Monday, August 16, 2010

Moving On

It's time to move on, folks. I'm switching to wordpress. Check this space for new updates:

Thanks for following this space for as long as you did. I'll always appreciate your feedback and attention


Monday, March 15, 2010

Story contest

I've entered a story at INDIMAG's contest. Contest fundaes here:

My entry here:

Read it. Comment upon it, and if you're willing to login and get an INDIMAG account, vote for it.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Horror of It All

Watching "The Wolfman" a couple of weeks ago - a clear metaphor for the Engineering student's condition during Valentine's day - it occured to me that as far as I know, there's no Great Indian Horror Movie. I say Indian, to leave out the recent crop of multiplex-fodder that ripped of American movies, that in turn ripped off Chinese, Korean, Japanese, hell even Thai films. And I say great to leave out such Ramsay-grade fare as "Khooni Panja", "Purana Mandir" and "Jaani Dushman" (though its sequel/remake "Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani" is a horror film for other reasons). What horror film, now or before, has etched itself in our collective consciousness so as to come to mind immediately when the word is spoken?

This extends not only to horror, but also to genres in general. Indian cinema has produced great drama ('drama' being the collective term for artsy, literary-type stories by Shyam Benegal, Satyajit Ray and so forth), great romance (Anything made by Hrishikesh Mukherjee) and great action films (Sholay, RGV's Company, Satya and Shool). Yet speculative fiction (the concept of what if...) which gives way to horror, science fiction and the generally unknown, has never been explored, except for such vomitoriums as "Krrish", "Love Story 2050" and "Azhagiya Thamizh Magan" (check its "scifi" story here).

Correction. There are such films by Satyajit Ray as "Paras Patthar" and "Goopy Gain Bagher Bain" from his time, and three recent exceptions that plumbed into the depths of speculative fiction - "Darna Mana Hain", "Vaastu Shastra" and "Kaun". All three were RGV products and all three, despite various flaws, must be lauded. Few others have had RGV's balls in venturing into horror (although in recent times, balls seem to be all RGV has).

This is lamentable as a good horror story serves strongly to experience and thus come to terms with fear, whether of the fantastic - vampires, ghosts and aliens - or the real - psychos, criminals or even the horrors that jump out of everyday life. Which brings me to the first point of good horror fiction, which again most Indian films miss out on.

Relatable characters. Consider movies such as the first Nightmare on Elm Street, Jaws, The Terminator (not T2), Back to the Future, The Sixth Sense or even Strangers on a Train (a very effective horror film in its way). All involve every day people, and all begin with them going about their everyday lives. The whole point of the scary/weird things that follow, is that such things could happen to everyday people such as you or me. This is borne out best in Stephen King's stories, which involve people one can relate to immediately, even if they're American. What happens to them, and their response to it, becomes so relatable it is as possible in Mambalam as in Maine (where, btw, King bases most of his stories). This also establishes an important point of speculative fiction - it is not the strange event which matters, as much as people's response to it. This is best borne out for example in "The Twilight Zone", with various episodes dealing with seemingly monstrous actions that are ultimately revealed to be human, or in Back to the Future, where M. J. Fox's character, who is a normal (American) teenager, first fears he is stuck in the past for the rest of his days (imagine living your days out in the pre-Internet license-permit days) and must then worry about undoing his existence (because he is coming in between his (then young) Dad and Mom!!).

In contrast though, the characters from such speculative Indian films (with the exception of DMH, VS and best of all, Kaun) are anything but plausible regular characters. Take LS 2050 for example. The movie opens with the poor man's Hrithik Roshan, Harman Baweja crashing his dad's car and walking away. Never mind if you or I could do that, would any kid (albeit without MAJOR MAJOR issues) just walk away with a grin after trashing family property? How are we then supposed to relate to his losing his girlfriend (in a disturbingly hilarious scene), let alone his discovery of the futuristic world? Indeed, can you or I relate to someone so dense as to go fifty years into the future to find a reincarnated girlfriend, rather than 24 hours back to prevent her death? The same applies to Krrish, where we are supposed believe somebody who's been taken out of school and held in seclusion by his grandma will not grow into a Freudian wet dream, but a superhero who saves people simply to impress his girlfriend. Real characters have real responses - whether the event itself is real or not - that we can appreciate, and are the first need for any speculative fiction, and especially horror, to work.

The second point or purpose of speculative fiction is to provide a metaphor for the real world and make a point about it. Take for example "Rossum's Universal Robots". Never heard of it? Well, that's because it's a Czech play made in 1921. The play gave rise to the use of "robot" (based on a Czech word for labourer) and dealt with a world where robots are created and kept as replacable artificial workers in the worst conditions possible, only to eventually rise up against humans and form a civilization of their own. Interestingly, the Gilded Age had ended in the US, while the October Revolution had just occured in Russia. The point the play was making resonated one way or another with everyone, and thus did the word robot come about. This applies to all of the best horror/science fiction films in existence. Dracula tapped into the Victorian fear of STD's, infectious diseases and taboo sexuality. Frankenstein tapped into the same ideas as RUR (though earlier), of artificial life and the implications therein. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" tapped into the fear of both Communism and McCarthyism. George Romero's zombie films are each recognized as allegories for specific topics of the era, from race relations to foreign invasions and social equality. And the Alien series, with the parasites that burst out of stomachs, breed out of control and look kind of phallic deals with everybody's fear of hoo-hoos or ha-has.

Which is why we need good Indian horror films. We in India have been plagued with enough ills over the years to come up with great metaphors. For example, our zombies: the crowds who protest at the drop of the hat, demonstrating peacefully by throwing stones over cartoons and paintings that hurt feelings. Our vampire: the babus who bite people on the neck and elsewhere, draining all but those with the capacity to become like them. Our werewolves: the Naxalites who appear out of nowhere at night, kill mercilessly and disappear to re-emerge during the day as civilians. Our chestburster Aliens: Wahabbi Islam, which parasitically attaches to people, only to explode out of them, sometimes blowing them up, often others. And our Blobs, giant hideous masses that absorb things and grow big enough to engulf States or nations: Mayawati and/or Jayalalitha.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mummy-Daddy Mentality

Amit Varma ripped IIMT a new one, with his post on this TOI article:

"Most young people may have got all romantic this Valentine’s Day, but for this technical institute it was all about brotherly and sisterly love. In what can probably be described as a celebration of V-Day in the spirit of Bhai Dooj, the Ishan Institute of Management and Technology asked its girl students to prepare food for the boys to mark the day.

The underlying motto, as institute chairman DK Garg told the media, was to promote “a culture of knowledge where brothers and sisters could stay together’’. Students said the institute, which believes in strict discipline, had warned them not to get ``carried away’’ on Valentine’s Day."

The article itself contains response from students suggesting it archaic, to say the least. But it is but one amongst thousands of initiatives taken by colleges to "set students on the right path", as though our Deans and Chancellors were the Moms and Dads we went to college to get away from.

This sort of hardcore monitoring is not news to people who have attended, for example Satyabhama College in Chennai - private colleges there are after all for the parents who really hate their children and wish to make sure of a repressed and hateful adolescence for them. The shameful thing is how it occurs even in higher end places. Take IIT G for instance. For everyone who was around till 2007, Rouble's was a popular hang out joint next to campus. It was not a CCD or Barista, simply a shack with 2 tables inside, where one could order tea, buy cigarettes and most importantly, pay later. Rouble bhai was a fraternal figure whom many IITG graduates will remember fondly.

And then sometime in 2007-08, the shop was shut down. Sure, it still operates, but Rouble's can no longer sell cigarettes to students. Also shut down was the mobile chai-sutta wagon within campus - no selling cigarettes to anyone. The Dean saw to both personally, and by some accounts (I'm a bit hazy on this as I wasn't around) personally threatened the owners with eviction should students be caught buying cigs. All this over and above the ban on smoking anywhere within campus, let alone one's hostel room. Bad habits have to be broken, and if the good Dean would not do something (like Boman Irani from Darna Mana Hain) how many future engineers would die of lung cancer?

Similarly, take this article on IIT B's net access. Officials choose to cut off net access at midnight, not because it was expensive, or because students were illegally downloading stuff en masse but because "high-speed internet access was impeding socialization". Just like Mom all those years ago, they were telling students "Go out and play no!!"

Colleges are called alma maters as well. But the people running should realize they aren't our parents. And even if they were... we're not fucking kids anymore.

If only they'd realize.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

MIHYAP contest (Click to find out more)

The GreatB is holding a contest in res his upcoming new book. The contest involves 10 favourite movie quotes, and tagging friends. The contest rules can be seen by clicking on this post's link, and the book is to be found here:

So here's my list of favourite movie lines:
  1. “I’ll be back” - The Terminator (1984)
  2. “...Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of. Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that” - Casablanca (1942)
  3. “There's this passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is The Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee." I been saying that shit for years. And if you heard it, that meant your ass. I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was some cold-blooded shit to say to a motherfucker 'fore I popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this mornin' made me think different. See, now I'm thinking, maybe it means you're the evil man, and I'm the righteous man, and Mr. 9 millimeter here, he's the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or, it could mean you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd and it's the world that's evil and selfish. I'd like that. But that shit ain't the truth. The truth is, you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin', Ringo. I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd” - Pulp Fiction (1994)
  4. “My father was a drinker... and a fiend. And one night, he comes home crazier than usual. Mommy gets the kitchen knife to defend herself. He doesn't like that. Not.. one... bit. So, me watching, he takes the knife to her, laughing while he does it. He turns to me and says, "why so serious?" He comes at me with the knife — "why so serious?" Sticks the blade in my mouth, — "let's put a smile on that face!"” - The Dark Knight (2008)
  5. “And I promise you I'll never desert you again because after Salome we'll make another picture and another picture. You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!” - Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  6. “The man you just killed was just released from prison. He got caught at a company warehouse full of hot items. He could've fuckin' walked. All he had to do was say my dad's name, but he didn't; he kept his fucking mouth shut. And did his fuckin' time, and he did it like a man. He did four years for us. So, Mr. Orange, you're tellin' me this very good friend of mine, who did four years for my father, who in four years never made a deal, no matter what they dangled in front of him, you're telling me that now, that now this man is free, and we're making good on our commitment to him, he's just gonna decide, out of the fucking blue, to rip us off? Why don't you tell me what really happened?” - Reservoir Dogs (1992)
  7. “You got leads. Mitch & Murray paid good money. Get their names to sell them. You can't close the leads you're given, you can't close shit, you are shit, hit the bricks pal, and beat it, 'cause you are going out” - Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
  8. “The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms - greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge - has marked the upward surge of mankind, and greed - you mark my words - will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA” - Wall Street (1987)
  9. “I'd like to share a revelation I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with their surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and you multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague, and we … are the cure” - The Matrix (1999)
  10. “For us, there is no spring. Just the wind that smells fresh before the storm” - Conan the Barbarian (1982)
I'm tagging lexicomaniac, acynic, greyscalp, the adlibber and pandora to do the same. Those tagged, please make lists of your own and also:
a. On your blog, provide a link to this page. (
b. Come over to the comment-space of this post and post your blog’s link so it can be read.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A One Liner Noone Should Have Use For

Dunno even why I thought of it but...

To the parent of a mentally handicapped boy/girl:

``I can really see where your son/daughter gets his/her brains from!!"

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Movie Review: Avatar

Avatar is Cameron's first film in 10 years, after the abysmal blockbuster "Titanic". The story was something he concieved first in 1994. So what's the result of 15 years of Cameron's genius added to enough money to bail out the US economy? Well, Avatar is a game changer, a movie that will change film making, and for this reason it deserves to be compared with epics like "Star Wars" and "Superman" and yes, "Titanic". Writing wise though, Cameron has hit a note far below the triumphs of his great action movies from the "Terminator" and "Aliens" days.

The concept centers around humans on a planet named Pandora, a gigantic wilderness. inhabited by giant pterosaurs, reptilian wild dogs and shovel-headed triceratops. The air on the planet is unbreathable by humans, but the planet carries huge deposits of 'unobtainium', which is worth a fortune for some reason. The mining colony on the planet is policed by Marines on hire, and all activities require gas masks. The people here are at a big disadvantage from Pandora's natives, the Na'vi, who can breathe the air and telepathically tame its various beasts, are 15 feet tall and super-agile and live on a gigantic tree. To facilitate negotiations and understanding (A euphemism for "get them off their land as there's a deposit on it"), a team of scientists figure out a way to project their consciousness remotely on Na'vi bodies genetically engineered for the process. These are the 'Avatars', of whom newcomer Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Dr. Augutine (Sigourney Weaver) are of note. Sully volunteers for the process as he's a cripple in real life, and upon waking in his Avatar, finds himself mobile and in a rush. He then has himself an accident and gets lost in the forest and runs into the daughter of the Na'vi chief.

It took about half an hour to come up with the above summary, which speaks volumes about the detail and texture of this world Cameron created. From Avatar-Sully's meeting with the daughter (why a daughter and never a son?) though, the movie proceeds on a course easily visible to anyone who's ever watched a movie. She trains him in the ways of the Force.. sorry Eywha, they fall visibly (note the use of the word) in love, he tames a giant flying beast and eventually sympathises enough with the natives to defend them against the evil corporation and eviler mercenary Marine. They have them some amazing battles, and in the end, the evil Empire (the Merchant-Military one) is defeated and Sully transitions permanently into Avatar-Sully, setting the stage for a sequel.

The 3D thing that Cameron pulled off is amazing, as is the detail put to the world of Pandora. In that respect this movie is a milestone ushering in a new style of movie making, the way Superman ushered in special effects, Star Wars brought in space opera and Titanic opened up squealing teenage girls as a viable fanbase. It's also to Cameron's credit that despite all the flaws of the second half, one is riveted to the screen till the end credits roll. But on the count of stortelling, Cameron seems to distance his present work from his previous work of the 80's and 90's, wherein explosions and special effects were only the cherry on top to well-defined character sketches and a rock-solid story.

Verdict: A Must See, but could have been far better