Here and There and This and That: Ads I can’t stand

There are two things on TV which vie for the most irritating tag for me these days. And the news channels are losing to the advertisements. Only slightly though, but losing. And for something which you are supposed to tolerate every 15 minutes, making a (aesthetically) bad advertisement should be a criminal offence. Sadly, it isn’t. Let me share a few which really get on my nerves these days.

So there is this new Airtel ad which makes me shudder more, every new day I watch it. It is the My Plan ad. Airtel basically has this new flexible plan which anybody can customize according to their usage requirements. So they have this ad, where they show different individuals interacting with their cellphones in different ways. This is, of course, to show how we all use our phones differently, and hence our data/call plans should be according to our needs. The video is shot in slow motion. Why? Probably because the ad wishes to be BIG. It wants to make an impact (crater). And like filmmakers who slo-mo certain parts of their visual pieces to emphasize those parts, these guys shot this ad in slow motion. And since every single bit of this ad is important, well, the whole of it is in slo-mo. But that’s ok really, it is shot well. I really have no issues with the video of the ad, apart from this guy whose unique expression I cannot stand any longer. I could not figure out any song, which would induce this (below) smile with eye-brows smugness in me.

Image
Cool song enjoyer in an albino Dhoom 3 hat

But the video is alright. The music is good. It has 30 seconds to Mars kind of feel to it. And it carries forward the visual’s endeavor to impart the ad a grand setting. It is one of those songs which start slow and the beats progressively get stronger and reverberating and the vocals get ‘scream-ier’. Anthem rock, if there is any. Then there is the conclusion: a firm female voice which takes over from song-vocals to deliver the message. The message, keeping in with the Grand theme, is very brief.

And emphatic.

And stops suddenly.

To stun the audience into awesomeness.

And it would have been an awesome ad but on my third viewing of it, I paid attention to the lyrics. And it blew my inner-ear-fluid-balance thing. The lyrics just did not match the Grand overalls. It was like Sachin holing out to McGrath in the world cup finals chasing 360, in the very first over. It goes something like this:

(The singer starts in his most grunge-growling voice)-

(Slow) ♫ We’re all so different. ♫  (with the TH of differen-th so pronounced, I am sure he looked away from the mic, still holding it, for a sec, in the style of those rockers who deliver a great first line, and draw breath for the next, because the first was so amazing and took such an emotional and physical toll on them)

(And belts this legendary line) ♫ That’s how it should be. ♫(That’s how it should be?? Why do I need this random lame reassurance?)

(Vocals gaining momentum, gradually) ♫ Love, hate, fear and joy. Emotional fingerprints. ♫ (Profound.)

(Towards the crescendo now)♫ Coz I am not you and you are not me. ♫

(And the feverish, heart pounding repeat of the last line) ♫ Coz Aiyaa am not you and you are not me. ♫

(And the lady takes over) Each one of us uses our phones differently. That’s why, MY PLAN. The first ever postpaid plan, that’s created by me, FOR ME.

END. DAMN. Or as a dear friend of mine would have said: Ae Dhishum.

And that ‘Created by Me, FOR ME’ line trod so closely to Lincoln’s “(Government) of the people, by the people, for the people, I cringed. I think one should steer clear of lines which sound like other famous lines. It is hard to make people believe that you were not inspired.

But the real disaster for me was the quasi-big lyrics. How many great ads do you remember which use background songs which actually say what the product is all about. Hint: not a lot. And not only does this Airtel ad almost does that, it has to insert such a lame filler line in between: That’s how it should be. And to follow it up with such brilliant lines like Coz I am not you and you are not me. It is like Ravi Shastri’s commentary.
Watch the airtel ad here.

Another ad which annoys me a great deal with its substandard writing is the Micromax ad featuring Hugh Jackman. I mean, why would somebody spend big bucks on a Hollywood star and then employ a buffoon for a writer (maybe that is the reason. No money left.). This ad has Hugh Jackman opening with a line

“People have heroes..”.

Who messes up a promising opening line like that? You invariably expect something amazing following ‘People have heroes’. But what he says next is:

“… I found mine in a circus. A Juggler.”

Ok, hmm, well, what, in a circus? A juggler? Really, Hugh Jackman? Mind you, he is playing himself in this ad. He then proceeds to tell us that he, too,  is a juggler now, thanks to his cellphone. How? He juggles the many lives of Hugh Jackman through the services of his Micromax CANvas turbo, which can multitask! So Hugh Jackman got this new phone and suddenly he was what he wanted to be all his life: Juggler? The problem is really the small scope of the product. It is a smart phone with a decent processor, that’s all. No big deal. But the brand wants to get big. So it hires a big star, but since they just have an ordinary feature to highlight, they write a script around it which is equally pathetic. What are the many lives of Jackman?

“Friends, work, my passions” (nausea).

And then they keep emphasizing their CAN (taken from CANvas). CAN do this, CAN do that, CAN juggle many lives. Somebody needs to tell them to get rid of that.

Watch the Micromax ad here.

There was this Samsung tab 2 ad which had a jingle like this:

♫ “Anything that’s making news, funny videos on youtube..

♫At the café with angry birds, all the news I read it first..

♫Making calls from everywhere, play cool (..) games anywhere..

♫.

♫.

♫Reading mails from my boss, downloading files from Dropbox,

♫Here and there and this and that…on the go with my tab”

Watch the ad here.

As if it was not enough that they actually had to list everything their tablet could do, they sang it too. And if these guys could not write a few lines without resorting to using fillers like ‘that’s how it should be’ and ‘here and there and this and that’, why are they writing at all? Why do not they just pay up a little and use a real song, or hire a better writer instead? I am sure they do not really care, because they use the logic that the primary aim of an ad is not to look or sound good; it is to sell stuff, as their shield. Even then, would it hurt if they tried a little harder to dish out something more presentable?

But there are so many ads which do such an amazing job with their songs. Below are two which…wait a min, I guess I would write a separate piece celebrating the good ones. Later.

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.

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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.

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Invincible

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The case for UFC : Part 2

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(from Wizard of ID)

(I hope you have read part 1 of this article. )

Was I really too violent to be designing toys and games? Should the kids, who we do not want to grow up into violent human beings, be shielded from toy guns and bows and arrow? Does playing Grand Theft Auto really make you want to run those b!tches over? I am not sure. Personally, I do not agree. The experts are divided.

I loved guns when I was a kid (RIP my dear red Thompson Leo gun). I loved imagining my toy cars making the most daring jumps and impossible drifts, with the liberal eeehhhee hheeehhee schreeeech sounds, suggesting tyre burnout. I monstrously impaled the mango tree in my backyard with sharpened broom sticks which were the arrows of my rubber band powered bow (of course I duly put it to my forehead to equip it with magical powers a la Ramayan and Mahabharat). I still remember my disappointment when I did not see an ‘Action’ or ‘Stunts’ credit before the start of the Sunday evening movies. I think I speak on behalf of a lot of guys.

Then, entered Nagraj, Super Commando Dhruv and a host of others. These comics were gory, bloody and super-violent. And we loved them. That was also the time of rise, at least in my part of the world, of the modern-day menace, video games. The earliest I played

The epic 'Ek Katora Khoon' cover
For Kids !! (The epic ‘Ek Katora Khoon’ cover)

were Mario, Pacman, Mortal Combat and Contra. All included, with varied levels of seriousness, concepts of destruction, death and violence. I did not pick on my juniors and feebler classmates any more than usual the day after. The two greatest Hindu festivals, Diwali and Holi, fill up the markets with, isn’t it fabulous, (toy) Guns, to fire the little paper crackers or spraying colored water. Our scriptures are replete with descriptions of bloody battles. Our gods invariably brandish weapons, and most often than not, they kill the ‘bad’ guys; never reform them or anything. And for all of this, we are not even the violent-most people around.

So I think I have every right to not consider myself an especially violent person. I mean, I could be, but a little story is too little evidence to brand me violent isn’t it? Some of the most interesting short stories I read were from Roald Dahl who wrote extensively for children but whose adult stories were really dark.

And I do not enjoy the Hostel series of movies or that genre in general. Just saying. I find them tasteless.

But how do you explain the above then? I mean, if we do not like or practice violence, why do we relish all such activities which include blowing things up, or throwing stuff, or making disorder out of order? Because, I think, these activities and violence are not really so tightly related. Sometimes violence may manifest itself through these but largely they are just pure innocent child like fun. We, as children, have not so subtle tastes. Everything has to be really amped up to be good.  The crackers should make the loudest noise, the candy has to be annoyingly sweet, and the cartoon character should fall on its head and get flat like dough or crumple up like paper. The good guy should thrash the baddies to hell and beyond. It is all just fun and that is why we liked it as kids. And as grown-ups too, just wee bit subtler.

So what about violence IN AND AS sports? The Martial Sports. Combat sports. They must be the coolest things right? I mean guys are fighting as sport. What could be cooler? Umm, not quite.  Championships of Judo, Karate, wrestling and boxing have been around for years. Only boxing found some favor. In fact, it still is the most watched combat sport in the world but in India it is a weak first among other combat sports. The last boxing I watched was when Mike Tyson was around. But more often than not, I found it a bit of a non-action due to a lot of holding. Boxers would jab a bit and then hug each other to catch breath or to defend themselves. Of course, I was a kid. I hardly knew any boxers and was almost totally unaware of the other weight-class boxers apart from heavyweights (for obvious reasons, lighter weight classes have more fast paced action and action of any sort in general). In short, boxing never really caught on. But the main problem and one which really made the action of combat sports, if I might use the word here, bore, was an overabundance of rules. Boxing had to be fought like boxing, judo like judo and grappling like grappling. Wouldn’t it be great if all of it was thrown in the mix, the freedom to use whichever style you want? And more interestingly, to see who wins when a boxer fights a Judoka or a wrestler takes on a kick boxer?

  WWE seemed to be the answer. WWE, or WWF as it was called back then, was immensely popular. Is in fact. Amusingly, it was not through WWF shows that I became a fan. It was through the WWF card game where we compared fighters’ biceps, wins, fights fought etcetera and the stories about it from my class mates. The card games and the fabulous stories got me very interested in WWF. (If you too watched WWF in the 90s, this link will surely find some favor with you)

Finally I saw WWF and was mildly disappointed because it was easy to judge that they were not fighting for real. And I was astonished to see how many of my friends did not seem to accept this at all. The simplest thing man, why on earth anybody would wear long hairs in an all-out no rules brawl, when they could be the easiest thing for your adversary to grab? The lack of complete replays, the lame kicks and backhanded slaps, the extraordinary ability of fighters to just rise up even after punched in face brutally, really lot many ways to tell. But then it dawned on me that it was not really meant to showcase sports in the first place. It is meant for entertainment and that it provided aplenty. Then I could appreciate the hard work of those guys, their daring stunts, amusing storylines, and of course Stacey Keibler

But would not it be great, if WWE was real?

And God heard me. I saw UFC. And interestingly, it was one of the WWE superstars who acted as a link. I was just flipping channels when I saw Brock Lesnar on Sony Six (Sony Six broadcasts UFC in India). But it was not WWE because that is on Ten Sports and anyway Lesnar was not in a WWE ring. He was in an Octagon, fighting Shane Carwin for UFC heavyweight championship, which, I learnt, Lesnar was defending.

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The program duly built up the fight. I heard a guy (Dana White, I later learned) say “Carwin is a beast. Whatever he touches, drops”. Carwin was undefeated and he had finished (not killed LOL, defeated. ‘Finish’ is used to distinguish it from a win based on points) all his previous opponents in first round itself. The guy had not seen a Round Two in his 5 years’ career !! That was impressive. There he was, Lesnar, himself a monster and they were hyping the other guy?? I had to watch this. And then I saw Joe Rogan, who I remembered from Fear Factor (the host of Fear Factor when it used to run on AXN). He also made some comments about Carwin’s knockout abilities and Lesnar’s athleticism. Nice. The fight began, and Shane Carwin really turned out to be the beast he was projected. His punches rocked Lesnar and Lesnar was wobbly. And I could tell it was real, this was not another pro wrestling promotion, THIS was the real stuff. Couple of punches more and Lesnar was on the ground with Carwin punching the dear life out of him, Lesnar guarding his head. The first round bell saved Lesnar, barely. The start of Round two, Carwin winked at a banged up Lesnar from his corner, who smiled back. That was damn funny, I was a fan right there. I think that was the moment which impressed me the most. And that is what you really expect when two equals collide; mutual admiration. And what makes you really love it is when the guys have the heart to express that admiration. Lesnar finished Carwin by a submission (an arm triangle choke) shortly in round two and won. Carwin was too exhausted from round one. Lesnar mock punched his face to indicate that he can take punches, afterwards.

Those 7 odd minutes of Lesnar vs Carwin converted me to a UFC MMA faithful. And like all smokers who tirelessly keep offering their dearest nonsmoker friends a whiff of their own cigarettes, I will have to try and make you see the awesomeness of this action.

Read more shortly.

The case for UFC. Part 1. A Little Story

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I am sure you watched UFC-162: Anderson Silva versus Chris Weidman. Where the Legend fell.

No?

Do you know who Chris Weidman is ?

Anderson Silva ??

UFC ???

MMA ????

If you answered all of the above in affirmative, you may give the follow ups to this article a miss. I have not a substantial lot to offer.

But if one or more were in the negative, let me have the pleasure to extend my appreciation for this brave new sport to you.

If you answered all of them in negative, well, since manhandling is not appreciated, I would have to ask you to take 5 rounds of the nearest athletics field, at the end of which, hit the field to give me 50 push ups in two minutes and half, and then let me have the pleasure to extend my appreciation for this brave new sport to you.

Though, I understand well that this is an exercise in futility. It is like convincing vegetarians to take up eating meat or trying to make see the abstainer the totally magical world one sees after a few drinks. You just cannot. First there is this hurdle of subjectivity of opinion: What is the proof that if it was awesome for you, it would be awesome for me too? Secondly, and more importantly, there is the hurdle of prejudice: Meat for vegetarians, alcohol for abstainers, and for this article, violent sports for average peace-loving person, is something they:

–           Are not ready to give a try in an unbiased manner. OR

–           Do not look forward to. OR

–          Need a shift change in outlook (not the Microsoft type) to accept.

Because, they think it is just not good.

But what would this world be without triers? So here I go.

But first, this little anecdote would not hurt-

   The year of 2011, I had applied for a course offered by the NID in Toy and Game design and cleared the written exam. I was shortlisted for an interview which would take place in the NID campus at Ahmedabad. I wanted to design games, video games in particular, in fact just video games. In my pursuit of finding a college which was of some repute and offered a course in Game Design, NID was the best I could find. But they said Toy and game design, and just hinted that they would teach digital games also, and I conveniently chose to overlook the Toy part.  I should not have.

I was called for an interview which was to span some 3 days and included some tasks, small projects and an actual interview. The total seats up for grabs were 15 and they had called about 25 people. I was already looking for my favorite room in the hostel, deliberating whether I would be able to eat the mess food the whole course and analyzing the canteen. You guessed it, no way I was not clearing this.

So for the first assignment, they showed this picture (Not these exactly, these are my lame renditions from what i remember).

Fill in the fourth

They asked to write a story explaining the three cards, and asked us to draw the empty fourth, according to the story of course. If you are not in a hurry, why don’t you try it too? Tell me what story comes to your mind on seeing these three pictures and tell me in comments below. 

This is what I drew as fourth.

The final showdown

And this is what I wrote:

“Sandhu and Lampat were upbeat. Today they had a Men’s Job to do. They were bored to death running errands for Dada. Today was their day.

 There was a new Master in village. He was sent from the city to restart the defunct village school. Dada did not like it.

 This village was not to be spoiled by education. They were to ‘convince’ the Master to reconsider the priorities in his life.

Sandhu and Lampat reached the Master’s house and started hurling the most inspired expletives.

Master came out. He must be about 30, Sandhu observed. The Master was wiry, about the average height.

He did not look fazed at all.  

Lampat supplemented his battery of expletives with their motive to pay the Master this visit. “Go back kid. No school to be run here. If you are not gone by this evening, even your mother would not like to hug your dead body, it will be such a piece of art.”

The Master did not respond.

Lampat was infuriated upon not seeing the desired effect of his monologue on the Master. He made a move towards the Master in the most sinister fashion brandishing his danda. Dada was watching all of this from a distance. He wanted to be ‘sure’.

Lampat had barely moved an inch when he saw the Master reach out and draw two of the biggest revolvers he had ever seen, from under his shirt. They were pointed at Sandhu and him. Lampat thought he would faint. He dropped the stick. He was feeling sick. He could feel something warm seeping down his thighs. Sandhu had already joined his hands in seeking forgiveness.

The Master’s hands were steady, like a rock. He slowly turned his right hand towards the nearby hillock. Towards Dada.

Dada smiled. The information was right. The Master was the real thing. He will be his new lieutenant. Dada shouted,” I have an offer Master. Let us talk.”

I was really happy with the story. I had a good feeling.

The next day, the assignment was to make an object of play with some stuff we were give. There were wires, some wooden sticks, wire cutter, glue, cardboard etc. The object was to utilize the concept of balance. I must say I did a shit job there. A great awesome first story and a shit project, umm, in my mind it was 1-1 now. The interview tomorrow was to make it or break it.

There were 3 guys and a lady in the interview panel the next day. I showed my previous work and one of the guys tossed a pen cap towards me and asked to tell him 5 ways in which this pen cap can be used as an object of play. I could suggest only 4, three of which involved throwing the pen cap. I was thinking of the fifth one when the lady asked me “Are you a violent person?”

I said ‘No’, of course. I am sure she did not believe me.

But I think it was hilarious because she actually asked me this question. I don’t know what she was expecting as an answer “Glad you asked that Ma’am. As a matter of fact, yes, i am an extremely violent person. Now can I have your eye balls?  I just got an idea for the fifth game.”

I did not make it to NID. I guess, for good.

But I don’t think of myself as a violent person. If the pseudo-psychologist would have read my story more closely, she would have observed that there was not even any real violence there. No shots were fired, nobody was hurt, at least physically (LOL). I think I was just in the spirit of video games and I wanted to write a stylized story. I don’t think it was any more violent than the desire to take a head shot in an FPS.

Why did I tell you this? Why UFC is the most awesome thing ever? Was the two-bit psychologist right?   

Let me take that up in the next installment.

Lootera: Review

Lootera

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 !!

Part Dui

rev202022

This is the second part of a series of posts which appreciate (NOT!) the writing of Chetan Bhagat through his latest book ‘Revolution 2020’. I hope you have read the first part.

One of acquaintance of mine, having read a Chetan Bhagat novel herself, described his writing style thus:

“I think he intends all his books to be made into Indian movies, and hence writes like that”.

That one sentence analysis was bang on. Both of CB’s novels that I read, played out like stock Hindi movies: full of stereotypes, clichés, poor character development, simplistic, poorly researched, lacking personal insight and avoiding any thread which might be touchy, complex or taboo.

A very strong feeling which pervaded while reading his books was, it was like he first visualized all that he wanted to write, and then actually wrote it. Nothing wrong with the visualization there but I think the problem in his case is, he visualizes the actual movie which is going to be made on his novel and writes that exact scene in his novel, maybe to lessen the work required on film makers’ part. And it does not help he never visualizes Satyajit Ray making his movie, it is always TLV Prasad. And hence, his attempts at character development are…, well, let me explain through these examples:

To establish his two protagonists one of which is morally upright and the other a poor kid showing early shades of grey here is what Bhagat has to offer-

The setting is that the two kids have stayed back in their classrooms, bunking the prayer assembly, to raid their classmates’ tiffin-boxes. This, they tell us, is their weekly raid. Wait a minute, why weekly? They don’t feel hungry every day or their petty crime instincts arise just on Tuesdays? I never came to know, but anyway, moving on. So they are raiding. The morally upright one says “I have brought Poori-aloo, we can share that. It is wrong to steal from others.” Really?? Is that what he says to the other fiend every single week? That it is wrong to steal? It is like the ubiquitous ‘Ramu kaka’ asking his master, while he hands out blankets to be distributed among poor “Thakur Sahib, why do you distribute blankets to these poor people every full moon night?” Why would anybody on earth ask this question any time other than the first time they did it? I can understand an unimaginative movie director doing this because he had to establish his character and move on, but there is absolutely no excuse to employ it in a novel.

Now sample this: The poor kid’s reply back on  the Poori logic “Forget it, your mom cooks boring stuff. Poori every day.”  Sure, of course. That is exactly how a poor kid responds to an offer of Poori, that it is boring. A kid so poor, he cannot afford to bring lunch ever.  Even if we assume that this weekly raid was just an escape from the boring Poori this poor kid had to share with the rich kid every other day, then also he would not have had explained himself…oh that was way too much of my typing effort wasted on this little piece of bullshit. Moving on.

Ok, so the guys are raiding. Suddenly they notice a fancy school bag. The poor kid asks “Who sits here anyway?” As I learnt a little while later, the owner of that bag was a pretty girl. Tell you what, when I was a kid, I knew every fancy bag that was in my class, especially, if it was of a pretty girl. So, for that poor kid to not know this, he must be:

–          Dumb.

–          New to class.

–          Certified owner of super cool school bags himself.

He was none.  So, I assume, that was just to build a little suspense before the introduction of the third protagonist, a female, a pretty one, and the third vertex in this, guess what, Love Triangle!! Master stroke, isn’t it? A sure winner, this formula.

The raid. Yeah.

So they open the fancy bag. Find a piece of cake inside and cut it in half with a plastic ruler. This was what my friend noticed and shared with me. That was nostalgia right there. We all had cut stuff with rulers. It was a ‘relate’, and a good one, I must say. (No sarcasm here)

So they cut the cake, eat it, the girl finds the cake missing, shouts, cries, the teacher notices and starts investigating the crime scene. She is taking a round of the class, looking for the guilty. The poor kid narrates “when Gill Madam walked by, I stared at the floor. She wore golden slippers with fake crystals on the strap….” Now which 10 year old tells if the ‘crystals’, I think crystals are a noteworthy dumb choice here, are original or fake? Do kids, especially guys, that young even notice that? I sincerely doubt that. And that was so unnecessary. If details were what Mr. Bhagat had to give, the kid might have noticed the blisters on Ms. Gill’s foot or something, fake crystal?? Not impressed.

Artificial and undercooked. These words kind of define his writing. The tragedies never made me feel bad for the characters that were in it. In the book, the poor kid, is a motherless kid who lives with his ailing father, who coughs (!!!!). Their stove takes ‘six’ times to start. These guys are really poor. I don’t know how many of such people put a ‘warm water bottle’ to their head when they are having a headache, as the father did in the novel. People like this don’t give a shit about headaches; headaches are never ever considered an ailment worthy of thought.

(This, some years later in the story) The poor kid’s father always wanted him to go to IIT. But he fails to get good score even after dropping a year. Here is an excerpt of when the kid breaks the news to his father:

‘I wanted to tell him that I did work hard. You do not get a fifty thousand rank, however useless that may be, without working hard. I wanted to say I felt fucked up inside. I wished he would figure out, I wanted to cry and that it would be great if he hugged me.

“Go away. Let me have some peace in my final days.” He (the father) said.’

Now who the f’k says that? Let me have some peace in my final days? The stupidity of this dialogue is stupendous but it somehow sounds familiar…yea, from the millions of movies. 70’s movies. But even that is a surface-wound compared to the senselessness of ‘great if he hugged me’. Why? This needs a little deeper analysis.

The analysis: “Wish he hugged me”. This, in its levels of stupidity, is very similar to an Airtel ad which aired some time back. The ad was about an offer through which some kids would be chosen to participate in some European soccer club’s training camp. The ad sang something like this:

“Are You Readayyy?

Are you ready for Football?

Ready to go far?

Are You ready to be a (Airtel’s) Rising Star?”

Oh I always wanted to be a ‘rising star’.  Wish he hugged me.

For quite some time I could not really put my finger on what exactly was wrong with these two sentences. Do you see it? Both of these things, people do not wish for ‘themselves’. It is almost always a third person’s point of view. People call us the rising star. We never see ourselves as a rising star (Who ever says that he wants to ‘show promise’ when he grows up. Getting my point?). Similarly, people wish somebody gave us a hug when we were down. We don’t wish for ourselves, at least not at that moment (we might when we look back at it in future). Not that we don’t want the hug or don’t like it, but if the situation at hand is so problematic that it warrants a hug, we rather are searching for its solution or some sort of respite than a hug, though it would be hugely comforting.

Let me continue this in a third part. There is so much frustration inside me right now.

Revolution 2020: review…sort of – Part 1

Rev 2020

I first read Chetan Bhagat in college. It was ‘5 point someone’. I saw it lying around on a hostel table and the cover and the title looked smart. I had absolutely no idea who CB was or what the book was about. I read it, and found it a tedious read, to be honest.  It started with an anecdote which I found rather unrealistic and after that it was plain bore. I finished it extraordinarily fast. Not because I was hooked but because I had to return the book back and leaving unfinished a book I had started, was like leaving a movie theater before the credits roll: reserved for the worst of the worse (I am yet to see such a movie. One of the books I left similarly, ok I do not want to lose some of you here but I have to mention it, was ‘100 years of solitude’ (wha…?), yeah, it seemed to me that the book was written particularly to irritate and confuse the single processor, low RAM having brains like mine). The only part of 5PS which really got me engaged was the small romantic episode between a student and his teacher’s daughter. Interestingly, I found, that is not one-off. CB writes about romantic tension rather well. Or it might just be me. My threshold here is so low, almost anything interests me. Anyway, so that was the only part I read properly and skimmed through the rest, with a note to never read Mr. Bhagat again. But the book became BIG. It turned into one of those books which you would be an assh0le not to have read. This kind of started irritating me, like ‘Rang De Basanti’. People were carrying it everywhere, it was everywhere and they could not stop raving about it. It got worse.

He released four more books. None, I guess, topped 5PS but they sold very well. CB got bigger: Movie adaptations of almost all his books, guest lectures which spawned chain emails, columns in leading national newspapers and the cherry, TIME 100. I mildly cried that day.

But I soon realized that he is just a guy writing books, presumably to the best of his abilities. He did not ask to be famous. He, I am sure, wanted to be, but it just happened. I do not think he can write deeper or subtler or better if he wanted to. He is not playing to the gallery. His articles, his speeches, his books all display a common, how shall I put it, callowness (?). I do not think he writes this certain way because he thinks that this will ‘connect’ to a majority of people. I sincerely think he is doing his best and most honest and people seem to like it. And he is TIME 100. F.U.C.K.

So this other day, I was just fooling around with my friend and some of them (females) are chatting among themselves.

“This new CB book is out. You read it?”

“Yea, Revolution 2020 isn’t it? I like CB”.

“Yea, he writes simple stuff but you can relate to the characters”.

“Exactly. But some people (points to me) think he is beneath them”.

 

OK, so I am an infradick now for not liking CB?

But it got me thinking. Why do I hate him? Is hate even the right word? Does he really write that bad or is it just his Content-to-Fame ratio which irritates me and I have hindsight-f’d him? I needed to find out. So I decided to read his latest offering and make honest, impartial notes. And I did. I read and completed Revolution 2020 and made honest notes. And I shall present them in part deux.