Saturday, February 21, 2009

Films I Have Seen Recently

Half the fun of watching a good movie, or reading a great book, or coming across some amazing eating-joint, for that matter, is being able to tell people about it. I don't think I would have enjoyed reading Ulysses or watching 8 1/2 so much if getting through them didn't grant me bragging rights, especially to those people who had tried to do the same and failed. Even otherwise, the joy of watching something like Fargo or The Big Lebowski is to be able to go over its finer points with other connoisseurs of good cinema. Or laugh about them over cheap booze.

Even though my movie watching has continued more or less unabated, thankfully, I haven't been getting time to write about it here. Or even talk about it with anyone else, except occasionally with a few friends in my mails or over GTalk. There are a few other movie enthusiasts at my small office, but I don't want to give my colleagues an impression that about the only thing I do after work is see films and read fiction. Plus, not many people can get enthusiastic about stuff like Korean romantic films or Japanese sexploitation flicks.

This mail is solely about some of the more interesting movies I have seen in the last 1.5 months or so, and would like to suggest to you too.

Some of these movies have been nominated at the Oscars this year - Milk, The Wrestler, Frost/Nixon and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - and you would have seen them anyway. There are others though, which are equally good, if not better than some of these, but would be lost to memory after doing short tours of the festival circuit, resurfacing as a 'cult classic' some years from now.

I have maintained a record of every movie I have seen since 2004, and it'll be easier for me to go to the list and pick out the memorable ones. But, I would like to do this without looking at the list and see which movies have actually remained etched in memory.

The first name that jumps to my mind is this Swedish film called Låt den rätte komma in, or Let The Right One In. I see that it's at 191 on the IMDb Top 250, so it might not exactly be forgotten soon, but I haven't met too many who have seen this. It's a very unusual take on the vampire story. The snowed-in sets that it has been filmed in make the story of a young (or not so young) female (or not so much of a girl) vampire (as much of a vampire as one needs to be) living a lonely life even more striking.

The next one is The Fall. It's not even a good movie, in the strictest sense. It's just a beautiful movie. The story, maybe to show how inconsequential it is in the general scheme of things for Tarsem Singh, the director, is made up in the movie as it progresses, at times changing characters or setting in the middle of the narrative, because the little girl with a broken arm, for whose benefit the story has been thought of in the first place, is not happy with some part of it, or does not understand some other element. Every shot in the film, that supposedly used no CGI, is painstakingly created, but some shots are particularly breathtaking.

Then there's Blindness. It's one of those rare instances where I have strongly disagreed with what Roger Ebert had to say about a film. This film could be read into a lot to decipher messages about how, today, we look at things, but rarely ever see them. But, for me it was simply a thought experiment to see how people would behave if everyone went blind. Would our notions of shame, propriety, communal behavior still remain intact, or, as happens in the film, we will drop everything, including clothes in some people's cases. A slightly painful film for some people to watch, but very interesting.

JCVD has to be one of the quaintest films I have seen in a long time. Jean Claude Van Damme plays a character strongly inspired by his real life persona, who is known by the same name, and has had a similar film career of having played out repetitive roles in regressive, violent, B-grade flicks. Going through a really lean phase on personal and professional fronts, he reaches absolute pit bottom when he gets involved in a bank heist. This is probably the first time when I realized that Van Damme, whose kick-boxing movies I did enjoy as a kid, can actually act.

A friend gifted me with mint-condition DVDs of six Korean films recently. I have had time to watch only two of them, and one of those was good enough to be a part of this list. It's a strange film again, with very unique characters, whose motivations and responses aren't always clear. Wang-ui Namja, or The King and The Clown, is one of those stories that seem to flow completely on their own, without any pre-meditation, reaching a climax that might seem out of place if seen or spoken of out of context, but could not have been avoided if the story had to run its full course. It is a little over-the-top, as most Korean films are, but here for once, it goes well with the kind of characters that populate the screen.

And the final name would be Ta'm e Guilass, or Taste of Cherry - another of Abbas Kiarostami's masterly creations. Like a number of his other films, the main set in this film too is the protagonist's car, and most of the characters are real people, with no acting background. A very simple plot - a man looking for someone to cover his grave after he lies down in it and commits suicide - is made interesting by how different people respond to this curious demand.

That's it. For now. Got to leave to watch Delhi-6.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ahmedabad Diary

The only way I can begin to enjoy traveling because of work, and traveling with any of my colleagues/partners, is if I start staying back in the city of our visit more frequently. At least if I am visiting the place on a Friday. I did that last weekend in case of Ahmedabad.

Ahmedabad is an interesting city. Not necessarily nice or bad, just interesting, curious. It almost feels like a castrated one. It was a weird feeling when I realized around 7:30pm the first night that I can't have a can of beer even if I was willing to pay 500 bucks for it.

This feeling of something missing was added to by the fact that I was staying at a place where room-service wasn't allowed. So, unlike most other hotels I have stayed at alone in the last few years, here I could not watch TV or a movie on my comp, sipping beer and having tandoori chicken in my room.

But, I still enjoyed the visit. For one, I have not slept so much over one weekend since I joined work, except maybe the fortnight in August when I was ill. I was staying on the IIMA New Campus, at their Management Development Centre there, which is as good as a 3-Star Hotel. If one ignores that small room-service thing. My room was extremely comfortable and very cosy, unlike the general impersonal feeling one gets in most hotels. And I had a lot of time on my hands to strangle and flog and kill.

The campus itself is really beautiful. Not beautiful in the same way as IIMC's is, but in a more functional, utilitarian way. IIMC would be a great campus maybe if I was studying how to make films, but IIMA looks like a management school. As I told a friend, I am still not convinced that IIMA's students or faculty or curriculum are any better than B and C's, but it sure does kick the other schools' ass when it comes to infra. Even B, which ranks much higher than C in this regard, and probably only in this regard, pales in comparison to A.

Didn't do too much sight-seeing, partly because everyone seemed convinced that there isn't much in Ahmedabad to see. I am not completely bought on that point yet.

I was quite surprised to see that bookstores are quite popular in Ahmedabad. Somehow had never associated Gujarat with being a booklovers' haven.

The auto wallahs there were also a welcome relief from Bangalore's and Delhi's. Most of the autos have this weird meter, which I didn't even notice the first couple of times.

There were two-three other observations that I had made earlier but got to confirm this time. Gujjus seem to go out with their extended families a lot more than any other community I have seen. It's very common to see at least three generations of a family hanging out together in malls, in restaurants, near lakes (I visited two during the weekend), eating at thela-wallahs (and there are more here again than I have seen in any other city) and everywhere else.

The other thing is something, which I wasn't sure too many people notice, but the person I told this seemed to have observed this too. There's this very strong fashion trend of wearing really low-back kurtis/blouses/tops/whatever else falls in that category, across economic groups. I generally won't notice a fashion statement even if you wrote it down and made me read it, but this was really that noticeable. No judgment, just an observation.

PDA is also more common here than anywhere else I have seen. While other BJP-governed states were witnessing idiotic acts of moral policing, tens of couples were moving about holding hands, sitting together and doing a lot else, in public places without any concern from anyone.

Maybe Modi should come to power at the Centre. Everyone in Ahmedabad seems to think so, at least.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

That city in France

There was a time when Kamzor Kadi Kaun did not work on Indian television. One of the main reasons given, and I believe it is true, was that it was too disrespectful. It, in adherence to the original British format of The Weakest Link, treated its contestants as dirt. As people, who deserved to be ridiculed and made fun of simply because they had agreed to come in front of the camera for money.

I was watching Roadies on MTV today. And it made me think if today the quiz show was launched again with Neena Gupta, wouldn't it be a big hit, maybe with a numerologically correct name of Kkamzzor Kadii Kkaun? I felt insulted as a viewer when I watched Roadies. I can't imagine what kind of desperation would make these idiots to participate. In fact, from whatever I have seen of Raghu - that bald demon with a frenchie, who terrorises Roadies participants - I think he is intelligent enough to have latched on to the fact, earlier than most of us, that we have reached a stage where most of us feel extremely comfortable baring everything, figuratively and literally, in front of the camera. And enjoy others doing it too.

I watch only two shows on TV these days. Boogie Woogie and Indian Idol. It's convenient for me that both are telecast on the same channel, back-to-back, on Fridays and Saturdays. Both have this feeling of warmth, of respect for participants, that I really enjoy. Unlike most other 'talent shows', people here are really made to feel good about themselves, and their weaknesses and insecurities are not blown up disproportionately for the benefit of the viewer.

Particularly in case of Indian Idol, it's amazing how much genuine nice-ness the anchors - Hussain and Meiyang - and even the judges bring to the show. I have felt bad everytime any of the contestants has left the show. But today was particularly painful. Remo Ghosh - admittedly one of the weakest singers on the show - had been propelled forward and into the top 5 completely because he somehow could connect with the audience in a manner that very few people on TV can do. I really felt bad when he left today.

I was trying to frame this post in some way to talk about how difficult it is to be just nice and then why I like my firm so much because it just tries to be nice and thus is such an anti-thesis of what I always thought investment banking is all about - ruthlessness, money-mindedness, selfishness - but I lost the chain of thought somewhere back there.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


I was watching an interesting movie right now when I had a revelation. Well, not a revelation exactly, but something that makes me understand things better.

In the movie, this chap, in a moment of difficulty and confusion, goes to the chapel and talks to God. I am never able to understand these actions. I mean, I have always believed that belief in God, by the majority of people around us, is important for life to run sanely. The idea that there's someone watching you all the time or that you'll have to pay for your deeds ensures that a lot less people commit crimes or just be plain selfish all the time than what would be the case if everyone was an atheist.
It requires intelligence, or plain laziness, to know that there is no God and still keep oneself from committing crimes.But it still is difficult for me to understand how someone can have such blind faith in an abstract concept like God.

So, coming back to this chap. He was in a situation that I find myself in a lot. To cope with it he went and spoke to a stone idol. And whenever I find myself in situations like these, I invariably feel the need to talk to someone too. But in my case this 'someone' ends up being one of my close friends.

Just as a lot of people have utmost faith in their God, I have an unreasonable belief in my friends' ability to listen to me, understand me and forgive me.

I don't consider my friends infallible of course, but one needs to be flawed to understand someone else's flaws. God, assuming there is one, can't win against my friends in that department.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Butter Chicken in Gurgawan

Every time I visit Delhi it becomes clearer to me why anyone who has no personal attachment to the city would hate it. Which is unlike Bangalore, where unless you have some really bad memory of the city, you are bound to find it fantastic.

Even I used to hate Delhi, till I joined college there. And even though each subsequent visit after passing out in 2006 has made me cringe at how crude the people can be, how painful some interactions can be, I have still felt like I am coming back home.

The same might not be true for Gurgaon though. Which looks like one of the ugliest places I have been to in my life. During my short stay in NCR this weekend, I stayed in Gurgaon, close to a friend's place, even though I spent most of the weekend in Delhi. And just three nights in Gurgaon showed me why almost all my friends staying there crib about the place.

Unlike previous visits to Delhi in the last 2-3 years, where I would try to meet as many friends staying in that region as possible, this visit was to meet just one friend. Also, this was the first visit after passing out from engineering college that I was in Delhi and did not visit it. Glad I decided to do it that way.

And I had Butter Chicken and Dal Makhni. I had forgotten how much I like Delhi food. Even though Bangalore has some great eating joints and amazing variety in cuisines, and even though, unlike many North Indians I know, I absolutely love all South Indian food, there is something about having Jeera Rice and Butter Chicken in Delhi that can be matched by little else. Like everything else about Delhi, this also has its own nostalgia attached to it, especially when had with a bottle of Kingfisher/Sandpiper, but even if you went to Delhi for the first time in your life after reading this and had Butter Chicken, you would know what I mean.

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