Saturday, December 8, 2012

Picture Abhi Baaki Hai (You Idiot)

Logged in here after a very long time. Blogger seems to have changed a lot in the last few months. Have been coming to my blog regularly for the links in my blogroll. But, all posts I tried to make have gone to draft hell.

Didn't want 2012 to go without even one entry. This has been an eventful year - I have traveled more than I have ever traveled in any other single year in my life. And I have realized I like to move around more than anything else. More than even books and films.

But, most of these experiences were so personal that writing about them here felt insulting. To me. To You. To them.

Will hopefully get back soon.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Tintin Film

I had been looking forward to the Tintin film ever since I saw the first teaser. Probably from before that too, but after watching the teaser (or was it a proper trailer – can’t recall that now), I just had this weird exciting feeling in my stomach that this was going to be a really worthwhile experience.

Since that brief introduction to Spielberg’s (and Jackson’s) latest masterpiece, I have read several rants about how unlike Herge's version this Tintin looks, how it's just blasphemous and a sign of crass commercialism to remake the simple, refined 2-D drawings into a 3-D film. And not been able to completely understand what the fuss was about.

After having seen the movie today, I am even more perplexed.

I think Herge made the right choice when he asked Spielberg to make the Tintin movie. Now, this choice might have come across as smoothly as Spielberg generally implies in his interviews, or not so much as some of the critics of this transfer to the big screen might allege, but that it happened to come about is a great thing.

From the moment the film begins, with that wonderful tip of hat to Tintin's creator, this is a well-designed extension of Herge's vision. The credits pay tribute to several of Tintin's books, and the film mixes elements from various editions to come up with a truly enjoyable story.

Ah, the thrill of meeting again the characters you have known for so long. The bumbling Thompson & Thomson. The ever-abusive Captain Haddock. The wonderfully voiced Bianca Castafiore. And good ol' Snowy (with the amount of stunts he does, it's a good thing they didn't use a real dog).

And, of course, the boy wonder. Yes, he looks a bit different from what I would have imagined as a three-dimensional Tintin to look. And the British accent made him sound like Harry Potter a few times. But, those are minor issues really.

The winner, as it should be in general, is the script. It incorporates great elements from multiple books, ties them up together and comes up with an intelligent, respectful, adventurous and utterly funny ride.

And also worth mentioning is the motion-capture technique. It might have worked great in films like the Lord of the Rings trilogy or King Kong, or even Avatar, but in a full length film based on this technique like The Polar Express it had fallen a bit flat. It just works wonders here. The bastardized child of animation and live action truly comes on its own in this film.

Just watch and wonder at the way Sakharine's hair or the camel's fur waves in the wind. Beautiful.

I bloody hope they are making a sequel.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Remembering Iraq

I am really angry right now.

I am a fan of Wikipedia, have contributed both in terms of content and in terms of moolah to it. But, I went back to the page on Al-Qa'im today, and was astonished to see that most of the past information had been removed. And the fuckers are complaining that the article is a stub, and that we can help by expanding it! No donation from me you moron, Jimmy Wales.

I spent 2.5 precious years of my childhood there. I still remember the person who used to give me chocolates every time he would run into me. I still remember running away from the people celebrating Holi with masalas. I still remember discussing Sridevi, and Mumbai rains, with the local grocery-shop owner. I still remember being (almost) sexually abused by an idiot who was my father's subordinate (I had the good sense of forcing myself out of his house after he emerged in his underwear and started touching me inappropriately).

No, my wiki contribution was not about these personal experiences. It was about the cement plant run by ACC that got us there and provided many local people employment. It was about how the place became a curious melting pot of Iraqis, Romanians (who were handing over the plant to ACC) and us Indians. It was about how that weird chemical plant a few kilometers away used to give us bad asthmatic attacks once in a while. It was about how I saw my first tanks and first sand-dunes.

These are bound to be hazy memories - these events occurred a lifetime ago. But, I remember seeing VP Singh's visit to Baghdad being covered on the national channel and thinking - Man, why aren't our leaders remotely as charismatic as Saddam Hussein.

There, I have said it. I wasn't very happy when Saddam was executed.

During those years in Iraq, way too young as I might have been, I had heard of the cruelty of his regime. I knew he wasn't exactly adored, even though his portraits and posters covered every street in every town I visited. But, things moved smoothly.

Cities were clean, hospitals were efficient, there was freedom (at least before the First Gulf War; that's when we came back and that's when I hear the place got more fundamentalist) and petrol was almost as cheap as mineral water.

I hated coming back to India. Not only because it robbed me of this perceived exotic identity that I had put on over the course of my stay there (and which used to come very handy when interacting with cousins here), but also because India was a shock to me. When we moved to Iraq I was a little over 6 years old, just beginning to grasp the import of stuff happening around me. When we moved back, I was a fairly worldly wise 9 year old, who had seen stuff (including, but not limited to, extremely violent movies, novels not meant for children, that man who used to touch me, and, quite amazingly, female friends who used to play Ghar-Ghar with sticks, making them lie together and do all sorts of scandalous things).

But, recovering from that major diversion, I absolutely hated coming back to India. It was humid. There were mosquitoes. Every place was filled with people. And everyone else was an Indian too. No fun.

Am watching this film called The Devil's Double. Just brought memories back. During our stay there, we once heard this story - apparently, one of Saddam's sons had killed someone. As per Islamic rules, Saddam's son (don't remember if it was Uday or someone else) could be forgiven only if forgiven by the victim's family. Saddam (apparently) agreed with the death sentence. But, (apparently) the victim's family forgave the son, out of 'natural compassion'.

Yep, so Iraq was twisted. Frankly, I don't think how they can not be unless they are all bombed out. With that much oil and those many tribes, it seems your idiotic God is having a lot of fun there.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On Reading. Virtually.

Don't know if anyone noticed, but had made the blog private because had grown sick of feeling like shooting myself in the morning all too often after another stupid post written late the previous night. Yep, am not happy right now, but it has been a recurring element of my life, and will probably continue to be.

On the other hand, a road trip to Surat last weekend to conduct a quiz made me extremely happy. If only there was more money in conducting quizzes.

Didn't get back to blogging because of another reason. I have found something else to do, which keeps me tied up after work and on weekends.

On an impulse, a few weeks back, I bought the iPad. The iPad 2 to be precise. Like my fairly expensive, and quite apprehensive, purchase of an iPod video during my internship in 2007, I haven't regretted it for one moment.

I am an information junkie. I want to read as much as I can, I want to know as much there is to know about stuff around me as I can. It's a different story that I can hardly retain about a tenth of it. But I love reading. And iPad is a boon for anyone who does.

Two of my most favorite apps on iPad (with the exception of the Angry Birds game of course) are Instapaper and Zinio.

Instapaper helps you save online articles for reading later. It works seamlessly across your laptop browser and the tablet, and is ideal for those 'longform' articles that you keep coming across but never get the time to read. Have already discovered one of my favorite writers through this app - Atul Gawande, a US doctor of Indian origin, who writes for The New Yorker (which I discovered truly for the first time through the iPad also - it's a brilliant brilliant journal), and very incisively on complex issues like the American health care system or solitary confinement in prisons.

Instapaper also helped me find this site called Longform.org that picks out some amazing articles daily for you to read. The range includes a piece written by the inimitable Pauline Kael on Citizen Kane to an article on the unavoidable Amanda Knox to the phenomenon called Sasha Grey to a very objective story of the downfall of Mel Gibson by Peter Biskind, whose books on Hollywood I am a big fan of.

Zinio claims to be the largest magazine store in the world. And certainly looks like it. I have bought magazines from the US, the UK and India on it and browsed through some more from France, Brazil and other assorted places. I love magazines. And so, browsing through Zinio is to me, to use a cliche, what a 5 year old must feel like in a candy store.

And, of course, there's the Kindle app. Which is a fairly ordinary app. It does its job well. No frills. But the massive collection of books that Amazon has just kills you, figuratively.

And the one-click purchase kills you in more literal (and financial) terms. I used to curse Flipkart for their easy check-out of the shopping cart. But it's no wonder that the Bansal duo learned their craft at Amazon. Because the Amazon store doesn't give you a chance. One click and the book is on my iPad. And a few more dollars have disappeared from my bank account.

A malfunctioning mouse can turn your purse lighter by a few bucks in a few seconds. And in the age of a falling rupee, it is not a happy condition.

But I am still some time away from staring at bankruptcy. And more books (and articles) than I can read in my lifetime.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tamas

A collection of CDs covering the entire series of Tamas has just come out. Am going through it right now.

The production values are quite ordinary, but the acting, the screenplay is just fantastic.

Watching people like Harish Patel, Virendra Saxena, KK Raina, and many other familiar faces whose names I can't even recall, who went on to become regular character actors in some of the most iconic Indian films and serials, is amazing.

But, what captures you the most are the images. Tamas is part of the oldest images of my life. The scene where Deepa Sahi jumps into a well, and I haven't seen ahead to confirm if that memory is real, has been one of the most deeply etched marks in my memory. I would have been 5-6 years old when I last saw it.

And the Tamas family getting together in the classic Mile Sur Mera Tumhara video of course. Or I might be confusing one thing from the past with another again.

The film/mini-series is as much a landmark in Indian cinema as the partition was a nightmare on the country's psyche. I have written multiple times earlier how pointless it seems now that so many people died during the birth of two nations that are unbelievably similar. Pakistan and India together would have kicked so much ass.

The fact that India has celebrated Eid this week with as much fervor (though Ganesh Utsav seems to have stolen the thunder here in Mumbai) as possibly in any other part of the world proves that.

To an extent.

I still feel that we are (more than a bit) biased towards Hinduism. Despite the fact that most of us respect religious freedom, we do not realize how Hindu-ized our regular institutions are. We need to balance that gap.

But, I think we are getting there. For me Eid is as much a celebratory occasion as Diwali is. And it's the same for many of my friends. And not just because it gives you an office holiday. Or a Khan film release.

But also because you appreciate what the day stands for.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

First Day First Show

Have been reading this rather delightful book called First Day First Show. It is essentially a collection of articles written by Anupama Chopra during her career as a print journalist on the movie beat. For a long time with India Today.


Am not a big fan of hers, mainly because she comes across as too gooey on NDTV. But she certainly is one of the more intelligent people writing (or talking) about films in India. Hell. if she had the foresight to marry Vidhu Vinod Chopra, one of the most successful producers in Hindi cinema, she has got to have some brains.

Anyway, the book, which starts with a rather narcissistic foreword by Shah Rukh Khan (and what else would one expect), covers a fairly comprehensive tract of moviedom starting from the mid-90s.

If nothing else, it just helps you revisit those crazy times when to be able to own a mobile phone was a status symbol, when Devgan (Devgn) and Kajol did films like Hulchul, AB was being crucified for doing Mrityudaata, and Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai was classy. The 90s look as crazy now as the 80s looked in the 90s.

The book is chronologically set and I am just about in the time when the new Bollywood brigade led by Anurag Kashyap is beginning to show its attitude in the 1990s (Satya is making people pee their pants) and Devgn and Kajol have got married. This has covered more than half of the book. So Chopra probably got less prolific with time.

But, exciting times ahead. I have cheated and looked ahead in the chapter headings. And it goes at least as far as Love, Sex aur Dhokha.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Step-children

I am in a really bad mood tonight. Mostly because I know I won't be able to sleep late tomorrow on a rare holiday morning because the morons in my housing society will try to push their pop-patriotism on everyone else by playing 'Ae mere pyaare watan' right from 8 am.

But, also because I am watching a rather emotional episode of Just Dance. I have generally come to see through the plastic emotionality that most TV programs thrust on us, but, and maybe it was because I am drunk, or maybe because I feel very strongly about it, I could not keep from crying when Irfan, one of the contestants on the show, had to state that he is as Hindustani as anyone else.

The fact that a Muslim citizen still has to say that is extremely painful. It makes me ashamed of myself. And my country.

Really liked Rajit's performance. Don't know in terms of the technicalities, but the dance was good to make one realize how we are leaving the green in our flag behind. The saffron and the white will not go far if we continue doing that.

Ae mere pyaare watan, the pyaar we have for you is standing on very weak grounds.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Kolkata

I am listening to the songs from Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey as I begin my 10-day bed-rest period. I can't imagine how I would pass the next 9 days. I am always restless and the thought of lying down at one place for most of the time for the next 10 days is painful. But the alternative is even more dreadful.

I have always liked the songs of KHJJS a lot more than the film. Probably because I don't have to watch Abhishek Bachchan while listening to the songs. I had quite liked the film when I saw it a few months back on Tata Sky. The film and the music remind me a lot of Kolkata and Bengal.

My earliest memory of Kolkata is of visiting my mother's parents - can't recall if it was Ballygunge or Tollygunge - but have very fond memories of those trips. I remember this cloudy day when someone who used to work at the house - I have a feeling his name was Narsingh, but not sure - took me for a trip on the metro, and also to the Nehru's Children's Museum. I could not have been more than 5-6 years old and I remember so much of that trip so clearly. I visited the Museum several years later and it was very underwhelming. I do not remember much from this later visit.

The next visit I remember was in December 1995. This was the first time that our four-member family took two rooms to stay while on a trip. We were staying at the company guest-house and the luxury of having my own room felt amazing. The trip was very memorable on the whole too. Kolkata is a lot more bearable in the winter.

The next visit, on the other hand, was not memorable at all. I was back in Kolkata in 1999, a couple of months before my first shot at JEE. I used to get stuff from Brilliant Tutorials by post, and they were having a crash course before the exam in some of the larger cities before the JEE, and my parents decided that it made sense for me to attend. It was one of the most painful experiences of my life. I was staying at this very sad Maharashtrian guest-house with my father, where the food was bad, I had to walk for over 4 km to get to the class, and once at the class, I hardly understood anything being taught there. My preparation for my first attempt was really bad and I was made aware of that very starkly in the 2-3 weeks I managed to stay there. On one of my frequent phone calls with my mother, I just broke down and said that I could not do it, that JEE was not meant for me. I was called back. Never felt more like a failed person in my life. Or since then. Of course, I went to Kota, gave up living for almost a year and cracked JEE the next year. But that period in Kolkata still gives me nightmares.

The next visit and two subsequent visits after that to the city have been to Joka. A place I love in a way it is not possible to describe. Kolkata is as much a part of me as Delhi is. And I miss it badly as I listen to these songs from KHJJS. And the film's not even based in present day West Bengal.

I miss Joka like hell. And the feeling that this feeling will be there for ever kills me. It's like a person close to you going away and you knowing that he won't come back ever.

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Update: Just saw the trailer of Chittagong, starring Manoj Bajpayi, Raj Kumar Yadav, Nawazuddin Siddiqui (the man with the best performance in Peepli Live) and Barry John. The trailer seems to suggest that it's a much better made film than KHJJS. I hope it gets a proper release and does well too.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sunday Night Fever

Had a near perfect day today. And such days are so rare that one needs to record this for the future me.

First, found a store that has clothes that fit me. I understand that I have ballooned up a lot in the last few years, but I am sure there are tons of Indians who are my size and maybe larger than me. Where do they get their clothes from! Surely not everyone gets them custom-made. Thankfully found a place today (and got to know of some others, which I'll try out in the coming days) where sanity prevails and there is some thought given to poor blokes like me, who can't fly to the US to do their shopping. I am actually surprised I am writing about clothes, but one does need a few shirts and couple of pair of jeans to cover one's modesty (and not keep wearing the same thing everyday).

Two, was THE MOVIE. But, will come to that in a while.

Three, was a meal at the Dakshin at ITC Maratha (or is it Grand Maratha - how can anything Maratha not be Grand?). We had gone there planning a meal at Peshawri, and in anticipation of the beautiful non-veg platter there I hadn't eaten the whole day. But, since they don't take confirmed reservations after 8, we were stuck with a half-an-hour wait and decided to try out Dakshin instead.

Instead of trying out the a-la-carte menu, we just decided to take it easy and settle for the Thali. Which is an extensive 3-course deal. We were three of us, and ordered one each of the three Thalis on offer - veg, non-veg, sea-food. Since all cost the same, they were fine with us sharing stuff across plates, which is generally frowned upon at most restaurants.

I can't go through the Thali item-by-item for you, so would just say that this was far better than I had expected. Right from the poppadums, chutneys and pickles they began with, through the chicken and fish starters, the unbelievably delicate appams, the lovely avial, the unforgettable fish and chicken curries (I was having the non-veg version), and finally the delicious sambhar - it was a beautiful experience. And the service was impeccable. Good food and good service. Makes your day.

But, the best was for the last. I am not exactly a sweets person. Except for some very select dishes like kaju barfi, I am not a big fan of sweet stuff, and generally avoid dessert after a good main course just to retain the tastes. Thankfully I decided to have a try today. My cousin, who was having the veg version got this light, just about sweet, coconut dish, which was quite interesting. He also got the payasam and another dish that I can't recall much of now.

My sister-in-law (who was having the sea-food version) and I got the same stuff - payasam and another dish that looked like a burnt barfi.

But, what do morons like me know! I stuck my spoon into it and the spoon just went right through it. So, it was no barfi. I scooped up a small part of the slightly gooey thing and put in my mouth.

"Oh my god" was probably my first reaction. I won't remember because I was in a daze for a few seconds after that. This was my first encounter with a Vattal Appam. This dish made from pine jaggery is the most brilliant dish I have had in a very very long time. It's just the right amount of sweet, feels very light on the tongue, is absolutely mind-bogglingly delicious.

I asked for a second helping. I have been thinking about it since I got back home. I think I am going to dream about it tonight. I think I am in love with it.

Will talk about THE MOVIE later.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Local Train

He woke up at around 1 am.

He brushed his teeth, shaved and got into his usual jeans and T-Shirt. Wrote a letter.

He walked out of his housing society, hailed an auto to Goregaon East station.

He sat down on the platform and waited.

As the train entered the station, he lied down on the tracks.

The fucking train stopped just before it reached him.

He took an auto to get back to work, hoping no one saw him. Threw the letter out on the way.

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