Matters of the Art

This morning as I was just about cranking my office apparatus to a slow usual start, among other things I read a couple of excellent articles which in turn gave me something I thought I would share. The first article was about how what we perceive (or not) as art is dependent on in which setting we found it. Let me come back to it shortly. The second article was about why authors like Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Brown are bestselling and the whole problem with a lot of popular non-fiction particularly the Gladwell type (Dan Brown writes fiction but with similar tools). Do read it here.
So the art and setting thingy. The article I read tells about an experiment by The Washington Post where they asked an acclaimed, Grammy winning violinist, Joshua Bell, to pose as a busker (a person who performs on street for people for money they might give him) at a Washington DC subway station. He performed the same piece he did the previous day at a concert where the entry ticket was more than 100 dollars per person. A hidden camera captured his complete subway performance. He managed to collect a total of 32 dollars from about 7 people who stopped and listened to him playing. 1097 people passed him by in total. Only 1 recognized him. Amazing isn’t it?
The article also mentioned a similar story of a graffiti artist known as Banksy, who set up a small vendor stall in New York for one day. The stall, manned by an unknown elderly man, sold his original signed work for 60 dollars per piece. He managed to sell a total of 8 of his artwork for 240 dollars (yea, 8 pieces 60 dollars apiece should be 480, but it seems some people haggled and got some bargain!!) Banksy’s original work goes for thousands of dollars, if it could be sold at all that is, because he paints on public walls. Banksy is a graffiti artist. A stencil graffiti artist to be specific. Graffiti is basically any drawing, writing or painting, usually done illicitly, in a public place. Banksy uses stencil, which is a design cut on a paper, metal etc…oh c’mon you know what stencil is, don’t you. So he uses stencil. But why is he such a big name? Well, his work is beautiful. His work is witty. But most importantly, his work is satirical social commentary. His work make strong social and political statements; art with a purpose, if you crave some cliché. His work can be found on walls all over the world. And to add to this, his identity is secret. Nobody knows who Banksy is really (well a couple of journalists know, who interviewed him (but they are nobody. LOL. Now that is a hilarious extempore joke :D)). I strongly urge you to go and visit his website, here. But as the ‘clicks’ history on my blog dashboard tells me, I know most of you would not, so let me show you some of his artwork below.

banksy ghetto

banksy graffiti crime

Banksy mouse
I love his brilliant use of situation. Like here, a perfectly placed mouse and a little wood dust give the illusion that the mouse toppled the oppressive signboard.

What the article tried to convey was, how appreciation of art is not an absolute, to us. People were propmt to appreciate the violinist when they were told that he is tremendous and paid $100 for it. I am sure, a lot of them went home impressed. But when the others heard him perform for free and in an untidy setting, they did not really care. Of course there were other factors too but this fact still remains. Similarly, people of New York could not appreciate the art of Banksy while it was available on a park stall. And it is all the more ironical because Banksy’s hides his identity, according to him, so that his work matter, not his face, so his art should have mattered.
And this is something which has divided opinions forever. What constitutes art?
Consider this below piece for example:

Black circle
Black Circle by Kazimir Malevich. Oil on canvas. 1915

Modern art was a long time mystery to me. Not all of course, but things like this:

Snail matisse
The Snail by Henri Matisse. Gouache on paper. 1953.

I mean, I do not really find the black circle and this colorful piece here particularly repulsive, but why should they be interesting to anybody, always irritated me. Particulary if such work is celebrated. Pablo Picasso is perhaps the greatest example of this. He is widely known to be a genius artist. But then I see something like this and I wonder, what is wrong with ‘me’:

Picasso Dora Maar
Dora Maar with Cat by Picasso. 1941. One of the world’s most expensive paintings.

I was reading an article about Picasso somewhere which first appeared in The Guardian. Towards the end, the article had this quote, a sort of confessional from Picasso. He said it while being interviewed by a writer Giovanni Papini.
Today, as you know, I am famous, I am rich. But when I am alone with myself, I haven’t the  courage to consider myself an artist in the ancient sense of the word. Great painters are people like Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, Goya. I am only a public entertainer who has understood the times and has exploited as best he could the imbecility, the vanity and the greed of his contemporaries. Mine is a bitter confession, more painful than might seem, but it has the merit of being sincere.”
This quote was like a vindication to all my long held theories. I said, yea I knew it all along sucker. I knew it.
Coming from The Guardian, I never suspected its authenticity. But I think the journalist did not really did the background check and this quote is almost certainly an invention of Papini. But the fact that I was so eager to believe it was a real eye opener for me. It was damn funny how I so wanted to believe that all modern art is fake. And the fact that a journalist made up that story and it has been believed as true by so many people, is in itself, saying a lot.

I am no longer such a non-believer, but that theory has a certain pull, and I am far from alone in this. Most people I have met do not really believe in abstract and modern art. I was reading ‘What is Art’ by Leo Tolstoy sometime back which I dropped for some reasons, but from what I remember, he was not particularly friendly. One voice inside me which distracts, asks the question that what is the purpose of a piece of art if people cannot appreciate it; enjoy it? I mean, if a painting is too vague to be understood or if somebody has to be told that the sound he heard just now was some kind of amazing music, then what is the point? But then, is it really the burden of the artist if his work is too profound for the majority of the world? Should he really water down his work just so a lot many can enjoy it? What about his personal sense of satisfaction? That makes me not give up.
Ok before I wrap up, enjoy this little battle between Banksy and another street artist King Robbo. Robbo had created a graffiti which Banksy later ‘added on’, and the battle ensued. Do see, here. I would have posted it here, but there are about ten pictures, too many.


Jaffna University helidrop

MI 8

Jaffna University Helidrop was a mission launched by the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) in Sri Lanka to capture the top leadership of LTTE, particularly Prabhakaran in 1987. I read about it a while back and found the mission interesting at many levels. First of all it was an Indian army mission in a non-native scenario, that is, they were not defending their motherland. Second, it was one of those incidents where an important person (Prabhakaran, here) escaped and had a huge impact on world history. Prabhakaran led the LTTE for 23 more years in one of the bloodiest civil wars in South East Asia. Had Prabhakaran been captured that October in 1987, the war would have taken a, well, different turn for he was an influential leader. Thirdly, it was one of those few missions I know about, which ended disastrously for Indian Armed Forces. Not only Prabhakaran and all of the other LTTE commanders escaped unharmed, the LTTE having prior information about the Indian Army’s operation, were ready, and as a result the Indian troops lost 35 of their brave soldiers while one was captured.

I was reminded of it when I recently saw Madras Café. I went to the theater hoping they would cover this incident in detail but the movie mentioned it for a few minutes and that too rather obliquely.

So Jaffna peninsula is the north most tip of Sri Lanka and Jaffna city is its capital. It was an LTTE stronghold. In the city is the Jaffna University whose campus was used by the LTTE as one of their headquarters in those days. Indian intelligence reports in October 1987 suggested that an LTTE meeting was to be held in the campus and Prabhakaran was to attend it together with some other top commanders. Decision was taken to use this opportunity to catch Prabhakaran and render the rebel movement directionless as the Indian forces planned an all-out offensive to disarm the LTTE. The plan was to drop troops through helicopters around and in the campus who would take Prabhakaran and others. The final plan was made. 120 commandos of the 10th Paracommando group and 360 troops from Sikh Light Infantry were to be heli-dropped in all. The helicopters were Mi-8s, each of which could carry 20 soldiers at a time. Mi-8s have the provision for fitting rocket pods, but it was either considered not necessary because Indians did not anticipate much ground resistance or to accommodate maximum human cargo. Either way, the helicopters were not fitted with rocket pods. 4 helicopters were designated for the mission, which were to fly in twos at a time: two helicopters at a time (2 Mi-8s at a time * 20 guys in each = 40 soldiers in each landing). It was a 4 min flight from helipad to the university. All the 120 paras were to be dropped first, with the infantry troops to follow in later flights. Also the first wave of the paras was tasked to mark the landing zone, so that the subsequent flights were easier.

But unknown to Indian Intelligence, the Tigers had prior knowledge of the impending raid, having intercepted Indian radio communication. The Tigers were heavily armed in anticipation of the Indian raid and the university was turned into a fortress. The Indians were to walk straight into a big ambush.

The Indians started the operation at the midnight of 11th October. The first 40 paras boarded the two helicopters and approached the drop zone observing complete black out. It seems that the LTTE missed this first insertion or were not sure of the direction of approach of the Mi-8s, and so, the troops disembarked unopposed. But the firefight started soon and the Mi-8s barely managed to take-off unharmed. Under heavy fire, the first paras could not mark the drop zone for the coming flights. The pilots of the second flight, when they approached the landing site, could see small arms fire and grenades on the ground but could not see the drop site, so they aborted their mission and their cargo of 40 paras did not disembark.

But the pilots of the original first flight returned to drop their second cargo, and they did it successfully, taking heavy damage to their helicopters in the process because by this time, the LTTE had a clear idea of where the aircraft were coming from and directed their firepower in the incoming Mi-8s’ direction. Now, there were 80 paras on ground instead of planned 120 and they were taking very heavy fire from the hostile LTTE. Meanwhile, the Indians made the decision to exchange one pilot each from the two flights so that two waves could be flown, because the latter two pilots could not identify the drop zone. This way, at least one pilot in both the two waves knew of the drop zone.

The third wave was to consist of 40 remaining paras and the first batch of 40 of the Light Infantry soldiers. But there was delay. Firstly, the soldiers of the Light Infantry not being trained for specialized heliborne operations, were not aware of the embarkation routine and hence were not assembled. Secondly, when they did assemble, they started loading huge boxes of ammunition in the aircraft. The Light Infantry troops, unlike the paras who carried their ammo and supplies on a Man-pack basis, carried their ammo in boxes. This loading of boxes not only caused further delay, it also reduced the carrying capacity of the helicopters from 20 to 15 persons each. Anyway, the third flight took off and managed to drop its cargo but not without more drama. While on drop zone, the paras were prompt in getting out and taking position, but there was confusion among the LI troops. They were freshly transferred to Jaffna from Gwalior and were not properly battle-inoculated. Sudden insertion into a hot battle field probably overwhelmed them. They forgot to unload their ammunition box and the helicopter had to spend more time than required on the ground to unload it. This caused the aircrafts to take extensive fire from LTTE rendering them incapable of further return flights. All the helicopters barely managed to return back but there were not to be any more flights. No more additional troops. The helicopters in very bad shape and the India commanders took the hard decision that no more sorties were to fly.

120 paras and 360 LI troops were to be inserted, as originally planned. While all the 120 paras were in position, only 30 of the 360 LI troops were inserted. With the situation in hand, it was time to decide the new course of action. The commanders on base decided that though the Indian troops were short, Prabhakaran was too high value a target. So the para commandos were instructed to carry out their plan of leaving the drop zone and searching for LTTE leaders while the LI soldiers were to hang back and hold the landing ground. Though it is highly debatable as to how the 20 odd remaining soldiers of the Li were supposed to hold the ground against a superior placed enemy but it seems the commander of the LI troops expressed willingness to do so in anticipation of further insertion of LI troops and by the time he came to know that no more drops were coming, the paras were already on their way to hunt for Prabhakaran. In any case, the 20-something Li troops were left on the drop zone holding off the LTTE while the paras moved forward to hunt for Prabhakaran.

Over the course of the search, the paras met a man who claimed to know the whereabouts of the LTTE leader. The man was in fact an LTTE sympathizer who misled the soldiers who soon lost their way. By the morning, the paras had retreated to couple of houses in the campus and fortified themselves.

Back at the base, with all radio contact gone and no word from the troops on ground, plans were being made to extract the troops. Three T-72 tanks and additional paras were tasked to bring the guys back. But the tanks could not make a lot of progress because the LTTE had laid mines on the ground. Then the tanks tried an alternate route through the railway lines which passed near the University campus, but as they fought their way through, they got bogged down by RPG fire and took some damage. Meanwhile, additional ground troops had managed to link up with the beleaguered commandos. They were rescued successfully. It was 18 hours since they landed at the campus the previous night. They had lost 6 of their men.

The fate of the Sikh LI troops was later reported by Sepoy Gora Singh who was taken prisoner by the LTTE and later released. He was the lone survivor. Greatly outnumbered against a largely hidden and well entrenched enemy, the soldiers of the LI gradually fell man by man. By 11:30 in the morning, the company was down to the last three members who, when they ran out of ammunition, attempted a bayonet charge. Two fell to gunfire while Sepoy Gora Singh was taken prisoner.

It was one of the most poignant battles fought by the Indian Army.

It is not conclusively known as to how close the LTTE leadership came to being captured that day, but some radio intercepts suggested that at one stage during the raid, Prabhakaran had sent ‘Goodbye’ message to other LTTE stations, telling that he may not get out of the battle. It was that close.

Superhero Business

Superhero cropped

I recently saw the promos of Krrish 3. Fabulous effects. The look of the movie is really world class. There was a line in the promo which said “An evil was being born, to rule the world”. Of course there is nothing wrong with the line. And this blog piece is not really about Krrish. That line just rekindled some old questions which led to some more and so on. The immediate question was, why would that evil want to rule the world? And who decided that it was an evil?

Really, the whole world?  Dharavi included? What about Dalai Lama and his disciples?

It just does not make any sense that anybody would want to do that, even if they could. If nothing else, total world domination by one individual (together with his bad army) would entail a host of logistical problems. But that is just one of the questions which comics (the medium which gave the world most if its superheroes) have been getting away with, for ages. The reason given being, and quite rightly so, because the comics are meant for kids, who can’t care less. When I started reading comics, I never really questioned why the Superhero so badly wanted to battle the bad guys. Why does it do nothing but battle the bad guys? I also never questioned why the Superheroes invariably wore a suit. Would it not be wise to wear some camouflage and not such bright colors like red, yellow, green and blue? Is it because they want to stand out in the crowd and be seen? Is it really a good combat practice to do so? Maybe they do want to be seen, to be seen as a symbol of Goodness, who is also strong and give out a message to the bad guys to stop their bad business because there will be consequences? But in that case, why do the superheroes also wear a mask? Why do they want to be seen, but not want their faces to be visible? Why do most of them continue to lead an alternative life, as a commoner? Why don’t they proudly tell the world that they are the Superheroes?

In comics, we really do not care. We just accept them as facts of comics’ life. Some city, similar to ours, but fictional, where unique things happen. Superheroes in suits fight exotic villains. They are their own self-contained world. We read comics and are entertained. That is all that matters. But it was all meant for the kids, for the young. Kids really are the biggest consumers of comics. And while it was for kids, it was fine.

Soon, Superhero movies followed. And for quite some time, they were aimed at the fans of comic books too. Basically, they were nothing more than a literal moving adaptation of the comics itself. And hence, these questions did not apply to them because they, like their parent comics, were not to be taken seriously.

But it did not take the movie makers long to realize the obvious. They realized that they really do not need to make exact movie replicas of the comic books. Movies were a different medium and they demanded a different telling of the stories, even if the stories themselves were old. Also the movies need not be aimed at the young only.

Spiderman(2002) was not the first movie which featured a superhero. But it was very different. The most important difference being, it was the first movie which strived to impress those audiences also who were not necessarily the readers of spider man comics. In short, it tried to stand on its own as a movie, not a superhero movie, not a comic book movie, just a movie. And most importantly, it was effective in doing that. It was a huge success, which showed that non-comics-readers also watched and liked it. In order to do so, it had to answer some of the questions I mentioned above. The movie managed to answer some of them well, others not quite so. For example, it tells us the evolution of spider man’s suit. Or why it has to lead a double life. These it manages to explain reasonably well. But it does not offer a great explanation to why the spider man wants to fight bad guys, I mean, he could have very well stopped after catching his grandfather’s killer.

But why do these questions matter at all? I mean, who gives a damn, right? Not quite.

I think these questions matter to any sincere, thinking director/production-house who is making a serious movie based on superheroes. And that is precisely what the directors are doing these days: they are making realistic superhero movies. And then, you cannot ignore these things. When Zack Snyder made ‘Man of Steel’ with Christopher Nolan producing, they had to remove the red briefs of Superman, because what would they have said to Steven Spielberg, when he asked about it? ‘Hey Zack, why is your hero wearing underwear on top’? They could not just say that the original comics had them so. Similarly, they gave some explanation for the ‘S’ mark on the chest of Superman, and it was not that S stood for Superman (They said it is not an S at all, it is a symbol which stands for Hope in Superman’s native planet). They would have removed it too, but it was just too vital for the superman character. They had to make these changes because the red briefs and a random initials-crest do not belong in the real world. In fact, this red brief is such an absurd feature of Superman that the previous superman movie, Superman Returns, though not courageous enough to do away with it altogether, showed very few shots where you can see the guy donning the brief. (For an amazing view on why Superman and other superheroes wore undies on top, see this). Even the name ‘Superman’ is not that great, and they make all the effort in both the movies to use the precise term.

But the one superhero adaptation which changed the face of superhero movies was Christopher Nolan’s Batman (series). Christopher Nolan is an absurdly intelligent director. And he made an extremely serious movie about a superhero which was aimed to impress mature audience. The movie was serious because it tried to be totally believable. I think it is no coincidence that it was a Batman movie. Batman, for various reasons, is a superhero who can exist in an everyday world. He does not really need a separate universe to exist. Batman’s strength is his great cardio, his will power and his amazing gadgets, through his money. A lot of guys could be Batman. Similarly Tony Stark and Ironman make a great movie superhero, because he is totally exist-able too. My point is, you can make a totally believable movie with these guys. And Nolan did a fabulous job at that. All three of his Batman movies won critical praise and broke box-office records. And he meticulously explained each and every known Batman fact, his beginning, his motive to fight guys, his motive to hide behind a mask, the motives of all its villains, everything. The result was three very compelling movies. They featured amazing action sequences and the unique hero-villain battles, which are central to any comic-book storytelling, but Nolan’s movies were much more than that. The action sequences were great; but it was really the story and the complexity of characters which found praise. The Joker is a great example of that. The problem with making a convincing superhero movie, or rather with retelling any famous story, is that your audiences know a lot of facts beforehand. Your success or failure depends on how well you can explain all those facts in a new way. And Nolan did a great job at that, with liberal help from Hans Zimmer’s music, I must add. 🙂

But this realistic portraying of Superheroes give rise to another whole set of inconsistencies. And they have nothing to do with the style of movie making; these are inherent qualities of comic book story-telling. For example, I was watching ‘The dark Knight Rises’ recently, and I suddenly realized that Bane, and The Joker previously, were deriving so much pleasure in fighting and defeating Batman, that I could not help but wonder if Batman gave rise to those nasty villains? I mean, both Bane and Joker were not really into killing or torturing people, they wanted to defeat Batman, because he was such a brilliant, grand good hero. It was like they were in there for the challenge. And innocent people were being hurt in the process. This was kind of self-defeating. Batman was giving rise to villains who were tormenting the people who Batman set out to protect in the first place. Would it not be better for the people of Gotham that Batman trained a super police force of sorts with his expertise and resources and that force protected the city of Gotham with batman as its strategic commander but not a central figure?

One huge problem with all of these stories is the culture of fist-fighting and over reliance on physical strength, in spite of all the amazing things happening around. In The Avengers, one guy turns into a big green monster, one guy can fly and shoot missiles, one guy is coming from an alien planet and all these super cool things, but they still fight each other with hands whenever they get a chance. I mean, who fights with their bare hands in today’s world? Armies all over the world aim at confronting their enemies from a distance and finishing the battle there. The problem is the scope of the battle. Loki is coming to subjugate the earth and he is starting with a city? Really? Why is he not magic bombing an entire nation? The fighting units of his army are so small in scope; I cannot be sure how he plans to conquer the entire world in this fashion. And remember that guy just came from an alien planet, so he must be resourceful. Problem is, how else would you portray an eye catching hero-villain showdown?

The scope of superheroes also is very inconsistent. Batman wants to fight crime so badly, but it never disturbs him that there are other cities in the country where crime rate is high too? He is just content fighting for his city mates? Don’t superheroes become disillusioned by crimes in other cities? What about other countries? Do they feel bad by the civil war scene in Africa? What about poverty and pollution and drugs? Don’t they feel a sense of futility when they are saving 50 people in a city by a super-villain while thousands died from hunger elsewhere in the world? Do they ever feel like joining the Red Cross or politics so that they can help more people? Don’t they realize that real villains do not necessarily fight or maybe not look villainous at all? I hope you are getting my point.

Amazingly, all of these questions don’t exist for comics; they are just comics after all. They rise with serious, realistic movie making.

So, what really makes a good Superhero movie?

I think, Hancock was a very good superhero concept. The movie was ok, but Hancock makes a good superhero. He has superpowers but that do not automatically motivate him to do good for people. In fact, he is a hopeless drunk, which is very plausible for a non-ageing, lonely person who is a freak. People do not really like him, for he does more destruction than good. But he comes around, with some help, and choses the right path. Then he becomes a hero. Superhero.

The About-7 Movie List

A few days back, a friend asked me to suggest him some movies to watch. Absolutely. But what kind? Whichever you like, he said. I was about to do that but then I thought maybe it was not such a great idea. I can safely say that I watch more movies than him and that is not even condescending. He has better things to do in life. So the movies I come to like the most, though not bad, do not always make for an ideal casual weekend-evening watch. Sometimes you just want movies that tell a good happy story, which, when they end, make you happily ask your partner to order a generously loaded pizza and she agrees, momentarily forgetting about your belly !! You know the kind I am talking about. They do good business but not always are blockbusters. They never really wow you but they always register their good intelligent work. The kind which when you come across while flipping movie channels, while having dinner, make you stop (not the dinner, the browsing), happily. Here is the list of my kind of that kind of movies. Hope you like it. And about the title, well, its an allusion to how such  movies almost invariably rate just around 7 on IMDb. And yeah, they always have some cool songs playing in their background 🙂 .

Here it goes.

The Devil Wears Prada

The devil wears Prada (2006): This comedy drama revolves around a powerful fashion magazine Editor and a young college graduate who gets a job as her co-assistant. It does not help that the young lady does not share the same enthusiasm for fashion as her boss does. The best thing about the movie is, of course, Meryl Streep, supported very ably by the beautiful Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt and Stanley Tucci. An urban comedy with interesting situations, this movie is smart but not too overtly so, which is a good thing really.

The rock

The Rock (1996): 90s was the decade of some of the most fabulous action movies ever. The rock is one of them. It is directed by Michael Bay (Transformers, Armageddon, Bad Boys) who, with all his corniness, does has an aptitude for telling gripping stories in a visually grand way. He is like a action version of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. So the Army General will have to say things like “Identify yourself”, to a person who he does not know, over a telephonic conversation, because Army generals compulsively talk that way isn’t it !! But it is a lots of fun anyway. The cast is indeed rock solid too: Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris and the great Sean Connery (who could not, for his life, pronounce the S sound, its always Sh. “I think I heard Shomeone”. “Shtupid Ashshhole”. I am sure his parents named him Sean with an ‘S’ initially. LOL). A great old action movie with a dab of humour.

The 40 yr ols virgn

The 40 year old virgin (2005): Steve Carell (The Office, Little Miss Sunshine, Get Smart) is such a masterclass at playing a likeable loser that its amazing. And he is funny as hell. He plays the guy the film’s title refers to. It is directed by Judd Apatow and has all the characteristics of the type of movies he is associated with: amazing buddy humour, lots of cultural references and hilarious support characters. The movie also features, of course, Seth Rogen (Knocked up, funny people), Paul Rudd (I love you Man, Role Models) and Romany Malco. One of my favourite movies.


American reunion (2012): Who isn’t a fan of the original American Pie (1999). It spawned many sequels but this 2012 sequel was something else. For one, it managed to bring the whole cast back, including both of the MILF guys. It was really nostalgic to see all of them back in the original setting. It was like watching some of your friends after a decade and everybody is grown up and all. If you are fond of the original movie, as i am, do watch this, even if, for just the nostalgic value.


Invincible (2006): Invincible tells the (real life) story of Vince Papale, who went from being a 30 year old bartender to playing pro American Football for Philadelphia Eagles. For comparison, it is like if a Big Bazar bill desk employee got to play for the Delhi Daredevils in IPL, for two seasons. Mark Wahlberg (The Departed, The Italian Job) plays Papale. Like all good sports movies, it inspires and makes you feel like going for a run the next morning. And that awesome song which plays during one of those match scenes is Ted Nugent’s ‘Stranglehold’, download that too, super good guitar song.


Knocked up (2007): The second Judd Apatow movie on this list, this movie is a romantic comedy about a slacker who gets a career oriented girl pregnant after a drunken one night stand. The movie features Seth Rogen and the beautiful Katherine Heigl (Grey’s Anatomy, 27 Dresses) who are excellent. This was the first time i saw Rogen and I am a fan since. As always, there is a superb support cast, Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill (Superbad), Jason Segel (How I met Your Mother).
This movie is smart, super funny and very endearing.

A Few Good Men

A few good men (1992):  One of my all time favourites, this movie is a court martial drama featuring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, both of whom received Best Actor nominations for this movie. Because that’s what they did, acted brilliantly. I can’t stress enough how good Jack Nicholson is. It has a riveting story and is extremely well made courtroom drama. But the best part is, how this movie takes you along with the case it depicts, makes you understand the various characters and the believability of an improbable end. Brilliant.


Match Point (2005): Match Point is a Woody Allen movie but is unlike any of his typical movies. It is a thriller, for one. It is also a movie where, as Roger Ebert observed, every character is rotten. That’s a brilliant analysis for this movie and the reason why this movie is brilliant too. This movie deals with the themes of deceit, infidelity, money and luck. It stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Bend it like Beckham) and Scarlett Johansson, who is tailor made to play girls who betray. Meyers is well cast too. This movie is brilliantly dark and its interesting to see which rotten character you side with.

Shoot ’em up

Shoot ’em up (2007): This movie is sick funny. This movie is audaciously violent and stupendous fun. This movie is like from Mercury, always hot and going too fast. I don’t really know how to describe it really. Let me try nonetheless. Suppose Mithun of old, approached Tarantino to create a movie for South Indian audience, this is what he would get. It stars Clive Owen(Closer, King Arthur) and Paul Giamatti (Cinderella Man) and both are brilliant beyond words. Shoot em up is a super violent action movie with a wicked sense of humour. Its so outrageously improbable that you cannot help but wonder at its genius. I love this movie. Watch it with an open mind, and you shall be rewarded. And that guy in the picture above has a carrot in hand: not accidental.


Horrible Bosses (2011) : When a movie has such a brilliant cast as Kevin Spacey (American Beauty), Jennifer Aniston (Friends), Jamie Foxx (Ray, Django Unchained), Colin Farrell (Minority Report, Alexander) and Jason Bateman (Hancock, Arrested Development), it is reason enough to give it a watch. But when someone else outshines these guys in the same movie, well, then it becomes a must watch. Charlie Day is that guy. Very earnestly funny. The movie is comedy about three friends who are fed up with their respective bosses and want some revenge and hire a hitman to do the job. Brilliantly comic due to its talented actors, this movie is very entertaining.

Lootera: Review


I almost did not watch this movie. I am not a great fan of Ranveer Singh, and the trailers themselves were so uninspiring. This makes one remember how important are promos for a film, particularly in how they are supposed to give you the flavors and more importantly, the strengths of the actual movie. Here they did not. I went to the theater expecting a love story with some gun shots at the end against the backdrop of Bengal with the picnic scenes ripped off from Chokher Bali (unless it was typical of the Bengalis of the yore to picnic in their tree gardens and exchange glances). It all was there, but there was much more this movie, had to offer, was all about.

For starters, the makers chose Bengal. There is something about the place which imparts gravity to any work which is based there. Bengal, I think, still stands for culture, its natural beauty, its adorable language and its utter stubbornness to change. The movie makes great use of all of this. It is beautiful to look at. But that is not a lot to say, is it? A beautiful movie has got to be backed up by performances. It is.

It was really sincere, the movie. It did not overtly try to be a period drama, or a bengali film, or a heist movie, or a love story or anything for that matter, and in the process became all of it. It just told its story, if I might add, on the shoulders of Sonakshi Sinha, who is in such top effortless form that it was an absolute pleasure to watch her. Right from the scene where she takes her hands off the car wheels and takes for granted her driver would take the blame, to spilling coffee on the cocky guest, to setting up the art classes to regularly meet the guy and ends up teaching (the whole leaf drawing episode was hilariously sweet), to expressing her sadness and then the anger, particularly the anger, upon realizing that her love might be lost. She is amazing and here it only helps that she speaks with a little Bhojpuri touch. And she was so in character though in through. I could point out at least three occasions when she was not in focus and still carried the same intensity. The first half was so amazingly flawless that I was wondering how are they going to keep up in the second, or were they going to mess it up.

Another character who made an unassuming but sure mark was the gentle Zamindar, played by Mr Barun Chanda. I had never seen him before and he was absolutely a treat to watch. He was calm in his portrayal of a man of means, trusting  and warm and you could feel for him when he was betrayed. I wish we see him more often.

The background score (especially just before the intermission) was another aptly placed winner of the movie. It was spot on. The songs are good too. And they were not sung, on screen, thankfully.

Ranveer SIngh. I thought he was miscast, before I saw the movie. And he just barely made his grade. He was not bad, of course. I think, he is an extremely hard working guy but his fusion with Anushka Sharma has left such an indelible (north Indian, quick speaking) mark on him that it must be hard for him to speak like a man from Darbhanga. So the director just said “Speak as flat as you can, Ranveer.” And he did just that. There is one more character, played by Vikrant Massey, who is Ranveer’s friend and accomplice, a position so almost absolutely reserved for Aditya Roy Kapur, that I actually saw Kapur when the character walked in. LOL

And lastly the curious case of The Last Leaf. I realized it about halfway through the second half when SInha writes about it. It was kind of nice to remember a story you read (Read for Pleasure, I think) in school all of a sudden. I could not remember the author of course and promptly tried to spoil the suspense for my partner who was watching the movie with me. But looking back, it was a  little funny how the filmmakers actually accommodated the inspiration from the short story, starting from the Art Class episode of the first half and the totally random desire by the protagonist to someday draw a masterpiece.

But you know what, I loved the movie. And I strongly urge you to pay a visit. I fought my desire to write a review for almost two days, and it still got the better of me. The movie is that good.

PS: I almost forgot one of the things which made me smile. The use of third person between the girl and the guy while they talk about themselves in matters of love. Absolutely masterclass !!

Zombie Tongue


This is about Zombies, in real life.

World War Z released recently, to rather positive reviews. I could not watch it. Not like it was too intense or something, but like I could not go to the theatre to see it. World War Z is based on a novel by Max Brooks, who also wrote ‘The Zombie Survival Guide’, the name of which should incline at least some of you to conclude, inspired the movie ‘Zombieland’. It did not. But Zombieland I did watch, and liked. While at it, I would also like to mention ‘Shaun of the Dead’, which is a great zombie movie, the enjoyment of which, for me, was slightly hampered by, something I think should have a separate term for, but till I am aware of it, I like to call, retrodam. I had seen ‘Hot Fuzz’ first, and then Shaun of the Dead felt, still quite enjoyable though, not that epic. But it was totally due to the cinematic pattern, not the Zombie theme. I also saw, our Indian attempt, ‘Go Goa Gone’ which promised so much but turned out to be, as a friend said, a movie whose all the good parts were already covered in its trailer. Anyway, so World War Z released recently, and I was reading its reviews and stumbled on a news item about some real Zombies which roam the animal kingdom. And one of them blew my mind.

So there is a something called ‘Cymothoa exigua’, which is a parasite and a type of arthropod. Arthropods are basically invertebrates with an external skeleton. Crabs, lobsters, shrimps etcetera are some of the arthropods.  It looks not very different from the regular insects really. I don’t know how many of you drew a leech in your biology class, but it looks similar to what we (I) managed to draw, just a little more animated and not that long. Just Google it. Female Cymothoa exigua are the longer ones and reach a size of around an inch and a width of half an inch.  These guys prey on poor little fish. These little buggers enter fish through its gills, attach themselves to the base of fish’s tongue and help themselves with some fish tongue blood till the tongue is dead due to lack of blood. The dead tongue then falls off. This parasite, then attaches itself to the muscles of the remains of the tongue and start acting like a tongue itself!!! The most wonderful part about this whole project is that the fish actually starts using the parasite as its regular tongue; the poor thing doesn’t even know the difference. God damn. The parasite then shifts its diet from blood to some yummy fish mucus. Easy. Both the host fish and the parasite go on to lead their normal lives, together.

Some guys who bought such a host fish from a supermarket with the bug inside, sued the supermarket for having gotten more than they paid for, but the court said ‘Overruled’ because, it seems, they pose no danger to humans and are actually eaten by some.

Here is a picture. I did not want to spoil your fun by posting it here. DO see it.

And now if all you got from this story, is the question that how this Crustacean Fish thing is similar to the types of Zombies you see in movies, and not really appreciate the awesomeness of this whole phenomenon…..You got some real life juice deficiency my friend.

The Monsoon Article

Let me set the tone for this one: I hate Rains in Mumbai. I have been thinking of writing this ‘How I f’king hate the rains in Mumbai’, for three years of the six I have lived here. So why am I actually writing it this time? I think it’s because rain did not soft land this year, which, if the term can be applied to it, which I think it could be in a relative way, is the way with most villainous seasons of any place: they start mildly, gradually  increasing in intensity and then unleashing their full fury. Rains this year, sucker punched me. I was doing the usual, planning to buy my rain-special lace-less shoes, trying to locate my umbrella, chalking out my strategy as to how and what will I carry with me to office, so that the collateral damage can be minimized, you know, rain spray dirtied bags and stuff. The rains were supposedly still a week away. There were clouds in the sky, but they didn’t look like coming down. And then suddenly, one day, without warning, it started. And did not stop. That day, I was in not at my usual office but at a place from where transport is not easy to find, even on a regular day. It was nearing my would-leave-for-the-day time and I could see the skies getting dark. It was the kind of dark which you don’t like ever, I can’t think of a time I like that kind of dark skies, invariably gloomy. And soon enough, the heavens broke loose. It was not the kind of downpour which shoots and scoots. Mumbai rains have this amazing quality of maintaining insanely protracted quantity. These are not the cute Katni style rains which pour down with lot of sound and then after 7 minutes, are gone. Mumbai rains hit first, hit hard and keep on hitting. But on the very first day of the monsoon??? God damn it. The lady who I was sharing the auto with, while my time at this non regular office, had a baby waiting for her at home, and generally people don’t give a shit, so she was ready to go, like nothing was out of the ordinary outside. But I could see the long wait for the auto in rain, shoes and the trousers getting wet and dirty with mud. My Shoes. F’k. I had my dear canvas, suede, leather having adidas shoes on; it was Friday for god’s sake. The first monsoon f’k on the very first day of the monsoon and that too on a Friday? What were the odds? How the fuschia was I supposed to clean my precious shoes?  But I couldn’t be a pussy and wait it out, it wasn’t going to wane anyway, it was my moment of screw. We got an auto but it insisted we take the long route, what magnificent bitches these cunt autos become in rain warrants another separate rant-athon, so I would not elaborate on that here, and we obliged. 1 hour and 30 minutes later, I reached home. Sprayed on the face, trousers dripping and a long bath session lurking ahead.  I had to write this article. But. But I did not write it that night. It was too late till I washed off my battle scars. I wrote it 2 days later, when another rain-r@pe descended on me and this time I was just coming to office, my day was just about to start. Some office work was about to be manhandled because I had to write this article.

But why exactly I hate the rain here in Mumbai? Doesn’t everybody love it? Not just rain in general, but Mumbai rain? You ask people what they love about Mumbai and they would say “Rain”, and vada pav, which is another overrated item of food but that’s ok. Girls seem to get wet being in rain and I am not just talking about being drenched. But I don’t think I am overreacting here. I, and I think everybody should, have good reasons to hate it.

What are those?

As follows:

Vehicle showers: I didn’t know they even existed before coming here. They happen when the tyres of fast-moving vehicles, throw tangential streams of water owing to their threads and grooves. These little streams of water hit the mud-flap or any adjoining hard surface and break down in this fine barber’s water spray like spray which clouds the tyres and trails as the vehicle surges ahead.

                                               Rain jet

 It travels far and wide and gets sucked in the auto you are travelling in, because autos are what you can afford daily. That is the water from a bloody tyre!! And I didn’t even use Bloody as an expletive here; it really could be bloody. Run over snake, mouse, cat, dog…Human. Shit, diapers, that tea brown mud you saw back there. Damn. And it sprayed the wash right on your face. And you know what, getting your face dirtied is not even the worst part. This shit cloud gets in your ears, a place you can’t even wash with much soap, and even water. That’s the ear where you would later insert your finger in and give a nice little shake and feel good, and get that shit mix out on the finger tip. Eat it.

So why won’t you take the bus instead, if your daily destination does not fall on a local train route? Buses in Mumbai are so convenient, available everywhere. I am sure that should be the solution. Right? Wrong. I will tell you the story of my moment of awakening.

That was one of my first days in Mumbai monsoon. I used to take my office bus for commuting and I missed it one day. Sure enough, there were BEST buses to take me home. I hopped on one. I got a window seat and was happily looking out. BEST buses are good buses, not gloomy at all, so, as long as, the person in front of you is not spitting and the obliging wind not bringing it to your face, it’s all lovely in a BEST bus. It had just stopped raining a few minutes back and the roads were slightly over-wet, the state of being more than just wet, with a thin little film of water still on. But it was absolutely not raining. And just so I learn my lesson early and permanently, I was wearing a plain white shirt. A few minutes later I realized I had tiny brown spots on my sleeves. I was flabbergasted. Where the f’k from man? I was too high up for regular Vehicle showers, and anyway the traffic was not moving that fast. Suddenly I noticed tiny suspended water particles in air. There was no other vehicle nearby. It was my own dear bus!!! I was getting friendly-sniped by my own bus. The vehicle shower of my own bus was rising and staining my shirt. It was one of the most heart-breaking realizations I had, ever. It was so unfair. It was like getting shouted on by your own Dad when you got beat up in a fight you did not start and was just passing by. Why I had to know this grimy fact when so many others were happily oblivious to it? I was never to be the same happy me on a bus in Monsoon again.  As soon as the rain starts, I slide close my bus window and hope that he guy in front of me shares at least half of my rain-apprehension and keep his closed too.

But, you know what, buses are still the best way of transport in rains, second only to private cabs, but there is absolutely no fare comparison, so buses win hands down. Buses are spacious, frequent and save you from the world, you are so high up, and so cheap. But that’s why they are so crowded too, but then comes the champion: your office bus. It covers the maximum distance between your office and home, is inhabited by people just like you, you are guaranteed a seat almost every time, and you can doze off!! After having spent nearly five years commuting an average of 2.5 hours daily, I have come to the conclusion that the best you can utilize the commute time is by sleeping.

The auto inverted V-zone: But office buses would not take you elsewhere and it is the service of Autos that you invariably would fall back to. Now, autos are never safe. You always run the risk of tasting the paan the auto-driver is relishing via the spit-volleys. It seems like they spit out of boredom, I don’t know. There is no sane reason to spit so much. Only sportsmen come close to as much spitting. But that’s ok, you can always ask them not to. But the auto V zone, you can’t do anything about it.

It’s the inverted v shaped jet autos tyres expel in their wake. It’s amazing, because I rarely saw it form under any other type of vehicles’ tyres. Other vehicles seem to emit straight jets which just annoy the biker behind them. Not the autos. They spread it V-wise. I don’t know, maybe it’s the small size or the threads, but it’s amazing nonetheless. And it does the maximum damage to its other auto siblings.

The autos, during the monsoons, are generally fitted with plastic flaps to save the passengers from water. So the only open sides are diagonal to the passenger. You sit almost at the vertex. And it’s through this direction, those jets of inverted V variety hit you. It is beautiful in its execution. You get f’ked but you can appreciate the beauty of it all.

                                  Inverted V revised

In absence of transport, you are bound to be at home, which, honestly, I don’t mind at all. But you can’t be home all FIVE months of Mumbai monsoon now, could you?

But who am I kidding? Aren’t Rains, if somewhat gloomy, just the most beautiful? I don’t think the world is so wrong after all.  They stir up emotions like no other season.  I think it just has a lot of character, the rain. That’s why we respond so strongly to it. It takes you through such highs and lows. I have always been a lover of extreme weathers; the blazing hot summers and finger numbing chilly winters. The kind of weathers, which, overwhelm you so much with their, seemingly, prolonged presence, that you wish them to end and still, when they are gone, you look back, and, remember just the good bits, forgetting the nails, which, ironically, made the good bits good.    I think it’s my turn with the monsoons now.

And they make such a good photographer out of you!      

Caught a lightning strike !!
Caught a lightning strike !!