Monday, February 27, 2012

Story Overpowers The Star

(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on 26 February 2012, retrieved from

Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill
Director: Bennett Miller
Rating: 4 stars
It’s hard to make a film about a man who was offered $125,000 to play for the Mets when he was 18 and $12.5 million to manage the Red Sox when he was 44, without making him look like a hero. It’s harder to make a film about a man who gave up a scholarship to Stanford to pursue a career in Major League Baseball that never took off, without making him look like a tragic hero.
You walk into Moneyball, prepared for a template – underdog takes risks, underdog wins, uplifting music plays as its underrated architect is celebrated. And you’re pleasantly surprised by the carefully-crafted dialogue, judicious use of on-field footage, and lovely soundtrack.
In its exploration of the business behind baseball – or any sport, for that matter – the film is sensitive, funny, and so natural that it feels like a reality show along the lines of The Apprentice. The streetsmarts – coaches, scouts, men who’ve lived their lives with a ball in glove – take on the booksmarts – Ivy League graduate whose analysis is based on statistician Bill James’ controversial sabermetrics technique.
Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is a failure of baseball conventions. He’s a five-tool player – great hitting power, good average, base-running skills and speed, aptitude for fielding, knack for throwing. So why didn’t he make it? Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), whom Beane meets on a player-trading trip, has the answers. For over a hundred years, baseball’s got its parameters wrong. And that’s symbolised by the scouts – grizzled men with hearing aids and crabby tempers, who look like they wake up in a nursing homes. They reject players for their weak jaws and ugly girlfriends – indicators of low self-esteem.
The underlying themes are highlighted by the subtlety of the narrative. “How can you not romanticise baseball?” Beane says, ironically, twice. For a baseball story, the movie is delightfully understated, and poignantly non-macho. The situational humour – a shrivelled old man asking “Who’s Fabio?”, an ex-wife’s current husband trying to make polite conversation about baseball, the deer-caught-in-headlights expression on the face of a young manager confronted by a once-great player – is the perfect foil to a serious story about changing the game, in a world shorn of bubble wrap and fairy dust.
Granted, the film indulges Brad Pitt for a brief while, allowing him to play the doting parent, the nostalgic former future baseball hero, and the superstitious sportsman. But it’s intelligent enough to focus on Beane the Manager, not Beane the man. And between Billy Beane and Jonah Hill, Pitt never gets bigger than the film.
The Verdict: When a film about baseball makes you forget you don’t know baseball, it’s got to be good.

The Itch Lingers On

(Published in The Sunday Guardian, dated 26 February 2012, retrieved from

Cast: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench
Director: Simon Curtis
Rating: 2.5 stars
In 1956, Marilyn Monroe, accompanied by her newly-acquired husband Arthur Miller, came to England at the behest of Sir Laurence Olivier, to star in The Prince and the Showgirl. A poor little rich boy, Colin Clark, one of the gofers on the set, published diary accounts decades later, detailing his own relationship with the troubled Hollywood siren. Decades after that, someone chose to turn that into a film, My Week with Marilyn. Yet another tribute. Yet another attempt to fill enormous shoes, and expose the holes in the soles.
Now, here’s the first of several problems – the script feels whimsical and unstructured, and not in a manner that could be interpreted by monocle-sporting critics as symbolic of the eponymous character. Here’s the second – when such iconic figures as Marilyn Monroe, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, whose Technicolor images have been imprinted in our minds, are portrayed on screen, it’s very hard not to water them down.
I spent the first twenty minutes distracted by the lack of resemblance between Monroe and Michelle Williams, who, at best, looks like a plainer younger sister. Kenneth Branagh comes closest to pulling off his character, though his near-parody of Olivier is rather more reminiscent of Mark Gatiss from Sherlock. Yes, that’s a subtle way of saying he more-than-hints at Olivier’s rumoured bisexuality.
There’s a tendency, while making films about female stars, to focus on their vulnerability instead of sensuality. But how can that work in a film about a woman who spent most of her life seducing the camera? Michelle Williams, who plays the capricious, dreamy, fragile Marilyn quite nicely, fails to capture the alluring enticer in her. And from the very obvious use of a body double to the PG-13ing of her relationship with Clark, the film oozes prudery.
The supporting cast is formidable. Eddie Redmayne, an Etonian like Clark, looks the part of the high-born young man floored by a sex kitten. Judi Dench is lovely as stage doyenne Dame Sybil Thorndike. Branagh’s satire of the Stanislavski Method is hilarious, and he gets to spit out such gems as “Trying to teach Marilyn how to act is like teaching Urdu to a badger!” But then, a line as trite as “First love is such sweet despair, Colin!” would stink, even from Dench’s mouth. And while we can swallow Marilyn Monroe confiding in an almost-lover, it beats logic that Olivier and Leigh should follow suit.
The Verdict: A weak script and patchy characterisation leave one feeling the film lacks soul.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Whole New Ball Game

(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, dated 25 February 2012, retrieved from

Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt
Director: Bennett Miller
Rating: 4 stars
How do you win a game that’s all about the money, when you have none? How do you deal with a sport where you could win 20 games in a row, and still get fired for losing the last one of the season? Moneyball is not just another film about a team coming out of the woodwork to beat the champions. In fact, it’s not about winning for glory.
Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, baseball player-turned-manager for the Oakland Athletics, who fumes as aging scouts pick players for their attitude and reject them for their hairless faces. But he can’t tell them where they’re going wrong until he meets the podgy, bumbling Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) on a player-trading trip to Cleveland. The only purchase he makes is the Yale graduate, and together, they set out to beat an unfair game that “sells tickets and hot dogs” to feed egos and business monopolies.
In a powerful scene, beset by the sense of depression that often follows an incredible achievement, Beane explains, “Any other team wins the World Series, good for them. They’re drinking champagne, they get a ring. But if we win, on our budget, with this team...we’ll have changed the game.”
When Hollywood puts real lives on celluloid, the result’s usually a heart-warming tearjerker you’ll hate yourself for loving. But the epilogue of Moneyball is more likely to bring a sad smile to your lips than a tear to your eye. For the sake of the story, you’re hoping something will go wrong when it appears everything will go right; for the sake of the team, you’re hoping everything will go right. We’re so much in sync with the characters that we share their euphoria, and their despondence.
We’re worried the quirky Beane will jinx a game he breaks tradition to watch. Our hearts go out to his young assistant, played masterfully by Hill. Brand’s confidence in his intelligence is endearingly outweighed (forgive the pun) by the diffidence fostered by his appearance and age. His flustered theorising is complemented by his childlike delight on being proven right. If the coach Art Howe weren’t played by a face as well known as Philip Seymour Hoffman, we’d be forgiven for thinking he’d been pulled out of an actual baseball team.
The film’s mainstream aspect is rarely glimpsed – in the symbolism of a star player’s banner coming down as Brand enters the club, in the lyrics of a song Beane’s daughter sings to him, in weaving in and out of Beane’s past. But it’s less about an individual than a team, and less about a team than a game – a game that’s tough on its players, its clubs, its fans. It’s about the gut instinct that comes with the love of the game, versus the knowledge that comes with analysis. You could scour the storyline for the sub-plots, and few rest in Brad Pitt’s blue eyes and pouty mouth. Except for the moments when the camera focuses on the glimmer in his eyes and the tightening of his lips, it’s rather easy to forget this is Brad Pitt, and not Billy Beane himself.
Verdict: Steering clear of clichés for the most part, Moneyball is a refreshingly thoughtful film.

A Weak Marilyn, This

(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, dated 25 February 2012,

Cast: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Julia Ormond, Jude Dench, Emma Watson, Toby Jones
Director: Simon Curtis
Rating: 2.5 stars
There’s something about the tragedy of a seductress that begs a film. And months after The Dirty PictureMy Week with Marilyn finally makes its way to India. Why do I compare the two? Because they’re about men who cuddled women most men wanted to bang. And while they claim to bleed oomph, they end up lisping baby-talk.  The story of this week with Marilyn is told from the perspective of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), who’s third assistant director a.k.a. lackey to Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) on his film The Prince and the Showgirl.
Michelle Williams, who in my mind is the housewife from Brokeback Mountain, has won an Oscar nomination for her pains. She did have a mighty challenge here, and has done her best with the role given to her. But there’s something about Marilyn Monroe’s heavy-lidded eyes and teasing grin that is simply inimitable. Perhaps what the film needed was a lookalike, not necessarily one who could act. Or someone so talented she could contort her face to look like Marilyn, as Forrest Whitaker did for his role as Idi Amin, and Jamie Foxx for his as Ray Charles.
When she walks out of an aircraft on the arm of her husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), this Marilyn looks more timorous than tantalising. It’s only when Toby Jones, playing an irascible Arthur Jacobs, barks, “Marilyn, is it true you wear nothing in bed but perfume?” and she drawls, “Darling, as I’m in England, let’s say I sleep in nothing but Yardley’s Lavender”, that one starts relating Michelle Williams to Monroe.
In an over-the-top film, the music of which highlights its eccentricity, one is never sure how much is spoof and how much serious. It looks beautiful, straight out of the fifties. It has some wonderful lines, and perfect comic timing. It’s got a very capable cast. Dame Judi Dench plays an arch stage veteran, who won’t hesitate to boss over the great Laurence Olivier. Zoë Wanamaker plays up the idiosyncrasies of Paula Strasberg, Marilyn’s “acting coach” who asks her to think of Frank Sinatra and Coca-Cola whenever she’s upset with Olivier. Branagh brings Olivier to life with an edge of pastiche. Julia Ormond is a bit of a weak link as Vivien Leigh, and one wonders how Catherine Zeta Jones, who was slated to play the role, would have done it.
But, there is a sense of something important missing. Why don’t such powerful characters make a strong story? one wonders. The film meanders along, with no real purpose. It oscillates between the diary of Colin and the life of Marilyn. His dates with Lucy (Emma Watson) seem to disturb the unity of the storyline, while the episodic narrative of his relationship with Marilyn Monroe leaves little time for his rapport with other characters to be fleshed out. How does he know Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond)? Why does Olivier think aloud to a low-down gofer? And why does a film about such a poignant life fail to touch a single chord?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Of BlackBerry, Big Brother and Suicide

(Published in, on 23 February, 2012, retrieved from

“You use a BlackBerry, right? I’m writing a piece about the whole monitoring thing, so I thought I’d ask if you feel your privacy is invaded.”
“No, I think, contrary to personal belief, the government doesn’t think me particularly important. And I watch all the Achmed the Dead Terrorist videos on my home computer. What are they going to do reading my boss’ emails to me about reverting back by EoD anyway?”
“Apparently, they can’t access corporate mails.”
“Oh...can they access Gmail?”
“They’re trying to access Skype, Yahoo, Gmail and Nokia.”
“Does that worry you more than BBM access?”
“Yeah, I’m in a long-distance relationship, so the stuff in there’s...sort of...umm, personal.”
“Yeah, they’ll probably discuss those in an Assembly or two, if it’s interesting enough.”
“I think this goes back to what you said earlier about the country being sex-starved.”
“I don’t think the point of the BBM access is an insight into your sex life.”
“No, but it’s infringement in the sense that the government is constantly monitoring what I can do, and what I can’t. I mean...quickly rephrasing that...what I have a right to do, and what I don’t.”
“You seem a lot more aware of your rights now than you were a couple of minutes ago.”
“Yeah, that has less to do with BlackBerry than with censorship in general. I just found out The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn’t releasing in India. Because they want cuts.”
“I thought that was an admirable thing to do. Say all or nothing. On the director’s part, I mean.”
“Yeah. Still means I won’t get to see Rooney Mara play Lisbeth Salander. I saw the version with Noomi Rapace on TV, and I think they cut about half of it.”
“Hahahaha! What did you even make of it? Must’ve been like The Last King of Scotland. One minute, the doctor’s having dinner with Idi Amin, and the next, he’s being tortured.”
“Yeah, man! I end up watching only censored stuff. My DVD guy got busted a while ago. You know, it’s bad enough raunchy died with Raj Kapoor. I mean, thank God for YouTube. That’s where I go for Mandakini and Zeenat. I mean, every damned thing is illegal in India – porn, prostitution, premarital’s like there’s a secret conspiracy to make us all impotent to bring down the population.”
“Wow, you should consider a career in politics. You get the facts wrong, but the oratory’s perfect.”
“I don’t have the money.”
“You needn’t win. You could just make some news. Come up with a nice name for your party – like Khudkushi Party.”
“That’s encouraging.”
“You know, when I first moved to Delhi a few years ago, I thought khudkushi meant masturbation.”
“That would probably be khudkhushi.”
“Yeah, well, you know we Madrasis have no aspirations. Anyway, I’d wonder (a) why papers were reporting it so often, and (b) why people were stupid enough to be caught...umm, pleasuring themselves in public. And I didn’t know whom to ask.”
“You should’ve asked me.”
“I wouldn’t have believed you. I checked on Google Translate.”
“What do you Southies say for ‘suicide’ anyway?”
“We use it as a verb. Like, ‘I want to suicide’, ‘He suicided himself’.”
“Suicided himself?”
“For emphasis, I think.”
“They say this in the English papers?”
“That would depend on the sub-editors, but that’s how we refer to it in speech. The actual Tamil word is tharkolai, though.”
“Does it have anything to do with Kolaveri?”
“You’re smarter than most Naarthies are given credit for. Anyway, I suppose you should be grateful that, umm, self-service isn’t illegal here yet.”
“They’re considering making it illegal?!”
“No, there was this proposal put up by an Oklahoma senator a couple of weeks ago, as a gimmick to spoof anti-abortionists. She said masturbation should be treated as action against an unborn child.”
“Is this conversation over?”
“Oh, we got sidetracked.”
“Discussing masturbation with a woman is strangely turning off. Not so strangely, bringing unborn children into the mix makes it worse.”
“Well, just remember that there’s a whole lot of women in Parliament who’ll be discussing it if such a legislation were ever to be proposed. You know, the likes of Sush...”
“Stop right there.”
“Did you know that Ashmit Patel’s doing a nude photoshoot for some magazine?”
“Isn’t he the one who circulated some MMS of Riya Sen a few years ago?”
“Well, now, he’s decided he should give as good as he got.”
“Can’t the government stop him, you know, for the love of aesthetics?”
“I don’t think the Censor Board can step in unless he wants to screen it in the cinemas.”
“See, that’s the problem with our country. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not coming to the theatres, but The Pervert with the White Undies is coming to the newsstands.”
“Ah, so you’ve seen the picture.”
“This doesn’t have anything to do with the long-distance relationship you were speaking of, does it?”
“I’ll answer the government if I have to. By the way, is it a crime to research suicide online?”
“Not unless you attempt it, I guess – attempt suicide, I mean. In which case it could count as aiding and abetting. So I’m safe for now. Are you researching this on your BlackBerry?”
“Don’t even think about saying ‘Research In Mortis’.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Whatcha Thinkin Bout - Manmohan and Anna

Vostok: The Giant Sub-Glacial Lake

(Published in The New Indian Express, School Edition, dated 20 February 2012, retrieved from

NOTE: This is not an editorial. It's all those things you kinda wanna know about Lake Vostok, but don't have the patience to go through Wikipedia articles for.

A couple of weeks ago, on 5 February 2012, a team of scientists from Russia announced that they had pierced the ice shield around a sub-glacial lake, by digging 3768 metres into the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. The largest of more than 140 lakes they drilled into was named Vostok, after Russia’s Vostok Station at the southern Pole of Cold, beneath which the lake was found. Incidentally, the station itself is named after a warship used to sail to Antarctica by Russian explorer Admiral Fabian von Bellingshausen. “Vostok” is Russian for “East”.
The lake is believed to have been sealed away for between 15 and 25 million years, and is located about 500 metres below sea level. When the Antarctic summer begins at the end of the year, scientists hope to send in a robot to collect samples from the lake, as well as sediments from its bottom. They also hope to find a thriving ecosystem in the waters of the lake.
Even otherwise, analysis of the water could provide valuable information about climate change over the past 400,000 years or more. This kind of study, known as “paleoclimatology” is important, because changes that took place in the environment ages ago, and the biodiversity they triggered off, may indicate future trends if a similar situation were to occur.
How was Lake Vostok discovered?
The idea that a lake may be hidden under the Antarctic ice sheets was posited in the late 1800s by Russian scientist Peter Kropotkin, based on the theory that the pressure exerted by the heavy ice sheets would increase the temperature in the bottom layers, causing the ice to melt.
In 1959 and 1964, the Soviet conducted two expeditions into the Antarctic, to measure the thickness of the ice sheet. Russian geographer Andrey Kapitsa said there could be a sub-glacial lake in the region, after studying seismic records from these expeditions.  Research into this went on for decades, until British scientist Jeff Ridley confirmed the existence of the lake in 1993.
In 2005 and 2006, scientists found an island in the central part of the lake, as well as several other sub-glacial lakes. These lakes were thought to be connected by sub-surface rivers. Russian scientists recently began to drill into the ice sheet to reach these lakes, and finally penetrated up to Lake Vostok.
Significance of the lake
The sub-surface rivers continually transfer water from one sub-glacial lake to another, when the pressure builds up, forcing water to break through the ice sheet. Now, this means that there is a tremendous amount of information about the climactic conditions of the earth over the past 15 million years or more.
Isotopes found in the water could indicate how and why sub-glacial lakes are formed.
Also, the lake contains very high concentrations of oxygen and nitrogen, which means there is scope for various kinds of life. Certain microorganisms have already been discovered in the lake, but these are of a species already known to exist on the surface. However, there is a chance that many more may be found, due to the varying temperature of the lake, despite the low nutrient availability and absence of sunlight.
But many environmentalists are not in favour of the scientists’ decision to drill through the ice sheet into the lake.
Why is the drilling controversial?
Drilling involves boring through the ice sheet, and then pumping in Freon and kerosene in order to prevent the tunnel from freezing again. There are worries that this antifreeze, of which about 60 tonnes will be used to fill the boreholes, could contaminate the lake.
While scientists are excited by the possibility that ancient bacteria, with a gene pool dating back half a million years, could be discovered, ecologists are concerned that the chemicals could severely damage this delicate ecosystem.
Environmental groups have been asking the scientists to use hot-water drilling instead, but the team said this would not be possible because that would require more power than could be generated at such a remote camp. The US and Britain are also in favour of the hot-water drilling procedure, or waiting until alternate clean technology becomes available.
The Russian team said new equipment has been developed by researchers at the St Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute that would stop the lake from being contaminated. They also said they would switch to a new thermal drill head with a ‘clean’ silicone oil fluid about 50 metres from the surface of the lake.
A final decision is yet to be made on drilling further. Several countries are in favour of drilling into a smaller lake first, as an experiment.


The lake is about 250 km long and 50 km wide at its broadest point
It has a surface area of 15,000-16,000 square kilometres
At its deepest point, it’s believed to be 900 metres deep, and has an average depth of 344 metres
The volume of water is estimated to be between 4000 and 7000 cubic kilometres
The average temperature of water in the lake is believed to be around -3 °C

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ekk Deewana Tha: Gimmicky and Uninspiring

(Published in The Sunday Guardian, dated 19 January, 2012, retrieved from

Cast: Prateik Babbar, Amy Jackson
Director: Gautham Menon
Rating: 1 star
When two imbeciles fall in love, the romance could culminate in several inane ways. Having shown us two in Telugu and Tamil, Gautham Menon imposes both on us in the Hindi remake Ekk Deewana Tha – apparently, which ending you see depends on which screen you walk into.
I gagged over the Tamil version years ago, so I’ll make this simple – boy meets girl, religion intervenes, they overcome that, work intervenes, they overcome that, destiny intervenes, and the tail gets more twisted than  a telephone cord. Extending the analogy, it drags on till you imagine a pre-pubescent voice going, “Your eyeballs are important to us; thank you for your patience. The end will be with you shortly.” A love story so trite, yet he told it thrice.
Aspiring filmmaker Sachin (Prateik) realises his landlord’s daughter Jessie (Amy Jackson) is hot. His lispy sister befriends Jessie, who mournfully asks him mundane questions, and dreamily mumbles phrases in Malayalam, which no one follows. Inexplicably, Sachin becomes bum-chums with a cameraman (Manu Rishi), who takes an inordinate interest in his love life.
Among the film’s many shortcomings is the lack of clarity in the dynamic of the romance. We don’t know whether she’s turned on by his creepy stalking. She hints that she’s not into him, makes out with him and then throws a tantrum days later. You may make less sense of this scene for being distracted by Prateik’s lipstick.
Her psychotic episodes are punctuated by infantile humour, mostly hinging on her uncle’s struggles with Hindi. Sigh, I wish my fellow-Madrasis would stop trying to subvert Bollywood’s “rascalla” agenda, only to fall flat on their moustached faces. It would’ve been cleverer to make the cameraman Malayali, like most Bollywood technicians. But the only innovation here is the replacement of foreign locales with Indian ones (budget cuts?)
The acting is straight out of a school play. While everyone insists on seeing potential in Prateik, he erases the line between immature and retarded, as he did in My Friend Pinto. Being surrounded by actors as capable as Sachin Khedekar, Manu Rishi and Babu Antony highlights his weak performance. He twitches his limbs like he’s got ants in his pants, especially in dance sequences that seek to acquaint us with his belly button (I’m sure I can draw it from memory). It doesn’t help that the music is disjointed, the meter distorted, the lyrics ooze Harlem angst, and Amy Jackson can’t pull of Indian dance moves.
The Verdict: If you’re wallowing in the misery of lost love, take along a box of tissues. Otherwise, take a barf bag.

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man

(Published in The Sunday Guardian, dated 19 January 2012, retrieved from

Cast: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Uggy the Dog
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Rating: 4.5 stars
The darling of the awards is finally here. And it’s got us swimming in nostalgia, kitsch, and analysis. Sixty years after Singin’ in the Rainspoofed the silents, The Artist has been hailed for celebrating them. But something about this film makes one want to dismiss the agenda, and delve into the story.
You’ll fall in love with the preposterously self-involved George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) from the moment he saunters on to stage after a screening of his 1927 release A Russian Affair. He hogs the limelight with his dog Uggy, whose presence in swashbuckling period films never seems incongruous. His larger-than-life persona, reinforced by oversized portraits of himself that he regularly salutes, finds a foil in the good humour with which he teases a fan, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). Though the nods to The Mark of Zorro and The Iron Mask have merited comparison to Douglas Fairbanks, Dujardin in this character is far more reminiscent of Clark Gable, he of the knowingly raised eyebrow, consciously twinkling eyes, and exaggeratedly carefree laugh.
The film traces his life from an evening appearance to which a tabloid dedicates five pages, to a time when newspapers deem it necessary to designate him as “silent film actor”. While Dujardin enjoys overacting in the dramas of intrigue that the film portrays, his expressions are entirely natural otherwise.
Our empathy with his character is so complete that we resent the innovation in cinema that causes his downward spiral, and rage at the newcomer who derives a momentary, but ugly, satisfaction from deriding him behind his back. That’s why I wouldn’t categorise this as comedy, homage or pastiche – we’re laughing with George Valentin, and ruing with him. The Artist feels more like one of the last silent films of the era preceding talkies than a tribute made in the twenty-first century.
On the second or third viewing, the clichés stand out – symbolic movie titles and billboard slogans, the figurative use of a poster that people trample on – but so do delightful little details that bring back 1930s Hollywood. The limited dialogue is nuanced. One interaction brings to mind the Captain’s slip of the tongue during an argument with Maria in The Sound of Music. A dramatic sequence where Valentin discovers the power of sound is unnerving.
I only wish Peppy Miller had been played by a stronger actor than Bejo, who seems rather too colourless for the role, making the film all about Dujardin, when it could have been equally about her.
The Verdict: The film does have its flaws, and overstates one too many things, but nevertheless, it’s worth several trips to the cinema.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Of Bomb Blasts and Shooting Blanks

(Published in on 18 February 2012, retrieved from

(Picture Courtesy: Unauthorised reproduction of this picture is prohibited.)

“It’s been a strange week, huh?”
“Yeah, the kind of week where it seems like everyone has been shoving their hands in their pockets and sauntering about, whistling a tune while thinking of something new to say about the weather.”
“I think it all began with the car bombing in Delhi. Where did they get the Iran connection from?!”
“No clue. I’m not sure what to think. But I do have a feeling Netanyahu, Ahmadinejad, Baba Ramdev and Prince Philip could have been BFFs under different circumstances.”
“Oh, how I’d love to listen in on the conversations those four would have!”
“And read the RTI applications and FIRs they would file!”
“Who do you think did it?”
“Who knows? Anyway, I get the feeling no one cares. You know, the sauntering and whistling and shoving hands in pockets? The day after the bombing, India and Israel were going on about the camaraderie between their leaders, and how cooperative everyone had been.”
“Then what was all that about the National Bomb Data Centre not being allowed to examine the SUV for diplomatic reasons?”
“Probably just as well. Did you hear about the Delhi Police Commissioner’s press conference?”
“I read something about sticky bombs, and how B K Gupta had spent hours researching them.”
“Looks like the research was done on Wikipedia. Actually, Terraria Wiki. And the police proudly distributed pamphlets about how sticky bombs are made from 1 bomb and 5 gel, and how they can damage mobs and players.”
“All I can say is thank God gaming has moved on from Contra.”
“Do you think that earthquake drill in Delhi was to distract from the police’s faux pas, then?”
“If it was, it doesn’t seem to have worked too well. Everyone’s torn the Traffic Police apart. Apparently, only the ambulances and fire tenders were held up. Well, okay, not really, but there was a whole lot of confusion about which intersections should be closed.”
“I don’t understand the criticism about signboards not being in place in high-rises, though. I mean, if there was actually a 7.9-magnitude earthquake, the signboards and diagrams would probably head downstairs first, huh?”
“Did you see the pictures of the volunteers lying about? I thought they looked more like they’d been attacked by chloroform than a 7.9-magnitude quake.”
“I thought they looked like a heroine from a Karan Johar song sequence had felled them with a rose.”
“So maybe the Delhi Police refused permission to hold drills in their ITO headquarters on principle.”
“You’re allowed to refuse permission to an earthquake to hit you?”
“I suppose it would be more convenient for everyone concerned if it hit the income tax office instead.”
“That sounds like a conspiracy theory.”
“Maybe you should join that elite foursome we were speaking of.”
“No, I’ve a way to go. I’m not quite as paranoid or imaginative as I’d like to be.”
“Then you should try and join the Delhi government. They said it had turned out to be a farce because it was on such a large scale. Not very imaginative or paranoid.”
“As in, they thought maybe they should have gone with a lesser magnitude of earthquake?”
“Not sure. I don’t get why they decided to prepare for an earthquake of all things, though.”
“What are the other options?”
“Maybe a nuclear disaster?”
“How would you even go about dealing with that?”
“I don’t know. But it seems more relevant somehow, given that Iran’s loading fuel roads into its reactors.”
“That’s not one of the imports we’re paying for in rupees, is it?”
“No, I think we’re sticking to other fuels for now.”
“Anyway, at least this is more exciting than election news.”
“Yeah, it’s almost like no one cares that an election is on. Even people in UP don’t seem to be particularly concerned.”
“Rahul made a symbolic gesture. That was the big news.”
“Was it a rude gesture?”
“No, he tore up some paper.”
“The one with Shiv Sena’s ad?”
“No, just a list of promises.”
“So, he’s saying he has nothing to offer?”
“You’d think, but I believe he was gunning for something along the lines of ‘Promises are not enough’.”
“What I’d really like to see, though, is Sonia Gandhi’s papers fly off when she makes an election speech. I’ve always wondered what language they’re written in.”
“I’d be more interested in what language she runs with once they do fly off.”
“In her place, I’d just sing the national anthem. That would stop people from running off after the papers.”
“By the way, do you know whether you need to know the national anthem to take up Indian citizenship?”

Ekk Deewana Tha: A Listless Remake

(Published in The New Indian Express, dated 17 February 2012, retrieved from

(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, dated 18 February 2012, retrieved from

Cast: Prateik Babbar, Amy Jackson
Director: Gautham Menon
Rating: 1 star
The numerological armour forged by the redundant ‘K’ in the title is unlikely to withstand the sensibilities of an intelligent audience. Here's why.
Two years ago, I watched the much-hyped Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya, and rolled my eyes at the gimmicky twists. While my expectations from Ekk Deewana Tha were even lower, I find myself searching for adjectives to describe just how underwhelming this meandering love story is.
I don’t understand why Gautham Menon didn’t simply dub VTV in Hindi. For the most part, it apes its Tamil counterpart. Only, the first half goes by too fast to etch out the progress of Sachin’s  (Prateik’s) and Jessie’s (Amy Jackson’s) relationship, and the second drags on painfully. Both sides of the interval, one wishes they’d cut out a song or three. Oh, there’s an added line in the disclaimer, saying no song was meant to hurt religious sentiments – a nod to the objections raised against Hosanna.
When Kollywood fare heads for Bollywood, the storyline needs alterations, as do the characters. I mean, (a) who waits till their twentiesto date in Mumbai? (b) Do people assume they’re going to get married even before they start dating? But, from Sachin’s petulant protest,“sab chalta hai aaj kal”, when Jessie explains that one of the reasons their romance is doomed is that she’s older than he is, to an alaap ringing out when she confesses that she does love him, almost nothing changes – except, frequently and inexplicably, Sachin’s handwriting.
There seems to be some clumsy underlying commentary. When Sachin throws in a few comments about “Madrasis”, his sister becomes the voice of reason, explaining that Keralites and Madrasis are different. But, if Gautham Menon had the noble agenda of registering his protest against stereotyping of South Indians, he undermines it by injecting an uncle who says, “kaana kaavo”, asks for help with gender rules in Hindi, and addresses his guests in a mixture of Malayalam and Hindi, when they can all speak English.
Add to this the ridiculousness of Jessie’s Mumbai-based lawyer father (Babu Antony) not knowing who Amitabh Bachchan is, and Jessie not knowing who Mohanlal is – because, apparently, Syrian Christians don’t watch movies. The family is completed by her brother Jerry, whose superpowers include whipping up a gang of belligerent friends wherever he goes, and Teresa (Subbalakshmi, whose celluloid children seem to age by ten years every five, starting with the foetus from Alaipayuthey).
For all the rumours about the lead actors dating in real life, their on-screen chemistry is abysmal. In fact, the rapport between Babu Antony and Manu Rishi (who plays Sachin’s cameraman mentor) is far more electric.
I’ve seen Malayali girls who look like Amy Jackson, and she carries off a sari rather nicely, but the heavy fake tan, stilted expressions, and awkward attempts to use her hands like Indians tend to, are her undoing. In a film whose nuances, if any, lie in expression and not dialogue, she leaves no impression. Prateik, too, falls into the trap Hrithik Roshan did in Lakshya, playing a sulky character like a schoolboy. He bursts into song every few minutes, and whines the rest of the time, with exaggerated facial contortions that appear comic.
Their breakup when he’s away on a shoot with Ramesh Sippy seems a little more natural in the Hindi version, perhaps because he looks more sophisticated, but the contrived ending jars.
The verdict: There are way too many twists in the film-within-a-film-within-a-film narrative to make for a coherent watch.
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