Thursday, December 18, 2008

The White Tiger: Why So Serious?

This is a bit of a pointless exercise seeing as Arvind Adiga has written a second book already AND won the Manaviya Pustakwala Puraskar for this one. Reading this and seeing the book touted by newspapers and mags as great serious literature however, one feels compelled to put in one's own 2 paise on it.

Let's get what's good about the book out of the way. The book has a plot that consistently holds the reader's interest (it did mine), and stays suspenseful after delivering a minor jolt in the first chapter. Adiga does a decent job of making us root for the protagonist even though he isn't an underdog by a long shot. The narration is slick, alternating between tones of insight and black humour. All in all, you will never feel bored while reading this book.

The precise problem with the book is that it's not just a story of a guy from Bihar (Balram Halwai) who made it big in Bangalore. It's great serious literature with a great serious message, and has to be assessed as such. This message, like in movies such as RDB and A Wednesday is repeated every few pages across The White Tiger, till you want to tear your hear and scream "Yessir we get it". The White Tiger is essentially a "message book". This message, which the gora press also calls theme or undertone or describes as "painted in broad strokes", trumps the story, takes centerstage from Balram and ultimately swings your Tomatometer from "Good" to "Pretentious".

Well, what's the message, you ask? Well, put simply, the message is that life for the underclasses in India sucks. To elaborate, it is that life in a village in UP-Bihar is miserable. That villages lack basic amenities such as roads, medical services and schools due to corruption. That politicians rig elections in villages. That corrupt cops enforce political diktat in Bihar. That rural landlords oppress villagers and suck their lifeblood on a daily basis. And...... wait for it.... that you can get away with running over slum-dwellers in Delhi. Wow Adiga-sirjee!! How insightful and revealing. You have exposed the seamy underbelly of India to us anpadh-gawaar-types who thought it to be a magical land of sunshine and buttercups where rivers of chocolate flowed. Wah bhai Wah!!

[To be fair though, he springs three entirely new ones on us. The first, that a poor joint family is a milestone about the neck of an entrepreneur, akin to the chicken coop. The second, that landlords "lord it" over rivers and village roads as well as the fields. And the third, that wizened old grandmothers are evil and manipulative]

You may think I am ripping on the guy due to my desh-bhakti or whatever (friend Anu felt so when I discussed this book). Well here's the thing. An accurate presentation of life in a village would include detailed description of the village itself - its various streets, the shops, the people who run 'em, the people who pas through it daily and all this in detail. All Adiga presents us is a main street, which is described as bisected through a river of sewage and ending in a temple of Hanuman, which could describe just about any village in India. Ditto for the teashop, the school and the schoolmaster and the evil opressive bloodsucking landlord-politician-policemen. He presents us a generic village, cobbled out of bits of Yashraj films and R. K. Narayan and says "See!! See!! Life is so so bad!!". The approach is the same for Balram's master, kind and indecisive master Ashok-from-US. Being "US-returned", Ashok commits a number of cardinal sins. He marries outside the religion (a Christian NRI who likes to say "What a fucking joke!!" and who leaves him upon which his father says I told you so), pays and treats his servants better than his India-stayed brother (His dad says "The ideas you pick up") and most shameful of all, hates the idea of bribing people. All this despite having grown up with his evil-oppressor brother and father. Near the end, Balram kills him thinking he should've seen it coming and reflecting on how his brother wouldn't have fallen for it. And most significantly, while the book is supposedly about Balram's rise, we don't see much of that. We only know he used a sum of stolen money (which in present time, is fairly peanuts) to start a business which was a success, one of those Eureka!!-meets-Abracadabra type successes. Half the book is about Balram's generically miserable upbringing. Another one-third then brings up the prospect of stealing cash. He does it. Voila!! Balram is now a millionaire. So there, says Arvind-by Golly-Adiga. See, see!! India is so so bad no!! Poor man from village is fucked over always. Only way to get ahead is to murder rich mans from city. See see!!!

And lest you still think I'm unfairly getting at him for his message check his Wikibio here, where you'll see he's not been near a village in a long time, and his justification in writing the book, which is:

"At a time when India is going through great changes and, with China, is likely to inherit the world from the West, it is important that writers like me try to highlight the brutal injustices of society (Indian). That's what I'm trying to do -- it's not an attack on the country, it's about the greater process of self-examination"

He compares himself to Balzac and Dickens, who critiqued society in their times. Well, Balzac I don't know and critiquing society I don't know, but Dickens I do know, and Mr. Adiga, you're no Dickens by an interstellar shot. Dickens actually gave every one of his characters a unique background and personality. He made even his bad guys more than just generic constructs. And the reason he could do this was because he experienced first-hand the darker sides of life. That experience came out in his stories, whether the lead viewed them or experienced them, and that experience made his stories real, as opposed to yours.

Verdict: This book was touted as great revelatory serious literature, for which it won the Booker. It is for goraas who don't know shit about India and like to fit filth-and-poverty where they put snakecharmer- and elephant. For anyone who's been in India however, this is essentially an exploitation piece, with exploitation being what's exploited. Readable, but far from great.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

And Yet Another Birthday

Well, it's happened. I've crossed 25.

What progress have I made compared to last year (ref. here)? Well let's see.

On the front of anti-aging, still no luck. I still feel immortal, which they say only the young do, but I realize, in the midst of vigorous taekwondo/jujitsu matches, that I ain't exactly what I used to be. Actually, I used to be a sluggish fat slob, so scratch that. I need more fitness is what I'm saying, so rather than de-aging next year, let's set weight loss and muscle gain as a goal. More realistic (Achievable? Who knows)

On the social front too I made progress. I went out on a whole date with a girl I liked. And I don't mean someone in class whom I met a few times, made friends with and applied ladder theory or anything, I mean a girl I saw who got ghantis bajaaing in the head and whose social life I attempted to insinuate myself into from day 1. How did that work out? A "whole date" should have told you where it was headed. I was depressed when it became clear slipped through my fingers, but it's a start. Hopefully this time next year I'll have a girl (Note: I mean a girl. That's what I want. Not a goddamn wife). In the meantime, I reflect on the fact that practicing full body throws the day after the great crunch was so painful as to drive out the emo hurts within, indicating that martial arts have to be improved upon in the process.

Great news though on the writing front. I've written three whole stories and a goddamn 130 page thesis - my prof called it a mini-dissertation. Rewrites pending on the one with the great twist ending before I send it out. So goals for next year - get the damn thing published. I want to be able to google my name and get a link to I dunno Zoetrope fiction as well as Biotech and Bioengineering (yeah that thesis is becoming a paper as well).

So there we go. A copper or silver jubilee of me and this is life. Let's see what the number 26 holds for moi. And yoi in connection with moi as well.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

As We Sow...Redux

Well, here it is. The reaping.

We sowed it by doing nothing when Naxalites shot people in AP, Orissa and Bihar.

We sowed it by turning the page when cops were killed in Kashmir.

We sowed it by looking away when the Tripura Liberation Force and ULFA gunned people down specifically on Independence and Republic days.

We watered it by letting any politically-connected fool get away with calling bandhs, inciting riots, robbing freedom of expression and emasculating the law.

We fertilized it by going on with life as usual.

All that's left, is the reaping.

Bombay is reaping it since Wednesday. And what a reaping it is.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Awesome One-Liners I Haven't Found Use for Yet

This one's for Tams who like to mix English in their daily Tamil:

"Bourgeois aavudhu Theergaayis aavudhu!!!"

Get it???

Awesome One-Liners I Haven't Found Use for Yet

"She really puts the 'tit' in 'titillate'!!"

I'm open to suggestions as to context of use. More such lines coming up as I think them up (sans the story they should be in)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

As We Sow......

Desh Drohi is this weird B-movie made by a fellow called Kamaal R Khan. So far, this was pretty much the most attention it got.

As of a few hours ago though, the state of Maharashtra called for a ban on the film. Apparently, cops and government officials watched it and concluded that it would offend the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. The reason - the film is on migrant workers and more importantly has a villianous politician who ever so coincidentally resembles an estranged Thackeray high up in the MNS. Proving himself to have some sort of data processing equipment, this estranged Thackeray called for attacks on the film screening.

The response of the Maharashtra government is one for the annals: Concluding that the MNS would be pissed, they decided to ban the film "...apprehending law and order problems". Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said, "We are happy that Mumbai police have realised the movie's potential to create law and order problem if it is allowed to be shown".

People talk of the need for a strong response to terrorists. Well, now we see just what the Maharashtra government's response will be. When you cannot be bothered to defend someone's right to free expression from a terrorist who openly shows himself everyday, how can you be bothered to protect their right to live from one who hides ?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Night

Ok, no BS on who's going to win - as of now, I don't know. And nothing on why either candidate should win either - lots of people have done better jobs on that. What I'm going to tell you is a story illustrating US politics.

Going to the Purdue Students' Union Building this morning, I saw a person ask people "Have you voted?" and pointing a couple who evidently hadn't towards the general direction of the nearest booth. I'd noticed people doing things on these lines for a while. For over a year, the news has pointed out how young people love Obama and attend his rallies and so on. Being in Indiana, a hard-core Republican state, I found similar action taken in favour of McCain, and this wasn't anything new.

On the way back, I notice this girl who's taken the current shift of asking people to vote. She tells me "Have you voted, sir?". I'd made it a point to look apologetic when telling them I'm not a citizen, and I do the same now. "I'm not a US citizen, so I can't vote" I tell her.

"Yeah, I know how it is. I'm 17 and can't vote till next year either" she says.

Note the number and voting status there. 17. This kid's still in high school, or is a freshman in college. Her batchmates are figuring out majors, sports teams, girls, GPAs or all of them. She takes this initiative to get people to vote (not vote Obama, but vote), and that despite being unable to vote herself.

This has been the real suprise to me in the Unites States, not the stuff about "a black man cac against all odds become president yada yada..". The importance people - and I mean middle class, educated people, who back home only may have voted, and would then moan about how it came to naught - attach to this responsibility.

Presidents come and go, and Obama (if he wins) is no exception, however much he may be a darling of the media at present. What is amazing in the United States is this attitude the people have towards politics, wherein they guide you to poll booths, volunteer to register you to vote (earlier on), set up clear directions to voting booths on campus and even offer voters discounts on coffee (Starbucks). This, and not party ideology, is what makes this country's offices strong, however accomplished or not the holder may be. Democratic power lies with the people. In the US, the people pro-actively wield it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Half-Blood Prince: Greatest Movie Never Made

[Note: For this to make even a lick of sense, you have to be familiar with two very popular franchises. One's obvious, the other not so much]

To: Christopher Nolan (
From: Warner Bros. Executive Committee (
Subject: The Half Blood Prince Script

Dear Chris,
We realize you, Jonathan, and David spent a lot of time on this script. But this is not quite where we want to take the series.
Attachment: HBPscript.doc

The Half Blood Prince

Int. Gringotts Bank.
Five people in Death masks arrive and kill goblins around. They're masked and hooded.

Death Eater 4:
We're with the Dark Lord!! Anyone move and they get AK'd. You 3, get to the vaults.

Death Eaters 1,2 and 3 accompany a goblin down to the Lestrange's vault.

Death Eater 1
This job is going to be perfect. The Dark lord thinks things through real well (kills a goblin). So much gold for the six of us

Death Eater 2
Five of us
(AK's him)

Death Eater 3
Four of us
(AK's 2)

Death Eater 4
What's been up here? (sees dead bodies) Oh, three of us

He drags a sack of Galleons to Death Eater 5 who has been silent all this while

Death Eater 4
Amazing huh? (Silently drawing out wand) I figured the Dark Lord told you to kill me too, so there'd be two shares. You're dead

The Knight Bus crashes in through the doors and runs him over. Bellatrix Lestrange gets out

Dark Lord (to Bellatrix)
Load the gold

Int. Malfoy Mansion. In the night

Death Eaters meet at a table

This is terrible. Some freaks wearing Death Eater masks actually robbed my vault today at Gringotts. We have to find a way to take down the Ministry

Dark Lord's (Ralph Fiennes') voice
HAA! Ha-HA!! HA-hAAA!!Ho-hoo haha!! And I thought I was a snake in the grass

He enters for the first time, dressed in purple and green robes. His face is pale white with black slits painted where his nose was. His nose has been cut off and scars remain on the site. He laughs and hisses

The Dark Lord
[His tongue is revealed to be cut up so as to fork in two]
Let's wind the clock a year. These Ministry people didn't even believe any of us existed. I mean, what happened? Harry Potter and Dumbledore.

Some Death Eater
So what are you saying?

Dark Lord
It's simple. We uh, kill Potter and Dumbledore. I mean, Scrimgeour, he's just the beginning. And as for your (pointing to Malfoy) plan, Potter and Dumbledore are not Ministry people. They'll act. They'll find you and make you squeal. I know squealers when I see them and you Lucius....

Malfoy flinches.
Int. Gryffindor common room
Harry and his friends have finished unpacking at Hogwarts. Colin Creevey comes in wearing a magic badge. It reads:
I believe in Harry Potter

Harry looks out the window. He suddenly sees a phoenix symbol projected into the sky, through what appears to be a spotlight on the highest tower of Hogwarts.

Ext. Highest tower
I need you to find Horace Slughorn. He's run off to Hong Kong and the Chinese won't extradite him. He knows of Voldemort's secret Horcruxes

What're those?

Cursed objects. Valuable traffic for the Death Eaters. I've been tracking them. The Gringotts robbery was clearly meant to cover the moving of one

If I get him to you, can you get him to talk?

If you can get to him, he'll sing to you

Harry gets on a Thestral to Hong Kong and searches downtown till he finds Slughorn Consultancies.

I have my mother's eyes

I'll come with you to England and spill the beans on the Horcruxes

Int. Griffyndor Tower

Wow, the Death Eaters' Horcruxes are known. Amelia Bones is in charge of the case. Once they're gathered, the whole gang can be arrested.

[The Daily Prophet is delivered. It now has moving images with sound]

Rita Skeeter
Note that what you are about to see is extremely disturbing

Focus. Image
Emmeline Vance is tied up and has gashes all over her face. Someone is talking to her but we don't know who.

Dark Lord
So you believe in Potter do you?

He's shown us we don't have to be afraid of you

Dark Lord
You do, Emmeline. You really do. So... you think Potter's made life better for everyone?

Vance nods

Dark Lord
Look at me. LOOK AT ME!!!!

He enters the image for the first time. We see his cut up nose and split tongue

Dark Lord
You see this is how crazy Potter's made things. You want order in England, Harry Potter must turn himself in to the Ministry where I will find him. Oh, and everyday he doesn't, people will die. Starting tonight..... I'm a man of my word. HeHEHEHEHEHEHEHHEHEhehehehisssshishishishis
[Screams in the background]

Int. Ministry Building
Kingsley Shacklebolt
Anything on that Dark Mark card found on Vance?

Arthur Weasley
We found 3 DNA matches. Cornelius Fudge, Amelia Bones and Harry Potter.

The Dark Lord's telling us his next victims. Get people to them

Int. Slug Club Party room

Harry and a bunch of people are celebrating. Harry takes Ginny aside.

You said we'd always be together, once the world didn't need me. Did you mean it?

Harry... don't make me your only hope for a normal life

Suddenly, Cornelius Fudge collapses in his office convulsing and simultaneously Amelia Bones' house explodes with her in it. Dark Marks on them float around the exploding debris.

Death Eaters appear at party holding Snape hostage.

Dark Lord
Evening, ladies and gentlemen. We are tonight's entertainment. I only have one question. Where is Harry Potter?

Int. Some sort of Conference Room
Harry and the Dark Lord sit across from each other on a table

You wanted me. Here I am

Dark Lord
I wanted to see what you'd do. And you didn't disappoint. You let 5 people die. Then, you let that ginger take your place. Even to a guy like me, that's cold

Where's Ron?

Dark Lord
My stupid Death Eaters want you gone so they can get back to the way things were. But I know the truth. There's no going back.... you've changed things... forever.

Then why do you want to kill me?

Dark Lord
I don't want to kill you. What would I do without you? No, no, NO!! You complete me. Well any, there's only minutes left, so you'd better hurry up if you want to save one of them.


Dark Lord
Yeah you know for a while I thought you were Dean Thomas. The way you threw yourself after her.....

Harry flies into a rage.

Dark Lord
Look at you go!!!

Harry uses the Cruciatus curse on him, but he just cackles

Dark Lord
You have nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your magical ability. But don't worry, I'll tell you where they are, both of them, and that's the point. You're going to choose which one of them lives and which one dies. Killing is merely a choice. He's at the Ministry of Magic, in the Mysteries room and she's at 13 Knockturn Alley

Who are you going for?

Ginny!! You take care of Ron

Both rush out to their respective brooms. A long furious drive occurs.

Ginny (tied up)
Is someone there? Hellooo?

Gin? Is that you? Where are you?

Ron. They tied me up. They said only one of us would make it, and our friends would decide who it would be

Ron (thinking)
It's all right. They're coming for you.

Ron. I don't want you to die. Find a way out. Talk to me.

Harry is shown rushing into a building in Knockturn Alley. He opens a door and enters to find... Ron.
No!! No!! Harry, why are you here? You're not supposed to find me. Ginny!! Ginny!! GINNNYYY!!

Ron, it's ok.. it's okay. Listen.....
[Hermione enters her room]
[The Entire Ministry of Magic building explodes sky high, killing both her and Hermione, leaving fantastic wreckage and making a subtle point on terrorism]

As Harry drags Ron out, Knockturn Alley explodes, burning half of Ron's face.
The explosion reveals the Ministry to the general public, creating absolute chaos. Wizards and humans are now terrified of each other.
Int. St. Mungo's Hospital

Ron is at St. Mungo's by himself, everyone else out dealing with the people. Molly leaves Ron the only artifact she could find of Hermione, her golden Galleon, one side blackened and disfigured. He looks at it and sees his face in the mirror.
In the chaos, the Dark Lord slips into the hospital and confronts Ron.

Dark Lord

Ron struggles but is restrained to the bed

Dark Lord
Y'know Ron, I don't want there to be any hard feelings between us.
It's the schemers that put you where you are. You were a schemer, you had plans, and uh, look where that got you. I just did what I do best. I took your little plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I tell the press that like a Dementor will suck out souls, or a train full of wizards will be blown up, nobody panics, because it's all, part of the plan. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!

He hands Ron a wand and points the other end at himself

Dark Lord
Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I'm an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It's fair.

Ron looks at him hard, and pulls out the Galleon.

Ron [Showing the unscarred side]
You live.

Dark Lord

Ron [Shows the other side]
You die.

Dark Lord
Mmm, now we're talking.

Ron flips the coin.

Rita Skeeter appears on television AND on the Daily Prophet. She's clearly at wand-point and is stammering

Rita Skeeter
I'm Rita Skeeter for the Daily Prophet. What does it take to make you people join in? I made the revelation of all time and you failed to respond by killing each other. I've got to get you off the bench--

Dark Lord

Rita Skeeter
And into the game.

Dark Lord

Rita Skeeter
Come nightfall this country is mine...

Dark Lord
Mine... ...and anyone left here plays by my rules.

Rita Skeeter
If you don't want to be in the game
[pauses] Get out now... But the airport and Chunnel crowd are sure in for a surprise.
Ha ha ha ha ha

Ron confronts Lucius Malfoy with his wand pointing
Who was your other insider in the Order of the Phoenix?

If I tell you, you let me go?

Can't hurt your chances

It was Rosemerta

Ron keeps the wand pointed

I thought...

I said it couldn't hurt your chanes.[Flips the Galleon] You're a lucky man [Flips again] But he's not


Snape [facing Harry]
I killed all of them. Including Dumbledore

They'll hunt you.

You'll hunt me. You'll condemn me. Set the dogs on me. Because that's what needs to happen. Because, sometimes, truth isn't good enough, sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.

He runs off.

Neville approaches
Why is this happening?

Because he's the villain this series deserves, but not the one it needs right now...and so we'll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he's not an ordinary villain. He's a noble outcast, a tragic lover ...a half-blood prince

Monday, October 13, 2008

Roots and Rants

[Note: In containg filmi terms, this is sort of inspired by this post. I've been as original as possible, but if you see parallels, well that's how they are]

"Sub" and "prime" have become the scariest things you could put at the ends of a hyphen. It's no longer recession that the US is worried about, but a Depression (note the Capital letter; also note this is ripped off the NYT somewhat). "Thraahi-Thraahi" is "mach"ing everywhere in the US, to use a phrase last encountered in Class X Katha Kunj.

The politicos, the Wall Street-wallahs, the newsmen, the financial analysts, the pundits, the comedians and the bloggers have all had things to say about the crisis. How the nation got into it, who got greedy, whose fault all this is and so on and so forth. Fingers everywhere are pointing to greedy child-eating Wall Street Geckos, and their corrupt bitches in the Parliament and the White House. The status of the financiers and politicos are, put simply, the same as of the lecherous Sethji's who collect on loans by raping sisters and the corrupt cops who lock up the hero for it.

A question has however escaped everyone. How did all these loans and mortgages accumulate? Why did so many thousands of people decide to risk their houses as well as having their sisters raped (metaphorically)? I'm willing to grant that several people (say 10-20%) were in of money for a specific business investment (lacking Maa's Zhaveraath, they decided to stake their houses) and that several others needed to take out such loans for college or medical expenses (say another 20% to be very charitable) which in this country are insanely high. That still leaves 70% (at least) who risked their homes and financial futures for an infusion of cash. The question is did they NEED it, in the strictest Maa ki ilaaj ke liye chaahiye sense?

My view, and you are entirely welcome to disagree and/or criticize me for it, is they didn't. People didn't need the cash, but wanted it. They wanted an infusion of so many thousand dollars to spend. To purchase a new car, a new house, a new TV, new bikes or to get out of existing debt.
And these, by the way, are people with less-than-solid financial status to begin with. So why'd they do it?

Two reasons, which I see as the real roots of this meltdown. The first is the tendency to buy things on credit, something I see widely prevalent in the United States. This system extends to just about everything. Cars and houses are one thing, but people here actually buy computers on installment plans (Check this link out if you don't believe me). When you have real estate as potential collateral, why the hell not take up higher interest rates for that mortgage plan? You do it anyway for everything else under the sun. Unlike say our parents back home, who (smartly) remain deeply wary of being in debt, people here subscribe wholly to the buy-now-pay-later mentality. This is reason 2. And it arises from reason 1.

Consumerism. This is what drives people to take out loans to buy things they could do without if they tried. The bling mentality is now deeply entrenched in the US, and oddly, amongst the very people who can't afford it. People may need money for education or for healthcare. But they NEED the latest cell phones, jewellery, car models, automobile accessories and televisions. And consumer manufacturers have exploited this scenario very smartly, with their financial options for everything from a cell phone to a car. When a person who is uncertain of whether he/she can afford healthcare is willing to take up "easy financing options" for the new LG Chocolate which comes with Rihanna tunes and an 8 Mpixel camera, why should they not exploit him/her? Thus do you have people with bad credit history who nevertheless go into further debt. Thus do you have people who exploit bad financial behaviour and thereby encourage it. And thus do you have a circle which needs only the collapse of real estate prices to bring about a financial apocalypse. The bling mentality, in short, is what will ensure, that irrespective of today's bailout, there will be a new financial crisis tomorrow.

[Feel free to comment on said matter]

Thursday, October 09, 2008

And I'm Back....

.... If only to announce the same. But hey, that's how it is when you're preparing for a defense and then have to edit your thesis, even if it's for a Master's degree. Mercifully, both are done now. All that's left is to think of something to write.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Singin' in the Rain

There's something quite sublime about passing by a girl on a rainy day, her arms wrapped around herself tightly trying to keep out the water. You pass on commiserating for someone who clearly was not raised in India and so can't take a bit of rain (a mere drizzle compared to Guwahati), only to realize she's clutching herself across the top, owing to the poor dear's beautiful white summer T-shirt becoming transparent when wet. You laugh to yourself, thinking of how the weather spoils the best of plans and contemplate... Oh Shit, see through top?!! Where the hell did she go?

Damn, I should have checked if she was wearing innerwear.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bring Home the Gold, Take Home the Message

Abhinav Bindra is attracting all sorts of attention - deserved praise, and some not-quite-deserved chunks of cash (see here). Anyways, once the last "congrats" has been said or posted, there are some key points to note here.

Firstly, this whole "billion people" stuff. To say a billion people are uplifted by one Indian's achievement, or to ask him how he felt carrying the aspirations of a billion people and so on and so forth, is the sort of dangerous crap that swung the other way when we got trounced at the World Cup. What was the outcome then? A billion people bayed for the blood of 12 men and a coach. A billion people went about making crude jokes about the team's performance. A billion people went stoning the houses of Indian team-members and beating up professional look-alikes of them. It's time we recognized this for what it is - rank bullshit. A billion people, half of whom don't get to eat enough every day and a good deal of whom lack access to radio or television, ought to have other things to worry about than a dude's performance in a sport. Similarly, nobody can not stink when weighed down with a billion aspirations. Sportsmen do what they do for themselves and for love of the game. I'm not saying they don't look forward to the happy faces of family, friends and fans and so forth, but please, no more billion people references. Change channels or beat up whoever you see or hear using that damned term.

Equally bullshitious is the notion that a nation of a billion people should produce a ton of gold medalists. That's like 6th standard unitary method taken to the extreme - if 20 men can finish building a house in 30 days, a billion men should be able to do it in a fraction of a second. Right?

Anyway, a from "showing an Indian can do it" (like we all thought Indians were born with osteogenesis imperfecta or something), Abhinav Bindra has shown the way forward for Indians in sporting events now.

For starters, he's of the upper class, the kind that does not require:
  • the Government to put good food on their table
  • the Government to take care of post-retirement careers
  • the Government to provide intensive, extensive and expensive training
  • the Government to supply equipment
  • the Government to send him to places like Germany for training and tournaments
The keener-eyed would have noticed the common running thread amidst all the requirements. Unlike all the unfortunates to this point who have required life-support from the Sports Ministry to prepare, Abhinav Bindra's been able to take the training into his own hands to an extent. His limitations were, in my opinion for the first time in Indian sporting history, himself. And that is the situation where a sportsperson has a fighting chance. Not when his/her training depends on the whims of Secretary-ji as regards food, housing and equipment, and when he/she has no idea as to the condition of counterparts from China, America, UK etc.

Second, the event itself - shooting, the sort of thing you associate with Army men or burra sahibs of the old times. Again, this is an event that allows you to take a lot of training into your own hands, unlike say running, wrestling, swimming etc. when you have to wonder if the Government will provide an adequate training facility. It helps when you can practice this at your own farmhouse. It's not a coincidence, IMO that India's other world champion in a sport other than cricket is a chess player - Vishwanathan Anand (whose only endorsement offer has come from Memory Plus (I think) and Aptech). His training has similarly required access to chess books, a chess set and a clock, freeing him from the whims of the babus at the Ministry.

This is the pattern Indians have to emulate in the future. Let's face it, hell will freeze over before the mandarins of the Sports Ministry establish a program worth a damn for picking promising young athletes and training them to be fighting fit for the Olympics. There are people nationwide with the aptitude and ability to win the gold. But it's the ones who can afford the time and money by themselves to train, who will win. With the expansion of the middle class as is happening now, it's likely if not hopeful that more people will rise in this manner in various events. Here's hoping for the rise of 10 Abhinav Bindras at London in 2012. And as before, kudos to the man.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Fear and Loathing (of self basically)

Its official.

Our generation has come to fruition. Abhinav Bindra has gone and blazed the way ahead (check his DOB here). Now ask yourself (as I am repeatedly) .....

.................what the fuck have you done lately ?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

What is Wrong with This?

Being first in Guwahati and then in the US, I have this tendency to lose track of the desi pop scene - music, movies, books, etc. I did not, for instance, know about Bhagat's new book till I saw it's review on a blog. So anyways, I did not know of this till friend greyscalp, a Master of the Universe, told me about it. And boy did I regret knowing about it!!

This video made me cringe, as I hope it makes readers here cringe - let me know I'm not alone. Racy boy-girl romantic songs are OK - liking 'em or not is a matter of taste - but this one is uniquely bad taste in:
  • Making the girl a young 'bai' and thereby of the servant class, a particularly vulnerable position for her
  • Making her the initiator of this affair, thus giving the hero the moral "she started it" high ground
  • Try to keep her off saying he has given her the due baksheesh and bonus. The usage, in particular of "fut fut fut", like she's some bhikari wiping his screen
  • Sexualizing her by dressing her up as a French maid, that looks particularly awful despite the fine figure of whoever was saddled (no pun intended) with the role
  • Having her demand such affection because she's the one who cooks and cleans for him (hear the second stanza)
I don't know how many women of the housekeeper/Mami/bai class are objects of any house-owner's desire. Those that are, however, are likely to be young, even underage and highly vulnerable (sexually and economically). Dirty enough to fantasize about one, but hey, we all have fantasies that we would prefer others not to know of. To make a video on the lines of this fantasy however is just a new low - the Indian equivalent of calling all women 'b*****s' and 'h*s', like the really bad rappers do here. Not a coincidence, I suppose, that this Ishq Bector is a rapper from Canada. Following the likes of such great Canadian hip-hop artists as ..... oh right, there aren't any, he decided to leave Canada and eke out a living lowering Indian standards.

The only thing I found more distasteful than I. Bector's dirty little fantasy was this video:

Now there's a s**t for the taking, a wannabe who throws herself at you. Why bother with poor, hardworking bai's, Mr. Bector?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Symptoms and Diseases

It was a bizarre weekend, what with aikijutsu practice and building a dojo bathroom and oh yeah, bombs blowing up Bangalore and Ahmedabad. Mercifully, nothing happened to anyone I know.

I came across this excellent post today by Greatbong. It's a well articulated post on the typical dikhaawa follow-ups to terrorist attacks and subsequent inertia. It powerfully expresses the frustration of having to see our countrymen blown to bits by fundie madmen day after day. And for the record, it is extremely disturbing that we got three major attacks in the summer, when you remember Jaipur as well (I hope).

I however, feel this is a symptom of a deeper problem, one that a lot of people who discuss national security and Islamofascism miss out on. The problem, to put it simply of a deeper apathy. Something that has simply become serious, since we now have an issue that can and has hit where it hurts.

To those who grew up in Hyderabad in the 90's, the Deccan Chronicle was a major source of news (back then it was merely a bad newspaper; now it's unfit to wipe asses with). The front page of DC had a side column bringing in news from outside Hyderabad. While rallies and dharnas featured every now and then, the real news was about deaths in the countryside. And what news it was!!

Every other day a couple of ryots or farmers committed suicide. Through the week, roughly 6 - 8 farmers were reported dead (double during the summer droughts, and half during the rains). Monday was special, as three days' worth of suicides were tallied in . Add to that the fact that whole families tended to commit suicide on weekends, and you could see it was particularly bountiful for the Reaper.

Not to leave out of course, the good work of the Naxalites. Naxalites wished to kill people faster than they wanted to kill themselves, and the suicides would vie with the good people of the PWG for who took more space in the side columns. If it was pesticided-up farmers on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then it was gunned-down cops, landowners, zamindars and what not on Tuesdays and Thursdays. All in all, the people who wrote up that news had their hands full tallying up the body count.

Why am I mentioning this? Because I read it. Not for a month, a year, or even two years. It went on. From the time I started reading papers to the time I left Hyderabad (and hence was cut off from AP news) DC could be relied upon to deliver body counts that would put Bruce Willis and Sly Stallone to shame. But was any of this acted upon? Sure, the Opposition railed about it. Sure, the TDP made the usual noises. But at the end of the day it was the flyovers in Hyderabad that mattered. It was the fact that there was a new software city being built that the paper elaborated on. And who cared about dead Naxalites or cops when Krishna Oberoi and Grand Kakatiya were fighting it out over who got to host Bill Clinton on his visit to Hyderabad? This stuff was what made it to editorial and inside page articles, not the dead cops and farmers.

That was the paper's view. The view amongst people I knew was either yeah whatever, or "Deccan Chronicle is owned by XYZ, so they have a stake in publishing this bad news all the time". Sure, the Hindu printed deaths occasionally, but they put it in a tiny column in the Nation page, where it had to contend with who got killed in Kashmir, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and the North East for space. Balanced out coverage. Constantly printing out this bad news was simply depressing. Why did they have to do it?

Now, I am at no point commenting on the AP Government's achievements or lack thereof. I am commenting, however, on people's attitudes. Within the same state, people were getting shot up or killing themselves and their families. Yet, the city of Hyderabad remained blissfully unaware, more focussed on the international attention it was getting, and something new and awesome called IT. When Cyberbabu and Cyberabad were international buzzwords. All this other stuff, was, well unpleasant. Why hear about it. When that is a regional attitude, what can you expect at the level of the Nation?

Hence the deaths of Army men and cops at the hands of jehadis, naxalites and "Liberation forces" reported steadily. Hence the killing of farmers by terrorists or themselves. Hence the high-profile urban crime. Hence the increase in bomb blasts in various cities. And to put in my environmentalist two cents, hence the emptying out of an entire tiger sanctuary in Sariska.

And when we read about this in the news, what do we do?

To paraphrase Metallica, we "Turn the Page"

There's a Lakme India Fashion Week now, do you hear?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight - The Review

When "Batman Begins" burst into the scene 3 years ago, it seemed amazing and frustrating in equal parts. Amazing, as here was a Batman movie that really did its homework. Frustrating, as well, it only shows Batman beginning. What next? To answer that question, Chris Nolan brought together Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart to make not only the best Batman movie ever, but also possibly the greatest superhero movie ever.

As gathered from the trailers, the film is set a year after Batman Begins. Batman has succeeded in capturing several high-profile gangsters and money-launderers, with the subtle aid of the police. He has cast such a shadow on Gotham crime that Mafia men do their business in the daytime, scared of the night. With a heroic new DA ready to overtly take on crime, it seems Bruce Wayne will shortly be able to abandon his Crusade. But into this mix comes a man known only as the Joker - no alias, no identity and no backstory. And then.... well, watch the film to find out.

The film belongs completely to the Joker, as played by the late Heath Ledger. How effective is his performance? The short answer is terrifying. This man makes you grateful it's only a movie you're seeing. Ledger brings to the role a kind of vicious evil that reminds you of A Clockwork Orange's Alex, Saw's Jigsaw, Fight Club's Tyler Durden and Damien from the Omen series. Even more disturbing, his acts of terror - blowing stuff up and sending out videos of tortured captives - are just that: the sort of things you'd expect from men who sleep with AK-47's in Waziristan or Baluchistan. And true to his comic roots, this Joker has no desire for money, power or influence. He exists only to create chaos, to "watch the world burn" as Alfred puts it.

It's hard to appreciate the rest of the acting talent on screen, overshadowed as everyone is by Ledger. Of the main cast, Bale is amazing as Batman. His on-screen intensity has to be seen to be believed. Aaron Eckhart is equally great as Harvey Dent, the "White Knight" of Gotham. We all know from the comics the fate he is destined to meet, the person he will become. Nolan keeps it suitably tragic, foreshadowing the arrival of Two-Face with Dent's increasing strain and his habit of (playfully) tossing a double-headed coin when making vital decisions. He is equally excellent following his gruesome transformation. I wished at the end they had given this guy his own movie to appear in. Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman all do full justice to their roles as Alfred, Gordon and Lucius Fox. Special mention must be made of Eric Roberts - he's her brother - who plays Sal Maroni, the new Boss of Gotham's Mafia.

Nolan makes use of the awesome acting talent and supports it with first class writing and directing. Gotham - as shot in Chicago - is a grim, predatory metropolis, in desperate need of hope. People respond to shootouts and explosions the way you'd expect real people to. Tension is maintained throughout the film by use of news reports. The film tackles real life issues of terrorism - the bombings and mutilation videos Ledger sends in - and the appropriate responses to it - Batman tries to track Joker by hacking into Gotham's cellular networks. As the critics have remarked, you want to compare this film to Heat, Se7en and Zodiac as much as other superhero flicks.

This movie transcends the conventional rating wisdom of stars, thumbs and adjectives. All I can really say to sum it up is - I enjoyed it even more the second time I saw it. In the theater. The next day. Watch it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na - The Review

"The Idiot Plot: A plot that requires all the characters to be idiots. If they weren't, they'd immediately figure out everything and the movie would be over"
- Roger Ebert, film critic

It was certainly necessary for Jai "Rats" Rathode (Imran Khan) and Aditi "Meow" Mahant (Genelia D'Souza) to be idiots - make that retards - for the movie to last as long as it did. The upside is that Amir Khan and Abbas Tyrewallah id't assume the audience to be total idiots too. Hence the unique flashback narrative of the movie, the significance given to the friends of the lovey-doveys, the brilliant supporting cast of the film and the mood swings from happy to sad to laughable, which make JTYJN a decent watch, despite belonging to the genre of Hindi college romances.

The story is simple enough. Jai and Aditi have been best friends through 5 years of college, so insanely close that everybody thinks they're an item - parents, friends, the college bully and the canteen wallah. Realizing that Aditi is 20 and "izzat ka sawaal hain" (!!!!!!!!!!!!) their folks ask them to announce an engagement, to which the two laugh and say they've never been in love (Parents, friends, audience and the canteen-wallah of course know different). Upon hearing some vague parental fundebaazi about finding that special someone, the two (amazingly jobless for two people who've just graduated) decide to find significant others for each other. Through a convoluted series of events, each obtains a significant other - a very pretty girl and a muscle-bound asshole respectively - to the suprised chagrin (Duh!!!) of the other. A few introspective scenes follow, at which point each breaks up with his/her squeeze, but makes no moves towards the other, waiting for the crucial airport scene where he has to tell her his dil-ki-baat before she crosses the 7 seas to study filmmaking at NYU (There's something striking about the way they mention this Univ AND Major). Phir kya hota hain? The unromantic bitch who's hearing this story narrated by the other members of the gang, finds her heart melting for the weedy gang-member who's fida on her. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Being an IITian is undoubtedly hampering when watching films like this. Your mind wanders into odd questions, such as - What degree do they do that keeps them jobless in college for 5 years? How is it that noone's seen working after graduation, considering that Aditi alone is an industrialist's daughter? Who the hell finishes college when they're 20? Isn't it odd that his significant other is a sweet, somewhat messed up girl, while hers is a mean, womanizing SOB? Why does a guy (musclebound fiancee asshole) who knows jujitsu keep punching and not joint-locking? Do parents really want their kids engaged at 20? And why oh why was Vijaylakshmi Aiyer, the unseen-but-mentioned childhood friend of Aditi, important only because she did Aditi's homework? All tough posers.

What makes this otherwise by-the-numbers excercise enjoyable (in parts) is the supporting cast. While this film was touted as the debut of Imran Khan and Genelia, it also marks a breakthrough of sorts for Ratna Pathak Shah, who is simply brilliant as Jai's somewhat overprotective mother. When she talks with loving care to her son Jai or yells at her deceased husband's portrait, you sense for the first time a character speaking to another, as opposed to an actor in a movie speaking to another. It's a pity someone like her was languishing on Filmi Chakkar and other 90's Hindi sitcoms, when you consider how she outshines all the leads. Naseeruddin Shah, as her deceased Rajput ("Rathode from Ranjhore!!") husband, who converses from his portrait, is another delight. He hasn't been this funny since he was in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron. A running gag through the movie is the fulfilment of the three tests of Rathode manhood, which he is sure Jai will carry out, and which Ratna Pathak abhors the very idea of. Arbaaz and Sohail Khan (as some sort of peace offering to Salman) appear as the weirdest oddballs this side of the Suez, pulling off spectacular comedy. And Rajat Kapoor is again great as a bitter alcoholic father (to Imran's girlfriend).

Verdict: Worth a watch for the supporting cast, though the lead story jumps from cliche to cliche.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

What People Won't Do

Indian Express: "An 88-year-old Nazi war criminal identified as Johann Bach (italics my own) was airlifted to Berlin after he was tracked down to the Goa-Karnataka border by German and Indian intelligence agencies on the basis of information provided by an Israeli group involved in the search for war criminals and investigations in Goa.

Though local police and intelligence agencies in Karnataka said they were “unaware” of the operation, Karnataka Additional DGP for Intelligence, Shankar Bidari, said his office had received information of the arrest on Saturday morning. He also said the alleged war criminal had been moved to Germany.

Officials at the German embassy, when contacted, said they had received no information of the arrest in Goa. The German consulate in Mumbai had also not received any information, embassy officials said.

Reports from Hubli and Goa quoting a press release issued by Perus Narkp, said to be the intelligence wing of the Berlin-based German Chancellor’s Core, said Bach had been involved in the killing of nearly 12,000 Jews at the Marsha Tikash Whanaab concentration camp in East Berlin under Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime"

Similar news has been reported by TOI, HT, Telegraph, Dainik Jagran, Deccan Chronicle and just about every newspaper save (Thank God!!) the Hindu. Please go over the italicized information. See if any of it looks odd to you - do Germans name camps Tikash Whanaab, for instance? Can it be found on a Google search, when all camps have been well-documented and so forth? Does Perus Knarp sound odd (You've interned in Germany)? Is there a Chancellor's Core? And so forth.


If the earth should swallow me up tomorrow, I will be happy and sad. Sad, not to have done something like this myself. Happy that I got to read of (a) the stupidity of our national editors (b) people with the balls to show 'em up so.

Friday, June 20, 2008


"You're right, that scene when he says "Would you believe" is simply......"" I don't trail as much as derail. C is busy yukking at the truly funny movie we saw. He is not seeing her in front.

They seemed an ordinary group of Indians. UG's, I'd guess. I hate UG's and desire their UG-dom - it's what I'd go a Smeagol-y "Preciousssss" over. I don't notice her till I'm right behind them. N. In an orange shirt and blue jeans. N. Smiling so as to put her pearly teeth and bouncy curls and scarlet lips to perfect effect. N, who waves slightly when I wave at her. N, who hasn't returned a call or an email in a month. N, who goes off with this group, walking parallel to a tall guy who may the person she may be in a relationship with, based on what I saw of her Facebook page (Yes, I know that's creepy, but I'm the sympathetic figure here).

I want to rush up to her and ask her. Why? Why no contact? Why no response? IS it true? But aikijutsu and taekwondo, whatever else they prepare you for, don't enable you to rush up to a crowd of strangers and question a girl whom, well, you were hoping to get to know well.

I sigh. C is still going on about the movie. I can't remember it anymore.


Monday, June 02, 2008

The Top 10 (actually 12) Superhero films

Something for me to write and you to ponder while waiting for "The Dark Knight" to release. The films below are superhero films. Note the use of the word - I am not talking about films based on comic books. I put in 12, based on the ones I've seen. Do let me know as to YOUR favorites in superhero fiction.

Special Mention: Mr. India (1987):

This movie has a whole bunch of elements that thoroughly screw up superhero genres (More on that later). But then some of Shekhar Kapur's almost-won-an-Oscar skill comes through in his plotting, which shows some coherence with a superhero plot: The hero develops a new persona based on the Invisibility phaarmoola, starts with bashing up low-level flunkies (with fantastic names as Daga and Teja!!!), and upon losing someone significant to a bomb blast (I never looked at clown dolls the same way again after that incident), fires on all cylinders taking out the bad guy.

Interesting features:
  • The superhero 'persona' is basically the same guy, invisible and with a "reverb" voice that no one realizes is that of a scruffy violin player.
  • Anil Kapoor's everyman character. It makes his superheroisms somewhat more interesting. Somehow I doubt AB Baby or any of the big names of the time could have pulled this off.
  • Amrish Puri's maniacal Mogambo. There are villains and there is Mogambo. With his deep bass voice, penchant for shows of cruelty, dictatorial costume and island adda (so charmingly lifted off n-number of Bond movies), Mogambo simultaneously terrified and amused the pants off kids who watched this on DD in the late 80's and Zee in the mid-90's.

10. Superman (1978):

The plot was a standard Superman story. We get his arrival to Earth when Krypton is destroyed, the development of his Arctic fortress, the usual initial response ("Up in the sky!! Is it a bird? A plane? etc."). Things heat up when Superman and Clark Kent meet Lois, and subsequently when Lex comes into the feature. As always, Lex figures out Superman's weakness and hits him with it, knocking him out while he carries out some diabolical plan. Superman gets freed, and to reverse all the damage Lex does (He fires a nuke on a fault line, causing world-wide earthquakes), flies around the world and reverses its spin. In doing so, he (I kid you not) turns back time!! So everything is reset and Lois (who died in an earthquake) is safe again.

If you get the feeling, I didn't really care for this film, you're right. I did, however, get why so many people worship it (here, here and here). This film at the time, marked the ascension of something new and amazing - namely, special effects. And they weren't used for something grand or epic like, say Star Wars or 2001. In addition, Reeves, while playing a suitably square-jawed Superman, was equally funny and impressive as a goofy, loveable, raakhi-brother type Clark Kent. Superman served as an opener, something that blazed the trail for the genre of superhero fiction and comic book-inspired movies, being the first, and based on the most popular of all heroes. One could therefore forgive the somewhat campy take of the film; notably Lex Luthor's clownish portrayal, and his absurd desire for land all the time (somewhat like Boman Irani from "Khosla ka Ghosla").

9. The Incredibles (2004):

What is so incredible about the Incredibles is that it starts as a parody of the superhero genre, showing various unconventional issues they'd probably face regularly. In showing their response to these situations however, at a personal and costumed-character level, it becomes a superhero film proper. With its leads - Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, and their children - loosely based on the Fantastic Four and Iceman, and Tooheyian villain, The Incredibles emerged from a parody to a surprisingly cerebral superhero film.

The Unconventional:
  • The Incredibles, a family of heroes, have to go into hiding and not show their superhuman abilities, because superheroes have been "banned" by the government. Why? People started suing them for wreckage and personal injury, and the government had to foot the legal bills!! Mr. Incredible (the lead superhero) rescues a person from an attempted suicide. When the person ends up with an injury, he sues the hero for "ruining his death"!!!
  • The evil Syndrome turns out to be none other than the disgruntled head of the "Mr. Incredible" fan club. Anguished at not being allowed to be a sidekick, he decides to become a super-villain.
  • Syndrome's master plan: To create a situation calling for a superhero, save the day and become a (fake) hero himself. "And when I'm done", he says fiendishly, "I'll sell all my hero equipment. Everybody will then be super. And when everybody's super.... no one will be". To fans accustomed to the usual world domination or a zabagillion dollars ransom, that plan comes in at a whole new level of evil.
  • A fashion designer who designs superhero suits, and best of all, her take on capes.

8. Batman (1989):

One of the fears surrounding the Batman movie series (started a decade after Superman) was that it would get campy and silly, like the show which used to come at 6.30 on Star Plus before it turned Hindi (That show by the way, was from the 70's. I can't believe how starved for media we were at the time). It did eventually, but not when Tim Burton was in charge of the film. He made the first film with the idea that Batman was a dark and gloomy character, his villains were meant to be gruesome, dangerous individuals, and Batman movies were not to be "children's films". The result - a very effective Batman movie that is rightfully the best selling film based on DC comics.

The film had a fantastic setting: a Gothic, Depression-era city, with trench coat-wearing gangsters who used mainly revolvers and tommy guns. The era however is modern, as seen from Gotham Television and Batman's equipment. It had Michael Keaton as an effective Batman, though he was not really the focus of the film either as Batman or Bruce Wayne. And in Jack Nicholson, it had a fantastically smart, witty and gruesome Joker. Jack Napier, the original identity of the Joker, is played here as a savage criminal, the "No.1 Guy" of crime boss Carl Grissom. The film is good, when it shows us his fall into the chemicals and transformation into the Joker. But where it excels is in showing us the kind of psycho he was before his transformation - he'll never be the Boss of Bosses, he's told to his fury, because Bosses are never psychos. When the transformation unleashes his savagery... well, the film tells you what happens.

The Unique:
  • Joker's transformation

  • Joker's campaign of terror against Gotham residents

2 out of the three above involve the Joker, which is kind of why this film got pushed to 8. A first Batman needs an origin story, and this movie didn't have a good one. In establishing the creepy, malicious film-noir feel of Batman however, Burton excelled with this film.

7. Spiderman 2 (2004):

This film had all the critics raving, and is among the highest box-office grossers of all time. Weirdly, I didn't like it all that much. I don't know exactly why - maybe because I saw it on CAMrip for the first time. But it stuck me as essentially more of the first film. Peter as always is torn between Spidey-life and Mary Jane (not the marijuanna lady) and struggles with hajjaar other problems, the last of which happens to be Dr. Octopus - a dude building some sort of perpetual nuclear generator, to suffer an accident that grafts robotic limbs to his spine. The film definitely scores higher on the CGI used with the guy's robotic limbs. But come on, we've already seen a villain born of an industrial accident. And what is this one's grand goal (for which he robs banks, tries to kill people and ultimately threatens Spidey)? Simply to rebuild an unsafe nuclear engine. How silly is that? What was his goal when he finished it if it didn't explode, present NYC with a monster bill? How would it not explode, considering he probably had no wiring in the ramshackle adda he built it in to draw power away? How does a guy assemble nuclear machinery in an abandoned warehouse adda? How come noone notices what's going on, specially when the equipment is stolen and might take NY with it? And his change of heart at the end was the silliest imaginable, as was his solution to fix the super-nuclear magnetic black hole that he created - "Throw it into the river". Now there's a villainous master plan - create a radioactive mess for the New York Municipality to clean up. Final verdict: Scores with CGI and the everyday problems of Peter Parker (which is characteristic of the comic anyway), but fails with a villain and plot (not to deride Molina's acting, which was great)

6. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm:

This was a relatively low-budget animated film that released in 1993, based on the award-winning animated Batman series which was regarded by many as coming closest to the Dark Knight of the comics. It ranks a mention though few of you would have seen or heard of it, due to the creativity of the team involved by way of plot.

The plot: A masked figure (named the Phantasm on the cover, but unnamed in the movie) is killing Gotham's top Mafia bosses. Owing to the cape and hood worn by the figure, it is assumed Batman is responsible. He therefore has to apprehend the killer and clear his name. A connection emerges among the victims, one that involves the family of a lost love - a woman for whom Wayne gave up his goal of vigilantism, to resume it when she broke their engagement. Lastly, the Joker comes in, hired by the last gangster as the one person capable of taking down Batman. A violent three-way collision comes in, as secrets and motives are finally revealed.

The Unique:
  • The fate of Gotham does not hang in the balance for once. This case is pretty much a day in the life of Batman, and the people he's trying to save are gangsters.
  • This isn't about gadgets or explosions. You see Batman being a detective. A real cop-like one.
  • The insight into Wayne's early days, attempting to find ways to intimidate criminals
  • Wayne wondering whether he can have a happy, normal life after all. And the follow up, when he decides to become Batman. It's just amazing (the first scene is from start up to 1:39, and the next from 6:15 to 7:41 (Vid-link here)
  • The revelation as to who the Phantasm is, and the mirroring of the character to Batman
  • A revelation as to the Joker's origin (Here. Watch the first 10 seconds and then go to 4:25)
  • What he does to a victim (Here at 6:44 onwards)
An amazing film. Unfortunately, it bombed at the box office.

5. X-Men 2 (2003)/Batman Returns:

These films are both first sequels, and hence in a "We've introduced everyone, so let's do some serious shit!!" mode. Both work in that mode pretty well. They're about equally good, finally.


We were all in it to see the awesome superpowers, and X2 did not disappoint. You got to see lethal telepathy, ice-powers, fire-powers, psychic hurricanes and blizzards, telekinesis, eye-blasting, tele-magnetism and shape-shifting. The plot, seeing as it was Bryan "The Usual Suspects" Singer directing, fit the explosions nicely. A hate-filled General kidnaps the telepathic head and rigs him to a telepathic machine through which he can mentally kill (I kid you not) every mutant in the world. Even more awesome, three quarters into the climax, the machine is rewired, this time to kill all humans. How all this happens is best explained by seeing the film. A fantastic follow up to the original.


Tim Burton followed up on the original to make an even colder, darker sequel. As before, the film was more about atmosphere than plot. As before, the villains were amazingly characterized, and as before, there was a malicious sense of humour prevalent that made everything else bearable.

Don't believe me? See the intro, which shows how the Penguin (Danny De Vito) came to be:

When a Batman film opens with a child being thrown into the sewers, you can be sure it'll be super fucking awesome (not family friendly, though). The best part is similarly with the Penguin's characterization - he's a deformed psycho, whose grand plan is to eventually avenge himself by drowning every firstborn in Gotham. With it's morbid atmosphere, evil (really evil) villains, and a fantastic followup score by Danny Elfman, this film is solidly at 5.

4. Iron Man (2008):

There's no "true to the comics" stuff about this - I know zilch about the series. Nevertheless, this film pulled off a fantastic characterization of a character best described as an anti-Bruce Wayne - a playboy who cares zilch about the effects the WMD's he designs have on people. When he finds out first hand who using his company's weapons, he designs himself the ultimate weapon (the suit) which he then uses to attack arms dealers and terrorists. Robert Downey Jr. does an amazing job as both Iron Man and Tony Stark. Watch it if you haven't already.

The Unique:
  • Iron Man is named as such only 5 minutes before the credits roll. What you're really seeing is the character of Stark
  • The villain goes by a real name, as opposed to some fantastic title. He speaks Urdu at some point (I kid you not. Amazingly, he sounds like Bob Cristo from Mr. India)
  • The long process through which the suit is designed, and the accidents with the Beta versions
3. Batman Begins (2005):

With the crime against reason and cinema that was "Batman and Robin" (1997), the franchise was shut down for 8 years. Chris Nolan then decided to restart it. And rather than bring in some fantastic villains to blow shit up with Christian Bale, he decided to actually sit down and write out a Batman story, set in a near-real world. The result - Batman Begins, a look into Bruce Wayne's tortured mentality, into what drives him to wear a suit and go fight crime (try wearing a rubber suit in summer. I dare you). And more, interestingly, how he is able to evoke fear in people, as opposed to derision for some obvious loony (the film presents him at times as borderline loony btw). Liam Neeson was correspondingly awesome as the villainous Ras Al Ghul. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine's roles were similarly amazing.

The Unique:
  • Batman is named only midway into the film.
  • Correspondingly, no fucking bat-prefixes. Bruce gets an armored vehicle, a high-end body armor and smart fiber-powered cloth to design a suit for himself. He then puts all this in a cave below his mansion basement.
  • As opposed to the fantasy-noir atmosphere of Burton, Gotham is now a modern day city with a huge ghetto population and corrupt administration, which accounts for the crime.
  • The finding out that Batman has lines drawn in his quest for revenge. What he almost did once, and swore not to do again.

2. Spiderman (2002):

This was undoubtedly the best in the Sam Raimi film series, freshness notwithstanding. It showed how Peter Parker got his abilities (the bite from an engineered spider), how he initially focused more on getting laid (wouldn't you and I?) and how his first shot at vigilantism teaches him about what actually comes with great power, rather than a shot at entering Mary-Jane's
(Kirsten Dunst) pants.

Where this scored over Batman Begins was in its villain. Ras al Ghul's plan to cleanse Gotham sounds more Afghan mujahideen than comic-book villain - that train scene in the climax seemed to me a weird reference to 9/11, what with it headed to Wayne Towers (!!), and if it reaches, "everything blows". In Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin, you had a great villain. A split personality who again stolen R&D stuff to terrorize events, so as to benefit his alter-ego - that makes sense. His conflict with Spidey is also inevitable, as he figures the tussles the two will have. What's genius - his attempts to terrorize Peter Parker's loved ones, when he realizes who Spidey really is.

The unique:
  • The film's transitions from tearful moments to light-hearted ones. Parker is an emo wimp, but Spiderman a wisecracker with a good sense of humor.
  • The scene where Dafoe's two selves talk to each other in the mirror.
  • J. Jonah Jameson. I swear, the film series would not have been the same without J. K. Simmons in that amazing role.
  • The exploration of the powers. Superman's always had his, so nothing going on there, and Batman has none. When you can suddenly shoot out sticky grey stuff (from your wrists, as opposed to where everyone else's comes out of) that can form webs and stuff, it's a hell of a joyride.

Thus does Spiderman remain the No.2 superhero film of all time. What, you wonder, could top it? Well, the answer is.........................

1. Unbreakable (2000):

I can hear all the wtf's in the background as I write this. I dunno how many of my readers would have seen this M. Shyamalan film. The man had an idea for a superhero beginning, and as opposed to the usual plots for world domination and over the top costumes, made a superhero film for adults, set in the real grey world, with all its usual problems. The film, while a superhero film, is not about any superhero - comic or otherwise. It is this idea that makes it unique as a superhero film.

The plot: David Dunn (Bruce Willis) survives a trainwreck that kills everyone else on board, but leaves him absolutely uninjured. He is approached by a comic book fan, Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson) who tells him that he could be an actual superhero. Dunn is intrigued, specially when he finds out, for instance, that he has never been sick in his life (!!!). What can he do as a hero? What should he do, considering his troubles with his wife and son? Does he have an enemy? Unbreakable answers these questions in a surprisingly cerebral manner, tackling, like the Incredibles, the day-to-day problems "heroes" must also face. In presenting the realistic elements of a superhero story, without ANY of the usual features (no costumes, no titles, no explosions, the train wreck is simply a flash), it stands as the best superhero film ever made (Ironic, since it is about no known superhero)

Additional unique features:
  • The explanation for comic book heroes and their powers. Jackson describes the first heroes, whose powers were always quite limited and realistic. It was when comic books became an industry that they had to come up with outlandish abilities and powers.
  • Dunn's abilities and their limits. While he can survive trainwrecks, he is weirdly susceptible (at a psychological level) to water. His strength is unlimited, but he has to exert himself to apply it (as opposed to yanking steel doors with a flourish). He is also seen to have a funny sixth sense, which is more vague than useful.
  • His first heroic act. When he asks Elijah what he is supposed to do, he is told "Go to where people are". He finds cause for his act in a train station.
  • Elijah's mirroring Dunn. He has a bone disease that makes his bones so brittle a fall from a chair could shatter them. His drive to find someone like Dunn comes from this
  • Just when you think Elijah is a mentor character, Shyamalan brings in one of his signature twists, which while not a Keyser Soze level OMG moment, makes you marvel at the plot.

Awesome film. Rightfully deserving, in my view, the rank of the best superhero film ever made.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Social and Social Networks

Sometime in mid-2004, there was this fad that seized people. Gmail invites were passe, as were cell phones and MMSes ("DPS Zindabad" was still a cry for perverts everywhere). Something was up online, a new thing that you had to be some sort of Ankit Fadia (do you guys even remember that name now ?) to be part of yourself. I'm talking of course, of the now legendary Orkut, a social networking site that was supposed to compete with Myspace in the US but ended up monopolizing India, Pakistan and Brazil.

The procedure of Orkut ops were amazing. You searched for names, and (gasp!!) were greeted by entire pages containing priceless information about those people - their political, religious, linguistic and sexual preferences (OMG!! Sexual preferences!!) - that you could never have picked up from chatting online or meeting face to face.

Batchmates and fellow students at College were the first to be snapped up on the now-standard "Friends" list. Then came friends you emailed and a few you didn't warrant important enough to email. It was after this that the real point of "Orkutting" emerged - the stalker-search.

The question vaguely formed in the mind would be something like "I wonder what happened to XYZ from school/coaching class/tennis class/Secunderabad club etc. ?". The name would be typed, and there you have the joy of seeing XYZ in his/her full glory ("full" being a fond hope in case of girls from middle school you cyber-stalked, together with "single"). Thus would friends be doubled from 100 - 200 or even more.

Orkut ran its course, and now of course most of the people I know have repeated the same pattern with Facebook. Some, like my brother, shut down their accounts realizing that cell numbers and mail id's were sufficient to keep in touch, and that stalking did not equate to much else apart from fond dreams. But it continues, with new ways of decorating pages, posting videos, having creative ways to leave text messages on people's Walls and whatnot. A funny thing struck me in the shift.

It's one thing (a loser thing anyway, but I was at Guwahati, for God's sake) to go looking up girls you hoped had metamorphosed to wan, well-endowed Disney princesses looking for a blast from the past. I am experiencing the same with people from school, college or wherever, who, while I knew, was never a friend of. We may have had friends in common, but in several cases, shared rarely more than a dozen words by way of conversation (including the damn scraps and requests). Friendship with Acquaintance A in turn opens up friendships with his/her acquaintances B,C,D,E etc., and before you know it, you're linked to the entire Mechanical Engineering batch of 2008 or AEC section of 2001, not a member of which has anything to say to you.

So why do they do it? Why request friendships with someone with no decent stalking prospects? The way I see it, there're trends at play here:

  1. There's wayyyyyyyyy too much shit being done on networked computers now (I see that as I blog this). I mean, it's when you get on the system and have Net access and Firefox that you go look up Facebook for your Wall posting, and it's when you're there that you start thinking about XYZ.
  2. Following on the first, life online is starting to become more real than the real one involving parents, friends on the phone whom you visit, and the vendor at the kirana store. Given how the time people have for the latter is reducing, the e-life which can integrate with work is becoming more significant.
  3. And following on that, people I think are way lonelier AND unhappier now than ever before. It's only when you dwell long on the past that you figure XYZ's vague connection. And that tenuous connection to XYZ seems to me an attempt to connect with the past.
Of course, I could be arbitly playing Freud here. Correct me with your takes.

But if I'm right, it's a disturbing effect of the new modernized world. A bizarre incident occurred on MySpace where a girl's family actually created a fake id that tormented their daughter's friend, who "dumped her". The comments made by the fake persona brought about this.

Is life meant to be that distorted ?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Conference Prep

"So why do you see cells more resistant in this case ?" Mira asks in that smug tone of his (he's a faculty btw)

"Well, there's adaptation" I reply. That's what all the literature said for glucose.

"Why isn't that happening with extraneous cases ? There's time for adaptation there too ?" Mira is most irritating when countering your answer.

"Well...", I begin, but he's got the upper hand. "There's so many generations. Why don't they adapt ?"

"It's not adaptation", is what all this leads up to. "That data you're citing is from glucose fermentation, not xylose fermentation. So how do you figure this happening ?"

Dr. M nods in. This is odd. Who's side is he on ?

"Ok", I say "I don't know why then. Why is it ?"

"I DON'T KNOW EITHER", he says, like it's a giant joke. Dr. M laughs with him. "The point", he says. "is that noone else does either. You need more data to find out. And you don't need to explain THAT with your poster"

"So", I'm struggling here, "if someone asks, I say"

"You say "I DON'T KNOW"!!!!"

Friday, April 18, 2008

Wannabe Cinema

[Disclaimer: I wrote this after reading this column and a couple others. Some points are kinda-sorta restated]

U Me Aur: Hum The Notebook
Race: Goodbye Lover
Shaurya: A Few Good Men
No Smoking: Quitter's Inc.
Kabhie Alvida Naa Kehna : Closer (loosely)
36 China Town: Once Upon a Crime
Naquaab: dot the i
Shakalaka Boom Boom: Amadeus (shudder)
Ta Ra Rum Pum: Cinderella Man, Days of Thunder and (shudder) Life is Beautiful
Partner: Hitch
Speed: Cellular
The Train: ......... : Derailed
Zinda: Oldboy
The Killer: Collateral
Humraaz: A Perfect Murder

... and so on and so forth.

The relationship is fairly obvious. Somebody outside India worked his ass off and produced the stuff on the right. Then Baweja, Bhatt, Darshan, Gupta, Abbas or Mustan picked up the DVD and shat out (in the literal and figurative sense) the stuff on the left.

This history of stealing plots is of course as old as the Aravallis. What's disturbing of late however is the frequency and backdrop of the Bollyversion. Not only are more and more films produced every year rip-offs, but they're stealing films that were barely out on DVD. It's one thing - a pretty contemptible thing anyway - to rip off, say 1954's On the Waterfront, throw in "Aati kya Khandala" and call it Ghulam, or 1938's Angels with Dirty Faces and call it Ram Jaane. It's a different thing to make the movies I pointed out above, most of which were made in the 90's themselves. That these honchos do so, shows their:
(a) increasing lack of creativity
(b) gargantuan egos
(c) contempt for the audience's knowledge and taste of cinema
Agreed, you and I are minorities to the aam admis whom we know puts money in their coffers. But we're significant in our own right, and I for one do feel insulted.

The second is the backdrop. How many big-budget films of late have been set in India ? Even the semi-mythical India that is inhabited by the stars of K3G ? New York and London are where Indians are to be found now, though Johannesburg and Cape Town will not be far behind now that Race is a hit (check friend lexicomaniac's review of it). These Indians employ Indians at home, frequent cafes where everyone from the busboy up is an Indian, work in offices where everyone save the copy boy is an Indian, have Indian rivals in business, are greeted by Indian managers and maitre-d's in hotels and even have Hindi-speaking cops investigate their crimes. To complete the ensemble, there will be an Indian peanut vendor when they sing songs on the beach and a white-boy/homie to do something stereotypical. When you come up with an expressive art form - story, play or movie - the most vital thing is the sense of place. Where do your characters work ? Play ? Eat ? Sleep ? Shop ? What kind of language is spoken there ? What kind of people are to be found there ? These things are as vital to the plot as the plot itself, which is where one has to give credit to people like RGV and Sriram Raghavan who set their plots in known places, or find details about Kenya or Singapore when they want their protagonists there. The Darshans and Johars and Advanis on the other hand, ignore the elements of place altogether, giving Indian cops Indian smugglers to chase, Indian men Indian women (even if they're in some place like Seoul) to fuck about with and I suppose, Indian dogs Indian cats to chase. To see films like KANK, Shakalaka Boom Boom and Race is in a way amusing because we are turning the tables on people like Lucas, Spielberg and the fucks who focus solely on cows and "Thank you come again" accents when their films are set in India. We are reducing foreign nations to featureless backdrops with a stereotype thrown in here and there. Nevertheless, there is something mind-blowing (or -sucking) about seeing XYZ rule the music scene in New York by playing a fusion of Himesh and Juggy-D. Or Desi ABC run the number one business in Hamburg, rivaled only by Desi DEF, when we really know they're there because the Western script required a setup on those lines.

Stealing however, isn't the only thing that cheapens the stuff on the left. The real issue is its unfaithfulness to the original. Consider, for example, Race (which I saw on DVD - it's a great if unintentional comedy). The film ripped off "Goodbye Lover". The premise of the latter, however was far more effective than this. Why ? There was no long romantic buildup to two characters getting married, the movie opened with the lead screwing with his brother's wife. There was none of the bull about the secretary making soft eyes and singing "Zara zara touch touch me" (which you need a cast iron stomach to endure by the way), she was abruptly brought in after the millionaire's murder. And the finale did not have a grand narration where evil characters realized their sins and took part in a final winner-take-all, it had all but two characters dead, with the bad guys (and I mean bad, no "I'm coolly Saif-style bad" bad) getting away with the loot. It was, in short a film noir and quirkily good (though overdone). And on top of all this, it was a comedy (intentional).

Why was none of this retained ? Why only the bare bones and some shit about twists ? Well, Abbas and Mustan lacked balls. No selling film-noirs to people who like such films. They want to sell their shat out product to everyone - to Chintu-Pintu, Mummy-Daddy, Dada-Dadi, Raju Chacha, his college friends and the autowallahs who brought all of the above to the theater, irrespective of their tastes in cinema. Net result - a lukewarm product that appeals to ... I dunno who or why, unless they analyze it as a comedy. Anyone who liked the film or any other released (Other than Johnny Gaddar and Taare...) this year, do write to me. Tell me just what the fuck it is that keeps you in.

The latter trend, of taking bare bones and doing nothing with them for fear of what the public will do, is what makes this post title. Mohabbatein wants to be a great epic coming-of-age love story, but ends up a hammed ultra-PG-13 version of Dead Poets' Society. Race wants to be a thriller, but refuses to provide any genuine thrills. Dus and Don want to be slick action thrillers, but are slow-mo wash-outs. Shaka...., oh fuck, this film wanted to be Amadeus, without a script or original idea in its head.

I actually respect films like OSO, Sivaji and the Sunny Deol action pics. The director very clearly knows what he's out to do and does it, unlike these people who're shit-scared to. Indeed, my favorite Hindi movie now, after Sholay and Andaz Apna Apna (both of which did what they wanted) is Mithun's 1998 classic Gunda. Here's the wiki explanation. Here's the film itself. Watch it. Laugh at it. And admire the director's courage at passing this off as a film.

Friday, April 11, 2008

It Was Inevitable

Well, the Supreme Court is only the guardian of the Constitution, which is itself only a piece of paper with things written on it. The will of the pippuls is sacrosanct, irrespective of whether it penalizes people for the fault of existence.

Oh fuck, just check this out.

Monday, March 31, 2008


Shashi Tharoor commented on engineers this Sunday, in response to a study that made me go ``Holy wtf maderchod". The easy link is here. The study itself is here. It's findings - for reasons unknown, a fantastically large number of Islamist terrorists are or were engineers. This includes OBL himself, the two pilots during 9/11 and some 40-60% of currently documented fundamentalist terrorists.

Why is this so ? The sociologists give some vague fundaes about the Engineering mindset and what not. My take - Frust Extremis or pure absolute frustapa. When you're frustrated enough, who knows what you can do ?

PS: Perhaps Jehadi wasn't the best nickname for Amit after all.