubble gum in the ad break that just ended. i think the indian govt should declare him a protected monument and levy fees from anyone wishing to use him (100 times more for foreign companies). in return, the ASI would give him therapy to keep his voice in shape, shave and shower him about once in 10 years and if needed conduct reconstructive plastic surgery. the simplest alternative is to invent cloning. that makes 2 folks i am recommending for cloning - 1 specializes in jooming, the other in selling.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

kamal goes decimal

what does one do when in india for an extremely short amount of time, that too for a wedding - spend 3 hours at a multiplex watching sivaji's competition turn up a year late at the finish line and still manage to finish second. kamal spent 2 years making dasavathaaram, about 1.5 of which i am sure were spent putting his masks and wigs on and then removing them.

kamal plays god/fate of his own story as he unleashes several threads (10 to be exact) and then weaves them back into a small yet somewhat complete ladies handkerchief (what else can you weave with 10 threads). the magic of kamal is such that he manages to completely disappear in some of those threads letting the character take over the screen. balram naidu for one was outstanding. khalifulla on the other hand looked (and sounded) like one of the masked sivajis from uthama puthiran. with most of the characters donning prosthetics, kamal's vivid expressions were missed quite a bit. body language and voice only go a certain distance.

the story is indeed novel for a tamil flick and kamal does a fine job walking the fence between the mass and the elite. keywords (chaos theory anyone) are sprinkled to pique the interest of the elite while the mass is entertained with some good fight sequences and for a while by an ex-cia agent / part time stripper/full time killer who in addition to fluent tamil also knows the way to heaven. seeing her talk tamil was like watching jackie chan speak tamil in the afternoon star vijay movies (for those who havent seen police story in tamil, it is very similar to shriya speaking tamil in sivaji).both sections of the crowd are however bound to hate asin who screamed like a banshee whenever she opened her mouth. the music was a huge letdown. kamal could've at least courted illayaraja for some tunes.

all in all, a jolly ride. one of the two main aims i had when coming to chennai is now fulfilled :)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

post flight postcard post

international flights have their share of contradictions. 6 foot 2 economy class passengers (me) are expected to squeeze into seat spaces measured in cubic inches, yet the petite air hostesses struggle to reach up and close overhead bins on those humongous 777s. i requested and got the emergency row seating on each leg. it's next to the toilet and usually a lot of screaming kids but it cant be beat for the comfort. put in an excellent on-demand entertainment system and i am all set. 3.75 movies were taken off my to-see list.

back in madras for my wedding, i am enjoying this trip more than any in the past. the weather is awesome, bhelpuri from shree mithai and mango duet from aavin complement it very well. my body composition is slowly changing from tofu and black coffee to paneer and filter coffee.

Monday, June 02, 2008

i'm finished

after nearly 3 years during which my senthamizh vocabulary grew by a smidgen, i am done with 'ponniyin selvan' [links to a review of the english version]. i rushed through the first 3 parts like an express train heading towards central but like the very same train hitting the maze of tracks at basin bridge, i slowed to a crawl for the last 2 parts. a small part of reading this was for gimmick ("hey look i am reading a tamil book"). but i started reading it because it is a historical retelling set in my own tamilnadu and is told in a language i love. a language that i am still not fluent enough to write in..hence this post in the step-mom tongue.

my next tamil book is a collection of crime stories by sujata. with any luck, you can expect a post in the summer of 2010

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


so what have i been up to while not writing this blog..reading this one mostly:

Doing Jalsa and Showing Jilpa

go read it and then bookmark will get a full serving of laughter and more. enough said

also when not writing this blog, i turned my attention to what i call my deficient photography skill and attempted to improve on it some more over the past couple of months. the rather flat improvement curve has been sufficiently captured by a somewhat random posting of photos on my flickr account (yup the one i paid for and then regretted on this very blog). once again, click below.
Not a sparrow
oh and the 1st level and the 2nd levelu in the title refer to the jilpaman's case you mistook my photos to be level

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

(insert clever post title here)

many movies over many weekends

bheema - awesome movie..NOT.they could've utilized the budget to produce a 100 PSAs to carry the message that one has to die by the sword (or unmarked pistol) if one lives by it.instead the insane torture that the movie inflicts is enough to push the most peaceful human being into violence.and i am not even going into the display of man-love that vikram and prakash raj put on. it was probably conceived by the director as a different kind of relationship but it came across quite awkwardly. you still want the story? vikram admires prakash raj, a honest rowdy..then everyone dies. i consider this the most wasteful 2.5 to 3 hours of my life..not counting the 2.5 i'd already spent on kaalai - a flick i shall not review.

happy days - was the wasabi to wash out any remaining thought of bheema. and it worked rather well. the movie is a rather simple story about college days..engg college to be more specific. friendship, love and a hot lecturer (female) make up the main themes as is the norm with college flicks. the lack of old comedians playing college students was surprisingly refreshing..i half expected ali or brahmanandam or charlie to pop up.i sincerely hope it is not remade into tamil with jayam ravi, charlie,murali and dhamu

billa - the new version is a 2.5 hour ad for suiting, shirting and gel shoe implants. the characters walk the walk for roughly 1.5 hours of the movie with a cool techno inspired tune from YSR. then they all stop on cue and pout/glare at the camera. one cant question the story since it's a remake but several questions remained unanswered - how many sun glasses were broken during shooting? how many were not returned by the actors?how does nayantara run in 8 inch heels?why does she climb up and walk on a car clad in stretchy latex while walking on the street and standing still were viable options?why does billa swim with a cell phone in one hand?did he take the battery out and dry the cell phone before he receives the call from a fellow drug smuggler? who gave prabhu those chocolate bars? does he really need them? can we stop walking, ranjith just pulled a muscle back there and is searching for iodex? i'm just too tired to stop and explain the's not worth it. i'm walking away from this movie.

the departed partly rescued me during the week only for me to laugh myself to tears over jodha akbar.those two will come up i said i am too tired.

oh one more thing. if you were filling overwhelmed by the number of videos lined up on youtube, add to your overwhelmence by heading over to a few old movies in full length with minimal ads and lots of SNL sketches including one of my old favs:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Ran (1985)

armies have lined up on hills for a long time to gain a strategic advantage. while having the high ground helped tactically, spreading one's forces across a line also gave an impression of a much larger army. none of the great commanders however saw their own armies in cinemascope. kurosawa makes this sight and several other war scenes look so glorious in 'Ran' that soldiers would've stood by and applauded if not for the advancing foes. the movie is a visually delightful adaptation of King Lear.

a warlord father turns over the reigns of his fiefdom to his 3 sons only to find out that he is no longer wanted by 2 of them and the one that he kicked out before is the one who really loves him. the characters of the warlord and his ruthless daughter-in-law who manipulates his sons are the ones that stand out. the outstanding acting of these 2 make you want to empathize with them. kurosawa also employs a jester like character who through an occasional song and dance routine helps the viewer spell out what they may be thinking. weirdly, this kind of reinforcing was somewhat reassuring to me and made me appreciate the movie some more. and i havent even started on the visual yet. the scenes depicting the siege of a castle give the CGI battles of LOTR a run for their money. the man had an uncanny ability to come up with a perfect visual accompaniment to really good storylines. the wikipedia article[] for this films even has a storyboard that shows the planning that went into the castle siege scenes.

the war scenes instantly reminded me of sundari kannal from thalapathi[]. as many on the net point out, mani was sufficiently inspired by kurosawa(and i think this particular movie) to picturise rajni as a samurai warrior on horseback but i have to wonder which of his muses made him cast shobana as a desi village belle. this chronological and geographical mismatch is however rescued by illayaraja's brilliance - soulful love ballad one moment war drums the next.

p.s 'ran' in japanese apparently means chaos..'ranam' in tamil means something similar..the languages probably share a root somewhere..

Thursday, January 31, 2008

mughals in melody & triplicane

jodhaa akbar's music is out and it's good. google's servers will be busy for a while trying to keep up with word geeks looking up urdu words and their meanings. this post was going to be about how movies based on mughals have a couple of things in common - melodious music and a tragic storyline. turns out that out of the 3 films that i thought were mughal melodramas, only one was (mughal-e-azam). the other 2 i stereotyped purely based on their urdu names (pakeezah and umrao jaan). besides i havent seen any of them and i would never pretend to know more than i do (heh heh). so i guess all i am saying is that i thought i had a post but never mind. i'll go back to listening to jodhaa akbar.this one is clearly mughal and has some melodious numbers but is it also going to be tragic?

i am still listening to the sounds rather than the words but these piqued my interest enough to be looked up.. from 'in lamhon ke daaman' pakeezah means pure, kalma means word and was likened to om in one website or the 'word' as christians know it. at least a couple of the words in 'khwaja mere khwaja' can be referenced back to other rahman numbers - khalbali from rdb and rehanuma (apparently meaning guide) from udhaya - listen to 'thiruvallikeni rani'. (a nice song despite sukhwinder's attempt to once again mangle thiruvallikeni's fair name..apparently it was once thiru-alli-keni..due to a pond(keni) filled with lillies (alli) and became thiruvallikeni before the british with a slightly better tamil pronunciation than sukhwinder changed it to triplicane. wonder how rahman's hindi sounds to seasoned northy ears..doesnt sound all that bad to me.)