Tuesday, 27 December 2011

My affair with Insomnia

 I cannot sleep.
 Insomnia is the name of the girl I went to sleep with.
She has me under her spell, every night, 
no matter how much I fight, she takes me through hell....
Much like a bad habit, I go back to her every night....


It is 1 am, I cannot sleep,
Every time I close my eyes, 
Into my thoughts you creep....

Moving along in the mysterious ebb of night,
With a thousand thoughts in my head,
Why do I wander aimlessly, without putting up a fight.

I hear someone pound the door...
Wait, is it the door?
No, my mind is playing a trick, as the clock continues to click
Why this restlessness, why this confusion? Why this state of mind?

This kamikaze of thoughts will destroy me. 
I’m trying to find something, an answer?
There is a face around the corner,
 smiling at me, sticking it's tongue out,
Mocking at me, asking me to go behind it....
I know, no matter how fast I run, I cannot catch up.

There are times when a feeling of expectancy comes to me,
 as if something is there, beneath the surface of my understanding, waiting for me to grasp it.
 It is the same tantalizing sensation when you almost remember a name, but don't quite reach it.

I yearn to see dreams that I saw as a kid,
when these thoughts were non-existent,
there was a sense of calmness in my head....

Perhaps someday the revelation will burst in upon me 
and I will see the other side of this,
and then I'll laugh and close my eyes
and wait for sleep....
wait for dreams of my childhood, long since forgotten...........

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Oscar Frenzy

“And the Oscar goes to......”

Yeah, yeah, I know it is December and we still have 2 months to go for the 84th Academy awards that will be held on 26th Feb at the Kodak theatre. Why am I writing about it now? Well, my senior colleague and dear friend, Mr.  Zahid sheikh got me thinking about it.
This is what I wait for through the year. Why do you think I watch over 100 English movies (the count increases as the ceremony nears) every year? The answer is the Oscar night (Oscar morning for people reading this in India).

For me, the Oscar night frenzy started the year Lagaan was nominated in the “Best foreign film” category. I loved the movie, and was happy (for the lack of a stronger word) when I heard that it stood a chance at being honored at “the biggest stage for movies”.  The 12th of Feb, 2002 was a Tuesday and the whole world was gathered (well, my world then was pretty much limited to the bunch of my loony friends). We waited to watch a sardonically (much against the Oscar dress code) dressed Aamir khan walk up to the stage and receive the award as A.R.Rahman’s “O re chori” played in the prestigious Kodak theatre.

Thus began the ritual of taking a day off from college / work for witnessing the evening / night when Hollywood’s best of the best turned up in their best. The word “glitterati” was etched in my mind forever. I mean, here was a show where people were asked about the dress they wore before they were asked about the movie that got them here in the first place!! The suave suits, the plunging necklines got me hooked. This was and still is the place that truly celebrates celebrities.   

This was also the year when my dad gifted me my first ever Manorama yearbook, and said, “I do not see you reading your textbooks, see if this interests you”. It did, as I directly flipped to the movies section that gave me a list of all the Oscar winners till then. I thought I had the knowledge of “the secret scroll” as I rattled off names of Academy award winners and trivia a couple of days before the ceremony. I was conferred the title of “Shrinivas Oscar Vasishta” (which I boastfully accepted).

Much to our & the Indian media’s dismay, Lagaan was piped by No man’s land (Bosnia) won the Best foreign film award. The Oscar was lost, but the ceremony itself managed to hook us. Whoopi Goldberg (who hosted the show a record 4 times) became an overnight star for us. It made us download (from limewire, which was pretty much found in every boy’s computer those days) all the nominated movies on to our 20 GB hard disks. It converted us into movie freaks. It made us go to this newly discovered website “ww.imdb.com” and scrape for info on all the nominated stars and their movies.  Never had me and my bunch of friends found ourselves so busy and passionate about something. We had found a passion we could hold on to and nurture. The Oscars gave us something that mathematics and physics never gave us.

As the years have passed, the Oscars got better (or worse, take your pick), but one thing has not changed. Every year, our secret brotherhood exchanges notes on the year’s best movies and root for them. We make our own lists and like young kids, match our picks with the actual winners.

This year will be no different. It is that time of the year. The time of lists. The time when you, amongst other things, take stock of the year gone by.  I have my list ready, waiting to tick off one by one. Watched the splendid Ides of March yesterday. Shall watch Midnight in Paris tonight. I hope to get all my predictions right on the 27th Of Feb, 2012.

Before I sign off, here are a few links to some awesome Oscar trivia for you guys to dig on:

Happy reading!!!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Sherlock Holmes - A childhood hero makes a comeback

I was given a copy (I choose to call it that now, but way back, it was the thickest book I had ever held) of Sherlock Holmes – A study in Scarlet, during my 8th standard Summer vacations. “Why don’t you do something useful?”, my grandma asked. I was the black sheep in the big tambrahm (Tamil –Brahmin, for the uninitiated) family who flunked in mathematics and did not touch books until he was 13!!

The book was supposed to be my birthday present. My appa, amma and uncle looked at me expectedly, looking for a trace of delight on my face. I beamed with joy(it was fake, of course). The little bird is finally taking flight, my dad would have thought. All I had in mind was cricket and meeting the girl next door at 5 in the evening.
The birthday went, my friend, Kapil, went away to Bombay for vacations and I learnt that the girl next door had a crush on some weirdo from the next compound ( well, that’s what I thought of him then).
I was not left with too many choices. So with a heavy heart, I pulled out my birthday present from the darkest corner of my cupboard.  Little did I know that this would suck me into a vortex of literature that would hold me captive forever!

Hold on, this is not about my shenanigans as a kid or my love for books. This is about the greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes, one has ever read about, probably [ Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock’s brother) and Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie’s greatest creation) come a close second & third].
At 13, I idolized Sherlock Holmes. He was a hero, though he was a miserable, irresponsible drug addict, who would insult his best friend, experiment on his dog and was a brawler who practiced martial arts.
These are traits that a teenybopper would love. But what was it that made him so awesome? Irresistible? Great?
With his study of Science at university, keen mind and powers of observation, Holmes employed a process of deductive reasoning in his work, with great success. He went about his work with amazing callousness, yet “observed” things and events, most others would dismiss as trivial.
He could walk away from the gravest of situations  by turning on his charm (as per his whims and fancies). The detective with the deerstalker cap could solve cases with such ease, constantly embarrassing the London police department.

As time passed, I moved on from Arthur Conan Doyle to John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon, Jeffery Archer, Ken Follet & Lee Child and characters like Kane & Abel, Jack Reacher etc made me wade through my troubled existence in School & college. Had I forgotten Sherlock Holmes? No , I had not, but fascination for the Holmes kind of died with age.

At this point, you may wonder (rightfully), why am I writing this? Well, it is because a week from now, on the 29th of Dec, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes – Games of shadows makes it to the large screens in India. Memories from the novels / short stories and the hugely successful 2009 movie came flooding back.

Do Guy Ritchie and Sherlock Holmes fit? Why, it’s elementary, (as the great man would himself say) dear friends. History tells us that great literature may not necessarily translate into great cinema, but I tell you that great literature in the right hands, makes for some awesome experience.

In Guy Ritchie’s movie, Holmes is an avid boxer, a martial artist, a dabbler in many sciences, and a master of disguise. Most importantly, he is an expert in logic and deduction. His version in more swashbuckling, more thrilling and more edgy than the stories / novels but that does not make it any less faithful to the original. Ritchie's directorial style also comes through, from the dark, grimy Victorian- London production values to the violent boxing and martial arts matches.       

Robert Downey Jr. is right at home in the role of the infamous detective. Swapping out futuristic armor for a pipe and fiddle, he plays another character with the wit and confidence of his Tony Stark persona in 'Iron Man.' He brings quick-wit, cunning, and a scruffy toughness to a role long seen as stuffy and dry. He is ably supported by Jude Law. He brings in distinguished charm that, at times, spills over into testy aggressiveness. Both toss off the one-liners with ease. They take top honors, arguing like an old married couple while deep down knowing that they'd be lost without each other.

The direction is great, the locations are likewise smart, the costumes are admirable, and the effects are gritty, proving to be another benefit of having a director like Ritchie at helm. The musical score is supplemental to the frantic convolutions of the film's earlier scenes, providing a spirited tune that rides the energy of fiddling and poses as anything but generic.



With so many positives, a visit to the theatres on 29th to witness the sequel on large screen becomes a must.
It will be interesting to be wowed by action in Victorian era just a week after Ethan Hunt pulled off the Burj Khalifa stunt. Also the fact that Holmes will be pitted against  his most feared nemesis, Prof. Moriarty makes this movie an interesting prospect.
Here is hoping to see off 2011 on a high.
Over to you guys………

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Internet Justice League: Superheroes of the Online World

What if the titans of today’s Internet turned into superheroes? Here’s the Internet Justice League, a pantheon of superheroes infused with awesome Internet powers.
Each represents an Internet entity, including Facebook, Google, Google +, Amazon and more, all jostling with the other superheroes for Internet dominance.
(Note) - Few of the mentioned sites are not a rage in India, but are a force to reckon with around the globe. This comic was sourced from Mashable.
Superhero # 1

Superhero # 2
Superhero # 3

Superhero # 4

Superhero # 5

Superhero # 6

Too bad many of their superpowers are sometimes questionable. See if you agree with with the assessments of these Internet behemoths, their relationships with each other and their various archenemies.
Source :www.mashable.com

Friday, 16 December 2011

Mission Impossible 4 - Ghost Protocol (Mission almost accomplished)

Brad Bird’s Mission Impossible tries to make up for all the crap Hollywood threw at us over the past 2 months (Tintin being an exception). Must say, mission almost accomplished!!!
15 years and 2 sequels later, Tom Cruise returns to large screen as international spy from IMF, Ethan Hunt. But wait, this is not about Tom Cruise.

This movie is all about the animation veteran & wizard, Brad Bird (making his live-action movie debut here). He borrows a lot of elements ( self destructing messages, masks, people suspended in air, and the works) from the first three installments and adds his own brand of blistering , pacy, no holds barred thriller / action narration to juice up a dying franchise.
He is in top form here as he marries his characters from the movie to one of his earlier animation film, The Incredibles. The IMF bunch stays together, fights together. Also, his sense of choreography is apparent as he brings amazing details to the action set pieces, making each frame rich and pacy.
The script as such does not inspire much confidence. It has the usual plots / scenes from all big budget Hollywood action money spinners.  A bunch of Spies on the run to prove their innocence. The action takes them from Russia to Dubai to Mumbai ( shot in Vancouver & Dubai, sadly) to Seattle.
Performances are pretty much “standard offer” affair with Tom Cruise doing the thing that he has done all along now.  The aging star (pushing 50) has lost some amount of his charm and the Ethan Hunt character  was never a great / funny / warm / super awesome guy. The rest of the bunch is capable as well. Jeremy Renner, playing the mysterious analyst in Ethan Hunt’s team gets some of the best lines in the movie.

If everything is just standard affair, what makes the movie paisa vasool, you may ask? LOADS, let me tell you.
1)     The Burj Khalifa sequence (rumored to have been done by Mr. Cruise himself) is gobsmackingly awesome. Something worth experiencing in IMAX.
2)     Chase sequences are aplenty in spy movies. What cool about this one? Well, this one is a breathless foot and car chase in a binding sandstorm!
3)     The use of tech makes James bond & Iron Man look primitive.
4)     The Kremlin blast sequence. Easily one the finest blast sequences ever shot. In spite of the fact that everybody knows that it’s CGI, you jump when the bomb goes off.
5)     Last but not the least, the Mission Impossible signature tune. There is an Indian instrumental version thrown in as well.
The most disappointing bit in the movie is the India bit where-in you see an aging Indian star (Mr. Anil Kapoor) play a lecherous Indian tycoon. The whole sequence is unintentionally funny. Also, more research would have helped. Greens autos, Kannada font in Mumbai parking lots, high tech multi-level parking lot with UAE license plates in Mumbai just do not let you feel awesome.

But, as I said, it has enough going for it in terms of action, cinematography and a brilliant edit job. This makes Ghost Protocol a treat for the senses. This movie does enough to keep the franchise alive. Anyway, Jeremy Renner's character Brandt, was specifically created as the eventual replacement for Tom Cruise's character Ethan Hunt for when Cruise decides to step away from the franchise.
Go ahead, the movie is worth the big tub of popcorn. 2 big tubs, in fact!!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Joker - The monster within us

As a kid, I was petrified to look under my bed or look into my closet. Hollywood horror / slasher flicks  like Kid’s play, Psycho, The Shining etc made me believe that there would be a monster in there. Growing up, I often scared my younger cousins by creeping under the bed or inside the closet.
The bed & the closet become a part of one’s psyche while growing up. We are tuned into the fact that the monster often lurks around in the darkness.

These moments, those memories, faded away as I grew up. I grew up to understand that everything that they show in great, spine chilling movies is pure hogwash.  But one thing did not change……. The monster did not go. He stayed.

Did he stay back under the bed? Did he find himself a corner inside the closet or did he move to the attic and stayed there since?
The monster continued to trouble me. It would creep up on me randomly, shocking me, and shocking people around me. I kept checking in the cupboard, under the bed and attic till one day I saw Christopher Nolan’s classic “The dark knight”.
This was the takeout - "We stopped checking for monsters under our beds when we realized they were inside us."

Joker for the most part is written by people who read comics, not people who have a college degree in Psychology.
Ledger's Joker was a personification of disregard and chaos. His primary goal seems to be to prove that people, in dire situations, are just as sick and horrible as he is.

The chaos in our lives compel us to act as maniacs / insane. Looking and reading about all the thefts, murders, muggings make one feel sick. The times we live in, the situations we go through compel us to cross the so called line of sanity. We often end up doing something that one would not have done in an utopian world. Even if our actions do not convey our feelings, our thoughts clog up our brain.
Since sanity is a state of mind, isn't it only appropriate to judge minds as sane or insane rather than actions? Actions are simply a result of things and I think describing them in terms of emotions or logic is a metaphor/slang means of personifying whoever is doing them.
 Insanity isn't the absence of rational thinking. It's.. a very broad term for irrational behavior.

This brings me back to THE DARK KNIGHT….This film is really about the Joker. We're lured in to his world, where we learn what he's capable of and what he cares about—what motivates him. Learning more about him is like watching a car accident unfold, but worse and more frightening, because it feels like you might be hit next. Nolan's incarnation of the Joker, and Batman's reactions to him, seem so real that The Dark Knight doesn't feel like a superhero movie, but like a documentary on the emergence of a terrorist-cum-serial killer.

I was repeatedly struck by the Joker's cleverness and restraint: He planned three simultaneous murders, Godfather style. That takes extraordinary planning abilities, meticulous attention to detail, and the ability to defer gratification Sounds like anyone else in the movie – like Batman? This Joker is neither impulsive nor capricious, although he may appear that way at first blush. Just as with Batman, the Joker's actions are designed to create a particular impression, an impression that puts his adversaries at a disadvantage: that he's weird and unpredictable. That you never know how far he'll push something, so take him seriously. This, too, is part of the impression that Batman tries to create. But the Joker's got Batman's number because he knows that Batman isn't entirely unpredictable—Batman lives within certain self-imposed and societally-imposed rules. Because of those rules, Batman becomes predictable…at least to the Joker. Two men with similar talents, but in the Joker's case, his talents are used to create anarchy for his own amusement. 

As a movie buff, I would like to cheer for Joker, but as a societal creature, my moralities do not let me root or cheer for the Joker.
We are Sociopaths – who know right or wrong, but simply do not care whereas the Joker is a psychopath who is born with temperamental differences such as impulsivity and fearlessness that leads him to risk-seeking behavior and an inability to internalize social norms.

This blog started as a note or journey into our own self, but ended up as a pseudo thesis on the Joker.
My thoughts were muddled while writing this piece, just like Joker’s actions.
Nonetheless, let me know what you feel.
Why so serious?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

An ode to Meryl Streep

I have been wanting to write a piece on Meryl Streep for a long time now.
Why would I want to write about a 62 year old, American lady?? Well, read on…

Considered by many (me too) as the greatest living movie actress, who has been nominated for Oscars a record 16 times (GASP!!!) and won it twice, she is one hell of a rockstar woman.
So what is it that makes her such a sought-after, revered, valued and loved actress? Is it her beauty? Is it her grace? Has it got to do with talent or sheer genius?

Meryl Streep has gained legendary acclaim throughout her career for her ability to transform herself entirely into each unique character she plays—and yet, somewhat ironically, her own distinctive presence as an actress and individual radiates from each role. In spite of Streep’s tremendous versatility, a certain familiar quality permeates every performance—a strong sense of the real woman behind each finely crafted persona— which makes one wonder where exactly the actress ends and the character begins. However, it seems impossible to draw this kind of boundary in any of Streep’s performances, for the actress and the character are so wholly interrelated each time (in thought, memory, setting, relationships, mannerisms) that they become part of each other.

For every character she plays, Streep has learned to become another person through the close examination of that person’s life circumstances and the use of that knowledge to gain insight into the character’s beliefs, opinions, fears, and desires. This heightened level of artistic prowess, this ability to employ the established elements of modern dramatic method to move beyond them, lies in her unique gift for understanding many different kinds of human beings from the inside out.
For instance, for the role of Sophie ( Sophie’s Choice, 1982, for which, she won her first Oscar), she learnt Polish. She practiced the violin for five hours a day as research for the part of Roberta in Music of the Heart (1999).
Performances like Streep’s (in Sophie’s Choice,  Out of Africa,  Kramer vs. Kramer, and even  The Devil Wears Prada) expand and deepen our own understanding of ourselves through the empathy they elicit and the conscious and subconscious associations they trigger….

Some examples of brilliant scenes ( in my humble opinion) enacted by Streep are as follows:

1)      Out Of Africa (1985) – The scene when her lover (Robert Redford) dies in a plane crash, she doesn’t utter a word at the funeral but emotes so well that you actually feel the loss and despair.
2)      Kramer v/s Kramer (1979) – The monologue in the court scene where she speaks about her failed marriage, her son, her desires atc make for wonderful Sunday afternoon viewing (with a hand-kerchief). This is no pop-corn stuff.
3)      The devil Wears Prada (2006) – Ok, it is difficult to  pick one scene from this movie, but my personal favorite is the last scene when a smirk / smile turns into a frown in the last scene.
4)      Falling in Love (1985) – The scene where she is zipping in her car to stop DeNiro (wonderfully understated)  from leaving town, she stop at a railway crossing and realizes how futile it is. We see the tragedy of her story manifested physically, not through long drawn dialogues.

There are such scenes from each movie she has graced. Wish I had the time and patience to write each one of them!!
By playing each character just the way any common person in that situation would have played out, Streep reveals to us what exquisite, complicated, flawed, heroic characters we really are.

As I promised my wife, this is going to “Meryl Streep week” at home. We are two people who have grown to love (for the lack of a stronger word) Meryl Streep.

I Love you Meryl Streep…Sigh…..