27 August 2010

Ten things I love about Kolkata

Having talked about the things that irritated me over the two years I spent in Kolkata, don't take me to be a pessimist. I was saving all the good memories for the next post. For every one thing that I have found wrong in this city, Kolkata has offerred me ten things I love. But I am going to present only the TopTen here. Remember that this is a very personal list and so may not be exactly the best things you can do/know about Calcutta; but the Ten Best things for me, about the City of Joy.

10, Walk at the Lake; It could be a hot and humid summer morning where walking from home to the lake could be a real pain even if you live really close (and I live pretty close). But the moment you step inside the area around the lake, with its small islands, a mosque in one of those kidney bean shaped island, a headless overly done modern statue in the middle of a square, the dogs lazing in the sun, the rowing club members cutting through the breeze from over the lake... It is really worth it to wake up in the morning.

9, Adda; the art of speaking nothing, passionately. This could be the most fun activity you can do in Calcutta. The size of the group, the context, the nature of conversation, nothing affects the quality of interesting nothings shared by everyone. Stream of consciousness was born here; I am sure and I had my good share of conversations with interesting people from many walks of life. Cheers to the culture that resists the benefit-oriented alliances forged in the new world. God bless Addaerica!

8, The Sparrows; No- this is not any Euphemism. But while we are on the subject; the over all good looking women per cent is really high in Calcutta and (as far as I know) they are not conceited (like women from another city I would rather not talk about - not the city, but the women). It is the REAL sparrows that I am talking about; yes, the birds. When I was a kid, I used to see a lot of sparrows around my house. With time, I stopped noticing. At one point, I forgot altogether to look for sparrows. When I reached Calcutta, I realized that these small, beautiful chirpers have almost completely vanished from Madras. When they wait at the window for my mother to bring their daily dose of food, they look on expectantly like they are real people. Who could look at that and not be moved?

7, Winter; was one of those things that I experienced for the first time when I came to Calcutta. Three months of the year where you don't have to be bugged by the buzzing sound of the fan, where you look at the foggy sky that goes dark by four-thirty and the ever-present chillng wind that makes you want to wrap yourself with a blanket... Hmmm... All these things show that I had lived in a place where Christmas day was still hot enough to break a sweat. But also, never have I enjoyed riding more on my lovely bike, than in winter in Calcutta. Not only because it allows me to wear my biker-jacket and scarf; but also because it gives a feeling of literally cutting through the air. A cup of hot cha tastes a thousand times better, when it warms the hand that holds it in winter.

6, Simplicity of Living; I am not saying that all Kolkatans are angels. But most do not go looking for fights, most are satisfied with what they have, most are gentle, generous and reliable. They have a disregard for rules; but this also encourages a healthy irreverence for every edict, law and ruling imposed on them. This does affect everyday living in many bad ways; but undeniably, the average Kolkatan is more aware of the state of life he is in and is involved at some level in grappling it. Though a strong and vocal history of dissent has been confused with lyadh (laziness); the capacity to enjoy life in the details has not diminished.

5, Roshogulla; the fact that a single food item gets a special place in the list shows how important it is for the everyday Kolkatan identity. There are so many shapes and sizes we find this simple but unsurpassable delicacy. This was also the first thing that I had to eat when I stepped foot in Kolkata. It started a sweet journey for me; and though I have had a lot of other misti in this city of great sweetmeatmakers, I have never found another that could match the roshogulla. The word itself is a declaration of the Bangla spirit; for the moment you start moving away from rasagulla and towards roshogulla - you have started feeling the city in your system.

4, Food; though this is not the place if you are looking for a mid-range restaurant that offers good, clean seating and an air-conditioned setting to have a meal, Kolkata has food-joints of a lot of variety that cater to people from all walks and levels of life. However, more than the general conception of food; it is the particulars that make me rate the food angle of Kolkata very highly. Food is so important, because people do not think twice before treating themselves to a misti or two. The idea of buying for "occasions" gets replaced with everyday buyers. You do not usually buy sweets by the weight in Calcutta; for it is both impractical and unaffordable for a daily-wages laborer to buy in hundreds of grams. All he needs is a single serving that he could get for as low as 2 rs. And most importantly, the cost is not associated to quality. The best dosa I have had in Calcutta (and the best Value for Money dosa I have ever had) is opposite the University at a small one room place called Raj South Indian (where you get the good crispy dosa for 12 bucks served with 2 chutneys and a palatable sambar). There are many other small but interesting landmarks that you could encounter in the food pilgrimmage of Calcutta; like Maharaja tea stall where the costliest item on the menu is the 6rs special masala cha and everything else is 3 bucks and the place sells out stuff in such a fast, neverending clip. Opposite Golf Green at Lake Gardens, is this small momo shop DengZong that serves undoubtedly THE BEST momos I have ever tasted in my life. I am a big fan of their falay as well. There are so many places that I could mention; but I don't want to get hungry. Anyway, each Kolkatan will have his/her own place of choice. But food keeps us ticking in Calcutta.

3, Jadavpur University; is a self-sustained Universe in itself. I regret not having made any friends outside my own department (Complit doesn't count), except one. But again, there was always so much happening at my own dept, that there was hardly any time to look at other stuff. Food was good at the many canteens of JU. People always took themselves seriously but always came through when they were trusted. Most profs were cool; and the ones you don't like, you can easily avoid. From the booksellers under the stairs, to the byanger chata, to Milanda'z, to the jheel, to the spot near the OAT, to the KMR, to the greenzone; every part of the Uni has a memory attached to it. My life in Calcutta was an extremely enjoyable one essentially due to the people I met within the walls of this place. I don't feel nostalgic about JU; not yet. But I am aware of the good things it has taught me and will be grateful for that.

2, Bangaliana; is something that is very difficult to put an exact definition for. It is a bit of everything I have been writing about here; but also more. It is carrying the same umbrella for both rain and shine. It is the capacity to have a child-like innocence when discussing maach-bhaat. It is the courage to have the worst argument and then continue being good friends. It is taking things easy. It is getting things done. It is opposites. It is the same thing. It is Mamatadi and Buddababu simultaneously. It is the unexhaustible reservoir of patience that the people have as they struggle through every single day. It is also the smile they have ready for each other despite everything. Bangaliana is everything that we do not feel like explaining. Long live the magic of taking things easy.

1, Durga Pujo; if anyone knows me, they would be aware of how excited I get during this time of the year. This is the BEST thing that happens in Calcutta. Every street decks up and every para (locality) has a pandal; and once the season sets in, it is NONSTOP enjoyment ranging from four days to govt officials to nearly a month for school children. Sadly, a lot of the current Bangalis have started making a habit out of going on vacation during Pujo, instead of letting their children soak in on this lovely tradition of diligent love towards the gods and man alike. This carnival cannot be ever explained by anyone; for it HAS to be experienced first hand. However, the very fact that I said that line and called it Pujo instead of 'Puja' marks my complete togetherness with this lovely city and its culture that does not shine better than during Pujo. For the record, last Pujo, I went pandal-hopping for 11 days and saw over 88 pandals in almost every big area of Kolkata; one of my proudest achievements and happiest feats in the city.

I cannot thank Kolkata for serving as my homebase for these past two years. I would always remember this beautiful city with fond memories. This is the city where I grew from a boy to a man. Every person instrumental in this change, this growth will be cherished in my life. And most of all, it is the city itself that gave me an opportunity to reinvent myself. I thank you and love you, dear Calcutta.

Ten things I hate about you, Kolkata

Now, I am not a very violent man. I am an enthusiast of choreographed action; but not the person who goes out and picks a fight on a daily basis. However, slapping is simultaneously a symbolic and a physical reproach. This city of joy that I have grown to love has so many great things about it. The top ten things about Kolkata will make it'z debut in this same space tomorrow. However, there are certain kinds of people, who hurt the city consistently in their narrowminded shenaniganary. Here is my list of the ten people in Kolkata that I want to slap.

10, The Cheap Bodhi. You have seen her haggling to the poorest of the poor over things you would never think anyone would bargain on. I remember this once where a bodhi got on a bus with two kids about 15 and 11 years of age. When the conductor asked for tickets, she actually bargained with him and refused to pay for the second child - who was occupying an adult seat in the bus (it was one of those Tolly-Airport a/c buses). Come on. The average Kolkatan is someone who puts in about an hour's commute everyday to do a job that would have paid him more anywhere else in the country. Stop being a cheap haggler. When you hand in the twenty unhesitantly at South City for parking, why do you fight over the 5 rupees parking on Rashbehari?

9, The one at a time shopkeeper. Have you ever stood at a shop counter in Kolkata and waited, just endlessly as this person next to you is THINKING of what to buy. The shopkeeper, just stands there, in awe of the capacity of the person to contemplate what (s)he wants. You cannot express annoyance, because you are next in line. I have seen shopkeepers handling upto four clients simultaneously while engaging in small talk with all of them in Madras. I am not expecting everyone to do the same; but someone needs to slap this shopkeeper to wake him up.

8, The happy Aantlamo. Ooohh yea... This is that person who has to have an opinion about everything and automatically assumes invitation to conversations when there were none. The idea of Adda or chatting for the sake of it is an age old custom in Calcutta. It is a healthy exercise of speaking about nothing, with passion. I like this. I don't have a problem with this. However, I have a problem when people barge into these conversations and kill the idea of private space (more on that later). You can identify this person by his/her disregard for popular bangla cinema, a pretentious know-all air about an obscure subculture and an acute awareness of their own pseudointellectualism.

7, The Lake-destroyers. I am not against Public Display of Affection. I think it is very sweet when couples share an awkward kiss or hold each other in public. However, what happens at the lake on Southern Avenue is NOT an innocent gesture of affection. It is almost often a case of horny people with no marked definitions of shame. Even when you go out for a walk in the morning, which is considered one of the safest timezones to visit the place wtihout being scandalized, you are bound to encounter couples who are walking around aimlessly, taking stock of the situation. The moment the clock strikes eight a.m, they grow bolder and stare at you as if YOU are invading their area. These people who take such joy in killing the lake for children and old people alike in the afternoons deserve a massive slap.

6, The jay-walker. My dad often says that drivers in Calcutta, except the bus drivers are so well behaved. They don't go too fast nor do they try killing others just to get ahead. However, some people constantly keep trying their luck, almost challenging the driver into running them over. These are people from ALL walks of life, young and old, who think that just putting a hand out gives them a right to cross the road, whenever and wherever it pleases them. It kills me that there is an automated voice message begging them not to cross the road when the walking sign is red. In a spree of collectve color blindness, the people continue to cross at will and it is better to slap them before they get run over.

5, The callous smoker. Probably I am being a little unkind to the smokers here, for I come from the world's first (and currently ONLY) smoke-free mega-city. But I simply cannot accept the degree of approval that smoking gets in the city. Smoking is NOT cool. It kills you and people around you. And people continue to have the least regard for this, smoking in public vehicles, parks, offices and even educational institution. Couple of days ago, I cornered and stopped another biker and shouted at him for tapping the ash of his cigarette while riding the bike. If the idiot wants to die, fine; let him not try killing others on the road.

4,The over sensational journalist. Have you ever felt that the newspapers in Kolkata (I take Times of India regularly and Telegraph, I read occasionally; don't know about the Statesman) over-sensationalize even the tiniest thing? Often, they behave like they live in a bubble that is outside the continuum of reality but also keep making comments that speak as if they are the only ones that know how to direct the course of the nation. I am not against strong, critical news-reporting; but I don't want to wake up to read fabrications and forced-stories. Maybe that is the trend world-wide now, but as long as I was in Chennai, The Hindu did not screw with news.

3, The Spitter/litterer. When I first reached Calcutta; I told my friend that the two disparate things that you notice, is the City's beauty and it's poverty. It is not just the poverty in an economical basis I am talking about; but a general sense of disrepair and a total disregard for the beauty of the city by many, MANY people. How often have you seen really rich people, in big houses, casting away their garbage BANG in the middle of the road here in Cal? The worst thing, however, is the constant pan-chewing spitter who makes EVERY corner stained and disgusting. The other day, I went to Kalighat and it hurt me to see that, right at the entrance of the temple, was a flowerpot kept exclusively for the purpose of spitting. One of the greatest temples in India spat over on a daily basis. It is a shame that I wish someone redresses.

2, The Kolkata Basher. We have all met one of these people. The pretentious snob who is either from a different place, grown up in this city or from the city, but grown up in a different place who has NOTHING else to talk about, except how "primitive", "boring" and "oldfashioned" Kolkata is. The constant bashing of the city for its values reveal a deep sense of disgruntlement with their own personality and it is plain pissing off to be around these people. These people never raise a finger to change anything even when they could, they pretend not to understand bangla and walk with a pout that makes them look like dead fish. Repeated slaps may help these people get their heads out of their asses.

1, The one who says, you can't change it; this is Calcutta culture. The one person who is worse than those who bash Kolkata, is the persn who does more damage to the city, by saying it cannot be changed. I once remember somone telling that Old Development cannot internalize new changes. I know that to be untrue but in Calcutta, that is accepted as the be-all and end-all of things. How many times have you seen punctuality going for a toss because it is Calcutta culture? I used to go to a college where classes started at 8.15, and we were expected to be in class by 8.05 (failing which, we are not allowed inside the class for the first hour). To be at the great JU where the first hour starts at 10.20 and see even professors taking it lightly and turning up only after 10.30 breaks my heart. It is not the culture of the city that changes people; but the people who can change the culture of a city. So the next time someone says that Calcutta cannot be improved because that is the way they have always been; give them a good healthy wallop.

Some honorable mentions that did not make it to the final list; The four decade no-gooder was kept out of the list because their decisions affected the whole of WB, not just Kolkata. The JUnkies were also kept out for being too specific/topical a group. Not to mention bus-drivers in the city and old people who just stare at you. And of course, there are always my security guards who have not perfected the art of doing just ONE thing that I have been asking them to do for the past two years - put my bike out so that it does not get caught behind three cars everytime I want to go out.

26 August 2010

News and Views of a Hypocrite

Congrats for breaking a cliche, Delhi!
How many times have you felt or have heard that sports is always given a second place to education in India? I know, right? The best player in your hockey team skips practice and your team suffers because he has an exam that Monday. Or some of the young talents just disappear off the map just when they are peaking, because of the board exams. However, we cannot complain that way any longer. Delhi, the capital city has set a precedent that the whole nation can be proud of. For the first time, brace yourself folks, Sports has been given the importance that has been reserved for Education. Kudos to the capital city. Thank you for making us all proud. We appreciate the fact that INR 28000 CRORES (nearly 7 billion USD) has been spent in making Delhi a worldclass city for the CWG; an event which will make sure that we project the best picture possible as the developing nation that everybody talks about. Screw the naysayers, who clamour that it is just a repeat of what China did for the Olympics. They don't know squat about advertising. Thank you Delhi, for showing the world that India is not the land of snake charmers and rope tricks. Who really cares if that comes at the cost of clearing off "inconvenient" people creating eye-sores for our esteemed guests? Wait a minute, most of them are not coming? Why? Because the infrastructure is poor? Those bastards. Don't they know that whatever we are doing, we are doing at the cost of building new schools and staffing existing schools? Shame on them. Screw Azim Premji who talks about the unhealthy living conditions for construction workers from the most difficult circumstances in India; we can send them right back to Bihar once the work of "beautifying" our Capital City is done. What is it that you are saying? Bihar does not have enough schools? If we have too many schools there, who will be the construction workers that build the infrastructure of New Age India? Come on, there is a bigger picture here you sentimental idiots. Now, let us all bend over. Delhi has something to say...

The Confusing case of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
THE GOOD: Did you know that the Tamil Nadu government has done away with the pass/fail system upto class nine? After those years of education, each student will be given an elementary education completion certificate. I salute the good people who made this direction possible. Education for all. Hats off to the brave people who made this possible. Now, the pressure that equates performance to marks will give way for some creative, holistic development in the student who until recently, resembled a pack-mule with books.
THE BAD: The same govt also imposed the long-awaited and much needed cap on the amount collected per term by private schools in Tamil Nadu. Now, from a distance, this looks like a responsible move. And when I think of schools that made a culture out of snobbery and sold its seats to the highest bidders, it is a rule that should be implemented with utmost vehemence. But there are schools which do not necessarily do that. There are schools which sponsor some ofthe students from a tough background with their fees and uniforms. This is where the "Bad" part of this rule kicks in; as the big fish tear through this rule with their rating system and facilities expenses (as they can charge for extra classes and make it unofficially mandatory to make up for the lost revenue), and the small schools that care about the students get jacked. The average salary of a teacher in a small private school is far from attractive. The old axiom that only those who can't do, teach, is coming true more with the passing day; with a small change, as only those who can't do IT, teach. (when I say IT, I mean Information Technology, my perverted readers). That the first casualty of this cap on fees is going to be the quality of teachers, for the salaries are bound to go down from the current bad state. Though attractive salaries should not be the force that drives someone towards the vocation of teaching, don't the teachers live in the real world as well? With the UGC making sure that established professors could easily take home up to half a lakh per month as salary, and govt teachers' association making sure that teachers can live with comfort and security; what sin have the private school teachers done to be left uncared for?
THE UGLY: Now, another dangerous angle that we have to consider due to this measure is attrition. Those around the 30 year mark would not think twice about going IT; and even if they are not fit for the field the could easily opt for the numberless BPOs and Call-centers. It would look like that such attrition is not possible from those who are considered "seniors" (past the young age of 35, if you would believe me). Consider this; if such a teacher realizes that not only is the salary never going to improve but also it may suffer a downslide? What? Would they not be making a LOT more money for a lot LESS work if they start, get this, a private tuition centre? Last I checked, there are NO boards/checks/restrictions/fee-caps for tuitions. All this, and the timing is pretty flexible? Now, those teachers would be crazy not to think about these options. I once knew a chemistry teacher who had retired from active teaching (voluntary retirement). He taught three sessions in the morning and four in the evening. Each session had class thrice a week. So, there were fourteen batches. Each batch had about 40 students. He charged just 500 rupees from each student. He taught from the comforts of his residence. So he made a net profit of at least 2.5 lakhs per month. The year was 1999-2000. Now, in 2010, I still know teachers who scrape a living out of salaries 3000 per month. The govt which made an oh-so-grand declaration about cutting down school fees, has sadly done very little about the high attrition in teachers. That is plain UGLY; and dangerously so.

23 August 2010

Quick Reviews; ed 4

Michael Clayton (2007)
This movie DID NOT win the Oscar for the Best Original screenplay that year. Nor the Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor, Best Film or Best Director awards that year. I could understand that Michael Clayton was cursed by being in a year where the other movies were too damn good as well. But the fact that it did not win the award for Best Original Screenplay that year shocked me out of my skin. Come on, Juno? That was a shocker. A hint at how quality is often out-weighed by pull in the Academy. That year, an overly written, unrealistic, sensationalist tale of a stupid kid with a big mouth out-ran Michael Clayton; one of the best, if not the best corporate-legal-drama-thrillers ever written. Clooney plays the titular role in this movie where the unfolding of the plot is only a means to a darker, deeper allegory about Ethics. UNorth is a major agro-products manufacturer that employs the services of a legal firm to defend them in a case against people who allege the company's fertilizers as cancer-inducing. Michael's mentor, Arthur is the lawyer assigned to the case but a bizarre event at a deposition forces the firm to send Michael to "fix" the situation. Karen (played by Tilda Swinton who won an Oscar for her performance in this movie) is the head of UNorth who would not take another mistake from the legal firm. Arthur, however, knows a secret that could topple the whole company on its head. Would Michael do his job or choose to help his mentor; particularly when his career hangs in balance and maybe more? Apart from a rivetting storyline, the complexities of the characters makes this movie a nail-biter. The idea of a "fixer" in a legal firm, a floating entity whom nobody trusts with anything too serious or long term but is too talented to be left out of the corporate plan is perhaps the most complex figure in Modern narratives since Willy Loman. How broken is the life of a man who refuses to see the ethics of his operations, even when it slaps his face? Michael Clayton also presents an excellent, but brief role for Tom Wilkinson (undoubtedly the king of Cameos) as Arthur, the man who takes the side of the people against his client, U-North; a decision for which he pays with his life. Tilda Swinton deserves the Oscar for the realistic horror that she is capable of bringing to the screen. The movie is excellently shot and cut. The writing in this movie, unlike the movie that WON the Oscar that year, is extremely down to earth. Nothing overly written or dramatic. Just plain facts and events that reveal the extraordinary characters and strengths. The casting could not have been better and the movie allows George Clooney shine like never before; making him capitalize on the sparks of brilliance he showed in movies like The Good German and Goodnight and Goodluck (both as an actor and director); a style that he would perfect in the hilarious Burn After Reading. It is good to know that just because he was in the Batman movie where he wore a nipple suit, the good actor in him did not die away but bloomed, even if he bloomed late. I regard this movie highly and I give it a grand 8.4 on the regular scale and an equally spectacular 8.1 on the critical scale. This is as close to perfect cinema with high watchability that we can come across.

Taken (2008)
I am not a big fan of remakes. I think it is a shame that sometimes really talented actors and technicians waste their time on worthless remakes of really good films. But if there is one film that should be remade into the Indian scenario, particularly with many "action" heroes are cutting a sorry figure trying to play parts written for men so many years their younger; Taken should be remade to lend them some dignity and give the audience an enjoyable fare. Liam Neeson does not compromise on his character's intensity while looking adept in all the action sequences of the film. The best part about the movie is that it's protagonist's real age is more or less about the same age as his character's age. Chase movies are a personal favorite; but this one will stand out for a long time in my memory for the amount of intensity that it brings to the table and how effortlessly real it all seems to be; which is a big deal because I have this useless piece of information that just shows how unrealistic the movie really is; Liam Neeson (Bryan) kills 34 people before he gets to his daughter. Now that is awesome! The storyline could not be simpler. Neeson plays an ex-FBI agent who was away most of his life from his child and ex-wife due to the nature of his job and cuts a sorry figure whenever he tries to make a connection with his young daughter. Despite his obvious displeasure, his ex-wife convinces him to send the teenager on a rock-band tour in Europe. The day she lands in France, she is kidnapped. There is no clue, no possible suspects or leads to where the daughter is. But he will not stop until he rescues her. The movie does not have an overload of impossible stunts just for the heck of it. It is belieavable, it is violent and most importantly, it is dramatically APT (which says a BIG DEAL about the movie). It gets a rewatchable 6.9 on a regular and a solid 5.8 on the critical scale for its intensity.

Knight and Day (2010)
I DID NOT expect to enjoy this film. I missed out on A-Team (which has Liam Neeson and Quinton Rampage Jackon in it) to watch this. So I had already made up my mind not to like this movie. Besides, just the thought of two actors who have lived a good century between them romancing and prancing about the screen was not something I was looking forward to. Not that I don't like old people acting; but I have a major problem when they pretend to be spies and kicking ass all over town (except in Pierce Brosnan, Sean Connery and Liam Neeson's case, apparently). And come on, nobody, when I say nobody, I mean absolutely NOBODY is ready to see Tom Cruise playing a parody of himself; particularly when there is just ONE character that he act as - himself. However, at the end of the hour and a half; this movie put a huge smile on me. Maybe it is the low expectations or the fact that every single prediction of a cliche comes to life on the screen. But the film is entertaining by being, yes, I admit that I stand corrected, a parody of its own self. This is one of the best examples of why I constantly accuse of Tom Cruise of playing parts that fit him really well, when his "acting" isn't worth two bits. His choice-making capacity has not let him down for a while and the streak continues. The movie is pretty straight-forward with a great doomsday McGuffin in the possession the apparent bad guy, a rogue FBI agent is chased across all over the movie by apparent good guys. However, when you see Tom Cruise as the rogue agent and snaked eyed Sean Bean as the "FBI", you know that there is not going to be a surprising double-twist at the end. Tom is the real "good" guy. Cameron Diaz stars as June, the woman in whose life the biggest thing happening is her sister getting married. In yet another hilarious and ridiculous portrayal of the impossible, Diaz does not even bother that she is nothing close to the character she is playing. She could be playing a talent-less movie star who is past her prime trying on unrealistic characters; but she isn't a good enough actor to pull it off. Like in any other movie, she HAS to make the Ultimate Sacrifice by betraying the man she loves for what she thinks is the greater good, only to be proven wrong and still get a happy ending on top of that. There are, however, many moments in the movie that you anticipate like miles ahead, but would still be pleased when it does come to pass. That seems to be the secret of this movie; fulfilling the obvious. You get to see some ridiculously funny moments throughout the movie and that makes up for whatever mindlessness it has, I suppose. It is a fun movie. Try catching it on TV as it is bound to make its debut soon. It gets a respectable 6.4 for its rewatchability; but the critics fail it with 4.4 for its sheer disbelief in the existence of something called "Intelligent Audience".

20 August 2010

Whose Common Wealth?

There are a dozen and a half reasons out there for which hate is piled up on CWG2010. I have my problems that go beyond beauracratic corruption. My reason is a simpler one. Whose Common wealth is being spent on the games? Is it unpatriotic to raise such a question; for I really don't feel like spending a budget that has been overshot at least a dozen times on a city that does not need the specific event to put it on the map. This is my problem; why Delhi. Why Always DELHI; when the games could have been some other Indian city's ticket to the international map?

Let us consider something; the very first Asian Games was conducted in 1951 in India to massage the egos of some national figures who wanted to claim international status when the economy of the nation was nowhere in the zone of hosting such an event. However, Delhi was India's biggest city then and if any city could pull it off, it was the capital city. Then like father like daughter; in 1982, we hosted another Asian games and it was not the post-liberalization India which would have had money pumped in from India Inc, but an India where the Games are state sponsored. So yet again, the decision to Delhi does not seem like a decision where there were many options. We pulled through that one. But in 2010, for the CWG, why does a place which claims to be a WORLDCLASS CITY, needs be the destination, yet again? Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai were on the historical and political map for a long time and with the advent of IT, Bengalooru and Hyderabad have made it to the big league. However, the CWG could have been just the right opportunity to elevate a second tier city, like Lucknow, Ahmedavad, Nagpur, Cochin, Madurai, Vishakapatinam, Cuttak, Jaipur and the list goes on. Does this sound like an unrealistic idea? Let us consider International precedents. CWG was conducted thrice in Australia and each time, it was in a different city, viz, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne. England had the CWG twice, in London and Manchester. The only nation which had the games twice in the same place was a one-city country, New Zealand. But with India's size and population, is it not a crime to return to the same city for an event of such a scale? This mentality comes from a miscomprehension of Atithi Devo Bhava [Thankyou Sangeetha]; as the only concern is promoting a desirable view of the nation in a microcosm called Delhi while everything is swept under a blindspot. I this what a major sports meet is all about?

Sports is the highest form of human interaction for it lacks no compulsion except for the one of the excellence of self. You know that you are getting better everytime you engage in sports. That is why it is considered to be the ultimate mode of dialogue; when two kids from completely different linguistic, cultural, socio-economic backgrounds push about a ball - progress is made. However when an event becomes about political muscle flexing and corporate swindling, sports loses lustre like a paper flower. Sports does not get better when money is spent in bigger buildings. Automatically, more medals will not start flowing when there are more swimming pools and shooting ranges. Sports and sportspeople have always succeeded despite the odds and sometimes because of it. How many true sportspeople will get to use the facilities once the Games are over? Probably the same number of sportspeople who used the facilities after the Asian Games 1982. Let us keep concentrating the COMMON's wealth to one city which has no other merit except being the capital city. Let us silence voices as unpatriotic that raise questions the order of things. Let us have a a great Games @ Delhi.

12 August 2010

Quick reviews; edition 3

Duplicity (2009)
Clive Owen is a man who I did not like when I saw his first film. But he has a knack for appearing in damn good movies; much like Russell Crowe. Not like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt, mind you, who just choose roles that fit them well. Owen has an uncanny knack of acting in memorable movies. Owen does what is demanded of him and he will surely be remembered as one of the most underrated stars of this era. Opposite him is yet another ageing Hollywood female superstar who thinks that she can pull it off. But yes; Julia Roberts does justice to her role as the paranoid and ever efficient spy who wants to break away from her job at the CIA. Apart from paranoia, themes of deception and ego is dealt with extremely well in this rivetting film of two hours and five minutes. Paul Giamatti is one of the most respected actors in the business for a reason. He shines in his short but compelling role. I would go as far as to say that anyone else except Tom Wilkinson would have stunk up that unrealistic possum-playing role; but casting, as you could have guessed if you noticed the pattern, has been a strong point in this film. With a regular double-cross with a twist plot; Duplicity guarantees for an interesting two hours and gets a 6.8 regular rating. It's capacity of self-awareness gets it a 5.8 on the critical scale.

Law Abiding Citizen (2009)
I see a movie like this and think about Dracula 2000 and wonder, just how far Gerard Butler has made it. If a movie stars Jamie Foxx and you end up rooting for anyone else in the film, the actor has done one helluva job. Gerard Butler does that in this excellent socio-psychological Thriller where you are torn between the inevitable and the impossible at the end of the film. A friend of mine recommended this movie to me and I thank you Bat, for doing so. The plot cannot be simpler - and more disturbing. What does a superspy do when his family is raped and murdered and all that the law does is give smug half-answers? He gets involved. Really, really involved. The movie makes us feel the difference between the idea of murder as punishment rather than murder as revenge. Great tragedy sparks off other events of horror but can someone salvage enough sanity to orchestrate that horror into a meaningful question? Butler's character sets about his task and we all wish him to succeed, while knowing that ultimately, he has to turn savage to prove that he too, is human. This paradox heights this cat and mouse game. This movie could have ended up like a dozen other regular chase films, but stands out due to the intensity of the performances and a very smartly written script. This movie will appeal to a large section of the audience cutting through many demographs and that is precisely why I rate this pretty high on the regular scale at 7.8 but its weak ending and often over-dramatic and invented resolutions, it does not get better than a 5.8 critical rating.

State of Play (2009)
I hate Russell Crowe; his style of acting, his attitude, his face, everything. But most of all, I hate it that he ends up being a part of so many good movies that I have to watch him and enjoy his performances. State of Play is one such movie. This is perhaps the best political thriller I have seen in a long time and it keeps you hooked every step of the way. The only other movie which surpasses this, would be Michael Clayton, but that is another review. Crowe is a journalist whose estranged friend, a congressman, Ben Affleck breaks down in front of the media when his secretary (with whom he was having an affair) is murdered. This could not have come at a worse time for this congressman has been the rallying point against the privatization of the army lobby. The movie works like a boxing bout, with each side seeming to gain advantage only to go into twelve rounds. Businessmen with highstakes against journalist who will do anything to keep the truth afloat; the movie at time tends to make things too black and white for my liking; but the turn at the end of the film justifies the reason behind such contrast and comfort it offers - making it a theme and a central conflict of the movie itself. But the need for the truth is so dramatically important that we just cannot give it up yet. Based on a TV series of the same name, State of Play is a rivetting, instant classic that is simultaneously both realistic and dramatic. It gets a high 8.2 in the regular scale but the critical rating does not go beyond 6.4 for it tries to make a symbolic greater drama of good vs evil when they are so undistinguishably inter-twined. In short, it is a great cinematic experience, succeeding where cheap thrillers like JFK fails; but still ends up a foot short when it comes to considering the human condition - would we really be so good when the moment arrives? The movie seems to be too sure of itself to be true. But undoubtedly, it is a must watch.

10 August 2010

You think you know him...

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN is not someone who disappoints both at the box office as well as at a critical level. The worst things about him is that he is in love with his own protagonists and he overuses the same kind of music in his movies. And... Well, there is very little I can add to this. I have not seen his early work but since the turn of the millenium, he has impressed me so much that I am definitely and unabashedly a Nolan fan. So without much ado, here'z me taking y'all on a short walk of Nolan's decade of dominance.

Memento (2000) was an interesting film. More than any of his other films, his investigation of ethics is most direct in this one, where Leonard (Guy Pearce) a man suffering from short-term memory loss is looking for revenge by hunting for his wife's rapist/murderer. Straightforward Steven Segal stuff, right? Not so much. The storytelling takes us through a compelling journey of discovery where we are forced to reckon with pieces of Truth that the protagonist has the luxury of forgetting. Joe Pantoliano has not been in a movie that gives him a canvas wide enough to exhibit his skills. Carrie Anne Moss is just stellar in her complex and underplayed role. Guy Pearce makes it seems so real and intensely normal. Most people say that the best thing about the movie is it's narrative technique, which was borrowed from primarily a French drama called Irreversible (starring Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci). However, I must admit that Memento was much more entertaining and gripping than Gasper Noe's film. The technique of flash forwarding in a reverse narrative comes across as very brave and original. Nolan paints an unflattering image of the Nature of man; but he keeps it real. More than anything, this movie is remembered for the second most memorable memory loss patient (that's ironic) after Dora from Finding Nemo. I must note here that both the Tamil and Hindi versions of the movie (self-procclaimed adaptations) were major forgettable fiascos. Coming back to the film, it blew my mind away when I first watched it and has always given me something new to enjoy every other time I have seen it. Thanks to rewatchability and popular appeal, I give it a generous 7.4 on the popular scale and a decent 6.1 on the critical scale. The year is 2000 and Nolan is just about getting started.

Insomnia (2002) is a movie that goes further into the question of ethics while moving away from it. In the sense, though it questions the nature of man, it looks very specifically at two men at the opposing ends of the spectrum and trains our eye on the quality of the individuals rather than the whole spectrum of human nature. Starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams, this is an extremely intense experience that loses pace in the middle but never loses the audience interest. Williams plays the worst kind of villain there is, a garbage heel, blackmailing coward; and the conviction he plays the role with makes me wonder how come he is better known as a comic despite his variety of great character roles. Al Pacino plays yet again a brilliant rendition of himself. I like the dude but I wonder if he ever stepped out of the Michael Corleone mode. Again a deceptively simple tale of a crime investigation in a part of the world where there is no Night for months on end, turns into a gripping drama beyond the cat-and-mouse variety. Sadly, you cannot watch this movie more than once and even the first viewing will be like streaks of great cinema followed by weak moments. Overall, the movie scores a credible 6.8 popular rating and a 5.8 critical rating.

Batman Begins (2005) was a reboot of the character on screen and people were anticipating how well could someone like Nolan do it. Before we go to the movie itself, we must consider that the Batman series on screen has always suffered more than any other series due to the eccentricity of its makers. Now, I am a HUGE Burton fan, but I must admit that his style of comic-book film-making was so precariously placed that nobody could recreate his magic. Enter Bruckheimer. This was a man who visualized Mr Freeze as a muscle on top of muscle maniac. Now, I am not one of the many comic book fans who cried foul that the story departed from the books; but Arnold Schwarzenegger as a sophisticated, tragic evil scientist/supervillain is an aesthetic and dramatic genocide. Throw in the Halle Berry/Catwoman disaster; Gotham was in serious trouble. Given this background, Nolan had his task cut-out. Also, we must remember that he was replacing the Most Talented Mr Aronfsky who wanted to make DKR with Clint Eastwood as Bruce Wayne. What did Nolan do? Break away from many Bat-movie conventions. The villains were not the superbills (of course, Liam Neeson is a "Big Name" and Cillian Murphy is a "Name" but both were not big enough to outshine Christian Bale), Bruce Wayne was not a Jokester, the (bad) comic-book feel was replaced by a realistic action/thriller style of cutting and the Bat-mobile was finally given the respect it deserves. It was not a toy anymore but a really bad muthafucka in its own right. Most importantly, there was no nipple suit. Also, Nolan chose to base his plot loosely on one of the best Batman writers/story-arc; Frank Miller's Year One. If you notice closely, this movie too follows the question of basic human nature and behavior but it feels a lot more simplified, as it is meant to appeal to children as well. Not much to say about the movie itself; for it was a great relaunch pad for Batman and a chance for him to go back to black. It gets an all-pleasing 6.6 popular and 5.4 critical rating.

The Prestige (2006) is by far the most complete film that Nolan has ever made. It is strong in its narration, characters, action as well as the overall craft. This is not only an extremely entertaining period drama based on rivalries between two great magicians, but also an engaging duel that shows, like other Nolan movies discussed before, as to how far are we willing to go to register that ultimate victory. Starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johanasson and Michael Caine, this movie gets the best performances from each of the actors. The movie creates unforgettable moments that do not impede the storytelling in any way, whether it is Jackman taking a bow under the stage or Bale biting a bullet quite literally. Set in an age where technology still hasn't taken over the art of narration by a magician, the movie quite convincingly makes believers out of us. Like most of his other movies, it also has a single germ that has to be internalized and believed before the movie starts making sense. But the third stage of the Trick is the same in every field of story-telling; it is the Prestige or how the magician overcomes and lives on that is most interesting. For this reason, I rate this as the best Nolan film I have ever seen with excellent rewatchability and great intensity even after the "maze" has been deciphered (something that most puzzle movies fail to do). It scores a whopping 8.1 on popular scale and a sound 6.9 in the critical scale.

Dark Knight (2008) is for many people the best Batman movie there is. With excellent game-psychology and a truly creepy performance from Heath Ledger (and this means a lot for it had to out-creep Jack Nicholson's levels of creepiness) that even killed the actor, the movie sets its scene in the dark alleys of Gotham where the Thinking Man's greatest Enemy, Anarchy, takes the shape of the Joker and challenges Gotham's Knight in Black Kevlar Armor to a duel. We all know how well Nolan performs in Duel movie situations (almost each one of the movies mentioned here is a duel) and he moves the game up a notch. This movie is significant for the optimistic turn that Nolan takes as the climax of the movie has a boatload of criminals refusing to sacrifice a boatload of civilians and vice versa because there is a bond of humanity that goes deeper than just the deeds of the person. A typical tale of Good vs Evil, I felt that despite the story-telling, Nolan went over to the didactic mode a bit too often with this movie; particularly with the entire Two-Face angle. I liked the ending where the honor of the White Knight is restored even when it is at the cost of the Dark Knight's reputation. Over all, this was a very entertaining film that scores a 7.5 on the popular ratings but barely breaches 6.1 on the critical scale for it is only a good bridge movie from Year One Batman to something bigger. It must be noted that with Ledger passing on and people anticipating nothing less than one in a million, the next Batman movie is better not made; for it has a BIG chance of disappointing a LOT of people.

Inception (2010) is a movie that left me doing two things; 1, swearing that Christopher Nolan should rot in hell. 2, waiting at the gate of the cinema hall as the credits rolled on wondering if there was a scene AFTER the credits that finished the last action on screen. Leonardo DiCaprio does not disappoint in yet another psychological thriller. To be frank; I was dreading for the worst from this film for a handful of reasons. The trailer made it look like a cross between any generic action movie and a disaster movie. Besides, I have been waiting for this movie for MONTHS. apart from that, I had not seen this movie for over three weeks after the release. I had excellents and great and amazing from many sides and I was bracing myself hoping not to pick up anything about the movie. I was also fearing the worst for I had insisted that my girlfriend come along for this, knowing fully well that she is not a fan of action movies. The first half hour into the movie, I had a slow/sinking feeling. Not that the start of the movie was bad; but it somehow kept reminding me of a LOT of other movies/TV shows/books from before. I was not really hooked on until the "Mission" started. But from that point on... That is perhaps the longest a movie can make us hold our breath starting from somewhere around the first hour mark to the end of the movie. I would like to take a moment to thank all my friends who had already seen this movie but still did not reveal the plot/or give away spoilers about the movie. I was unaware of the wordmeaning of Inception within the storyline until I went to the theatre and to keep up my end of the deal, I would not spoil that for you, my dear readers, here either. So for that reason, I end this note quickly by just giving my ratings for this movie at 8.0 popular and a 6.9 critical rating. This comes a close second to The Prestige (a decision that may surprise many, including myself), for the Jackman-Bale starrer did not have a single moment of self-doubt whereas this movie, despite its unparalleled second half, the first half made us reminisce to a flurry of movies/TV shows ranging from **Spoiler Alert (if you think this as a spoiler that is), Matrix, Johnny Quest, Supernatural, Eternal Sunshine of A Spotless Mind, Identity, Twelve Monkeys and most damagingly, to Leo's very own Shutter Island. **Spoiler close. However, the movie is an experience not to be missed. Ken Watanabe is one of the most respected performers around the world and the confidence with which he says, "I bought the airlines", sums up his total capacity. This movie is a must watch and is worth buying on DVD for your personal collection, EVEN if you do not like Action genre.