Monday, September 13, 2010

and just like that 'Jai Ho' became his signature tune!


AR Rahman performed here in the bay area on Sunday.

The show featured some spectacular 3D projection lighting and sometimes good but mostly mediocre choreography. They used thematically related 3D projections both to enhance the ambiance as well as compensate for the terrible lack of a stage presence and performance of AR Rahman. The man stands on the stage like scarecrow figure. The song 'Pappu cant dance saala' is a very good self caricature!

No Sukhwinder Singh, No Naresh Iyer, No Sapna Awasthi, No Vijay Prakash, No Shreya Ghosal. So you can imagine the quality of vocals in a Rahman concert. The only star singers were Hariharan and Rahman himself whose voice wore off considerably. The equalizer settings were pretty lousy and we could hardly ever listen to whatever little he spoke.

The selection of songs ranged from the newest Endhiran, Couples Retreat, Slumdog, Rang De Basanti and went back as far as Premikudu from 1994. (No Roja!)

Luka Chuppi from Rang De Basanti had a guest appearance from a pre-recorded 3D projection of Lata singing on stage. It felt a little surreal given the context of the song in the movie and she playing luka chuppi on the stage. Mehendi hai Rachne Vaali from Zubeida had some excellent companion 3D projection as well.

Blaaze was the dancer performer for most part. Hariharan came on stage looking almost like a gypsy or more so like a baul singer from Bengal. Super star Krishna is marginally better than Rahman when it comes to onscreen/onstage presence. Enough said.

They did something interesting towards the end of the concert with a Doordarshan style 'Sammelan', where Rahman sat down with a Harmonium and other singers chimed in. This makes me think that a prolific composer like Rahman could also try alternate forms of concert like having an Anthyakashari with only Rahman songs. The concert also featured interesting jugalbandi vignettes with violinist Christine Wu and his flautist Naveen.

He ended the concert with the obligatory Jai Ho and Maa Tujhe Salaam.

The venue selection for bay area was bad as it hardly allowed any room to stand up and sway to the music. So to sum up - the concert was okay. (Although being there with Swetha made it totally worthy to me. She's never been to a Rahman concert before.)

All through the concert, one thought was constant on my mind -- Professional future reviewers, critics and historians will have an extremely tough time trying to summarize Rahman's career and may be try to come up with top ten/fifty of his compositions.

Good luck with that! Glad, I dont have to do it for a living.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Vedam - a review

The movie has a pretty cliched start with a song from which a couple of lines stand out and set out to be the theme of the movie, I guess. 

Nindu noorella paatu prati roju edo lotu
ade madilo repuki chotu

The movie tries to conflate five short stories, all of them with different degrees of unrest in their lives. The director takes a good 45-60 min to get to the unrest and eventually gets to the bigger point of the movie -- how are heroes made out of ordinary people.

At least one of the stories (featuring Anushka)  is totally tangential and exists merely for masala purposes. Some feel a little contrived. But the story about an abysmally poor family from Telangana is extremely poignant with some very good performances. (If you are getting a teeny bit political here -- such poverty is pretty evenly distributed in the state, so put your case to rest, if that is all you have to say).

But the movie wraps up pretty even headedly making a few heroes out of these stories. None too macho, none too idealistic, all too human.

So to sum up in Jeevi style - First half is okay. Second half is good. Allu Arjun movies are always entertaining.

Recommended.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Milk

"My name is Harvey Milk and I want to recruit you". Milk, nation's first openly gay elected official to a major office, often used that as his opening line in public speeches. But he intends no pun there, he wants to recruit people into the politics of democracy.


The movie traces the life of an insurance salesman who moved across the nation from New York to San Francisco, only to be in the right place and right time to rise up to the occasion. Sometimes that is all it takes for a Tsunami to build up and unleash. Be it a Rosa Parks not vacating her seat or that defiance by a wiry advocate on a South African train near Pietermaritzburg.


Milk may be many things: funny, charming, politically shrewd but he is also inherently kind, as portrayed by Sean Penn. Both Mr.Penn and the director Gus Van Sant take up the cause of equality of men not just with rebellion spirit but with a mounting sense of righteous anger. They gradually build up such empathy and an inner sense of 'Can you believe they are being denied their basic civil rights?" very effectively through Milk's speeches and debates. The director uses an activist point of view for his camera, i.e. for all of Milk's speeches, the camera tries to unsteadily peer through at Milk amidst other listening heads of the audience.


Milk understood the politics of democracy and tried to used them effectively to advance his cause - equality of men (in the great sense of phrase as used in the declaration of independence.) He was willing to loose battles and trade votes on the city council to win the war. He made his state and city the battlegrounds by brining home the battles from other states and cities.


The greatest strategy he uses is, not surprisingly, empathy which leads to an interesting tension between privacy and political power. If you want political power, reveal who you are. Make your friends and family know that you are not an alien entity, not sick and cannot be fixed up by psychiatric voodoo. This coming out of the closet, Milk believes, leads to acceptance in a bottom up fashion and eventually making your voices heard. The movie avoids potentially painful scenes of coming out of closet before parents, may be not to undermine the power and potency of the strategy or may be assumes audience awareness of the pain and thus leaves it to the imagination making it even more powerful.


The movie benefits from a very moving and engaging soundtrack by Danny Elfman and of course a host of very effective cast. Some of the scenes have been re-enatced on the streets of San Francisco by people who had been personally affected by these historical events, most notably a candle-light vigil which is very moving. His name is Harvey Milk and he is very effective in recruiting audience to his cause. But not so much with members of academy who were unfairly candied away by Slumdog Millionaire.


Highly Recommended.


- Written by Kesava Mallela

Monday, February 16, 2009

Luck By Chance

Zoya Akthar is probably one of those kids who ate, drank and slept Bollywood and oddly this daughter of Javed Akthar and Honey Irani, cousin of Farah Khan and hence a friend of a zillion leading stars and other figureheads of the hindi film industry[1] does a good job of (re-/de-)constructing the filmistan world for outsiders [2].

An debutant outsider, Vikram JaiSingh (played by Farhan Akthar), hits the jackpot and turns into an overnight star, thanks to a series of fortunate events -- thats the pretty much the gist of the story. But what makes this movie interesting is the crumbling fourth wall, great performances and a bunch of ironies that go along with the casting.

Crumbling fourth wall [3] and self-mockery have been on the rise in the recent years as seen in Om Shanti Om and other movies. This one takes a sharper tone by casting big stars in edgier roles instead of celebrating their starfdom and pomposity (as in Om Shanti Om or Billu Barber). The stars play loveable but marginally flawed characters with great skill making most of the movie a delight to watch. As an additional treat, the director sprinkles the movie with little vignettes like Roshan's car-window play with street kids and Kapadia's bitch-slapping phone call with a magazine editor.

What was also delightful was intrinsic ironies in casting some of the roles. Farhan Akthar plays the debutant with out any film-family background who goes on to preach about inner strength and not letting focus off the goal. Konkana Sharma plays his girl friend who is denied lead roles because of her average looks and a non-filmy background. Both Akthar and Sharma are in the movie business mostly because of their families. It is hard to believe Konkana would have gained any of her stardom with her looks with out Aparna Sen inspite of her talent as an actress. Her character in the movie has to suffice herself with TV serial roles making a decent living for herself and thats the high note the movie chooses to end with. The rolling credits made me wonder how many of those people ended there by chance and how many of them had higher aspirations but ended up as many many worker bees.  Yet many of them must be happy, as they have not done too shabby a job for themselves. Not a masterpiece of movie, but had fun watching it.

Rating: Recommended.

Written by Kesava Mallela, with many inspirations from across.
----
[1] One of the characters of the movie hates the term Bollywood, although the character doesn't really explain why.
[2] Outsider - one who doesnt have a Khan, Kapoor, Bachchan, Akthar-Azmi, Dutt, Devagan, Deol or a Mukherjee lastname. A more comprehensive list here at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Indian_film_clans
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_wall

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

On India's first Gold at Olympics

Daniel Johnson, an economist from Colarado College recently made a model to predict Olympic gold medals tally. He found a 96-98% correlation between the number of medals won and the following five factors: (i) GDP per capita, (ii) total population, (iii) political structure (democratic, authoritarian, military or communist), (iv) climate (the number of frost days) and (v) home-nation bias.

While most developed nations clearly fit the model, India and China are gigantic exceptions. $800 million expenditure by Chinese authorities may offset (i) and (v) of the five factors. Heather Simmons of NYT best explained India's state in one single phrase: "Mysteriously, a non-athletic nation."

The funny thing about the whole debate is that it is Bindra's gold that is being used as a backdrop to it. If not for his Gold, the debate would have never taken place and a billion+ ppl would have happily watched yet another action-scandal packed mysterious murder case in Gurgaon being reported at 180 decibels with gushing adrenalin in racy-catchy-rhymy breaking-news headlines that are terrible at pretending to be the ones challenging institutions and culture.

China won its first gold in 1984 when India was still busy buying color televisions after the 1983 win. But a 1983 win in England is enough to offset everything and eclipse the nation with decades of complacency. On the other hand, China started its economic reforms in 1970s. A twenty year lag / lead there.

BBC is running a wonderful series called "Against all Odds", a program about atheletes who have been excelling against extreme odds and still made it to the Olympics. The series features a marothoner from Cambodia is forced to run on traffic filled roads. He regular dodges chaotic traffic and slows down at traffic jams and lights. What is insightful here is, he is obviously an exception. He would love all those 'infrastructural resources' like better shoes, nicer tracks to train on, time keepers telling him where he stumbles, and carb rich food to give him the extra oomph, etc. What is more important than sporting equipment here is probably the little eco system he trains and lives in. Doing it alone is Herculean or Achillean in this case. Volleyball and basketball may be less obvious, but they do have their own little cocoons to live in.

There is something more important to do with culture that can fundamentally sets people's lives and destinies in stone: Expectations and Measurements. If a culture expects its inhabitants to grow up into worker bees or ants and measures success in their lives by the amount of pay loads they carry, they would never be flies or butterflies. If the expectation is to get a software job by 21 and get married before 30, Lance Armstrong would be the pinnacle of failure. But thankfully, people like Bindra help set new expectations, and it may not be long before measurements show off some of those expectations.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Singh joined Facebook

(The "is" part in the title makes me write a Facebook style story of the movie.)

Happy Singh chases wild goose.
Happy Singh is sad that village head's family is in trouble.
Happy Singh is traveling to Australia.
Happy Singh missed flight.
Happy Singh updates relationship to "It's complicated" with Katrina Kaif.
Happy Singh added King as friend
Happy Singh added Kiron Kher as mom-like-figure.
Happy Singh has updated first name to Singh
Singh is Kinng
Katrina Kaif updates relationship to "committed" with Mr. D
Happy is Happy with friends (X, Y, Z and A)
X, Y, Z and A have left the group - "Underworld Mafia".
X, Y, Z and A have changed their profile pictures.
Happy Singh and Katrina Kaif are now married.
Happy Singh posted a new message in the group: "Sikh Community".

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wall-E, a top earth class delight

Here comes yet another lovingly made movie from Pixar. 


Remember the first time how you felt touching Apple's smooth, shiny-white magsafe power adapter with cute little ears to wind up the cord when not in use? That is pretty much the tactile equivalent of how you feel when you watch the movie. 


The movie is so lovingly made that most frames are better than the gorgeous mac screen savers (on apple displays) ever made and so lovingly told that the boxy-masculine-rusty-power-toolsy guy Wall-E is nothing but adorable. His binocular shaped eye-cameras are shiny, expressive and filled with life.


Wall-E is a waste compactor machine-bot left behind alone on the planet by earth-fleeing humans who couldn't stand their own pollution resulting from centuries of unabashed buying and wasteful consumption at large. It is 700 years since humans have left the planet and in the meanwhile the bot develops a personality. It is more of a 'He' now than 'it'.


He has a set routine. He goes for work, looks for any interesting items in trash (spork, rubrik's cubes, tonnes of cigarette lighters, christmas lights, 5G iPods - no leaks there. Still a 5G iPod in 2708 AD !), and keeps compacting trash for the rest of the time. The movie is endlessly inventive and speculative here in verbal-silence while at the same time speaking volumes on the worst of American foods: twinkies which have infinite shelf life. 


Breaking his routine, comes another bot from the stars, Eva. She is more like the tall-sleek-ipod-nano + Angelina Jolie from Mr. & Mrs. Smith and may be that graceful dancer, Martha Graham. Our man falls in love with the lady as Louis Armstrong's voice sores high in the background, making the junkyard feel like Central Park during fall.


While, I'll let you discover the rest of the movie for yourself, I do want to talk about end credits. The end credits of the movie retrace robot-assisted human history starting from hieroglyphics to Van Gogh and beyond with such elegance and sheer beauty that I would pay my $8.25 (yes! a matinee show on a weekday) just for that.  


The end credits start with computer animation, scale down to hand-drawn-computer-enhanced graphics and finally reduce to 8-bit graphics from the days of pre-historic Atari video games. It is almost like, the animation-geekier you are, the longer you are gonna stay and watch all of the end credits and the hence the treat.


I know for sure I am gonna stay till the very end, when I watch it for the second time too. And like David Edelstein on NPR said, "I envy your first-time watching of the movie".


If Jeevi reviewed Sankarabharanam ...

Story: Shankara Shastri (JV Somayujulu) is a principled chap who teaches and sings classical music. He is rich and famous. Ratnaprabha (Manju Bhargavi) is a daughter of a clever prostitute. She wants to learn music from Shankara Shastri encourages her to learn music. But for that, people get angry. Popularity of classical music is decreasing and Shankara Shastri looses his money. Ratnaprabha has a son, Tulasi. Tulasi is learning music from Shankara Shastri. In the end of the movie, Shankara Shastri dies while giving a concert. Ratnaprabha also dies. Tulasi becomes the next singer.

Performances: Somayajulu is exceptionally good. He has good make up for the role. He embodies the essence of traditional musician and appeared very believable and natural. Manju Bhargavi displayed good histrionics. Her dances are average too. Allu Ramalingayya and Chandramohan are adequate and have small roles. They give a decent comedy track for the movie.

Technical Departments:

Story - Screenplay - Direction: The story is not strong. It is weak. It not very strong. It is only a little weak. But on the whole, it is average. Screenplay is not very noticeable. It could have been better with flash backs.

There is a strong stamp of Vishwanath in the movie. Direction of a film is bit slow. There is no compactness in the film as director has taken his own time to establish characters. However, there are some situations in the film that should be appreciated.

Music: Music is good but it is all old and classical. No fast beats in the movie. This makes it a bit boring. Balu is singing good and it is difficult to tell it is Balu singing. On the whole, music is average. People will go out for cigarette drinking.

Analysis:

Strengths: Low budget movie, some nice situations, decent comedy track
Weaknesses: No established actors, old music, slow direction, complex dialogues in telugu, below 3 hrs.

(written by Kesava Mallela, spoofing Jeevi of idlebrain.com)


Dasavatharam - A Review

If Kamal Hassan made Matrix, he would play ALL the characters in the movie, adding another layer of confusion to the trilogy.

If Kamal Hassan did Eyes Wide Shut, it would be a self-sexual orgy set to Vedic chants.

If Kamal Hassan is in news business, it would be news by him, about him, on him, in him, over him, under him and nothing but him. Weather man played by Kamal would report about Kamal's body temperature and moisture.

If Kamal Hassan was on Chak De, he would play the Indian and Australian flags along with all the characters on the Indian hockey team and the coach of Australian team.

If Kamal Hassan is into full-time animation he would play all the 101 Dalmatians + mom + dad. The devil lady too. Also, Stuart, the dad. Stuart, the kid and Stuart, the rat. Also, all those giant tortoises on the Great barrier reef water way and the me-me pelican birds on Sydney harbor. and finally, those inanimate spices on counters and shelves in the French kitchen and may be the swap lands in the Ogre land, just not to sound exclusively elitist.

If Steven Spielberg made Schindler's List with Kamal Hassan, it would be about an army of Kamals destroying all Kamal movies, while another Kamal curating a list of all Kamal movies that are destroyed and there after restore them back to Kamal movies. Hence, Kamal's list.

If Kamal Hassan is on Dasavatharam, well, he would never be on it. Because, it has another nut case called Kamal Hassan and also because it has just the right number of Kamal Hassans on it, not one less or one more.

Rating: Plutoid / 5 stars

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Om Deepika Om

I am sure you have either read a ton of reviews already or listened to people drone about it. I am not sure how much I can add to the existing mass of 'literature' out there. But never the less, at the risk of being redundant, I'm gonna throw in my two cents (err...let's pick rising pence instead).

All the nice things: It's nice to see irreverence to historical cliches in a movie tradition where parody usually means wars between fans. Nice to see actors willing to parody themselves indicating a high level of self-confidence and identity. Nice to see a montage of all those new media. Nice to see Bollywood throw parodical light at themselves although it seems like one giant self-congratulatory, self-reveling party. etc. etc. and all other good things you have listened about the movie in spite of the movie driving itself speedily into a huge-bollywood-cliche-spiral by mocking one in the first place.

Its a Bollywood movie after all, and it remains loyal to all the elements that make one: Changes genre gears every 10 mins, songs for no particular reason which are totally incoherent and anachronistic to the genre of the storyline, fortune-cookie-ish punchlines like 'Dil se Maango, Mil Jaayega; Film Abhi Baaki Hai' and of course all that super-star smugness.

I would have loved to see more out-and-out mockery than frequent shifting gears. The movie should have hung on to MORE cliches and made buffoonery by using elements like "Making Sandy realize that she was Shanti", "Maang Bhari Sindhur and Chutki Sindhur scenes sponsored by Maybelline Cosmetics", "SRK watching a DVD of Karz and realizing his past life (instead of frequent fire nightmares)". That's something for MTV short film, I guess, if only it had the equal audience, budgets and access to star cast.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Indian Case Law: Online and Access

Case law of Supreme Court of India is online here: http://www.supremecourtcaselaw.com/latest.asp

There seems to be a significant difference in tone between case law here and in India. While the tone here is more of reasoning with the reader (with some intense persuasive language), the Indian case law sounds more binary in its judgment (instead of painting the spectrum of possibilities). Well, I draw these conclusions from one single abstract I just read (a dispute of inheritance of pooja rights; funny!, esp. when the supreme court has pretty far-reaching disputes to settle). Got to read more to make a generalization. :D


A quick scroll down the page had caught me by pleasant surprise, the Supreme Court is addressing wide range of issues from FIR to Food Corporation of India to fines for late payment of electricity bills to stamp duties.

I understand they are of binding nature by the lower courts and lower courts probably reflect one some of the earlier cases while making new judgments, but what is astounding is the language barrier having law in English alone creates. As a result of this most people have little understand of whats going on, even though most of these resources are in public domain.

Even the privileged section of the society, which can read and write English, has almost never been schooled about the kind of the cases and judgments the courts deal with. I am not saying every citizen has to be a paralegal, if not lawyer, but the basic functioning of legal system and civil liberties are an integral part of high school education which is largely absent from Indian high school system. Most discourse in schools is around term of a Supreme court justice and who appoints him with very little functional knowledge. A recent NYT article talked about changing history text books in India and how it might usher new levels of public discourse. My joy knew no bounds ! Thats the way a country becomes a better democracy and steers its own fate. There is a good reason why most freedom fighters in Indian Independence movement were all lawyers.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

60 years of Independence

Congratulations Sub continent ! Here are a few interesting essays on this eve:

What makes India's Democracy Special :
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6943598.stm

Unlikely heroes: Judiciary and the Election Commission of India:
http://www.hindu.com/af/india60/stories/2007081550120400.htm

Canadian Outlook on 60th anniversary:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/india/binks-india60.html

Britain's Lament on losing the action to US:
http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/markets/india/article2141186.ece

How Pakistanis see India:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2148170,00.html

Why is India doing so much better than Pakistan?
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article2861707.ece

William Dalrymple "State of the Union" styled essay on Pakistan:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2148164,00.html

NPR's review of a new book called "Indian Summer" on the dramatic unfolding (including Nehru-Edwina affair) of 1947:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12445972

How Nusrat's music unified two cultures:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12801007

Monday, August 13, 2007

Chak De - worth your time and money

Unlike Politics, sports give you a license to be irrational and support your team to the core. It's perfectly acceptable if you hate the opposing team and bully them with platitudes. As a supporter, you can be blind to the opposing team's strengths and weaknesses and cheer your team for all its fallibility. In a tradition (by that i mean, Bollywood) where its acceptable to paint the Goras of Lagaan as darkest devils possible or even all Pakistanis under terrorist masks, Chak De picks on an introspective note. It correctly identifies many of the problems associated with Indian team playing psychic. It starts with problems related to identity, multi-culturality and multi-linguality, continues with star-performer-takes-all mentality to basics of team playing before even starting to play any hockey. It then takes on more complicated issues of gender, equality and self-respect and does a fairly good job at dissecting them. The tone however remains observational/by-stander instead of getting preachy.

Shahrukh Khan, for the most part, remains the coach and not the Badshaah of sugar spilled Bollywood. Thankfully, little back stories for all characters, even Shahrukh Khan. No lady-love dying, taking death bed promises from him, no Ki-Ki-Kiran business (you know, how those line of stories can spiral). Cinematography is top notch with some professional sports cameramen expertise. Music is fairly good. Some of the dialogues are very well written with pages of unspoken footnotes. Casting is not bad, but could have been better. Overall, the movie respects your time and money.

Recommended.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Pilani, Goa or Hyderabad?

Birla Institute of Technology and Science, one of India's premier technical universities is adding new campuses. They have three campuses in India now: Pilani, Goa and Hyderabad.

Here's a question: If you had to put your money on one of these campuses, which one would it be? I would definitely go with Hyderabad. The city has a vast establishment of premier central government research establishments like Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT), Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), Nuclear Fuel Complex (NFC), National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) etc etc. It is surprising there is no IIT (yet) in Hyderabad to leverage the enormous research potential of the city.

BITS should the seize the moment to collaborate and build effective research programs in such disciplines which have been fairly unconventional for India's academic establishment.

Which campus should students go for? To answer this question it helps to understand Pilani's geography. Pilani is well isolated from urban civilization with nearest cities Delhi and Jaipur at a distance of 200kms, making it an Archipelago. Generations of Pilani-BITSians pass on their wisdom of entertaining themselves to the younger ones making Pilani a unique cultural experience. But this has come at a cost. An arduous and bumpy road trip is not very appealing to collaborators, researchers, recruiters etc etc. Hyderabad's location advantage scores heavily over Pilani's geographical isolation. Hyderabad campus can turn out to be very competitive with Pilani campus over the years. What about Goa ? Well, a party school with a beach in 10 blocks? India's hard-working and aspiring students may pass on that.