Friday, October 08, 2010

Victim of a Super Hype

 This is what I think about Enthiran.  I went to the movie with amazing expectation and excitement, but came back disappointed:

1) Its not a world-class movie, its a movie with world-class CG effects.
2) Why is that people think that everything else can be overlooked, primarily story and logic, just because the canvas is going to big?  This is my biggest qualm and biggest disappointment.

Countless amateurish, illogical scenes and sequences (including a great scientist (Danny) failing to make a robot that will not be even able to walk properly and he irrationally getting frustrated with it).
3) Aishwarya Rai perhaps thought Shankar & co should be content and grateful just to haver her in the movie.  She's pathetic in terms of acting. Her looks are jaded.  Of course, she stuns with some wonderful dance movements now and then.  Not sufficient.  

(Btw, why does the robot take a liking to her? She doesn't seem to have any spl. qualities other than looking good.  She's in fact a person who cannot be trusted, she copies in exams and unabashedly disowns the robot that helped her.)  
4) It was unbearable to have Santhanam and Karunas as robotics students. Their comedy was pathetic and no one bothered about it.

5) I also did not like the final sentimental sequence - it was so blatant.  It could have been subtler, more symbolic, with some good directorial punch.  It reminded me of the innumerable movies where the hero is about to die, he tries to be forcefully cheerful and witty, while everyone around cries (Some recent example: Shahrukh and his usual trademark acting in the final sequences of Kal ho na ho).  Why should such a modern-themed film have such a classic, boring climax?
Big pluses: Villain Rajini with that amazing style; superb, natural CG effects, including the amazing climax sequence.

Other 'like'ables:  Underplayed Rajini, interesting dialogues,  details of the robot (title sequences), Aishwarya's amazing dance movements, well designed costumes, locations

Agreed that the movie has to reach the masses and hence one needs to make allowances for the 'masala' and illogical elements.  Still...
And agreed that I understand Tamil far far better than English and hence I might not have understood logic potholes in Hollywood sci-fi movies.  Still....
... I suspect now that those who gave raving reviews about the movie in FB were paid for by Sun Pictures.
However, there's no questioning the fact - as I read it somewhere - that its a magic waiting to happen for you in theatres.  

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Random Notes from my China Trip - Part 2

Aching necks:  Its easy to feel dwarfed in Shanghai.
-          Psychedelic Shanghai - the city simply bowled me over.  Rightly called the Vertical City, Shanghai’s sky is pierced by super skyscrapers built in very elegant styles.  While Beijing [rightly so?] gives the picture of a slightly strait-laced, conservative capital, Shanghai sways in style, and leaves the visitor with no doubt that it is the business + entertainment capital of China.

Styled in a typical Western European city’s fashion, the roads and by lanes of Shanghai are elegant, adorned with pretty flower gardens.  The contrast to these docile gardens is provided by the super tall, all steel and glass buildings on either side of their road, their dizzying peaks disappearing somewhere into the clouds.

Roads to the future:  Shanghai roads turn the
scenery to one of Sci-fi movies
Once the sun goes under the East China Sea, even the roads of Shanghai turn on the jazz.  The roads and the tall walls of these skyscrapers turn on their psychedelics, converting the sleek roads into a rave discotheque that’ll put the best clubs in LA to shame.  The side embankments of roads, the trees, the buildings, anything and everything, start flashing their multi-coloured, change-as-you-blink, neon lights.  If you can shut the cynic in your brain and let the child in it take control, then you can very easily dupe yourself into believing that you’re in the futuristic New York of The Fifth Element.

-          Where the wives and girl friends can live happily ever after:  

An incident: A few days ago [after my China trip], one of my friends was talking about an expensive Gucci bag that he got for his wife.  That really amused me.

A quiz:  You’re in the airport to receive a friend.  You see passengers arriving from several cities. How will you spot an Indian coming from Shanghai?

Merry-go-round:  The Nanjing road is the perfect place to
walk, eat, shop or to just watch the neons.
Everyone who had come for the workshop, and especially the ladies, was quivering with the thrill and excitement of shopping in Shanghai.  I too had expected that the prices would be cheaper in Shanghai, but that alone wasn’t the reason for the excitement.  The excitement was about what you can get for, say 1000 RMB that you ‘invest’ in Shanghai and what you might get in other countries for the same money.
So, all those fancy brands of handbags, luggage, apparels, socks, ties, vests and under garments [be sure to let the label show when you wear it],  footwear, jewellery, toys, electronics can be got so cheaply in Shanghai, which seems possible nowhere else.  

Turn on the music:  Shanghai shopping areas
are brilliantly lit.
Of course, they’re all fake goods.  But take this – I was told that there are grades in these fakes – C, B, A, A+ and so on.  The shopkeepers will pledge on every grain of rice that they eat that an A+ merchandise is almost the original one – it’s just that you don’t buy it in one of those hi-fi retail shops.  They turn the merchandise upside down, ask you to smell the leather, show the stitching and finishing, the trims and edges, make you feel the type of cloth and material used, show the authentic labels, the zippers and the danglers and assure you that you are buying the best product available.  Now, tell me which retail shop will take so much care and shower so much attention on you?!

The ladies, whom I accompanied in their shopping expedition, went berserk in this mela of all these fantastic goods.  I felt like a fool [I’m sure the ladies thought of me so], not knowing any of the brands and not being able to appreciate the greatness of the brands that they so excitedly talked about. 

The night's always young:  Places like Shincandi (not the right spelling) buzzes with active night life.
When I saw every person flying out of Shanghai either carrying at least one branded luggage [women - Louis Vuitton handbags with the prominent L & V pattern; men - Swiss military suitcase or backpacks with the metal zippers jiggling] I felt even more foolish.  And when I reached home, my wife, my mom, my sister and every other possible person made me realize that I’m far bigger a fool than I can ever imagine.  I thanked God that my son is not old enough to articulate his views well enough.

For the Gourmet:  Food in China can be very interesting.  Dishes such as Beijing duck are quite popular across the world.  I think China is perhaps the one country where I have seen a wide variety of food in a matter of few days.   And it was not difficult to find vegetarian options in most restaurants [except for getting the message across].  
Delicious:  The Century Egg is a delicacy which you'll
not find in Indian Chinese restaurants

I had a great time trying out different varieties of veggie dishes made of different varieties of mushrooms, seaweeds, bamboo shoots, different varieties of root vegetables [unfortunately I couldn’t get their names], lotus and lily stems, rice and tofu.  

Of course, the highlight was the preserved egg - I was completely fascinated by the transparent green and orange colour the egg had taken.  And when I read the Wikipedia, I became even elated that I have really eaten an authentic, exotic dish.  So, what is a preserved egg?  This is what Wikipedia says:

Century egg, also known as preserved egg, hundred-year egg, thousand-year egg, thousand-year-old egg, and millennium egg (or Pidan in Mandarin), is a Chinese cuisine ingredient made by preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice hulls for several weeks to several months, depending on the method of processing. Through the process, the yolk becomes a dark green, cream-like substance with a strong odor of sulphur and ammonia, while the white becomes a dark brown, transparent jelly with little flavour.

Light up to the Heavens:  Pudong, the new Shanghai
contributes to the magnificent skyline of Shanghai.
Read more here [the myth mentioned at the end of this section is just that – it’s a myth.]

And I found interesting items like bull frogs in most of the menus.  Interestingly, I found three items to be the expensive items in any high end restaurant – bird’s nest [yes, it is really bird’s nest – in the literal sense], abalone [a marine snail of sorts] and shark fin.    I had never heard of them before.

The Vertical City: Shanghai, is not simply futuristic in its jazziness.  It is thinking of hard-to-imagine, futuristic concepts – concepts of sci-fi movies - whose purposes are far beyond than making the city look like a hep pub.  Shanghai is one of the top cities in the world with a high population density.  

Floating Paradises:  The Puxi area on the other side of Huangpu still has
beautiful remnants of the British and French settlements
The city attracts hordes of people from other parts of China, who come in search of a better life.  The city struggles [albeit well concealed!] to expand and make space for these gushing population.  Hence, being ‘Vertical’ is not just for reasons of style and aesthetics; it has plenty of utilitarian purposes as well.  Now, Shanghai is taking the idea of ‘Vertical City’ to a all new high – to the level of having a complete city - farmlands and orchards,  apartments and villas with private gardens,  hospitals and schools, market places and resorts all stacked one over the other.

Thus, the trip turned out to be a fantastic experience.  It changed my view of China upside down.  I was pleasantly surprised when I saw feedback buttons [Very happy to very unhappy] in the immigration counters [another Olympics effect?]. 

After this visit, when I hear people talk about China and India as the two superpowers of Asia, putting both the countries in the same plane, I wince.  India is still far, far away from reaching China’s present stage of development and economic growth.  It could be true that China’s development is not well balanced [incidentally, the top 20 fastest growing cities in the world are in China], but it is definite that the rulers of China have a strong focus to rule over the world.  As Fareed Zakaria mentions in his book ‘The Post American World, China has embraced the idea that the path to power is through markets and not [should I add 'just'?] empires.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Random Notes from my China Trip - Part 1

China.  I was not too enthusiastic about going there.  There was just one reason - China is a large, populous country like India.  This fact painted a picture of China resembling India with its crumbled infrastructure, inadequate space and insufficient resources. 

I felt stupid.  Not because I considered that my notions about China could be wrong, but because I felt that these are not reasons for not taking interest in going to a country.  After all, this notion and lack of interest did not make for a person influenced by present day economics, and an economics that is, beyond doubt, being shaped by this big country.

Not fair ground tents: Beijing's developments seem to be well-grounded
than just being the side effects of Olympics
There was also this mild concern to do with language and communication.  I was told that it would be hard to get through only with English.  So, what happens if I go somewhere and get lost? 

Well, my concerns turned out to be unscientific, biased and completely unfounded. They were as conveniently bigoted as the notion of considering all Westerners as people with loose morals.   And I felt stupid for qualifying my stupidity  as that associated with my ‘irrational feelings of not taking interest’, whereas my stupidity was in fact, genuine stupidity -  pure lack of knowledge and know-how. 

China just left me gaping.  The trip became memorable, for all the right reasons.  The following are some random notes on my experiences:

-          Mind your Language: Lesson 1:  Language is definitely a problem.  You cannot ask your way around; not all signs are in English; even the [5-star] hotel staff might not interpret your English correctly [and you theirs].  So it is essential that you anticipate your most frequent queries and responses and have them written in Chinese.  Keep a copy of this sheet with you always.  Most hotels give you their address card in Chinese with the phrase: ‘Take me to my home’ written in Chinese. 

The Climb to the top: Beijing's infrastructure vouches
 for China's ascendancy to the ranks of superpowers

-          Mind your Language: Lesson 2:  Be careful when you attempt to speak Chinese names, such as those of your destinations.  Chinese seems to be a language, in which, every fine change in pronunciation/ diction can twist a word to carry a different meaning.  It would be quite unfortunate if your taxi driver hears your ‘Chin’ as a ‘Cheen’ or as a ‘Ching’ or as a ‘Jin’.  My overconfidence with Chinese names provided me a [of course, paid] tour of Shanghai that I did not really intend to take.

-          Maximum City: I had more apprehensions about Beijing than about Shanghai.  Somehow, it felt that Beijing is too much into the deep [good 2000 Km up north Shanghai, it’s the real mainland China], that I can manage in Shanghai, but in Beijing… hmm… doubtful.  Also, I did not have much expectation from the city – capitals are not always the most exciting of places [exception: Paris?].  But Beijing just shattered my notions.  When I was expecting, at the maximum, a city comparable to Delhi [Delhi, I hear is better, except for the weather], Beijing just fumbled me with its size, infrastructure and facilities [Marriot Beijing was more posh, cozy and stylish than Marriot Shanghai].  I was especially impressed with the roads - All the roads are far broader – much richer than their Indian counterparts, lined with trees, well-tended rose bushes (!) and tall, stylish buildings.

It definitely gave the picture of a bold, dominant economy that China has become.  Though, some of these developments can be attributed to the Olympics, it doesn’t look as if these are just recent developments.  The city seems to have planned its infrastructure long ago. 

Holistic?:  China's economic growth might not be
well distributed, but so is India's.
I visited a public sector customer in Beijing and it was time again to correct my assumptions about China.  While I had imagined a place that will most likely resemble the headquarters of one of the public sectors in India, this one was absolutely efficient and gave the picture that it is all about business – clean, neat, modern and highly professional.  The line of plush conference rooms with high tech projection systems, though could be considered superficial evidences of sophistication, in this case, just became subtle statements of the default classiness of the organization.

-          Language Again: This meeting also made me realize that Chinese is a complete language in that one can conduct discussions about technology and science completely in Chinese.  Though I couldn’t participate in conversations directly [as they were all in Chinese], I was fishing for facial expressions and the occasional English word that I thought would pop up now and then.  But no.  I could neither discern the facial expressions nor scoop English words.  I was awestruck to know that words such as browser, compatibility, UI technology, bandwidth etc can be expressed purely in Chinese.  I know that it is possible to find equivalents for such words in, say Tamil or Hindi.  Even then, how much of this ‘native language’ words is used in conversations?  [And whether it is worthwhile to have higher education in our native languages is a question worthy of a separate discussion.]

Balanced: The country of 1.5 billion is the world's largest
producer and world's 2nd largest consumer
-          Beijing Traffic: The city of 22 million is estimated to be running a staggering 4.2 million cars – a number, to the growing concern of everyone, is growing at a steady pace [an interesting statistics says that 2214 new vehicles hit Beijing roads everyday].  Every road seems to be clogged with traffic, irrespective of whether it’s a peak or an off-peak hour [and in spite of the broad and better roads].  The Beijing municipality is trying several alternatives such as having ‘no-car days’, congestion tax, higher parking fee etc, but to no avail.  Road trips in Beijing are taken with buffer hours calculated considering the traffic jams.  Every major road has traffic congestion indicators, but they can’t be of much help if one’s main route, as well as all alternative routes is clogged.

-          That Cloud of Puff: A big irksome factor in Beijing is public smoking.  The tinge of tobacco can always be felt in the air.  Since public smoking is allowed, and since the air has a vague trace of nicotine [or did I imagine that?], there’s no point in someone excusing themselves and either not smoking or trying to let the puff out in a different direction.  I’m sure this will be annoying even to an avid smoker – or perhaps a week in Beijing roads could be an effective therapy session for such smokers to quit smoking.  Add to this acrid atmosphere, a dash of the exhaust gases from the voluminous Beijing traffic, and you would have experienced the notorious Beijing pollution. How do people cope up with such levels of pollution?  Get a Chinese perspective of weather and pollution in this interesting NYT article.

To To be continued...


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Meenakshi - in The Age of Kali

I am curious to know how outsiders perceive India – us and our culture.  Because they, like children who spot rainbows in oil spillages, can sometimes reveal things that miss our senses. Their views may not be always akin to ‘finding rainbows’.  They can also be like the newcomer’s wrinkling of nose at the stench of the Kovum river, and his bewilderment at people who carry on with life on its banks, indifferent or insensitive to this stench [V.S. Naipaul’s variety].

Nevertheless, these authors, not very surprisingly, reveal fascinating things about our world that we simply didn’t bother to find about. Most of the times, their perspectives are thought-provoking, making us wonder why things are so.  But sometimes, their perspectives seem to stem from stereotypical biases or assumptions.

Last weekend, I got hold of a copy of William Dalrymple’s ‘Age of Kali’. The book makes an interesting read with topics as light and frothy as Shobha De and her Bombay socialite evenings and as serious and grim as Sri Lankan turmoil.  Though the anecdotes and experiences are nearly a decade old, they still have relevance today.  And as always, its always fascinating to look at the past and wonder at the way things have panned out.

On browsing the TOC, a particular chapter caught my attention immediately – At the Court of the Fish-eyed 
Goddess – as it was about the temple of Madurai, a topic close to my heart, and it’s Goddess Meenakshi.  I read this chapter first.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bliss as Sweet as Appam

Why fiddle in a long queue for hours,   get caught in a hooting horde, get squeezed between sweaty bods, loose your peace of mind to the disrespectful guards and the chiding priests, only to be dissatisfied with the fleeting glimpse of the deity for whom you travelled so much?  By the time you get to reach the sanctum sanctorum, if you think retrospectively, you will realize that there’s not much trace of bhakthi left, that you had reserved for the God.
[Some of my friends might argue why ever go to the temples and get into all this trouble.  And my answer is that I simply love the magic of old temples.]

Or perhaps, I shouldn’t generalize.  But this was the experience of my family when we visited Sri Rangam a few months ago.  I had just visited this temple once when I was in my fourth standard.  The beautiful island, with its majestic temple gopuram rising above the coconut sea, always used to allure me every time I crossed Trichy (Thiruchirappalli).  When a friend of us scheduled her marriage in Trichy, I thought that this is the great opportunity that I had been waiting for to do a temple tour of Trichy, Thanjavur and Kumbakonam.

Holy smoke: The Gopurams of Sri Rangam temple are tall 
and majestic.
No doubt the temple is vast and beautiful.  The layers and layers of wide praharams and the innumerable shrines of beautiful deities are so fascinating.  As much as the age of the temple and the miraculous stories that surround it, the chaste and devoted iyengars who visit the temple inspire a sense of respect for the temple and make the place even more rare and precious – as if the place has a quality that you would revere, and feel shy to touch and feel.

Those who spoiled this fantastic experience were the temple authoritie and the priests.  The authorities had some amazing rules that’ll defy the ones you can find in Catch-22.  And the pujaris were very discourteous to people who looked less affluent, while they chased the better looking ones with donation tickets.  These are worthy of a separate post.  And this state of affairs is not uncommon these  days in any big, established temples.
At the end of the day, all I remember are the broad, brilliant eyes of Ranganathar in the divine lights of the inner shrine.

Just a speck for the time bird: Kollidam as seen in Kallanai.
The very next day, I had a darshan of the God in a different place, in a more peaceful setting, with just mystical soundlessness as the background.

Divinity in simplicity: Koviladi Appakkudathan temple is 
charmingly quaint and calm.
This heart warming experience was at Thirupernagar, also called as Koviladi [the place that's just about an adi-kal distance from Sri Rangam], just about 15 -20 kms from Trichy,  on the way to Thiruvaiyyar.

To give further indications to its location, Koviladi is on the way from Trichy  to Thirukkattupalli [a slightly better known Shaivite town and should be even better known for people who have read Kalki's Ponniyin Selvan].
The route itself is scenic [at least in early summer!] and courses through the rich Thanjavur delta of paddy fields and criss-crosses the great Kollidam, river.  It passes through the Grand Anaicut or Kallani, the great reservoir on Cauvery, built by the early Cholas.  One gets to see how the river is part and parcel of everyday lives of people here.
In Koviladi, Lord Vishnu, reclines in his Adisehsa bed, as he does in Sri Rangam.  He’s known by the name Thiru Appakkudathan or Appala Ranganathan.  The name follows from this story: 

A king once was cursed by the Sage Dhurvasa and to be liberated, was asked to feed a lakh people at this kshetram.  One day, when the king was engaged in such an annadhana, Lord Vishnu came to him, disguised as a Brahmin.  The Brahmin consumed all the food that had been prepared.  When the perplexed king, asked the Brahmin, what could suppress his hunger, the Brahmin said that a pot (kudam) of appam would do the miracle.  So the king did, and lo his curse was removed.  Lord Vishnu showed himself and continued to reside in this temple. To this day, appam is offered to the Lord as neivedhyam.

It is also considered the place where Sage Markandeya was blessed by Lord Vishnu and was relieved of the curse of dying at the age of 16.  The sage can be seen at the feet of the Lord in the shrine.  It is also considered the place where the Lord squashed Indra's pride.
In the shrine, one can partake the Lord, in his full glory, from head to feet, without the disturbance from the chiding priests and the impatient crowd.  The Lord is charming and could be seen resting his right hand on a silver pot, which is meant to be the pot of appams.   The Lord is accompanied by Goddess Lakshmi, known as Kamalvalli.
The fallen God: The temple though was undergoing renovation, 
lacks maintenance
The young bhattar (priest) at the temple, explained the thalapuranam (the story of the place) in clear, detailed manner.  He sang several pasurams on the presiding deity, in his golden voice and charmed us with his sincerity and devotion to the temple.  I forgot his name, but I think it could be Srinivasa Bhattar (as I see in this blog).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ad Hominem

My friend Vijay TV's (VTV) recent blog post prompted me to write a few lines on it.

Like him, I never thought I'd write on this subject.   But unlike him, I didn't bother to write, because I was, simply not bothered.

I will not contest VTV's sentiments towards this issue. That's not the problem at all […though I read Kushboo's statement differently.]

But what piqued me, was his rationale in defending his sentiment which reaches the ultimate conclusion that Kushboo should shut up.  Why?

Because she's from the cinema industry, which according to VTV, is the biggest sex industry.  And people who come from such an industry - presumably, people with loose morals, do not have a stand to comment on such topics.

My question, then, VTV,  is, had the statement been made by someone outside the film industry, let’s say N Ram or  Sachin Tendulkar (whom I’m sure, you’d have some respect for),  would it have been more acceptable or carried more credibility?

If not, I guess you’re falling in trap of the classical logical fallacy.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Invitations to the Dream World

Read this beautiful lullaby in one of the blogs that I read regularly and was charmed by the innocently simple, beautiful and hopeful lines.

Lullabies are the most soothing songs of this earth. It’s blissful to catch a scene of a mother singing to her baby, making the little one sleep:

The night is cool, and the earth is wet. Sounds have ceased and the world is at rest. Save the cicadas', there’s no other sound. Stars are winking and the moon’s playing hide and seek. The deeply scented night flowers have bloomed somewhere, filling the air with mystique. And then you hear the mother singing to her child. This is heaven.

Lullabies are about all beautiful in the universe – the moon, the stars, flowers, birds, mountains, oceans, and other wonderful things. They make a person dream and imagine, hope and believe in the goodness of life.

They might, sometimes, carry a tinge of sadness, a subtle reference to the plights and sufferings of the mother or the family or the clan itself. They might be loaded with the parent’s own longings, unfulfilled dreams and wishes. This is the flavour that most lullaby songs in Indian movies carry (for e.g. the classic ‘Malarnthum malaratha’ (Paasamalar) with some magnificent lyrics from Kannadhasan, or the very poignant ‘Thendrale…thendrale’ (Kadhal Desam) by ARR, in the recent times ).

Even then, they leave a final word of consolation to the wounded, instil the belief that things would be alright and that tomorrow would be a grand new day.

There are many beautiful lullabies composed in Carnatic music, mainly sung to a deity – be it Rama or Krishna - ‘Jo Jo Achchuthananda Jo Jo Mukunda’ by MSS comes to my mind immediately. Someone wondered why these lullabies are always for Gods and not for Goddesses. It could be that we see all Goddesses as mothers, and mothers are not meant to sleep, but keep vigil on their young ones. Some gender bias here?

Switching back to the topic of lullabies –When I started digging for lullabies in Tamil, I came across this beautiful one –a popular one:

கண்ணான கண்ணுறங்கு என் கண்மணியே!
கானமயிலுறங்கு என் பூமணியே!
பொன்னான பொழுதுறங்கு என் வெண்மணியே!
பூமரத்து வண்டுறங்கு என் விண் நிலவே!
செண்டாட பூமலரும் வண்டாட தேன்வடியும்!
வண்டாடும் பொய்கையினில் !
வந்தாடும் அன்ன ஊஞ்சல்!
அன்ன ஊஞ்சல் போலிருக்கும் என் மண் ஒளியே!
அருங்கிளியே தேன்மழையே திருவாசகமே நீயுறங்கு!

Each word in this song paints a beautiful picture or sows a marvellous thought – either calling out to the little child with the simplest of endearments such as a parrot or a peacock or taking the affection to a higher level by comparing the child to a song of great wisdom (திருவாசகமே).

Here’s how I translated this song (with doles of creative liberty(!)):

My vision, apple of my eye,
Peacock dancing to an overcast sky,
My precious jewel, my flawless pearl,
Fluttering butterfly on a flowery trail,
Moon of my clear night skies
Time to rest, close your eyes.

Oh, the li’l bud grows a honeyed flower,
Beckoning the merry bee,
That dances over lotus flowers
Where sways the swan, see.

Oh, the one swaying like the swan,
Light of my mind, my dawn
Sweet parrot, my nectar rain,
Song of rarest wisdom, one can find,
Time to rest, may you sleep.

These are great words to invite sleep and step into the realms of dreams.

So, what happened to such beautiful lullabies these days?

P.S. To be fair to Parvathy, she sings great many a deal of devotional songs to Pranav and to be fair to myself, I sing lots of film songs to him J