Friday, May 31, 2013

Just Another Love Story - Movie Review

This one took a month to complete - not because it's boring (it's anything but that) but simply because it happened so. It's a Danish film with English sub titles. Opens dramatically with the narrator lying in a pool of blood in the rain. Turns out he is Jonas, a police crime scene photographer with two kids and an attractive wife.

When Jonas's old car stops on the road suddenly, it leads to a car crash that leaves one car occupant instantly dead and the other occupant, Julia, an attractive young woman, comatose, speechless, memoryless and almost blind. A guilty Jonas visits her in the hospital. Her wealthy family mistakes him for her boyfriend Sebastian whom they have never met. Jonas plays along, helps the girl recover, falls in love with her, falls out with his wife and moves in with her family almost.

One day the boyfriend returns - a crazy chap dealing with diamonds and who has tried to outsmart his bosses with no luck. He figures that they'll kill him so he fakes being dead and enters a death pact with Julia. Only Julia survives the pact. But then the accident happens and she loses her memory and does not know who is the real Sebastian. The real Sebastian turns up as Jonas and that makes things murkier for the real Jonas. Julia survives the real Sebastian and so does Jonas. Julia also recovers her memory, her eyesight and in her new clarity also realises that she does not love Jonas the ordinary crime photographer. But when Jonas visits home and his wife gives him back the suitcase that Julia's car was carrying at the time of the accident, Jonas is mistaken for Sebastian by the mafia and shot dead. That's it.

Full of weird twists, crazy characters and stuff that people on the edge get into, 'Just Another Love Story' is something that you watch with the same sense as you watch accidents on the road. You know it will shock you, gross you, but you still do with some fatalistic itch.

But thanks to this movie I read up on the legend of Orpheus and Euridyce from Greek mythology because the two - Julia and Sebastian - talk of being like Orpheus and Eurdyce in their death pact. Legend is that Orpheus, a legendary musician, loses his wife to a satyr. He goes to the underworld playing soulful music on his lyre that moves even the hardest of hearts. The underworld gods Hades and Persephone are moved by his music too (he is supposedly the only one to move them so), and allow him to take Euridyce back on one condition - that he must walk ahead on the way back and not turn back until they reach the upper world. Euridyce will follow him. Orpheus agrees and does not turn back until he reaches the upper world. He turns back as soon as he reaches forgetting that the condition was that 'until both reach the upper world'. He thus loses Euridyce forever.

In the movie Julia tells Sebastian the nut case, who quotes from this legend, that Orpheus must walk ahead and she will follow - in the death pact. Neither keep their word. Some love story that.

The Paradoxes of Our Lives - Happiness Comes When You Accept The Other

Happiness is easier found when you accept sadness. If we accept that life is hard, then all the moments that are not hard appear relatively good. That could lead to a happy state of mind.

On the other hand if we are constantly seeking happiness then perhaps we could never find happiness because everything looks like a let down. We would be sad at not finding 'enough' happiness.

To be happy then, accept the sadness, the dullness, the boredom, the lack as the norm. Then everything seems great in comparison.

 

Osho Teerth Park, Pune

On one of those lazy afternoons in Pune, Shobhs, Anjali and I went to the Osho Teerth park which has been languishing on the list for sometime. The park is open from 6-9 a.m. in the mornings and 3-6 p.m. in the evenings. It was constructed in 1994 by the Shunyo Foundation which I guess is a part of the famous Osho International Commune. The Osho Teerth park is famously called the nala park (drain water stream) park having been conjured out of a dirty nala by the inmates of the Osho commune.

Having thus done our homework we started off sometime before 3 p.m. (but I think the morning times are better) and headed to Koregaon park. For some reason I have never been to this part of Pune and I consciously avoided the Osho commune in all this time despite having read many of Osho's books and finding his philosophy interesting and thought provoking. I remember subscribing to the Osho Tomes and also gifting a subscription to Koni who seems to have benefited from it more than I. Perhaps I was fighting the lure of the ashram itself but anyway, here I was at Koregaon park searching for the Osho Teerth.

The roads are beautiful with tall trees on either side, no traffic and and huge bungalows. We drove through the posh Koregaon park marveling at the luxury of some of the bungalows and the tranquility of the place. Finally found the Osho Teerth park and was told to park the car on the main road which is some 10 minute away by walk. Good idea. Helps keep the place tranquil and also filters people - those who really wish to come can come. Entry is free.

No food and drink, no cameras and videos etc, no loud noises, no plucking stuff etc. I am okay with all the rules actually though I was tempted to take a couple of pics. There is no one actually monitoring you closely and there are enough pictures on the net so perhaps it is left to you to follow the rules. I do think that taking pics does slow down your experience, you are not in the moment and are constantly thinking of the future and how the pic would look and all the appreciation you'd get for the pic and the caption. Also you are constantly seeking locations, angles - so where are you experiencing anything? I'll give you this Shunyo Foundation. Good idea.

The park was built on a nala and has some natural systems, drain spots, plants etc where the water purifies itself. It does smell a bit and has the usual debris - plastic bottles etc flowing down the drain - but it's still the most beautiful nala I have ever seen. The park is dense with green growth, soft paths and is very peaceful. The park is not very big and it occupies both sides of a road but you can walk under the bridge to the other side. Many cranes and other birds were spotted, trees and flowers, loners and lovers and after an hour of walking about and enjoying the park we walked back.

I could not help thinking that Bangalore has so many such parks in every neighbourhood. It would be great if all state and town planners took this idea of parks and water bodies seriously because the common man needs to find some peace and tranquility. Keep the people happy fellows! Water, flowers, shade, greenery - and people are happy. It adds so much to the general health of the population, their well being. Its very little to ask and I hope to see our neighbourhoods filled with these little parks. Institutions and organisations can take inspiration from Osho commune and develop such parks too instead of sponsoring stupid events.

The Osho commune itself stretches over the three lanes and is distinct with its black pyramid like structures and buildings. Would I want to walk into it one day? Perhaps. Would I want to join the courses? Maybe not. It' tranquil and peaceful.

As we headed out I saw the German Bakery which is reopening again I heard after those bomb blasts that shook Pune. Ironic that such violence should be perpetrated so close to such tranquility.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Pune Hyderabad Route - Wait Another Year

After almost two years I tried the Pune-Hyderabad highway in my car twice in the last two weeks. Having done that I would say that unless it is absolutely mandatory you wait another year before you venture out on this highway in your car.

The big surprises are that the road between Hyderabad and Sholapur which was previously in fairly decent condition, has gone bad. The section in Karnataka is a disgrace with potholes all over the road making driving at 30 mph rather difficult. And its a long stretch mind you. This stretch of road disgusted me so much that I almost switched off the engine. Only one other stretch of road frustrated me more - another Karnataka classic - the Belgaum to Londa road which I drove then, few years ago, at less than 10 kmph. (Satish got a headache at the end of that ordeal. I did too!) No jokes. It was a long stretch too. Come on Karnataka. Pull up your socks. There are such lovely signs by your Tourism guys advertising the forts at Bidar, Gulbarga, Basavakalyan and one gets tempted to go there. But when one sees the highway in such a condition in the pre-monsoon season, one really wonders.

The Sholapur-Tmbhurni stretch is another killer with slow traffic. There are a few good stretches (toll please!) but the average speed here does not go beyond 40-45 kmph (and I did a rather early drive, before 10 a.m.). All in all the entire Pune-Hyd drive took me 10 hours which is just not worth it now with all these bad road patches, roads under construction and so on. And to think you actually pay a decent amount on toll on this road too. I'd rather wait another year for the Pune-Sholapur stretch to get done. Then, toll and all, it would be a decent drive. One option, apart form the Shatabdi are the Volvo's which do a decent time on this route. You won't feel the bumps too much in those.

As always I bumped into the zealous cops at Sholapur bypass. They are always there, stopping all passenger cars, checking for all documents. Twice before, in years gone by, the cop actually searched my bags, clothes and all. Wondering what they expected to find. In all these years I missed these zealous law upholders maybe once or twice. Today's cop only checked the documents and left out rummaging my clothes for another day.

I also had an interesting situation - or rather, two. Outside of Tembhurni as the road narrowed down suddenly, I saw a mini van in the opposite direction swerve towards me to avoid a pothole. I swerved too instinctively. I heard a yell and looked in the rear view mirror and saw a young man riding his motorcycle. He might have gotten a jolt at my swerve I thought. But no damage done as he was riding comfortably. There was an outsized box strapped on to his back seat, as big as a television or even bigger, and to add to that, he was busy talking on his mobile. After he finished talking for a few minutes, he raced me, and waved at me, asking me to pull over. I did not. There was no need to anyway and I have seen enough of such instances on this highway. I pulled down the window and asked him what he was yelling at. He went on incomprehensibly, but his main aim was to get me to stop. When I pulled up the window and continued driving he overtook me, slowed down in front of my car and tried to stop me. I did not. Finally he gave up and I moved on.

Over the years I have seen many such incidents on the highway. Once when Satish was driving, I saw two young men chasing us for well over 5 kms. They caught up near Bhigwan and left after some argument and apologies - perhaps the fact that we were in the town was why they chose to go away instead of extorting some money or trying to at least. On the way to Pune two weeks ago, I saw four youngsters on two bikes stopping an elderly truck driver and beating him up - surely for some reason like this. These incidents happen in those road stretches on the other side of Omerga towards Pune I noticed.

The second incident was this. Further down in Zaheerabad I was pulling up to the left in the city very slowly. A young lad on a motorbike was trying to overtake me at great speed from the left and he braked, having noticed my slowing down rather late. The edge of the road being sandy, the bike slipped and it was with great difficulty that he controlled it. But to his credit the young kid, who was in far greater danger than the other one, shook his head, acknowledging his mistake in trying to overtake from the left on a busy road.

And so we live and learn.

The thali at the Bharat Petroleum dhaba outside Zaheerabad (towards Hyderabad) is brilliant. Try it. I liked the butter milk too. Same goes for the food in the Hotel before Indapur - you cannot miss it. Sanman or something like that. Good clean restaurant, loos. And the Nisarg joint just outside Mohol (on the left as you go towards Sholapur) is a great breakfast joint if you get an early start. But what really gladdened my heart was the number of new joints that are springing up on either side of the new Pune-Sholapur road. They all look very inviting and clean.

Next year, life on this road looks promising indeed. Only hope that the roads from Hyderabad and Sholapur are maintained in decent condition. Hope the Roads departments in AP, Karnataka and Maharashtra are listening. Come on guys, it is not necessary that only the toll roads need to be in good condition. Even the other roads need to be maintained.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Anjali's First Blog - My 1st Class

I was writing my blog when Anjali asked if she could write her blog too. I guess there's no better time than now. So here's her first blog.

hello it,s me anjali i am 5 years old  my dad is a writer my mom work,s for therpy  my 1st class will be nice i think new class mates and a new class room i love it all. the best thing is new teacher,s. did you now that? i know it will be very very good.nice read and write new very new best now. i know to read, write , colour , paint, hindi , and lot more.

Google and Dumbphone Take Over My Life

After many months and years I bought a smartphone recently. I am however not too inclined to believe it is smart. If it is smart it will make me believe that I am smart. But it goes to great lengths to make me feel dumb. It moves too quickly and goes off into modes that I don't know where to find, does all kinds of things by itself, makes funny noises, sends of messages, changes settings and has secretly taken over all my information and my life. I have this constantly amazed look on my face these days as I try to figure out how to undo the damage it is doing to me every moment of the day. (For all I know it is possibly has made classified records of all the conversations, sms, pictures etc and kept it safely from me.) How can I call it a smartphone somebody please tell me. It's dumb.

Anyway the phone is not the real problem. The real problem is when it teams up with our friendly neighbourhood helper Google. For long I have secretly suspected Google of keeping all my tracks fully covered. It has all the information of all the searches I make, all the downloads, has a lot of confidential information on my mail at its mercy, has a lot of pics of mine at its mercy, has a lot more information of mine on my blog (this one that you read) and so many more wonderful products that are all Google's - and all so well connected that they know me better than I know myself. I am not joking - it does know me better than I know myself. If there is one cross examination I fear ever - it would be the one by Google. It's probably the closest to the one on judgment day.

It all started on the first day of Mr. Too-Smart-For-It's-Own-Good-Phone. I was asked by this smartphone owning friend if I needed to configure my smartphone to gmail and I said 'yes'. (I had visions of being able to exercise my choice and access gmail when I wished to, as and when I got an internet connection, and then check the mail on the go when I wished to. Heh heh, rather old fashioned thinking right!) But guess what? Google knows me better than myself and it decided that perhaps I want to have all the pictures I uploaded on blogger on my phone. I have about 900 pictures from my blog now sitting on my phone and I am wondering why they are here in the first place. Did anyone ask me if I wanted these pictures from a totally different product on my smartphone? I don't think so. And the best part is that unlike the other pictures, I cannot delete these pics that Google holds somewhere in a cloud for ransom.

I guess you figured it by now. I don't like it. I don't like being pushed, being taken for granted, being told that Google knows what is best for me. Google is now the salesman in the shop who tells me that he knows best what is good for me. It is that parent who makes us rebel against what we really want because they shove it down out throats. If t is good for us, let us ask for it. Let us find a way to get it. Don't do all the work and put it on the platter and take all the credit for it. Nothing is worse than that.

I suspect that it's only a matter of time before Google and the smartphone chappies start taking all our decisions for us. Who is our best friend, who are our favorites, what we like to watch most, what we wear, what movies we like, what books we read - and keep pushing information, products with or without our knowledge into our lives. It will choose our schools, colleges, girlfriends, boyfriends, souses, make payments, buy houses, clothes, cars and even choose our orientations. (Whose calls to take, whose not to?) At some point these two will claim complete control over our lives because we might have, for all we know, already signed away our lives to them. After all they know what is best for us does it not? All we need to do is accept it, stop thinking, and they takes over our lives fully for us.
Ah, what a relief. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Big Revelation of The Day - We Can Be Happy For No Reason!

I just realised that I could be happy for no reason.

Why did I spend all my life thinking that I need a good reason to be happy?
And a better reason to be more happy?
And that big reason to be happiest?

Errr. It appears that I don't need any reason to be happy. I don't need to weigh, judge and then barter my happiness for the 'right' stuff. I don't need to save it up for when the 'happy' stuff happens. Very businesslike I have been I think. Too smart.

Let me try this new thought.
It may look rather foolish to be happy for no reason. But it might put me in a better frame of mind. Also, I have a suspicion that happiness could breed more happiness. I could be a happy person. (Is that too much responsibility?)

Now I have another doubt. Is there something like too much happiness? Would I get tired of being happy? Should I save it up like a favorite sweet.

Or should I just try being happy for no reason. Let me give it a go. Will report back.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Why We Love Corruption

Let us accept this fact first. We all love the word 'corruption'. See how our eyes seek that word in the newspaper, how our ears perk up, how our netas and the media use that word to seduce and incite us.

It is a multi-billion dollar word. Not just for the actual corruption but for all the tamasha that happens later. The blackmailing, the fixing - surely it does happen after the news of corruption is flashed? Why certain reports get leaked, why certain people get targeted and why certain people get protected. Is that not corruption?

But the point is - why do we love corruption so much?

I'll hazard a few guesses. It gives us a chance to feel relatively pure. It makes us feel right. Even relieved that someone else got caught doing something most of us would - given an opportunity and the hope that we won't be found out.

Honesty can be a relative thing. Corruption is too. It is all about being found out.

The temptation exists in all of us. In one form or another. If we all loved plain old honesty a bit more than the seductive curves of corruption, it might help our cause a bit more than shouting ourselves hoarse about how we cannot stand corruption.

But honesty is plain and is ghar ka daal. It is not sexy or interesting.

The more I think of it the more I feel that we love corruption because we are all voyeurs. We are not doers - we are incapable of either fully honest or fully corrupt actions. We only love to watch. To clap when someone tells us to. To scream when someone does. To close our mouths in horror when someone does. We do not have enough guts to even initiate the applause.

It is so because we are fully corrupt. But what is worse is that the fully corrupt, the voyeurs, have not been caught. We might never be.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Empire of the Moghul, Brothers at War – Alex Rutherford

The sequel to the first in this series 'Empire of the Moghul - Raiders of the North' is equally impressive. This one tells the tale of Babur’s son, Humayun (1508-1556), the forgiving, soft spoken, star gazing emperor, and it is a fascinating tale and one I never knew or expected. Humayun was chosen as the Emperor (December 1530) by his father Babur and fought the first battle of Panipat when the small Moghul army defeated a much larger army of Ibrahim Lodi. But his claim to the throne as Emperor was forever contested by his half brothers Kamran Mirza, who was older, Askari Mirza, and the youngest of them all, Hindal. Fighting his own addictions, doubt, betrayal by his brothers and others close to him Humayun lost everything. The book is a racy tale as Alex Rutherford (pen name of Diana and Michael Preston) recounts how Humayun survives all the odds and comes back to reclaim what he believes is rightfully his.
Hachette, 436 p, Rs. 495

As the Emperor of Delhi Humayun launched a daring assault on Fort Champinir, Fort Manda, Gujarat and made good much wealth. This campaign established Humayun’s prowess as a leader. But he was constantly troubled by his step brothers, mainly the ambitious Kamran, supported by the much weaker Askari, and a young Hindal, who plotted to overthrow him. Humayun, as he did so many times in his life, forgave them and welcomed them back despite their treachery. It was seen as a weakness and perhaps it was because Humayun was apt to take his time, trusted easily and forgave easily. To make matters worse his step mother, Kamran’s mother Gulrukh, initiated the young Emperor and made him an opium addict which clouded his judgement, just as his belief in the prophecies of the stars did, for several years. 

Seen as a weak and eccentric ruler Humayun lost his hold over his people. That was about the time when Sher Shah Suri rose from Bengal. Going to quell the upstart Humayun lost the battle, again due to his rather trusting nature. and just about  saved his life by swimming across the Ganges. There is a fine tale of how a water carrier saved him at that battle and how Humayun made him a promise to seat him on the Mughal throne for a while, and as the tale goes, honoured it.

Humayun was forced to retreat and worse, forced to leave Delhi too, after a humiliating loss at the Battle of Kanauj to Sher Shah Suri. Humayun is chased all the way across Lahore, as more and more of his allies and subjects deserted him, allying with Sher Shah Suri instead. He apparently lost the loyalty of his younger brother Hindal when he chose to marry Hamida, a girl that Hindal also loved. With dwindling armies, suffering one betrayal after another, his young wife pregnant with the future king Akbar, Humayun is forced to flee deeper and deeper. In the desert it is said that Humayun’s pregnant wife was not given a horse to ride when her own steed died and Humayun offered her his, choosing to ride a camel – a moment Humayun recounted as the lowest in his life.

Akbar was born in a desolate place called Umarkot, but the infant prince was taken away soon after by the half brothers. Kamran and Askari, who have now captured Kabul, tell Humayun to go as far as Persia and spend his life there. Humayun agrees to go having no other option as he wants his son back. It is described that the Emperor and his small group was forced to eat the meat of a horses boiled in a helmet those days!

Humayun waa welcomed as an Emperor by the Shah of Persia and treated with great respect. Not wanting to be treated as a beggar Humayun apparently gifted the Koh-i-Nur to him. (The diamond later made its way back to Shah Jehan.) The Shah of Persia gave Humayun his armies and help, but converted Humayun, a Sunni, into a Shia. Left with no alternative, Humayun even embraced the change in faith.

Armed with the powerful Persian army Humayun attacked Kabul. But Kamran has no qualms about putting up the young Akbar in the line of fire and Humayun was forced to retreat. Help comes in the most unexpected form – his younger brother Hindal says he will bring Akbar to him as he understands Kamran well. Hindal did bring back Akbar and with nothing to stop him now, Humayun attacked Kabul, already reeling under some pestilence, and took the city, which is already tired of Kamran’s misrule. Once again Humayun forgave his half brothers and let them go against all advice.

Humayun, despite the retreat of the Persian force, planned to conquer Hindustan. However many Persian nobles, including the formidable Bairam Khan chose to remain with him, and it is this Persian influence that spread into the Mughal culture, architecture, literature that one sees in Mughal architecture and culture. Hearing of Sher Shah’s death in a freak accident on the battlefield, Humayun found that the throne in Delhi awaited him with only Sher Shah’s son Islam Shah, Sekandar Shah and Adil Shah between him and the throne.

But before he started for Hindustan Humayun had another matter settled. Hindal is killed and his body is delivered to him. This time, Humayun captured his bothers who he suspected of this misdeed, but typically, forgave Askari again, and let him go to Mecca. Askari never reached Mecca; died fighting pirates on the way. Kamran, the one who would never give him peace, is also spared, but blinded. Kamran also leaves to Mecca and finally died there.

Free now from the internal problems of his brothers Humayun turned to Hindustan with the Persian chief Bairam Khan as the Commander-In-Chief. After a relatively easy acquisition of territories along the way the Mughals fought the battle of Sirhind where Sekandar Shah was defeated, before he conquered Delhi. Six months after, Emperor Humayun died while suffering a fall on the steps of his observatory, making Akbar the Emperor at a young age.

Humayun’s story was a revelation to me. If Babur struggled all his life trying to reclaim Samarkhand, Humayun did the same with Delhi. Like Babur, he lost everything and regained it all. It is estimated that at his death the Mughal empire extended from Afghanistan to India, spread over one million square kilometres. Humayun’s qualities of patience, forgiveness, soft spokenness earned him the title of ‘The Perfect Man’.

Having started reading the book I was drawn into it once the Sher Shah attack and deception at Chausa began. I read it all night, stopping only at 0430 am as the book took me all over along India, Afghanistan, Persia, with Humayun. It was a fascinating read again and I am all the more interested now in going to Delhi, Agra and Panipat, and trace some of the places where they went.

Alex Rutherford is a brilliant story teller and I am glad to have read this book. I wonder now why we have never had writers write our own history so well. I wonder how much of our today would have been different if our history had been told much better. There is so much to know, to learn and all I can do is wonder. But they must be congratulated – Rutherford, Dalrymple, Zubrzycki – and others for presenting us with our history in a manner that we can understand and enjoy. And thanks Prarthana for lending it out to me.
Now on to reading the next two - Ruler of the World and Tainted Throne - and await the last in the series The Serpent's Tooth which is due for release.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Aga Khan Palace, Pune

I am glad I visited the Aga Khan palace this trip now, when I am more aware of Indian history (and even more in awe) than a photo clicking tourist that I might have been a few years ago.
The Aga Khan palace, Pune
Also known as the Gandhi National Memorial this magnificent palace was built by the 3rd Agakhan Sultan Mohammad Shah Aga Khan in 1892 to create employment for the famine struck people in and around Pune. Built over an area of 19 acres and a strong foundation of noble thought and philanthropy, the palace cost Rs. 12 lakh to build over a period of five years. A 1000 people were employed and paid full wages. The highly educated Aga Khan was the 48th spiritual head of the Khoja Ismaili religion, was the President of the All India Muslim League and promoter of progressive thought  among Muslims.
The corridor that leads to Gandhi ji's room
But the palace has a bigger history than that. After the Quit India Movement, Gandhi ji was placed under house arrest in this palace on August 9, 1942 with his wife Kasturba and his secretary Mahadev Desai. Before being released on May 6, 1944, Gandhi ji lost both his wife and secretary - both died while at the Aga Khan palace due to illness. Of great national importance, the Aga Khan palace was donated to the Gandhi National Memorial Society by the 4th Aga Khan in 1969.

Located on the Nagar Road, Pune, the palace is a beautiful work of architecture with large spaces and high ceilings. The gardens are well kept and green and offer much shade. Apart from marveling at the structure, the maintenance, the gardens etc, one can dip into history and walk the spaces that were walked by great men. There are many precious pictures, the room where Mahadev Desai lived and died, the room where Gandhi and Kasturba lived, with their personal articles. Moving on further we can see the samadhis of Kasturba and Mahadev Desai and a place where a part of Gandhi's ashes are kept. It inspires me to now visit Sabarmati ashram sometime.
Samadhis of Kasturba and Mahadev Desai
Among the people who inspire and awe me with their deeds and conviction in their thoughts, Gandhi ranks high. To do what he has done, to inspire lakhs to follow the path that he considered right, the path of non-violence (against others), of love and self reliance, of steadfastness in the face of odds, of sacrifice and truth, of strict discipline and the highest principles, of equality for all, of tolerance, of constant search for truth and much more, Gandhi ranks as one of the most courageous people the world has seen. How can anyone have so much conviction to spread peace, love and forgiveness to people who have lost their all is something I cannot imagine. But he held on to his belief and his conviction when the stakes were the highest, when all seemed lost.
Gandhiji's ashes
From the Aga Khans, 3 and 4, their wonderful gestures in constructing the palace and in donating it, the architecture, and mostly the history it contains, a visit to the Aga Khan palace is a must visit when in Pune.    

Epic - Movie Review

Another 3 D movie. These movies are getting on my nerves. I think Anjali actually saw most of it with her glasses off. But certainly this one was much better because it involves tiny people, the Leafmen, and their enemies, living in the colorful forest. So the 3D was pretty with flowers blooming etc.

Based on a William Joyce children's book 'The Leafmen and the Brave Good Bugs', Epic is about tiny forest people called Leafmen who protect the forest. Queen, Tara, who takes care of the forest, dies. Before dying she hands over the pod of the forest to a teenaged human Mary Catherine who by coincidence happens to be around at that crucial time. Entrusted with the pod which has the life of the forest and protected by Ronin and Nod, (and the snail and slug), she has to somehow get the pod to bloom on  a full moon night. The Leafmen are attacked by their enemies the Boggans and are hopelessly outnumbered. Will they save the pod? The forest? Will Mary Catherine return to human form again? Will she reconcile with her scientist father who is studying the Leafmen for years? Go watch with your kid.

Anjali's take:
I liked the movie. It was an adventure of the forest. The 3D was like they were touching me so I got a little scared. I liked the part when Queen Tara gave the pod to Mary Catherine. And the other part is when the Leafmen (Ronin) holds Tara in his arms when she is dying. At the end I liked the part when MK is talking to Nod on the computer and the slug comes and troubles Nod. Anjali's rating 10/10.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Chota Bheem and the Throne of Bali - Movie Review

I'll keep this short. I'd rather have the target audience speak. I watched the movie with Anjali who is a major Chota Bheem fan - just as so many other kids who showed up. Good show guys - having an Indian animation icon is brilliant. Am happy and proud of Rajiv Chilaka and his team!

Interesting feature. I saw many fathers coming to watch the movie with their children solo. Also kids have no volume control when something interests them they let go at full volume. Adults find that very embarrassing. I found a new problem - where do 5 year olds go when they are with their parents of the other gender?

The movie was a slight improvement (or did I get used to it?) than the last Chota Bheem I saw. This one has an Arjun though and I hope these movies don't completely confuse the kids about Bheem and Arjun and Kris - the Mahabharatha is confusing as it is. Anyway there is a witch and there are heroes and princes and beautiful East Asian people. With Bheem around you can't lose. Areas for improvement - animation certainly is still rather two dimensional and too flat and at times rather amateurish. The stories themselves are rather similar.

In Anjali's words:
Liked it a little. Liked the part when they have the competition of killing all the beasts - who kills more wins. Other part is when Chota Bheem says bye bye and falls off into the volcano. And then again when very good type of King who came and said 'Arjun is not the real prince. You are the real prince.'
Another part I liked was when Bheem went and killed the monster King.

What I did not like is when Bheem and Arjun were fighting.

I liked this more than the earlier movie - a little. Anjali's rating 8/10.

So then there it is.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Arunima Sinha - A True Champion's Inspiring Tale, A Breath Of Fresh Air

After the tales of human greed, weakness and mediocrity over the past few days comes a story that's like a breath of fresh air. Arunima Sinha, all of 25 years old, a young volleyball champion with big dreams in her mind, scaled Mount Everest. So what's the big deal one may ask. The big deal is that Arunima scaled the Everest on a prosthetic leg.

Hmmm, so? Check out the story.

It was in 2011 that the young national volleyball player was thrown out of a train by chain snatching criminals when she was travelling from Lucknow to Delhi. Hit by a passing train she was badly injured on the leg and pelvis regions. (How these incidents happen with such regularity and how they are tolerated is something I can never understand. Who throws people out of moving trains and what happens to them? Do they get caught?) Anyway, her leg was so badly injured that doctors had to amputate it and that put paid to her dreams. Or so one would have thought with a sympathetic cluck. Most would have resigned to their fate and wallowed in self-pity, some might even have chosen to opt out of life. Not Arunima.

She could not stand the pity in the eyes of those around her. She decided to do something that would be big enough which would give her a new identity that brought her respect and not pity. And so she conjured up a new dream - to scale the Mount Everest. To be the first Indian amputee to scale the Everest. With the help of the wonderful Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to scale the Everest, and the Tata Steel Adventure Foundation (TSAF) she trained and scaled a peak that not many of us with all our limbs intact can even 'dream' of.

Today Arunima stands up high among the list of true champions, having proven to herself and the world that nothing can stop you if you make up your mind, that everything is possible if there is honest effort. She gives hope and courage to all those who wish to believe that life could smile at them too. Life does, if you first choose to smile at it first. Wonderful stuff Arunima and I hope to read much more of this brave girl.

And when I see able bodied, fully educated, talented and pampered people around indulging in self-pity, doubt, pity, blame, criticism and not able to have the courage to 'see' what they have, I can only hope that Arunima's feat opens their eyes to the true champion spirit. That there is much one can achieve if one wants to.

I cannot but wonder at this. The newspaper that wishes social change and has celebrity endorsements for its social change movement places the spineless IPL match fixing scenario on the first page. Arunima's effort shows up deep inside on page 8. What are we celebrating? What are you promoting? I know, we all know the answer - we are celebrating human frailty, mediocrity and all that we can point at someone else and feel self-righteous about it ourselves. It's time we celebrated actions and not promises. Champions instead of brands that have been built by projecting partial truth (and hiding much). The true indicator as with Arunima of a real champion are the actions. Not the promises and the hype.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Great Gatsby - Movie Review

Firstly, why is this movie in 3D? I could not for the life of me figure out why I was sitting and watching this movie with those glasses on. The story unfolds as it does in the novel by Scott Fitzgerald, with the narrator recounting the circumstances in which he met  his rich, party-throwing neighbour Jay Gatsby at Long Island, New York in 1922 when there was money to be made everywhere and life was one big party.  Gatsby's party's were the biggest and the wildest of them all.

Tobey Mcguire fits the role of Nick Carraway perfectly. He is drawn into the lives of his pretty cousin Daisy and her husband and his old mate at college, Tom, lives which are unhappy despite their riches and filled with jealousy, resentment, cheating. An invitation from the elusive Mr. Gatsby to one of his parties opens up Nick to the real motives of why Gatsby is throwing parties - he loves Daisy and wants Nick to invite her home for tea so he could meet her. And from there on until the end it is a roller coaster ride of how Gatsby, the supposed black marketeer, murderer, soldier, goes about with his love and how most other seemingly honest and respectable people do not show even an iota of the character that he shows. It's an intense love story - no wonder they made six movies in Hollywood based on this novel including a 1974 one that starred Robert Redford. This one was stretched a bit, and I felt the part with Amitabh Bachchan was rather contrived and served little purpose.

Leonardo Di Caprio is fabulous as Gatsby and he seems to be excelling in this lost love themes - Titanic, Blood Diamond, Revolutionary Road and now this movie come to my mind. Tobey Macguire is perfect casting. Kind of slow, stretched and petering off to a slow and dull end. I'd miss it and not feel too bad about it. But if you read the novel, perhaps it might be worth a watch. Or even if the old world values make some sense to you..Else who in today's world would feel shocked at the ease with which people drop their loves and loyalties. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Panhala Fort, Kolhapur

Some 20 odd kms on the Kolhapur-Ratnagiri road you veer off into the hills and land up at the Panhala fort It is a short ride and a small climb and we find ourselves at the entry point of the fort - called the char darwaza - of which precious little remains. However there are enough signs of the fort of Panhalgad. Panhala apparently means home of serpents!
Shiva Kashid's statue

The fort was built in the late 1100s by Bhoja II, the Shilahara ruler. He was also responsible for building forts  at Satara, Vishalgad, Bhudargad and Bavda). From the Shilaharas to the Yadavas of Devgiri and then to the Bahamani kings of Bijapur, the Adil Shahs, Panhala was ruled by many dynasties. Shivaji took over the fort after killing Afzal Khan at Pratapgad in 1659. It is after this that the story of Panhalgad gets interesting and almost like the movie 300. Adil Shah II sent his army led by a general Siddi Johar to recapture the fort from Shivaji. Shivaji fought back but after a four month siege was on the verge of capture. And it is then that he decided to escape.
Baji Prabhu Deshpande's statue

To keep the 15000 strong enemy occupied his general Baji Prabhu Deshpande and a small group of 1000 soldiers along with a barber Shiva Kashid, who was a Shivaji look alike, fought against the stronger army allowing Shivaji to escape. Most of the soldiers including Shiva Kashid and Baji Prabhu Deshpande died in that battle. Baji Prabhu Deshpande is said to have held the Siddi Johar men back in  a narrow gorge with his men, two swords in their hands, bleeding heavily but not giving up until they heard the sound of cannons from Vishalgad that signified that Shivaji had reached safety. History is replete with such stories of loyalty and sacrifice and bravery and it makes your spine tingle and makes you want to see some of that spirit our there today. What was amazing is the loyalty that Shivaji commanded from his soldiers. Even at Vishalgad there is the story of young Rano Narayan Sarpotdar.
Teen Darwaza

Courtesans palace

Ambar Khana

Sambhaji's temple

Mosque at Char Darwaza

Temple at Panchganga, Kolhapur

Old bridge, submerged temple

At the entrance you find the statue of Shiva Kashid. Shivaji's lookalike who sacrificed his life for his king, and in the middle of the town one finds the imposing statue of Baji Prabhu Deshpande with two swords in his hands. Some means of transport could help cover the distance easily though its not really a large place to cover by foot if you have the time. One could check out the Char darwaza, the Teen darwaza, the Andhar bav, Ambar Khana, Dharam Koti, Tararani mahal, Sambhaji's temple, Sajja Kothi and other such structures which are centuries old. The work on the darwaza's is intricate and really wonderful to behold. To walk on the same land where so much history took place itself makes one feel so privileged and instantly you get greedy and wish you'd stayed a couple of days.
Tourist Inn, outside the rooms

Kawade's Tourist Inn

I booked myself into Kawde's Tourist Inn which has decent rooms, lovely tree cover, great food at pretty reasonable rates (Tel No ). It's quite central to the action and one could actually trek around the place on a good day. There are several other places to stay too offering a wide range of prices. If you're interested in going to Panhala check out the bungalows on hire too. Views are great across the valley and we saw many youngsters drinking beer on the bastions, several other love birds and honeymooners apart from families. There are lovely bungalows as well and one of the tourist attractions is Lata Mangeshkar's bungalow. If in Kolhapur, do make time to spend an evening in Panhala. In a vehicle, checking out the fort takes about an hour and a half. We had a lovely time because the weather was superb that day with cloud cover all through and a nip in the evening as if we were in a hill station.

For the religious there is the Jyotiba temple on the way back from Panhala to Kolhapur. We missed that but stopped at a lovely temple at the outskirts of Kolhapur - an old bridge reminding me of 'The Bridges of Madison County' and a temple half submerged in the waters of the river. Was it called the Sangameshwar? Or Panchganga? Anyway, good to partake of some history again.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Shri Mahalakshmi Temple, Kolhapur

I made up my mind to visit the Shri Mahalakshmi Temple in Kolhapur when I first read 'The Music Room' by Namita Deendayal. I loved reading that book and wonder every day at the dedication and commitment to excellence that the masters had towards their art. One can only hope to imbibe some part of that spirit and create a space so wonderful as Dhondutai Kulkarni and her gurus did.

This summer is hot and everyone looks at me strangely when I talk of a long road trip. But the Gods were with us it seemed as we set out on a cloudy morning which remained cloudy all day. Enter Kolhapur which is about a four and a half hour drive from Pune - the longest waits are at the toll stations which are unbelievably crowded - and you just keep driving on and on into the old part of the city until you hit the Shri Mahalakshami temple. We parked by the side road and walked into the temple barefoot. It was about 12 noon on a Thursday so there was not much of a crowd and we joined the separate lines for men and women. Shobha, Anjali and nieces Pooja and Prarthana in the slightly longer women's queue and me in the men's.

Everything about the temple is awesome. It is fully bound by huge walls on all sides, tall and ancient trees inside the compound, the temple structure itself looking magnificent and ancient save one part which was white washed recently. One look at the structure and you know ho much work, how much love and devotion has gone into the building of it, the construction and the architecture. I could only gaze at the detail, at the engineering and architectural brilliance and tried to reconstruct how they would have go the entire thing in place. It was not just about engineering - the science behind the placement of the idol, of each part of the temple, has a purpose, a thought guiding it.

Into the inner sanctum and one passes many other deities until one finds oneself before the presiding deity Mahalakshmi. As in all inner sanctums you find yourself transported into a space that knocks out rational thought from the head and you fall in line with the others.

Mahalakshmi, consort of Lord Vishnu, the Goddess of wealth and abundance. This temple, a shaktipeetha listed in various puranas in Hinduism,  was apparently constructed int the 700 A.D. period by the Kannada Chalukyas, which is mind boggling because it is maintained in excellent condition. It must look a sight on the days of nav ratri when all he jyotis are lit on the huge pillars. We bought some prasad, sat in the compound for a while and having had our fill of the Mahalakshmi temple moved on, looking at various places where the musicians must be performing on festival days. The silver chariot was a sight to behold.

So went my intention to visit the temple and I am so glad I went. If there is one thing one would want to ask for from the Goddess it is the dedication that the masters had to perfect their art, their purpose, so we leave behind one true thought, one creative spark. They say that a visit to the Mahalakshmi temple either gives one salvation from desires or gets them fulfilled. To me it would be one and the same as it would mean some closure in certain areas that I am stuck with - which would create space from something new. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

6 Keys To The Champion's Mindset

The 6 Keys to the Champion's Mindset.

Key 1. The Decision
This is the moment when you tell yourself that you will achieve this, whatever it takes. It is a firm, strong, unalterable thought.

Key 2. The Goal Clarity
You know exactly what you want, how much, how it looks etc. You know you will get it - however long it takes. The goal inspires you to achieve it, no matter when.

Key 3. The Process
You figure out how to get it in the best possible manner. You figure out your strengths, areas to watch out for, help to ask, ways and means to learn how to do it better. You refine this until it all fits in your mind well.

Key 4. The Action
You cannot wait to implement the plan, to see it work as a whole. You can't wait to get up and go to work. You work like crazy as you give shape to your idea. You enjoy the process of seeing it come to shape.

Key 5. The Belief
You will take setbacks in your stride. You will not assign blame, excuse and give up. You will take the hit on the chin, go back to the job and restart again. How many ever times you fail, you will rebuild again from scratch. Even at the last dregs of your physical and mental strength, you will keep at it.

Key 6. The Growth Mindset
Once you do one job well, you carry the same mindset - of doing every job to the best of your abilities - to everything else. You look to make a difference. You seek to grow. In seeking excellence this way, you constantly put yourself out of your comfort zone. Growth is about change. It is about moving out of your comfort zone.

It is that then - a strong intent, a clear goal, the best way to get to it, a disciplined work ethic, an unshakeable belief and the courage to enter untested waters. This is what makes the champion long lasting, better than the others (because he puts in result-oriented effort), tough in the face of adversity, self-aware, clear, confident and resilient.  

Anjali - So Be Happy Na! (Or, enjoy the moment)

Anjali and I were playing a game of cards yesterday. It's a simple game where we keep throwing down one card each and the one who throws down the card that matches the earlier card gets the entire loot. Anjali explained the game - Shaukar-Bhikhaar. Also gave her impressions on how I normally don't win etc etc. (How did she know?)

Much to her surprise and mine, I started  winning heavily. She was pretty surprised at this. 'Wow' she said. 'You won Nannna.' I shrugged, hoping to make it easier on her. She was pretty severe on that reaction of mine. 
'So be happy na?' she said. 'You won.' 
Yeah, makes sense. 

My winning streak continued. I found myself getting more and more uncomfortable with these winnings, this complete greed. Would she feel bad? Seeing my discomfort she once again pointed out what was missing. 'Be happy na? You are winning.'

How often are we uncomfortable with winning with success, with abundance? How often do we try to downplay what we deserve? How many times have we rejected the flow of life because we do not want to offend the others (or what we think could offend the others)?

Soon Anjali lost all her cards. 'Now you have to give me half of yours,' she said simply. 'That's the rule. We must share if one of us gets everything and the other person loses.' 

So, she was pretty clear all through about that. No offence taken at losing. Mere amusement, that I was not able to enjoy my happy moments. 

I shared, as per the rules, and the game continued.

But you wonder how much you have turned away from what life was giving to you with these thoughts in your head. Of others, and how they would feel if you got more, and how it might upset your equation with them, of how you may be perceived as greedy - so much that you get unhappy, get head aches, get physically unwell, at the sight of success, at winning, at merely being yourself. But when you look back you realise that perhaps they might not be thinking all the things you have been thinking for them in your head in the first place. More importantly, it is easier to share and lift the others along with you with great positivity if you do accept all that comes to you with happiness. With gratitude.

No need to bend. No need to feel embarrassed. No need to take any less. Enjoy the win. Enjoy the moment. It gives you the space to share. To create. To add to the environment with imagination and freedom. Thanks Anjali. Huge lesson.

Friday, May 10, 2013

It's Complicated - Movie Review

It certainly is. Jane (Meryl Streep), meets her ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) ten years at their son's graduation ceremony, and sparks fly. They start having a lusty affair, flab and cellulite and all and love it, unknown to their three children and Jake's young wife. The "affair" continues and Streep is thrilled that she is now the other woman to the other woman who had caused their divorce. Their affair has its ups and downs though. Streep is also seeing her architect Adam (Steve Martins), another divorcee, and her situation with Jake complicates things a bit. So after hot and cute romps in hotels, secret dates at their homes, marijuana and drinking binges,  the others eventually get to know - Adam, Jake's wife and the three children. Jake leaves his younger wife and moves in with Jane but who will Jane choose now - him or Adam?

With Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, the film is elevated to another level altogether. Having older people having affairs is amusing and cute - it's always the same it looks like. Their bedroom scenes are brilliantly shot and done. Director Nancy Meyers is the maker of one of my all time favorites - Holiday - and several other acclaimed successes that are on my list such as 'Parent Trap', 'Something's Gotta Give' and 'What Women Want'. And I'd certainly not want to miss any of Meryl Streep's movies anyway.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lincoln - Movie review

Lincoln is an epic.It draws you into a part of history that was so important and depicts how the 13th Amendment or the Anti Slavery Bill was passed. It shows the last four months of Lincoln's life when he brought the historic Bill into place. They were troubled times then - the United States fighting the Slave States - days of Civil War in the 1860s. the Civil War claimed more than 600,000 they say and much credit must go to President Lincoln and his team and all those right thinking people who backed and got slavery abolished in the US.

The movie is gripping. It's slow and intense and the political drama and shenanigans seep in. Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln is simply superb, a portrayal that won him the Best Actor Award at the Oscars. The film got 12 nominations and won two. Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook - they are all brilliant.

How is it that Steven Spielberg comes up with such masterpieces across such a wide range of topics? Watch it in peace, when you have the time and the focus.

Bombay Talkies - Movie Review

This one is a must watch. A least three of the four films are simply out of the world. Dibakar Banerjee, Anurag Kashyap and Zoya Akhthar soar high in this anthology of short films celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema. The one by Karan Johar falls flat and I didn't know what it was all about.

So thankfully we start with Karana Johar's movie about a young gay man who befriends his boss Gayatri and then hits on her husband. Turns out that the husband is also a closet gay. The two kiss - Randeep Hooda must get an award for kissing a man - and then beat each other up. What's it about? Do they love one another or do they not? Everyone is finally upset for some reason - the two men and the one middle aged woman. What were you trying to say KJ?

Now that's over we can sit back.

Dibakar Banerjee's story of a stage actor in Bombay, who gets a bit role in a movie with Ranbir quite fortuitously when he is pulled out of the crowd is stuff that makes you want to see it again and again. Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the once-upon-a-time actor, failed businessman, breeder of a single emu, and aspiring watchman, who perfects that shot of brushing past the hero inspired by a vision of his guru (regional newspaper, glasses and a superbly improvised 'Aye'). It is sheer ecstasy to watch the shot where he dramatises his story to his ailing daughter and she goes to sleep smiling. Fantastic stuff and one of those stories I will not forget. Ah, what can one not achieve if one aspires for excellence! Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

Zoya Akhthar's story of a young boy who loves dancing but who is forced by his father to toughen up, is sensitive and uplifting. Follow your dream says Katrina Kaif and the young boy does and the story culminates superbly when we see the boy transform from his awkward posture into a graceful dancer throwing off energy all around. Brilliant stuff again.

Anurag Kashyap brings Vijay from Allahabad with one murabba that his ailing father wants Amitabh Bachchan to take a bite from - so he can eat the other half and live long. Vijay discovers soon that its not as easy as he thought to get Amitabh to eat his murabba. Will he meet the superstar and get him to eat the murabba and will the blessed murabba heal his ailing father? Ah, bitter sweet, and leaves you laughing at yourself, at the frailty of our existence, our hopes, our emotions and desires.

Indian cinema is in good hands and I am really glad I am in these times. What amazing talent we have here and what a melting pot of creative excellence. Delicious. I just can't get to see more of the stuff that Dibakar Banerjee, Anurag Kashyap and Zoya Akhthar make. KJ, sorry man, you don't belong in this company - not with that short film anyway.




Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Thought For The Day - What Makes You Happy?

I was wishing Medha on her birthday when this thought came up - what makes one happy? If pursuit of happiness is our goal then we must first find out what makes us happy. Do gifts make us happy, cakes and chocolates, new clothes...what what what? I guess this calls for a pen and a paper so we can quickly make a list of things.

Okay my quick list as they come to mind.

The External List (or the OMG! list)
  • Good Food
  • People who make me happy
  • People who make me laugh
  • Thoughtful Gifts
  • Well fitting Clothes
  • Unexpected Free stuff
  • Genuine Compliments
  • Going Out
  • Travel
  • People taking care of me

The Internal List (For I, Me and Myself)
  • Nature
  • Music
  • Children
  • Feeling free
  • Achievement
  • Solitude
  • Love of Family, Friends
  • Giving, sharing
  • Uplifting deeds of others
  •  Deep sleep
Still looks contrived. I don't know if all I wrote is really true. Needs a relook. I don't think I know what really makes me happy.



 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Crazy, Stupid, Love - Movie Review

A romantic comedy drama ? I don't know what to make of it but I did not really care for this movie too much. I am not sure if it is a comedy either.There are several people in love - in different kinds of love.

A married woman tells her husband she has had an affair with her colleague and he jumps off the moving car. While he is moping about his wife's affair loudly in a bar, a young Casanova helps him and tells him how to seduce women.

The middle aged man starts seducing women with his new found confidence with the Casanova's guidance. Unknown to him his young baby sitter has a crush on him. At the same time his thirteen year old has a crush on the baby sitter. If things were not complicated enough one of the women that the middle aged man seduces is the English teacher of his son.

It finally turns out the the Casanova has also fallen in true love - but with someone that his pupil - the middle aged Casanova does not fully approve of. Oh, and meanwhile, the young thirteen year old son, is teaching his father how not to give up when he loves someone. The 13 year old turns out to be the star of the show finally. Anyway it ends with a school ceremony and speeches and stuff like that which did not appeal to me too much. It did appear to me like any of the Telugu movies we see these days.

Not my cup of tea. I was totally misled by the title. And yes, its the 40 year old virgin again, Steve Carell, in the middle aged man's role. Sorry guys, didn't work for me.

Argo - Movie Review

Adapted from CIA operative Tony Mendez's book 'Master of Disguise' Argo is a real life story of a rescue operation of six American diplomats from Iran in 1979. It's set in the time when the Shah of Iran has been given asylum by America during the Iranian revolution. The irate Iranian rebels storm the American embassy and take over 50 diplomats hostage - six escape into the roads and are given shelter by the Canadian ambassador.

To rescue the six diplomats, Tony Mendez comes up with the idea of a Hollywood movie crew out on a location shoot - only the crew are to pose as Canadians. The office is set up, a reputable producer brought in to back the movie, publicity given , parts made up for the six diplomats, papers made and Mendez leaves for Teheran as Associate Producer. How he manages to pull off the location scout in the busiest bazaar of Teheran and then attempts to walk out with the six diplomats right under the noses of the Revolutionary Guard is what Argo all about.

Argo by the way is the name of the movie script - a science fiction movie. Ben Affleck is taciturn and impassive but it is Alan Arkin as the producer Lester who spices up the movie. Taut and packed with action, it takes you into history (shots of the real images are shown along with the ones shot for the movie).Definitely on the watch list because its highly entertaining. Argo received seven nominations at the Oscars apparently and won three - Best Picture, Best Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay. George Clooney co-produced this with Ben Affleck and Grant Heslov. Ben Affleck also directed the movie - and did it well. I like the kind of movies Clooney produces - they are entertaining and meaningful, have a political statement or agenda, and are certainly thought provoking. Well done fellows.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Before Sunset - Movie review

'Before Sunset' picks up some nine years after the two protagonists meet in the first movie 'Before Sunrise'. The American boy Jesse (Ethan Hawke) has now become a writer, and has written about his experiences with a young French woman Celine (Julie Delpy) he met on a train and who spend a night roaming around Vienna, talking to each other and enjoying one another's company. He is now on a book tour to Europe and in Paris, he bumps into Celine at the bookstore. From the bookstore to the cafe, the cafe to the boat, the boat to her home, the two catch up on their lives after their last meeting. They had promised to meet one another six months later at the same place in Vienna, a promise that Jesse honours but Celine does not - because her grandmother died.

Anyway this story is taut as the two protagonists obviously share a superb chemistry and somehow never fulfilled the promise of their first meeting which was sparkling and electric. Now older and in other relationships, he is married and she has a boyfriend, the two realise that perhaps they made mistakes by not pursuing this relationship. They rediscover their frequency, then piece together their lives since that day, then honestly look at their lives now, find the rust melting and the relationship blossoming. Full of lovely little moments, wonderful dialogue and a subtle and fine insight into relationships, 'Before Sunset', is as wonderful as 'Before Sunrise' was, and it's a privilege to take a peek into their lives, their love, their fears and their passions.Coffee, cold evening, warm blanket, one you love, kind of stuff.

Richard Linklater directs, wrote the screenplay with lead actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, which was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay. Hawke and Delpy are bang on as the couple, older and wiser, and its beautiful to watch them. If I recall right, they do not even kiss in the movie, but their chemistry indicates something much deeper. Perhaps the story reminds us of the great irony of our lives where people are distant with the person they live with all their lives and share a closeness with strangers they meet rarely. Must watch especially if you're a romantic.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Clockwork Orange - Movie Review

Saw this movie in the early 1990s and figured nothing much from it. I knew it was a cult movie by Stanley Kubrick then. Saw the 1971 movie again the other day. Now I appreciate what Stanley Kubrick did to the Anthony Burgess novel.

A bunch of deviants, led by a sex and violence crazed gang leader are on a spree. First they beat up an old drunk, then knife a rival gang, then they steal a car, cripple a writer, rape his wife and then a lady artist. All this - and one group sex scene - shot is a fascinating manner by Kubrick. The gangleader is betrayed by his mates who are tired of his overbearing ways an is caught by the cops and sent to jail for fourteen years. Murder.

In jail the young man learns of a new system of reform that the government is trying and tries to get into that. He is picked and is treated - several processes for aversion therapy including showing the patient violent images constantly - thereby creating an aversion in him to all sex and violence. He is confirmed as treated as his body rejects all impulses to sex and violence. The Minister of Interior hails it as a great step forward and releases him into society - fully reformed.

But the deviant is trapped. He is not himself anymore. Kicked out of his home, bashed up by the drunks, almost drowned by cops (who are his old friends) and driven to suicide by the writer he crippled, the deviant almost dies as he jumps off trying to commit suicide - but survives. Bad press forces the Minister to come forward and seek a pact with the deviant who agrees to help him and behave as if he is reformed. But in reality the effect of his treatment wears off and he finds that he has no aversion to sex or violence after all. The film ends.

The lead star - Malcolm Macdowell - does a brilliant job. I have not seen any movie that treats such a depressing and violent theme, such a deep and profound line of thought so lightly, yet getting the point across strongly. I have not read the novel so i don't know and cannot comment on whether the movie did justice to it or not. But by itself - riveting. And for all those movies that claim they are different - see this. This is terrific stuff. But be prepared for sex and violence.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Passion Test - Janet Bray Attwood and Chris Attwood

This is a New York Times Bestseller and talks a language I like. 'The Passion Test - The Effortless Path to Discovering Your Life Purpose' is a nice, simple and easy read and one that could well put you in touch with your passions and your life purpose. After all what's a life that is lived without passion?
Penguin, 291 p

The authors, Janet and Chris, are co-founders of an online magazine Healthy Wealthy nWise and partners in Enlightened Alliances, a marketing consulting firm. Married, but separated now, the two have varied experiences: from sales to consulting, training to motivational speaking, working with lepers in India and practicing deep meditation, study Vedic tradition to interviewing saints in India, and some more. The authors bring a simple, sweet perspective of following one's passion, through their own lives. (And they are much more than that short resume I presented.) They constantly urge you - when faced with a choice, always choose in favour of your passions. All along the book we have Janet's own story of how she followed her passion and how it paid off. When you follow your passions, there is no way you can lose.

Anyway, the idea, as you must have got it by now, is to follow your passions. But wait - first identify your passions. So you take a passion test. Shortlist the same and put them up in your priorities. I agree with the authors that it is the 'what' (we are passionate about) that we must first be clear about before wondering about the 'how'. Most people stop at the 'how' and the 'what's are beyond them. Another thing I liked - that passion is a process and goals are outcomes.

Then of course most of us fall off the track from our passions because following your passions sometimes seems like hard work as it may not have an assured check coming with it. But the authors keep us on track with several other exercises like creating passions scores, passion cards, markers, vision boards, passion pages, 100th birthday speeches, appreciation games and other interesting methods to stay on track. Doing the exercises is a fun and interesting way to get in touch with ourselves. Also following your passion has its own way of rewarding you if you are honest to it - and to yourself.

The second part of the book has excerpts of interviews that Janet did with saints and wise people she met in her travels in India and the Himalayas. Their words of wisdom reinforces what the book has to say. Interesting stuff. From surrendering to life, to the importance of action without attachment to the result, the nature's guidance system, even a bit of jyotishya and the importance of trusting to speed up the process, Janet covers much ground and sets up the idea well.

It's good fun and certainly useful for those who wish to follow their passions and even otherwise its a fun and interesting read that could add some new dimensions to your life. I think the best way to gain from this book is to do the exercises and keep looking at them, working at them, bit by bit, everyday. With passions, once you start, you won't stop. Recommended.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

40 Year Old Virgin - Movie Review

You can guess pretty much the entire story even as you see the title. It goes in pretty much the same vein. A middle aged virgin at 40. Shy. Does not meet women. Has his own little habits. Cooks, cleans, plays with GI Joes and is hopeless with women. Cannot drive. Rides a bicycle.

His friends from the store find out and try to help him - not always with the best results. The virgin however finds a woman in all this - a grandmother technically - and (hopefully) loses his virginity too in the process.


Sweet. Amusing. You can get through it certainly and you do want to see what he makes of his life finally.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Visit to the Alma Mater - St. Gabriel's High School, Kazipet

No trip to Warangal can be complete without stopping by at my old school, St. Gabriel's Boys High School of the Montfort Brothers. I joined the school in the 5th class (1975) after doing my fourth at Fatima Girls High School. For some reason St. Gabriel's only took in students from their 5th class and luckily for us, Fatima Girls would allow boys to study till the 4th. I went first and then Ram joined me.
Outside Fatima School gate

Being my first experience in an all boys school St. Gabriel's was a wake up call. The boys were a mix of kids from the neighbouring railway colonies, boys who came from Hanamkonda (like me and my brother Ram) and some even coming from as far as Warangal. All kinds - the gentle sardar who father owned a store, Sarma whose father worked in insurance, the kid who came and relieved me of all my marbles one day, so many more.
Anjali and I in front of our school ground
At the gate

There were many Anglo Indian boys who came from the railway colonies and they were rough kids who were always up to some trouble or the other. But they were good at sports and were good fun.
Walking into the school premises, just as it was then
The block where I studied
Another view of the block
We had large grounds right outside the school and I dreamed of playing cricket on those grounds. In fact there were Inter house cricket tournaments once and I remember watching my seniors Shukla and Raghu whack the cricket ball hard with great admiration in my eyes.
That tree was surely there then
It was to me a replay of Tom Brown's School Days. The railway tracks nearby on which we'd go for walks when we were in our seventh, the hostel where my good friend Koteshwar Rao stayed, the table tennis table and games in the brother's quarters, the library, the school grounds, the water taps, it was heady stuff.
In front of the assembly
The cricket grounds for practice 
The auditorium
I was growing up then on a fine diet of Enid Blytons and Hardy Boys, Hugo Montenegro and English films that came to town - like the Towering Inferno.
Water taps, a revelation to Anjali
The office
We had a cricket team that practiced and I was picked for it as an off spinner but we never played a game despite promises by Bro. Joseph that we'd play St. Paul's some day.
The long corridor
Watching the Fatima girls walk past, perhaps gazing longingly at some of our ex-class mates too, playing football in the grounds, taking the bus to and fro Water Tank to school, well it was all part of the good old days.
Anjali insisted on this pic, she took it
The delicate David sir who was our class teacher in the VII th and to whom I addressed a letter after I moved to Hyderabad (which he apparently read out in the class), Bro. M.K. Joseph who was tall and handsome and taught us Social Studies, the loud and lecherous Anand sir who told us about the nude sadhus at the Kumbh mela and who apparently had something going with one colleague of his, my good friends Koti, Sarma, Sreenu and Ramana, Sunil and Anil, Lloyd the terrifying Anglo Indian, Lester and Richard who played cricket with us, and Bro. Vincent who was our Principal then.
Montfort
 I hated leaving St. Gabriel's when Dad got transferred and Ram and I went on long protests but it did not work. We even offered to stay in the hostel.
The lane leading to both schools

The ground from the bridge
But what totally knocked me over were the boards that were put up on the walls of the corridor about what children feel and how they should be treated.
Read them


 Knowing the Montfort brothers as I did the major part of my schooling with them in Warangal first and then All Saints at Hyderabad, and knowing such wonderful teachers such as Bro. K.M. Joseph. Bro. M.K. Joseph, Bro. Vincent and others to name a few, one can expect no less.


For all the good times and the wonderful lessons, for growing us up so well and shaping what we are today in so many ways, a huge thank you to St. Gabriel's High School, the Montfort brothers and all my teachers and friends. It was great fun guys.