Sunday, December 30, 2012

Movie Review: Ready

So today it was a Ready Blu Ray, carrying on with my be a Salman fan crusade.

Salman, as always - brilliant. Some good action, and a lot of Salmanism, especially some nice takes on older movies. Asin was also fresh and pretty, and complimented him well.

But, unlike Wanted, the story, the screenplay and most of the comedy is loud, stretched, and over the top.

But now I do get it. If you are a Salman fan, all these other infractions can really be forgiven!

Things Do Look Big In Contacts, After All!

So I wasn't wrong. I did some googling and realized a lot of others have faced the same question as I have - why do things look bigger in contacts?

So here is what happens. With glasses used to correct near sightedness, things do start appearing smaller than they are - and after years of continuously wearing glasses, the brain actually accepts and expects objects to be smaller than they are! However, since the lens is on the eye in case of contacts, there is no such aberration. So when you wear contacts, you see objects as they are, and for the "adjusted" brain, they look much bigger. The higher your spectacle power, the more pronounced this effect is.

For me, the last 36 hours have been so amazing. People, my own hand, the TV, my cat, even the fork and spoon, the DVD, the paperbacks... things look so huge compared to what I have been used to seeing them as. Unbelievable, more so knowing that they have always been that way, and I have found them to be so much smaller!

After 1-1, 1-0

India lost the first one dayer at Chennai, failing to defend a fighting 227, after Mahi's captain's knock of 113* gave them some sort of respectability following a disastrous 29/5 in the first 10. The Indian bowlers failed to make any in roads, though Bhuvaneshwar had a dream debut scalping a wicket on the very first ball.

Hoping India can pull back the next two!

The King Khan's Sawari


Baby


Movie Review: Wanted

Ek Tha Tiger and Dabangg 2 converted me into a Salman fan, and Wanted simply pushed that to the next level. There is something so innocent and real about this guy; it's no wonder his millions of fans simply lap up everything he has to offer.

(That said, I really think Bodyguard sucked for most part)

Salman looks amazing, whether as the goonda, the IPS officer, or the shy lover. The songs are memorable, and the lead pair looks very cute together. The action scenes are awesome, a lot of toning down of the Dabanggness. And Salman's dialogues and one liners would have sent the theatre crowd hooting and clapping. I have always liked Ayesha Takia, she's an amazing actress (see Dor, for her best), and she looks very fit and pretty. Her chemistry with Salman is also great, especially in the funny scenes. Prakash Raj is fantastic as the villain, a precursor of his much appreciated role in Singham, and just like in the Devgan starrer, you almost feel sorry for him, inspite of all his evilness.

Overall, a fantastic entertainer!

Movie Review: Heroine

Had missed this in the theatres, finally caught it on DVD.

Kareena looks stunning, and puts up a very convincing performance. Arjun Rampal, Divya Dutta, Randeep Hooda, Shahana Goswami, Govind Namdeo and Ranveer Sheorey have small but well delivered roles. And while everyone looks good, some of the dialogues and screenplay look very artificial, as if the director is trying really hard to make some points, and could do with a dash of subtlety. Too much in-your-face bitching and back biting and the whole "fashion and glamour industry is full of gays" line. The story line also needed some ironing.

Heroine takes active product placement to the absolute max (oh, I forgot the Fevicol in Dabangg 2!), and many of the scenes look more like a commercial break than a part of the movie. Guess Heroine didn't need box office success to rake in the moolah.

Madhur has given us some hard hitting movies, but Heroine is not his best.

Shades, Finally

I got my first pair of shades. More than twenty years after I first got my specs, I finally managed to muster the guts to go for contacts, and with them, my first dark glasses. With my high powered lenses making larger sized frames a complete no no, and not wearing glasses not even a remote possibility, I could only salivate when I saw others flaunting their eyewear.

Now, coming to the interesting bits...

While I am yet to get used to the idea and technique of getting a foreign film into my eyes, it's really been so much easier than I imagined. No dryness or irritation, no tears, no discomfort. So, for all those out there evaluating options, go check it out for yourself. I waited too long, worried about imaginary problems. However, and maybe I am jumping the gun, I think the inconveniences - all that cleanliness, the careful storage, all the don'ts (no sleeping, no dust, no rubbing) - push the deal in favour of the chasmas!

Another very interesting experience for me - things nearby look so much bigger in contacts, than in my high powered specs. People's heads, the laptop screen, my TV, my cat - looks like everyone's got a shot of whatever it is that blew up the kids!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Air Brushed Beauty


Note 2 da kamaal

Drinking and (No) Driving

This is just a friendly reminder about drinking and driving this festive season.


I went out last night and left my car at the pub and took the bus home. I was very proud of myself this morning as I had never driven a bus before.

By the way, Tcabs (www.tacabs.in) in Pune is providing a very nice service to help all of you reach home safely after NYE (and into the new year too)! Do check them out...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cut And Paste

A blonde went to the electronics shop and angrily threw her new laptop on the desk, furious that she had been cheated.  I cannot even transfer a file from my previous laptop, she screamed.

Salesman: Madam, can you please try in front of me.

This is what she did...

1) Right clicked the mouse on the file which she wanted to transfer and selected CUT option.

2) Disconnected the mouse from that PC.

3) Took that mouse carefully and connected it to the other PC where she wanted to copy that file.

4) Right clicked the mouse and selected the PASTE option.

When she turned around, the salesman had fainted.

Life By The Beach

An early breakfast...



The ride to office...



And then a tiring day at work!

Traffic Snarls

The tourist season is on in Goa, and even while everyone is worried at the apparently low turnout this year, traffic snarls on the approach road into Panaji are a common site already. With Sunburn coming up, and a busy new year, the Parriker government is pulling out all stops to ensure a happy and safe season!


Meanwhile, the Calangute - Baga is seeing some action, finally, on road widening and removal of encroachments. One only wishes this had been taken up and completed before the season really kicked in...

Tiny Tots



Premier Padmini Fiat


Saw this beauty in Panaji the other day - we had one for 10 years, and then another one for another 7-8, before we finally succumbed to the seduction of a Maruti. Can you believe it, way back in the mid 80s, when I was barely 10, and my sister was maybe 7, my dad packed us into one of these, and along with a driver, we set off on a 15 day road trip from Goa down the West Coast all the way to Kanyakumari - covering Mangalore, Cochin, Manipal, Trivandrum, Ernakulam along the way - and then back through Madurai, Hasan and Bangalore. Amazing trip - I still have some crystal clear memories. How I wish we had video cams and other devices back then...

Inox - Memories




The Inox at Panaji is built at the site of the old Goa Medical College, many of the old buildings still majestically standing there, renovated and repurposed as the offices of the IFFI and other associated bodies.

A very attractive complex, this is a magnet for many film shootings.

Around 35 years back, this is where my sister fought a long and painful battle against a head injury when she was barely a few weeks old. I was 3, and I still remember some of those painful trips to the hospital. In the late 70s, the docs at the "old goverment hospital" did a fab job!

From The Rooftop


007 would love to ride over these... all the way to the Mandovi bridge far in the background

Captain of Ports building on the banks of the Mandovi


Movie Review: Dabangg 2

For some, a meaty script is necessary. For others, method acting is critical. For the King, it's the eternal romanticism. For Salman Khan and his countless fans, it can take as little as a belt doing the jig to guarantee a 100 crore hit. Unleash the Salman magic for a whole 2.5 hours, and a record is on the way. Love him or hate him, you cannot ignore him.

Chulbul Pandey is in Kanpur this time, taking on Bachcha Bhaiyya, the local goon turned politician and his cronies. With Arbaaz Khan as director, the movie gets a little more polished, the action more meaty. Chulbul Pandey is even more lovable than in the first installment - he looks fit and in top form in his uniform and shades, his humour and dialogues entertain without getting too loud. His dance adds more amazing routines - pulling up the pant's legs, his belt dances by itself, you get the idea.
Sonakshi delivers another meatless role, looking pretty but with nothing really to do. Prakash Raj actually disappoints and could have been used a lot better - after Singham, one thing is sure - that guy can add tremendously to the villain's character, in addition to being the punching bag. Arbaaz, and more shockingly, the "talented" Mahie Gill, perform the most ridiculous, most unnecessary "cameo" I have ever seen in a movie.

Too many songs, and while a couple including the famous-by-now Fevicol advert, are interesting, the rest simply distract.

But all said and done, Salman delivers some good entertainment - pure and wholesome, of the keep-the-brains-at-home-and-let-go type.

 Definitely worth a watch! Hell, maybe even a couple of times!






Thursday, December 20, 2012

End Of The World

The world is coming to an end tomorrow and we still don't know what is Victoria's secret, who let the dogs out, what is love and who the fcuk is Alice!!!

By the way, what's your plan for the D Day?

BJP or Congress? Who Won?

Modi won a third consecutive term in Gujarat - but actually lost two extra seats to the Congress, compared to the last election. The Congress meanwhile, wrested Himachal from the BJP.

Who will be happier tonight?

Happy In Pune

India comfortably beat England in today's T20 encounter in Pune, chasing 158 with 5 wickets and 13 balls to spare... small consolation, but one nevertheless, after a disastrous Test series. Yuvi played a dashing innings before being caught in the deep, after contributing with 3 wickets in the first innings. And Dhoni finished off in style in the company of Suresh Raina.

Interestingly, the stadium was just about 70% full, which is very surprising considering how cricket-starved this city has been when it comes to international fixtures. The stadium was chok-a-block full during every IPL match, but today, there were huge patches of empty seats except in the cheapest stands. A combination of very expensive tickets, and a below par performance by the Indians in the last few weeks definitely contributed to it.

SRK and Deepika were at the stadium, adding a special dash of glamour. SRK was seen explaining the nuances of the game to a keen Deepika... although, one wonders if she needed the lessons! :)

The stadium itself came for huge praise from the commentators, especially for the weather, the looks, and the quality - the commentators mentioning how every care was taken down to the tiniest detail, and highest quality fixtures and materials used. Sahara and Pune should be very proud!

And I missed going for the match.

Boeing 787 Problems

Boeing is having problems with the 787 Dreamliner, with 3 out of the 40 planes delivered so far currently grounded due to technical problems. For a program that is already 3 years late, this is bad news for Boeing and its customers.

Guess it will be some time before I board one!

eCommerce Bubble?

With more than 350 eCommerce companies in India at last count, one wonders - are they making any money, or are they going the way most of our malls are - glitzy stores, low footfalls, and inevitably, shutdowns.

The big ones are definitely seeing sales going up - riding the millions spent on eye-catching advertisements, huge discounts, free shipping, cash on delivery and no-questions-asked return policies. Even though it results in heavy logistical costs, options like cash on delivery and free shipping and returns have been responsible for eCommerce picking up slowly but steadily in a market like India, where plastic money or netbanking is not too common. Even though it means companies might actually be losing money on every sale, it is resulting in "habit formation", and that can only be good news for the industry.

But does eCommerce have a future in India, and if so, why?

I am bullish, and here's my theory: India's tier 2 and tier 3 cities, and the rural majority, do not have access to the glitzy malls and shopping arenas of our larger cities. But there is money, and there are aspirations, driven by much larger exposure to the world. Unlike when we were kids, we now know what is out there. And we want to buy. And if the eCommerce portals can get their distribution channels - and maybe even share them - there is a huge market out there for all the cool stuff that has hitherto been accessible only to the well-heeled tier 1 upper middle class.

One indication of the maturing of the market is that a lot of eCommerce is now focussed on apparels and life style - not just ticket bookings. Since apparels and life style products require a "touch and feel", these are some of the most difficult products to sell in an emerging eCommerce mindset. Once the population gets used to that, as it seems to be happening in India right now based on sales numbers from the biggies, it is so much easier to go ahead and expand to electronics, books and so many other such products.

Interestingly, another side effect, not so good for brick and mortar retailers, is what is called "showrooming". This is the term used to describe the situation where consumers visit showrooms, check out products (especially electronic and household stuff), get demos, do trials, and then leave, going back home to order on the Internet, from the best discount site. Unless brick and mortal retailers jack up customer service and provide serious value adds, they are soon going to have deep trouble.

Either way, consumers have everything to cheer about - but for how long?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Insta-Show-Gram

So Instagram has new rules of engagement now - and in case you haven't heard about it, it essentially means that they now have complete rights to your images, to use any way they can, including advertisements, without asking for your permission, and without paying you a cent.

How long before all those cool pics you uploaded of yourselves on FB turn up on your friendly neighbourhood billboard?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Another Series

Another disappointing series loss, this time most unexpectedly in India on spin-friendly pitches, when the much-vaunted Indian batting machine shut down with little more than a whimper, and our own masters of spin failed to extract any juice from the pitches, while the English spinners looked almost devilish on the same surfaces.

TV channels, and experts, have been quick to pounce on Dhoni for his uninspired leadership and communication skills (while also saying he remains the best captain for one dayers - wondering how leadership skills and communication change as per the format of the game!).

At the end of the day, if batters don't put up the runs, and the bowlers can't take 20 wickets, you cannot win a Test. You can blame the captain, but the team really needs to pull up their socks and stop finding scapegoats.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Home Tip - Water Fountain

A simple water fountain in the home can add tremendously to the ambience. The sound of the dripping water coupled with fragrance of scented candles or aroma oils, with dim lighting, will soothe and calm you, creating a spa-like atmosphere at a fraction of the cost of a spa visit. You get dozens of options today - with recycled water and very little electricity consumption.

I have Buddha bust, made of concrete, with a water container at the bottom with a tiny water pump (the sort you see in fish tanks) that pushes water up to the top of the bust. The beauty of the contraption is that you can actually adjust the "volume" of the dripping sound by regulating the amount of water in the container :)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Indian Federation

Over the last several elections, it is becoming more and more clear that the federal structure of the Indian state is coming into its own, with increasingly powerful state CMs and parties dong extremely well, both at the polls as well as in governance, compared to the "national" parties. Even when you look at leaders like Modi or Goa's Parrikar, while they belong to a national party, their focus and reach is very local. (Agreed, Modi might have PM ambitions, but I doubt he will be as effective at a national level as he is in Gujarat - time will tell!)

However, our multi-party and parliamentary form of governance does not align very well with a heavily federal structure, with coalition politics generally proving extremely difficult when it comes to decision making, as we have seen with the UPA struggling in recent times on crucial policy matters. The US, which also enjoys very strong federalism, has a very different presidential form of government at the center, which makes it much easier to govern the center.

Unless the Congres or the BJP sweeps elections and is returned to parliament with a resounding majority, India might struggle as a country with its defence and economic policies, while individual states will ride on the success of their local leadership. Maybe it's time to relook at the powers of the states, and empower them further? Maybe it's also time to tighten the rules around coalition politics...?

The Windows 8 Gamble

After a few unexciting years, Microsoft has thrown down the gauntlet with a very bold move around Windows 8. A very fresh UI philosophy, lot of stress on cloud storage and social networking, and of course, availability as Windows Phone 8 in the Smartphone market signals that the desktop giant has finally got its gameplan right, and is capable of putting up an extremely strong fight against Google and Samsung. HTC has got some stunning hardware for the Windows Phone 8, and with initial reviews of the Windows 8 touch laptops being pretty positive, exciting times are ahead for consumers.

However, it's not all sorted out yet. We are already seeing problems running ASP.Net and HTML based applications on Windows 8 machines. There aren't as many native apps out there as Android and iOS users are used to seeing. And within Enterprises, if all those hundreds of apps already bought and installed do not easily upgrade, adoption will be extremely painful.

Personally, while the cloud integration is exciting, it can be another killer for Enterprises, where IT is going to have a nightmare trying to protect and prevent Enterprise stuff from getting uploaded and saved onto cloud storages, by careless users, intentionally or otherwise.

One thing is sure - it's do or die time for the once undisputable leader in desktop and personal software.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Pune At Nine


Such a wonderful, beautiful, morning...

Movie Review: The Collection

The Collection has enough blood and gore and mutilated body parts to churn your stomach, and then some. There is really no story line, no thrill or suspense, just an endless orgy of violence and killings, in the guts of an abandoned building, until it numbs your senses and red becomes just another color.

Even Khiladi 786 would have been a better option.

Connecticut Shooting - Yet Another Shocking Tragedy

It's happened yet again, a shocking new incident in what is becoming an increasingly common occurence in the US. A 20 year old barging into an elementary (primary) school, loaded with guns and assault rifles, most of them legally obtained, and gunning down 26 people, including 20 innocent children in the age group 5-10.

As a parent, you worry about the safety of your kids - but when you drop your kid to school, the worst you expect is some sort of bullying or maybe a kid falling down and hurting yourself. How do you reconcile to news like these?

CNN is live from the crime scene, now more than 24 hours from the time of the shooting, talking about how the Prez is sharing the grief of the families, and fighting back tears. Police are talking about how they are collecting "good evidence", that will help them figure out the sequence of events.

But is that all really relevant?

When is the US going to address the root causes? Easy availability of assault rifles because of almost no gun control, very poor internal security (although billions are spent in racial profiling and full body scanning at airports!), and a society that is increasingly getting out of control with a very weak family system and rampant use of drugs and other substances of abuse.

Something is terribly wrong, and there doesn't seem to be any serious and real efforts at addressing that.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Foggy Morning In Mumbai


Fog or no fog, Mumbai is a beautiful city... here's a pic clicked from the Sea Link around 10 in the morning... the weather was chilly, a beautiful breeze was blowing in from the Arabian Sea... traffic was light, life was perfect.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Search

When we were kids, I had this big fat General Knowledge book, which was a magnet for all my cousins, because it had so many cool pictures and bits of information that helped in many a science project in school. Tinkle and Reader's Digest were two other sources of information. When I was doing engineering, my first "application" was a Foxpro database that allowed me to "search" for information, and the application returned the month and year of the magazine that contained relevant articles. Yes, it took a lot of data entry, but it was truly amazing to be able to peek into those dozens of magazines as needed.

When I studied engineering, we did not have access to Internet in Goa - the nearest VSNL node was in Mumbai, and that meant a dial up cost of Rs 20 per minute, just to access the node. Google wasn't born yet. All we had were big fat text books, an outdated library, and notes from students of the past.

In 1996, when I entered IIT B for my masters, I was exposed to the vast caverns of periodicals and journals, and suddenly information was aplenty. A typical evening saw me in the caverns, hunting for articles and reports from journals in long, dark, dewy corridors, and then photocopying them (on our own) on the library machines. I still have a big suitcase of articles and reports I used in my 18 months there.

We were still not exposed to Google, and had very limited use for the Internet.

It was here in Pune, when I joined work, that we found Google. First, it was to search for relevant articles and APIs. Over time, we got spoilt - from world times to movie shows, from pictures of our favorite actresses to crazy videos, Google became a source for everything. It was amazing how it never said no!

Over the last few months, the whole Search business has moved into personalization. Finding stuff is cool, but the real challenge now is, can you find me things that my social network is also interested in? Just Dial is banking heavily on that model, and so are the dozens of "recommendation and review" sites.

Google Goggles is another technology that is bound to make the whole experience of searching and finding information just so different, so powerful, so crazy. Imagine you walk around wearing a Google Goggle and as you look around, out pop titbits of information - you can recognize people's faces, you know what offices are in that building, you even know what ingredients were used in that dish! You watch cricket, and lo, you have all the stats you ever need in your HUD.

Yes, it is pretty scary, especially for those of us who know how it can be misused, but, wow, the way it will change how we live - truly mind blowing!

Have Feet, Will Dance: Shiamak Daavar

Just back from a 2 hour program, Winter Funk 2012, by Shiamak Daavar's Pune students and instructors at the Yashwantrao Chavan Auditorium. As usual, it was a fantastic show, over 2 dozen performances by students of all ages, social strata, sizes, and capabilities. What is amazing is how they manage to bring everyone on a common platform, giving every kid the opportunity to perform, irrespective of how "good" he is. Very clearly, you don't need to be pretty or slim or fit or rich or even talented - dance is a universal language that is accessible to all, and can be enjoyed by all - you just need the spirit! Shiamak also pulls in students who are differently-abled, and even kids from remand homes, giving them a wonderful opportunity to perform with everyone else.

I highly recommend Shiamak's dance classes for every kid. They cost a bit (not too much!), but the impact they can have on your child's development - especially in terms of growing confidence - is very impressive, and this is one investment you will never regret.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Saturday, December 08, 2012

A Rendezvous With SRK & Dippy!

Oh wow, what a day it was! Dec 5th, at Balli station in Cancona, Goa. 7 of us crazy fans braved the Goa sun from 11 am to 6 pm, to spend an amazing day with the King Khan, Deepika and Rohit Shetty, at the shooting of Chennai Express.

As Rohit's door-ke-guests, we got into the inner circle, accepted and approved by the dozens of dark blue safari-clad bouncers and personal body guards. With the best possible location, personal attention from the director and his assistant, juice and lunch with the crew, we couldn't have really asked for much more.

The King Khan arrived around 1250, his gleaming white BMW 740LI rolling to a stop, the bouncers scrambling to put a protective cordon even as the door open and the stunningly fit and handsome Shah Rukh stepped out, his aviators, black shirt and jeans-clad look flooring everyone around. The aura clearly stunning everyone into silence, SRK waved at us and passed, inches from where we were standing, spellbound. 5 mins later, shot taken, the King graced us again, this time turning back at our call, to acknowledge us in his trademark adah, before getting behind the wheel of his Beemer and leaving for his gleaming, imposing grey DC-designed vanity van a short drive away.

Rohit came by a few mins later, stopped by to chat, posed for some photos with us. He also left word with his assistant Vidhi to make sure we get to meet Deepika.

It was a long wait, as Deepika was sleeping in her vanity van. We got almost-apologetic running updates from Vidhi as Deepika got dressed and ready for the shoot. And then, suddenly, at around 230, the door of her van opened, and out she stepped, looking like an angel - tall, extremely fit, and looking stunning in her ghagra choli. Let madame finish the shot, then she will come to meet you, said the bouncers. But we had Rohit on our case. Vidhi whispered something to Deepika, and she turned course, coming straight to us! How are you, who do you want to be when you grow up, she asked my niece, taking her hand. Where have you come from? Are you all from Goa? Oh, you have come from Pune? What do you do? She spoke like Meera straight out of Cocktail - refined, confident, polite, true. While we swooned, and her bodyguards objected, she spent over 5 mins with us, signing the various pads and DVD covers we put in front of her. Photos weren't possible at the time, since she was in costume, but wait for packup, and we will click pics, she promised. Do you want to come watch shooting with me, she asked. But dumbstruck as we were, someone said no, we will wait here - and then she was gone.

We had had enough for a lifetime, but more was yet to come.

The Khan arrived for the evening shoot. How do you do, he asked my sister, who managed to mutter "good good".

It was amazing to see SRK, Deepika and Rohit on the sets - the making of Chennai Express, right in front of our eyes.

There was also enough time to go check out the King's Beemer from close quarters, and pose for pics with it.

We had just one wish left - to meet the Khan one on one, and get some autographs. Please, can you wait till packup, asked Vidhi? But we needed to catch the bus, and we were running very, very short of time. Let me try, said Vidhi, and then came back with a promise - wait 30 mins, and he will be with you, she said. He was in the middle of shots, and it was impossible for us to wait any longer.

And finally, at 615, while hundreds others pushed the cordons to try and get closer, we had to walk away from a chance to meet the King Khan.

Movie Review: Khiladi 786

The Khiladi tries to do a Dabangg, and loses it all. Himesh Reshammiya's cry-baby acts (he has also written, directed the music, produced and sung, of course), Rohit Shetty-inspired physics-defying stunts stretched to absurd proportions, ear-cringing dialogues, stale, racist jokes, generally un-listenable songs, and a lame screenplay are just some of the 786 reasons to avoid this movie.

Any redeeming points? Well, Akshay looks good, even as he pulls off stunts that even Rajni might be incapable of. Asin is decent in her Marathi mulgi role (with a generous sprinkling of Singhamism).

And yes, if you keep your mind completely receptive, and put every sensible neuron in a state of suspended animation, you might be able to laugh a couple of times.

As far as Himesh Reshammiya’s talent is concerned – he should be an inspiration to millions around the world. If he can do it, why not us?

Tale Of Two Parties (Or Should That Be Four?)

So finally the Congress pulled yet another victory from the jaws of defeat, turning the BJP's demand for a vote completely in its favour and robbing the opposition, yet again, of a chance to put them on the mat. Whatever the means used by the Congress negotiators, they played M&M against each other, turning their brinksmanship into an advantage, extorting exactly what was needed from them. With its almost hypocritical anti-FDI stand, the BJP now runs the risk of distancing itself from the urban middle class, which always looked up to the BJP as a reformist, forward thinking party. With the FDI story successfully behind it, the government will now feel emboldened to push the agenda for further reforms, just in time for the 2014 battle. With regional parties like the TMC, AAIDMK and DMK playing almost no role in FDI saga, has the BJP handed the Congress yet another timely shove?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Agenda Aaj Tak

Was fascinating to see Arvind Kejriwal, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Ravi Shankar Prasad debate on Headlines Today in Agenda Aaj Tak today, moderated by Managing Editor Rahul Kanwal. Javed Akhtar also participated from the audience, making an impassioned request to Arvind to respect India's constitution, our judiciary, media and parliament, and not talk about killing the system that has served India so beautifully so far. Spend a week in Pakistan, he implored. You will come back and kiss this ground, Akhtar continued, asking him what his vision for the country was. Why are you giving Ambanis account numbers, he asked. Don't be a non-playing captain and just throw mud at others, a doctor in the audience pleaded. Another gentleman  questioned how he would lead a country by taking law in his own hands, like in snapping electricity connections in Delhi. Would you go ahead and shoot a murder suspect based on an accusation, he asked. And given that he couldn't keep his own flock together, how he would be able to keep the country together. And Mani Shankar and Ravishanker showed what solid politicians are all about - frankly, I am not a big fan of any politician, but today, both of them earned my respect for their clear thinking, elucidation and control. It was truly amazing. Give us a real plan for making the CBI autonomous and be constructive, said Mani Shanker. When Arvind brought up the case of a young rape victim struggling for justice, Ravishanker asked why he was tearing down our law and judiciary, instead of offerings the services of Prashant Bhushan and his other lawyers, thereby helping the girl get justice.

On another note, earlier in the morning, Anna accused Arvind of corruption and being power hungry, and said he would never vote for him.

Here is what is seriously troubling me. When a very esteemed and educated audience puts Arvind on the stand and questions him, and applauds the very politicians we love to hate, what hope do we have for the future of the anti-corruption movement?

Personally, I have been a proud citizen of this country for almost 4 decades now, and I love this country because it has given me freedom, choice, a great education and a very happy and secure life. Yes, we have corruption and a lot of other ills - but when someone assumes the role of change maker on behalf of me, and then questions every arm of the country, I have a serious concern.

If someone wanted to strengthen our judiciary, our media, our system - by following our constitution and our laws, I would support him fully. But do we want anarchy in the name of rule of the mob? No way!

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Movie Review: Talaash

Talaash addresses something we all do in life. Search. A police officer grapples for answers to a suspicious accident, his wife searches for closure after the death of their son. From a better life to self respect, we all search for something that has been denied to us - sometimes, even after death.

When a movie star dies in a mysterious accident on the seedy "Seaface Road", officer Surjan Singh Shekhawat (Aamir Khan) puts his heart and soul into getting to the truth behind it. His search takes him to Mumbai's seedy red light area, pay-by-hour hotels and whorehouses, where he finds himself getting attracted to a seductive call girl named Rosy (Kareena). With his own marriage to Roshni (Rani) in trouble after the death of their young boy, Suri's constant nightouts raise uncomfortable questions for his friends and family. Is he disturbed by his child's death, is he obsessed with finding the truth behind what is increasingly looking like a preplanned murder, or is he simply having an affair?

The real star of the movie is the cinematography - right from the credits and the opening scene, the amazing capture of Mumbai's underbelly, the seedy Kamthipura and its hell holes is worth appreciation. The music is enticing and haunting, although not something you are likely to put on your playlist for too long. The screenplay is brilliant in parts, but drags towards the middle, and especially after the climax scene, when the closing credits seem to completely miss their cue.

In terms of performances, personally, I thought Aamir was very one dimensional, and many of this emotional scenes lack conviction, leading the audience to start laughing. In the SRK-Aamir battle, this is one round that always goes to the King Khan - he makes you cry, because you believe in him, even when he is hamming at his best. When Aamir tries it, you generally end up laughing or squirming in your seat. Check out the scene in which he admonishes Rani for talking to the neighbour, or the scene in which he tells Kareena he is tired,  or the final scene in which he cries for his son. He also looks unfit and fat in some scenes, and somehow the wierd moustache doesn't suit him (his boyish look in Sarfarosh as a young but tough officer rocked). He also hams in many scenes, trying to portray the troubled and angry officer.

Kareena looks absolutely delicious as the devilishly seductive Rosy. She's put on weight, and is perfect endorsement for the anti-gym lobby (along with my fav Kat and Sona)! :) She also does a fantastic job with her dialogue delivery, her demure looks and her enchanting talk absolutely mesmerizes. Rani, sans makeup, plays the perfect troubled partner in a difficult marriage, and her fight scene with Aamir shows why she is such a highly rated actress.

Raj Kumar Yadav plays a nice cameo as Suri's junior officer, and Wasseypur's Nawazuddin Siddiqui, as the sidekick of the pimp playing his own games, is also brilliant.
The story itself has a good dose of intrigue and suspense - but there isn't really anything unique in it, once you figure out the main track half way through the movie. With a suggestive sound track, flitting camera shots, and even scenes of planchets, the director actually hints at the "truth", long before the climax. So if you have been paying attention to the signals, it doesn't come as much of a surprise.
Not a bad movie, and if this was Emraan, I would go gaga (of course, you would expect a kiss with the Kapoor babe). But, coming as it is after a 3 year hiatus, I expected a lot more from AK.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fasten Your Seat Belts, And Save Your Work

I thought I had seen every possible version of the take off and landing instructions dished out by cabin crew, until I heard the Go Air captain today, gently reminding passengers to "take care to save their work" before shutting off the laptop in preparation for landing!

Truly, an airline that stays with the times!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

India This Weekend

And while I caught up on some cool and not-so-cool movies this weekend, here's what India's been up to:

An aam aadmi launched the aam aadmi party - taking special efforts to mention that only one family member can work on the party's committees at one time, unlike another national party which clearly believes more the merrier, and finds family members very handy! The AAP will do every thing through true democracy - like in the good old days, when might was right. Existing members will be responsible for curating new members, at village, college and city level. Decisions will also be taken by majority vote. Everything thinks taxes are too high - go ahead, take a vote, and abolish them! My boss once told me, democracy doesn't always work. Obviously, he wasn't an aam aadmi.

The grand old men of another party of the janata engaged in what they do best! Oppose. The only problem? They oppose themselves and their own strategies and their own decisions. And the holy name wasn't enough for one grand old man to keep his job - after all, unlike the promise of the aam aadmi party, the party of the janata doesn't allow you to hit and run! So if you don't like the Goodkari of the party, don't depend on the shotgun!

Meanwhile, one wise man will rue his decision to ask for something he always wanted. Because sometimes, when you ask shiddat se, the puri kayanat gets together to give you want you want. And then, you realize, you didn't really want it after all! Now a gambhir player is praying for a mirable, but will the God oblige? Seems unlikely! He does want to play jab tak hai jaan, but he's already out, you see? Now, maybe, all that can save us is the son of sardar!

Movie Review: Life Of Pi (3D)

I read Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, over 7 years ago. I had picked up the book at the Crossword store outside the iMax Dome in Mumbai, and couldn't lay it down until I had finished it.

The book has three parts - part one sets the stage, part two gets interesting with it's fantasy world, but it's really the tiny part three - just the last 5% of the book - that is worth all the effort. It will take a lot of thinking, and a very open mind, but then the possibilities, the implications, simply blow you away.

Piscine Molitor Patel, named after a French swimming pool, is a 16 year old boy in Pondicherry, where his father owns a zoo. His parents decide to emigrate to Canada, along with the animals for sale, when tragedy strikes. A huge storm strikes their freighter, and when the waves have settled down, Pi Patel finds himself on a lifeboat along with a hyena, a zebra with a broken leg, an orangutan, and a Royal Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker.

Ang Lee adapts the Life of Pi beautifully, doing with amazing lighting, visual and 3D effects what Yann did with words. As Pi and Richard Parker struggle for survival, they are pushed into a grand adventure and a spiritual voyage so beautiful, you almost wish they would never be found. Flying fishes, floating carnivorous islands with a million meercats, beautiful glowing creatures of the dark seas, the deadly storms - earth never looked so beautiful!

Is that all for real, or just a tale? The book (and the movie) leaves you thinking, for a very long time after it is over.

Suraj Sharma pulls off a magnificent performance as Pi, showing a range of emotions from anger to ecstasy, from fear to bravado, from the elation of hope to the crushing sense of defeat. The tiger is magnificent, a masterpiece of SFX. Irfan as the elder Pi is also good. Tabu has a small role too. But it is really the beauty of nature exquisitely created and captured by Ang Lee that will blow you away, and keep you begging for more.

This is one 3D movie that is absolutely nice on the eyes - unlike Avataar, which mesmerized with it's fantasy world, but beat the exhausted and over worked eyes into a deep sleep.
Word of caution for parents - the scene immediately after the storm, when Pi gets on the life boat with the animals, and the hyena kills the zebra and the orangutan, has the potential to seriously disturb kids. It might make sense to protect them and make them look away during that scene.   Overall, the Life Of Pi is a wonderful visual epic, not to be missed!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Expendables 2

Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Chuck Norris, Liam Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a few others. Non stop action including blowing off a chopper by throwing a motorbike at it - stuff that will make Rajni feel proud. That's Expendables 2 for you.

CID and Talaash

As I kid, I was thrilled when the Hardy boys joined forces with Nancy Drew to solve some tough cases together. I didn't know at the time that both were characters created by the same author, and anyway, who cared? It just seemed so cool!

Later, I always thought it would be cool for TV serials to get "mixed up" - you know, have characters from one serial to come and be part of another!

Interestingly, a few months back, when Sony was launching a new soap, they did a beautiful job of introducing the lead character in the new serial through an episode of CID.

And now, you have Aamir Khan as his character from Talaash joining forces with the CID :)

How cool is that!!

Movie Review: Twilight Saga - Breaking Dawn Part 2

After the birth of their half mortal half immortal (yes, whatever that means) daughter Renesmee, the Cullens have just started enjoying being together, when they get the bad news. The Volturi are coming after them for sheltering a "human" child.

They must gather the support of other vampire families in order to convince the Volturi that Renesmee is not a threat to their existence, and that they have broken no vampire law.

The movie begins with Bella just starting to understand her vampire traits... and it's a pretty interesting phase. But it quickly turns boring, with endless dialogues and no action, until the last 15-20 mins when the Cullens and their friends, and the wolves face off against the Volturi. The action at the end is uniquely different, and well executed, and worth the wait.

Bella looked much better when she was human, and while she doesn't look as sick and terrible as in the last movie, Bella fans would do well to get a DVD of "On The Road" instead. Unless of course, you prefer watching her taking down the "bad" vampires.

Edward is white as ever, Alice pretty as ever, and the wolf stinks just as much. Dakota also looks just as stunningly deadly. The head Volturi is devilishly evil, and has some great moments towards the end of the movie.
Overall, not a bad watch. Not such a bad way to wrap up, after all!

Movie Review: Son Of Sardar

When Jassi Randhawa (Ajay) returns to his village in Punjab, from London, to take care of some ancestral property matters, he ends up in the home of his family's sworn enemies, whose patriarch Billu (Sanjay Dutt) has vowed not to marry his sweetheart of 25 years (Juhi), until he kills the last remaining member of the Randhawa family. One of his younger brothers has also sworn not to eat ice cream, the other has vowed himself away from cold drinks - and that should give you some idea of where this movie is headed.

Jassi is saved for the moment, because he is Billu's guest, and Billu treats guests like God. But he knows, as soon as he steps out of the house, his fate is sealed.

Jassi has also fallen in love with the youngest daughter of the family, Sukh (Sonakshi).

Will Jassi finally get booted out of the Billu family house, or will he win his love, and that of her family?

Forget competing with SRK's JTHJ, SOS should pat itself on the back for still managing to attract a handful of spectators on a Friday night, in spite of being such a loud, amateurish, outlandish, nonsensical "entertainer". Ek tu sardar, ek mai sardar, baaki sab bekaar - you get to hear this gem half a dozen times. There is a long scene about cow dung, there is another about blowing up a childhood passport photo to see if it matches the guy when he has grown up.

Salman has a short and sweet cameo after a very uninspiring and boring opening credits scene, but then imprints himself on Ajay and Sonakshi so that you have to tolerate Salman-inspired "steps" in the following song sequences. You have to laugh at scenes that include Ajay bouncing thugs on the floor like tennis balls. Yes, one scene in the train with a coconut, and another couple with Ajay trying desperately to stay in the Billu home are funny, but that's like enduring a long tiring, journey to enjoy a tapari chai on the highway!

Except for a few scenes where his comic timing comes to the fore, Ajay is boring. Sonakshi looks as good as always, and acts like she just came out of Dabang and Rowdy straight into SOS. Juhi as the punjaban tries too hard, and makes too many faces, looking neither cute nor smart. Sanjay Dutt is OK. Some of the supporting cast (notably Mukul Dev as one of the brothers) is much better.

The sound track has a couple of mildly interesting songs, but most of it is repetitive noise.

And after you have endured almost three hours of extra loud Sardars and lame jokes, the worst is yet to come - the silliest dance step, if you could call it that, in Salman Khan's very special Po Po song.

The name does seem to make sense though. SOS: Save Our Souls!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Turning Pitches

So India managed to bowl out England quickly on the 5th day, and didn't have too many mishaps chasing the small deficit, to wrap the 1st test in Ahmedabad. Pujara's double century and Ojha's bowling were the definite stars of the victory, and Sehwag's century too will give him a lot of confidence.

On to Mumbai now.

Dhoni has been complaining of lack of support from curators in creating turners, and why not! When in India, the team definitely should be able to exploit local conditions and our strengths - do we get the same leeway when we visit England and Australia and have to face deadly bouncing pitches in biting cold winds? I fail to understand why people say that India needs to be able to win in all conditions (and then expect those conditions to be bouncy wickets only!). Doesn't the same argument apply to England and Australia when they visit the subcontinent? Shouldn't they be able to win in all conditions too?

Anyway, looking forward to a turner in Mumbai, a 2-0 and eventually, a 4-0!

Movie Review: Moneyball

Based on a true story, Moneyball is a movie that rivals Jerry Maguire in the sports drama genre. Brad Pitt puts in a stunning performance as Billy Beane, the GM of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Forced to rebuild his team on a very tight budget, Beane hires the services of a young economist from Yale, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), using statistical models to identify and recruit bargain players that the scouts ignore as untouchable, but all of whom have the critical ability to get on base, score runs, and win games. The model threatens to upset age old baseball traditions and methods, and puts Beane in the line of fire of the loyalists, who accuse him of destroying the game with his atrocious game plan.

Will Billy's gamble pay off? With the Oakland As losing 14 games in a row at the start of the season, this seems very unlikely. But is a turn around waiting to happen? Or will this be Billy's biggest mistake?

Great dialogues and amazing characters make this 2 hour long movie seem very short indeed! A must-see for sports lovers, and for anyone who appreciates good drama.

Movie Review: Dark Shadows

A vampire, Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, tied up and buried underground for 200 years by his jilted lover (Eva Green as Angelique), is set free and returns to his ancestral home, Collinwood, where

he realizes his ancestors need his desperate help to survive.

An obvious attempt to build on the Twilight franchise, Dark Shadows will confuse you - is it drama, horror or a spoof? Difficult to say really.

Very avoidable, unless you cannot resist Depp or Eva Green.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Last Journey

Over 20 lakh people have turned up for Balasaheb's final journey... and with the funeral expected to be around 5 pm, it won't be surprising if the crowds swell beyond 30 lakhs.

And while the "fear" of the Shiv Sena could have been blamed for shops and roads shutting down, there is no way you can use that to explain this crowd. This is a spontaneous outpuring of love and respect for a leader who inspired awe and inspiration for millions of Maharashtrians.

In such a situation, one should also applaud the Mumbai Police, and the Shiv Sena cadres for the amazing discipline and order on the roads - and by no stretch of imagination, can you say this is not a nightmarish situation. In some sense, if this day passes off the same way it has gone off until now, this would be a redeeming moment for the Shiv Sena, an expression of discipline in strength, the way forward for this great city and the great state of Maharashtra.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Balasaheb Is No More

Shiv Sena Supremo and Maharashtra's much-loved leader Balasaheb Thackeray passed away at his residence Matoshree at 3:30 pm today, his doctors announced to the media assembled outside his residence, at around 5:00 pm. He was 86, and for the last few weeks, had been weak and ailing.

It's an end of an era for Maharashtra, and one hopes Raj and Uddhav can come together and strengthen the two Senas, channelizing the huge reserves of strength they possess for the growth and development of the Marathi Manoos and the wonderful state of Maharashtra. That would be a fitting tribute to this great leader.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Goa Is Crying Out For Help

The stench of rotting garbage. Plastics chocking the fields and rivulets, and littering the landscape as far as eye can see. Bumper to bumper traffic trying to get in and out of the city. Small dusty village roads clogged with thousands of MUVs and SUVs and mini buses and taxis, ferrying frustrated tourists to the once dreamy beaches of Goa. Unregulated, ugly concrete structures in fast disappearing open spaces. And a huge drop in fish production in the over-exploited seas.

The Manohar Parrikar goverment is barely into its first year, and the waves of problems ailing this once-beautiful land threatens to overwhelm it. With the Supreme Court banning all mining activity in the state, greens have breathed a sigh of relief, but the government now finds itself in a huge bind, a problem far larger than it anticipated. While the attempt to regularize mining and bring in environment friendly practices was laudable, with the complete ban in place, the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Goans is at stake, and the state's coffers are empyting quickly. Unless some balance is achieved and mining resumes, there is a real danger of the state going bankrupt and unable to bear the cost of the much-needed infrastructure development and well being of the people.

All is not lost. Wide eyed tourists, both local and foreign (although it is generally the lowest category of spenders, not the high fliers!), still stream in, adding valuable moolah to the state's economy. Goa is still a preferred destination for investment in property, and in some sense, the big builders and the deep pocketed NRIs and Indians ensure some semblance of beauty and balance in the eye sores of the concrete jungle, especially in the beach belt.

Parrikar has also constituted a high powered committee to look after the garbage problem, and given it a lot of executive powers - and this should have a lot of impact state wide. His clean image is also very critical to the well being of this state, and while a lot remains to be done to root out corruption, there is definitely a lot of hope for the average Goan. I have heard of plans to run bus loops, construct multi level parking structures and much-needed bridges, and widen roads to the extent possible. All of these will go a long way in the rejuvenation of the state.

Here are some other measures I believe can help address many of Goa's problems, and have a long term positive impact on the economy and quality of life:

1) Use a carrot and/or stick policy (whichever method works better for the government in terms of ease and practicality in implementation) to encourage/enforce discipline in garbage disposal in the beach belt. Different measures could include a tax for garbage disposal to establishments/panchayats that do not achieve a certain level of garbage segregation and recycling, vermiculture and so on. If tax is negative way to enforce, then provide grants to establishments for creating effective recycling and vermiculture facilities. Publicly reward panchayats and/or hotels that do good - create an annual award with significant pride and money associated with it.

2) Levy pollution/garbage tax for vehicles entering Goa. I am not aware if there are any legal restrictions here, but if Mahabaleshwar can impose the tax, I am sure Goa can too. Use this revenue to create better infrastructure in the beach belt. I do not think the tax will work towards restricting vehicles from entering the state, but even if that does, that will only be good news for the local travel and cab industry. So maybe it can be pretty high too!

3) Think about converting the Calangute-Baga belt into a restricted vehicle zone. Deploy luxury low-floor buses on the route, ensuring tourists are not inconvenienced, and yet, the whole area becomes a buzzing marketplace and walking zone, ensuring a lot more revenues and business to establishments all over the belt, while reducing polution and increasing the fun factor for tourists across  much larger area (and not just Titos lane!). There are enough large areas where multi storey parking lots can be constructed - Calangute football ground, Baga exhibition ground opposite Brittos and so on.

4) Use public participation - a website which can be used by the public to report garbage dumping, bad roads, and so on. Do not make punishment the crux of such a system, but alleviation. When people look at it as a way to get rid of garbage, they will definitely participate in the exercise, being the eyes and ears of the administration. Focus on beautification, not on fines.

5) Make it compulsory for large projects to spend a percentage of the total construction spend on public beautification - adopt a traffic island, repair a road, build a pretty fence, put up a sculpture - whatever. The government can  also provide grants to inviduals below a certain economic level to beautify/paint their homes, as long as they stick to certain architectural guidelines. Enforce these strictly.

Goa is endowed with a beautiful land, and beautiful people. All it takes is a little discipline, and I am sure we can take our state to a whole new level.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Movie Review: Jab Tak Hai Jaan

It was a pairing that taught us how to love back in the 90s. The King of Romance and the undisputable Badshah of Bollywood. The sweet croonings, the pataoing of families, the outstretched hands, even the hamming... DDLJ was the first movie I saw on a "date", almost two decades ago. And while time stops for no one, some things, like a beautiful bottle of wine, just get a lot better!

Add the reigning Queen of Bollywood to that mix, and you have a beautiful movie you will remember, jab tak hai jaan!

First, the story.


Major Samar Anand, a fearless officer with the Indian Army's Bomb Squad flirts with death every day of his life. The handsome stubble and the aviators glisten with sweat as Samar defuses yet another deadly bomb in the beautiful valley of Kashmir, and then heads off on his bike for some time with himself.
Enter Akira (Anushka Sharma), a sexy twenty-one year old filmmaker, dying to work with the Discovery Channel. Her good fortune lands her in the safe arms of Major Samar, as her dare to dive in the freezing waters of the lake turns deadly. In the jacket he leaves her with, she finds a diary, and is transported a decade back, into the life of a 25 year old Samar in London.

Samar loves Meera (Katrina Kaif), a girl who finds Indians brown and boring, and dreams of marrying an adventurous gora. She gets engaged to one, a handsome dude who owns a supermarket empire, but fate has other plans for her. Unable to resist Samar, who teaches her to drop her guard and find her inner self, she crosses the line she's drawn for herself, and for once, finds true happiness in his loving embrace. But when Samar is almost killed in a bike accident, Meera blames herself for it, and makes a deal with Jesus - bring him back to life, and in return, I will give up the one who's most precious to me.

Angry at Meera and at her Jesus, Samar decides to take them on and joins the army - I will embrace death every day, he promises - until Jesus takes me away from you, breaking your faith, or you come to me, breaking your promise.

Akira embeds herself in Samar's squad for her documentary, and the Gen "sex before love" girl falls head over heels, madly, truly and deeply in love with the generation older old fashioned Samar. And after a decade of dancing with death, Samar finally has a smile on his face, the childish innocence of super girl Akira winning him over.

In London to support her documentary submission at the Discovery Channel, fate plays another cruel game with Samar. Another serious accident lands him in hospital, with retrograde amnesia, back in time just before his first accident, and unable to remember anything after that. Akira seeks out Meera, knowing she is the only hope he has of ever regaining his lost memory.

Will Samar get back his lost years? Will Akira be successful in her love? And what about Meera? Were they ever meant to be?

Jab Tak Hai Jaan may have its faults - the retrograde amnesia and all that - but for anyone who's fallen in love, for anyone who's looking to fall in love, there can be no better way to learn what it means. Pure, undying, unaduterated love.

Now, for the performances.

Shah Rukh Khan has always been the Badshah of romance, no one can do it better than him. With Samar Anand, SRK brings yet another unforgetable Raj Malhotra alive. The cheeky jokes, a hint of a tear in his eyes, the arms-outstretched pose – irresistible, vintage Khan. And in keeping with the times, Samar's love is soft, restrained, mature. There are two scenes that stood out for me - both showing him struggle with his anger and passion, directed at the person he loves more than his own life.

Katrina Kaif as Meera is awesome, the perfect pairing opposite the King Khan. The undisputed glamour queen of Bollywood lights the screen on fire every time she's on it, and dishes out an out of the world dance sequence with Shah Rukh, an item number that sets a new benchmark, so far beyond the Sheelas and Munnis. And for those who hold her looks against her and think she cannot act, check out the scene in which she meets her mom and the scene in which she prays for Samar's life. She's always been one of my favourite actresses, and with SRK, she takes herself to a whole new level. Anushka Sharma is sexy and sweet, and very natural in her role as the bubbly Akira, although definitely second fiddle to Kat, and pretty much type cast in the roles she has come to be identified with.

Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh are cute, and add a beautiful segment to the film, although Anupam Kher as Meera’s dad doesn’t really have much to do.

London, Kashmir and Ladakh come to life in mesmerizing scenes, their pristine beauty adds to the wonderfully dreamy world of SRK, Meera and Akira. AR Rahman's score is not his best yet, but the songs have a way of growing on you - like all SRK movies, these are also sure to evoke stirring emotions in you, every time you hear the haunting melodies. ‘Challa’, ‘Ishq Shava’ and ‘Saans Mein’ are delightful, but unlikely to scorch the charts.

At just around three hours, some folks might find the movie a tad long, but for true blue romantics, it just doesn't seem long enough. SRK fans need no excuse to swoon over him, but if you have ever been in love, this is a must-see movie. Go watch it, and let the magic of the Yash Chopra, the King Khan and the Queen of Bollywood make life seem beautiful, and innocent, at least for a little while.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph (3D)

Wreck-It Ralph is the villain in an old-school low-res video arcade game, the grainy pixellated sort that wowed us in our childhood along with others like pacman. While he demolishes an apartment building, the hero of the game, Fix-It Felix Jr uses a magic hammer to repair the damages and always gets the hero's medal. Tired of being the bad guy for 30 years, Ralph decides enough is enough! Invading other games in search of the hero's medal, Ralph fights a war in the high-def world of Heroes Duty, and then into the chocolaty and pink world of Sugar Rush. Here he meets the super-cute and very naughty, sharp-witted girl named Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), who, like himself, is an outcast because she’s a ‘glitch’.


The two share a very special bond, while pursuing a similar goal - one wants his medal and glory, the other wants to prove herself a worthy racer in Sugar Rush.
The movie is refreshing, with a very original and visually stimulating story line, invoking nostalgia in video game geeks, and entertaining thoroughly with it's characters and humour. One note on the 3D: while there were hardly any "pop out of screen" effects, the brightness of the scenes ensures it doesn't really strain the eyes.

Worth a watch!

ps: We watched while comfortably ensconsed PVR's super sexy fully reclining sofas. It was meant as a backup - if we didn't dig the movie, we could also catch up on some well-needed shut-eye. But the movie didn't disappoint :)




Friday, November 09, 2012

IAC - What's The Game Plan?

IAC is live on TV - their expose #4. After Vadra, Gadkari and RIL, I was eager to see what was next on his hit list. It's been 20 mins now - and Arvind has been showing off a list of 700 names with accounts in HSBCs Geneva branch. Amounts like 100 Cr for the Ambanis. Is that even significant for businessmen like Mukesh and Anil whose net worth is in the billions? Kokila Ben was mentioned as one with an account but no balance! Then why is he mentioning her? He says three of the people on the list were raided - so what is the problem? He says the Ambanis and Naresh Goyal have paid tax on the amount - yet he demands a raid on them, to find out whether they were involved in Hawala. Arvind, do you have proof of their involvement or are you shooting darts? What exactly is the point?

Now he wants all industrialists and businessmen to submit detailed accounts to figure out IF they have been involved in hawala! Really, is this an accusation based on any proof of wrongdoing, or are they guilty until proved innocent?

Ok, now the main grouse he has is against HSBC. He wants top HSBC officials to be immediately arrested under prevention of money laundering and for waging war against the country! He wants HSBC to share with the government all details of all accounts of all Indians and that these be made public. When a reporter asked him, wouldn't this hurt the genuine people with hard earned money, he says there are many other banks and people should withdraw money and put in other banks. He thinks people should be ready to make that balidaan.

Oh yes, he also informs you that it is easier to open an account in HSBC than in SBI.

And now he has requested all 32000 employees of HSBC in India to resign for Bharat Mata's sake.
So after politicians, businessmen and banks, what next? Education Institutes? Will we see a real case being filed?

A few months back, India saw huge hope in the anti-corruption movement. Now one wonders - are we entering a phase where the mainstream media and social media will be used as a weapon to humiliate and accuse people, and leaders and businessmen will be guilty until proved innocent?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Movie Review: 6 Bullets

When martial arts fighter Andrew's teen daughter is kidnapped by Moldovan child traffickers, he turns to a ruthless ex-mercenary Samson for help to get her back. Samson (Van Damme), along with Andrew (the handsome Joe Flanigan) and his brave wife, must fight not just the deadly gangs, but also his own ghosts, in a race against time to rescue her against all odds.

Some good hand to hand combat, and some upsetting moments when Andrew realises his daughter is missing, make this a decent action flick. But nothing extra-ordinary really.




Old Guard, New Guard

While China looks set to welcome a whole bunch of new comers into the ruling council, America gets another 4 year long date with Obama, 4 more years to "do what we can"! Indians meanwhile are wondering what the choices are - with both the ruling and the primary opposition neck to neck in the race to outdo each other with corruption scandals.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The World From Above

If you love travel and exploring new places, then try catching “The World From Above” on Discovery HD. Amazing program that takes you flying over some of the most amazing places on earth, the camera picking out beautiful man-made structures and nature alike, the commentary providing just necessary details while allowing you to take in the beautiful sights.


It was Denmark today; the immaculately tended gardens, the imposing and beautiful castles, the yellow houses with red roofs, so beautifully maintained, the virgin coastline, the azure blue waters. Beautiful bridges. Legoland. A tiny sliver of sand, separating the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, thinning into just a couple of meters, and finally giving way to the confluence of the two seas, at the northernmost tip of mainland Europe. Tractor-pulled buses on the sand. A world so beautiful… development may have its price, but these are problems that can definitely be overcome.

Lessons From The Mahabharata

Been reading a fascinating "illustrated retelling" of the Mahabharata, by Devdutt Pattanaik.

The Mahabharat is a compilation of lots of stories by multiple rishis and sages through the centuries, a sort of Wikipedia around the ever-evolving Vedic way of life, although the first version was narrated by Vyas. The more and more you read it, you get a feeling that most of the Mahabharata is a guide on the follies and mistakes of humans, when Vedic laws are misinterpreted or misused. The most striking of this, of course, is Kunti's order to Arjun to share Draupadi among his brothers, but there are many other examples too - tales of extreme and unjust violence, racist attitudes, and scheming and plotting - and unlike popular belief, not just by the Kauravs, but also by the Pandavas. The Gita, as an embedded sermon by Krishna to Arjuna, is almost the soothing balm, the guide on how to live life. It's almost as if the Mahabharat sets the context, explaining to the reader the ills and evils that rule our lives, and then the Gita, at the point at which it is delivered, ensures the lesson hits hard.

As Devdutt puts it,

The Mahabharat is an ancient Hindu epic where,
a daughter is a prize in an Archery contest
a teacher demands half a kingdom as tuition fee
a mother asks his sons to share a wife
a family is divided over inheritance
a king gambles away his kingdom
a queen is forced to serve as a maid
a war is fought where all rules are broken
the victors loe their children
a forest is destroyed for a new city
... (and lots more)
until wisdom prevails

It's fascinating how almost every story points to good people doing bad things. As the Pandavas live their 13 years of exile, they meet gods and sages who teach them the folly of their actions - and through deeds later on, the Pandavas show how they have learnt from their expereinces and become better men.

Another fasctinating aspect of the Mahabharat are the stories of divine intervention and unbelievable acts, but when you think about it, can actually represent truth told as an exaggerated story, pointing to very advanced knowledge of science and techniques, presented in a manner that would be palatable to the not-so-smart common man.

Stories of a king sending his seed to his faraway queen through a parrot, or invoking the gods to give children to his queen, could very well point to knowledge and practice of artificial insemination. Similarly, stories of Kauravas being "incubated" in pots of ghee using pieces of an iron ball that came from their mother, clearly show that these weren't all natural babies! Is it unimaginable that they were incubated in test tubes?

More later...

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Sandy's Devastation

A couple of days have already gone by, but the US East Coast is still reeling from Sandy's devatating impact. While NYC has started limping back to some semblance of normalcy, with subways and trains starting to get back on the tracks, many parts of NJ, for example, are still without power and phones, and some estimates are that it could take as much as till Wed-Thurs for these to be restored!

Meanwhile, apparently the storm's surface speeds were measured using ISRO's satellites, after the NASA satellite used for the purpose stopped functioning a couple of years back... Interesting!

Samsung Disappoints

So my Samsung saga is coming to a clase now... after weeks of fighting, pleading, begging and threatening, we finally have a new refrigerator - a Hitachi. The poor Samsung has been taken away - wonder what fate awaits it. Even though we loved it, it just wasn't working well enough! Samsung thoroughly disappointed, not just with the quality of the fridge, but more so with the pathetic service. Dozens of calls to the dealer, the service center, even the "executive management team", as the site promised... the impact, zilch. Interestingly, when they came to take away the fridge, they even had the guts to ask me to pay for the Octroi! Simply unbelievable!

Now I eagerly await the refund - and given how totally exhausted I am from this business, I guess even if they refuse to pay up, I will simply smile and let them be.

Small price to pay for good riddance!

Movie Review: Skyfall

If not for the absolutely adrenalin-pumping action in the first 15 min, you would be hard-pressed to believe Skyfall is a Bond movie. You barely settle in your seat when the action rushes you, but alas, it's just the beginning, and there it ends. Almost.


There are no complex plots, no nuclear attacks. Instead a disgruntled MI6 agent, out to wreak havoc on his ex-employer, exposing MI6 and NATO agents across the globe, leading to the murder of 3 of them. With the ever-faithful Bond, back from hibernation and trying to get back to prime (he flunks every exam he takes on his comeback), trying to save M by barricading her away in his childhood home.

The movie opens with Bond chasing the bad guy, a super scene involving an old Land Rover chasing an Audi through crowded streets, an unbelievable bike chase sequence on roof tops, and a nerve-racking action sequence involving Bond driving an earthmover on top of a train.

As the movie meanders along, the quick witted dialogues make you smile, and some breathtaking vistas from London's quaint buildings to Macau's fantasy world, from Shanghai's gleaming skyscrapers to the Scottish moors, engage your attention. But there are no cool gadgets - were you expecting an exploding pen, asks Bond's new barely adolescent Q - instead, Bond and M fashion a very back-to-basics and almost Rajnikantish attack on the bad guys in an isolated Scottish manor, with old bulbs, nails, Bond's beautiful old Aston Martin and sticks of dynamite. Until it explodes into a fiery inferno, this is another scene that is beautifully shot and executed, the chopper's advance on the desolate mansion invoking some real menace. The hand to hand combat in Shanghai, against the backdrop of moving Neon signs is also amazing.

Daniel Craig works very well as the ageing Bond, as always. Judi Dench has an unusually long role in what will be her last Bond movie. As the bad guy Silva, Javier Bardem is amazing, his opening sequence develops word by word into a stunning entry. Both the girls Naome Harris (the MI6 agent) and Berenice Marlohe (the tortured sex worker) impress in their brief appearances.
But when the movie ends, Bond promising the new M that he is ready for action, you almost wish this was was the beginning of the movie, with lots more to come. If you are not really a Bond fan, you might want to check out the first 15 min, then move on to whatever else catches your fancy! As an action movie, Skyfall is like it's Bond - not really back to prime.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Book Review: The Krishna Key

If you liked Angels and Demons, do check out The Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi. After Amish, here's another Indian author who's done a great job of blending mythology and contemporary, facts and fiction, with simple yet polished writing that will immediately appeal to Indian as well as Western readers. 

After Saini, a history professor, and his PhD student Priya, are falsely implicated and arrested for the murder of another researcher and Saini's friend, they find themselves in the throes of an adrenalin pumping race to decipher the mystery of the Krishna Key, while staying away from the clutches of the law, and the gleaming steel blades of an assassin.

Ashwin uses a very interesting track - Krishna's life in his own words - running parallel to the main story set in contemporary India, to add richness and a sense of mystique to the narrative. Extensively borrowing from recent history, geography, modern science, astronomy, metallurgy, mathematics, the Vedas, Greek philosophers, the Mahabharat, half-truths and conspiracy theories, Ashwin weaves a fascinating web of intrigue, where the line between truth and fiction is very, very blurred! Read the book with google.com open on a laptop close by; you will find it fascinating to go beyond the lines - and see how sometimes, truth is really stranger than fiction!

One thing these books and authors have awakened in me - a deep sense of intrigue and curiosity about the Vedas, The Upanishad's and the depth of ancient Hindu wisdom. History was never so exciting!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book Review: Freedom

Daniel Suarez's Freedom picks off where his first book, Daemon, left off.

The Daemon has now taken over much of the world's networks plunging governments, companies and the economy in chaos. Gangs rule the streets while Loki's Razorbacks and AutoM8s unleash terror on the non-darknet world. But authorities are trying to fight back too, coordinating all their power in their fight against the Daemon.

But as the darknet communities find their real heroes, and start building pockets of resilient, self-sufficient communities fighting against the world's powerful corporations, and the authorities' murky connections to the private corporates and militaries become more and more suspect, one wonders which is the better side, after all.

Freedom is an interesting book, but fails to create the magic of the Daemon - and after some time, it does become repetitive and overbearing.

Malling

Visited the Koregaon Park Mall yesterday - after a fire at the Shoppers Stop outlet in the mall took it out of action a few months back, it has recently reopened, although the damaged section of the mall is yet to be repaired and is shuttered off to the public.



It's a pretty mall with lots of convenient parking, but sadly, after the mis-start, occupancy is barely 30-40%, and the footfalls are few and far between (we were there on a Sat morning and had mostly shop staff for company!).

While on the topic, for the serious shopper, the foodie and the movie goer, the Phoenix Market City in Pune offers the bext mall experience compared to everything else in Pune and Mumbai. InOrbit at Malad used to be my fav, but has far fewer shops and restaurants, and the profusion of newer malls in the area has also affected footfalls dramatically and it's no longer the go to place in the western suburbs. Phoenix Market City in Ghatkopar-Kurla is another good place in the making, with lots of entertainment options, but is still some way away from being fully operational.

Back here in Pune, Amanora has lots of shopping options too, and probably scores slightly higher on the restaurants list, but I would still vote for Phoenix overall.

Palladium in Mumbai (incidently, next door to the Phoenix High Street Mall) though, has some very high end stores, which are missing in Phoenix, but these are way beyond most of our means :) Another mall for the really high end stuff is UB City in Bangalore.




Saturday, October 27, 2012

Yummy Lobby

Had this amazing lobster at Gajalee in Juhu the other night. The prawn stuffed bombil, the crab green chilli and the clams koshimbir were also freakingly good (much better than the lob actually).



Post dinner, we enjoyed the innovative "ice paan" at a panwalla diagonally opposite - really worth a shot if you happen to be in the area.

Interesting Edifice


This very interesting building is coming up on the Powai-Kanjur Road - four massive pillars holding up the rest of the floors high above the central atrium and associated structure; giving the look of a massive jack/piston being pushed down into the ground. Can't wait to see it done - should be less than 6 months away.

Segway


Had the amazing experience of riding a Segway scooter in Mumbai the other day (at the phoenix Marketcity in Ghatkopar-Kurla). These two wheeled wonders, which balance themselves and provide a fantastic option for moving quickly through closed spaces like malls and airports (and why not outside too?), are getting pretty common in the US for use by the police for patrolling. To go faster, just push the handle bars forward, to stop pull them back and crouch a bit. To steer, lean sideways. Takes a couple of mins to get the hang of it, but once you have got it, it's amazing.

If you are planning to buy one, though, note the price - starting at a cool 6 lakhs, I was told.

Hmmm... could have got a couple of Altos at that price :) But then, you can't take the Alto to the mall!

Fish Pedicure


Tried out fish pedicure at a gaming zone yesterday (Amigos on FC Road) - and it was a pretty fun thing to do. Having dozens of fishes attacking your feet and nibbling on it gives an amazing tickling sensation that's hard to describe. Don't think it has any real benefits - or maybe it does - but the fish definitely had a great time at my expense :)

Movie Review: Rush

Rush explores the world of crime reporters, and Samir Grover is one of the best. When he is approached by Crime 24 to be their chief editor, Sam jumps at the opportunity - and the channel soon climbs to the top, with its breaking news and uncanny ability to be first on the scene.

However, Sam soon realizes there is more to it than good reporting - the channel's flamboyant boss Roger is responsible for "creating" most of the news - arson, murder, rape, riots, you name it.

Once the hunter, Sam and his fiance quickly become the hunted - will they be able to prevent themselves from being the "news"?

Possibly heavily influenced from a similar channel that was busted in Brazil a couple of years back, Rush has promise - but completely fails to deliver in every department. Emraan, Sarika Ghatge and Neha Dhupia look good, but just don't seem to want to get in the mood. Dialogues are flat and amateurish, the action non-existent, the romance lacks fizz, and the story just refuses to take off.

Overall, an extremely non-happening movie, you should probably check out Chakravyuh instead.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Quote For The Day

We do not write in order to be understood. We write in order to understand. C. S Lewis.

The Unnamed vs The Named

In Chapter 12, Arjun asks Krishna which are the most established devotees. Interestingly, Krishna tells him that one can search for the ultimate truth, the unnamed, unmanifested supreme being, with the mind serene and striving for the good of all beings. But that path is difficult, especially for the average beings. Hence, devote yourself to the named Krisha, since it is a far easier way towards the goal.

Truly amazing stuff. And makes so much sense!

What Is Krishna?

Chapter 10 of the Gita provides a fantastic peek into what is regarded as all-powerful and important in Hinduism. In the chapter, Arjun, finally realizing that Krishna is the supreme being, asks him to elaborate more on his divinity.

Krishna lists out some of his glorious powers, reminding Arjun that it is impossible to list all.

He says, among other things, "Discrimination, wisdom, understanding,  pleasure, pain, courage, honor and dishonour, nonviolence, charity, contentment - all the qualities of living creatures have their origin in me.

The seven great sages and the four ancient ancestors were born from my mind and received my powers.

Among the gods, I am Vishnu. I am the sun, in the night sky, I am the moon. Among the scriptures I am the Sam Veda. Among the lesser Gods, I am Indra. Among Pandavas, I am Arjun. Among mountains I am Meru, among rivers, I am the Ganga.

Among words, I am OM. Among letters, I am the letter A.

Among animals, the lion, among birds, the garuda.

I am the logic in those who debate."

Interestingly, he also says I am the gambling in gamblers. And he promises Arjun, that anyone who believes in him, will be a sadhu and be delivered from evil - even the sinners (the idea, obviously, is to make sure even criminals seek god at some point in time, and hopefully, turn a new leaf!).


Book Review: Daemon

Daemon is an amazing techno-crime thriller by Daniel Suarez, himself an IT consultant, that packs cutting edge gaming and networking with superb real world action to leave the reader breathless and hungry for more.

After legendary games developer Matthew A. Sobol dies of cancer, his brainchild, the Daemon, unleashes a war-by-proxy on the world, harnessing the collective power of millions of gamers playing his massively multi-user online game, to recruit his foot soldiers, and infiltrate thousands of corporate networks.

Detective Peter Sebeck is called in to investigate the death of two programmers working for the game developer CyberStorm Entertainment. When initial investigations into the murders-by-Internet point to Sobol, the FBI sends in a team to search his mansion. But Sobol's daemon unleashes a wave of terror on the team, killing all but one, using a deadly unmanned Hummer, and cutting edge weaponry the FBI has no idea how to control.

As government and security agencies flounder, the daemon takes over thousands of companies and provides financial and computing resources for creating AutoM8s (computer controlled driverless cars), Razorbacks (sword-wielding robotic riderless motorcycles, specifically designed as weapons) and other devices, terrorizing the world.

How do you catch and bring to justice a criminal who is already dead?

The Hummer scene is so beautifully written, you can visualize it in such vivid detail! The way the daemon executes its recruitment process, the description of the game play, both in the MMOG and in real life, is spot on, and leaves you hungry for more.

Daemon is a must read for fans of crime thrillers, and will be enjoyed and truly appreciated by IT-savvy readers, for it's clarity and authenticity when dealing with bits and bytes. An excellent subject for a movie, with potential of some truly amazing acion sequences that will thrill for years to come.

What Ails Pune BRTS?

Just around six years back, I took my first (and very rare) BRTS ride (see http://siddhesh-k3g.blogspot.in/2006/12/my-first-brts-ride.html) in Pune, and was amazed at the possibilities. Swanky buses, dedicated lanes, smart ticketing.

Six years later though, the only thing BRTS seems to have achieved are eyes sores on the Satara and Shankarseth Road, dozens of deaths, and little else.

So what ails the Pune BRTS, and is there hope?

1) First and foremost, it is the inability to create a truly dedicated high speed corridor for the buses, coupled with the inability and unwillingness/laziness of the traffic police to enforce the dedicated lanes where they do exist. Over time, the khatara lall dabbas started using the same route putting the swanky Volvos in minority, crowding the lanes and leading to backed up traffic. While 90% of the public still respect the lanes (which I find extremely heartening and surprising), even the odd scooter or auto in the lane has a domino impact. And in any case, on small roads, the dedicated lane is just not possible.

2) The BRTS lanes are in the middle of the road, the bus stops are in the middle, and the layout of the lanes, the dividers, the signals, the turns - everything is so confusing at times, that even the most accomplished and alert drivers find it hard to drive on that stretch. For example, when you are trying to take a U turn on Satara road, you are NOT turning from the right most lane - you have to start from the middle, then cross the left BRTS lane (and you have to remember a high speed Volvo might be hurtling down at that time), then cross the right BRTS lane (again, you never know what might be coming at you), and then ease yourself NOT into the first lane, but again, the middle lane. Not only is this bad enough, but the way the lanes are marked out - sometimes with plastic/rubber dividers that have long been trampled, sometimes by cat eyes, sometimes by tiny bricks laid out over the concrete - it cn be a night mare at the best of times.

3) Without effective parking and connecting transport, the BRTS is not commuter-friendly. I hope the Pune Metro doesn't repeat the mistakes and provides serious and ample parking facilities at the stations - without which it will simply not be as attractive as it can be. I would love to take the BRTS, but how do I get to the station and where do I park my car before hopping onto the bus?

4) Finally, the dirty lane dividers - the trampled poles, red and brown with spit from hundreds of callous commuters, the irregularly laid out lanes, the ineffective cycle lanes, the broken footpaths - it's just such an eyesore it makes the city look so pitiable. Compare the sad state of the Satara Road with the beautiful avenues coming into Aundh from University Circle, and you will know what I mean. Add to that the terrible and hideous eye sores called bus stops, and the disaster is complete.

Will our city fathers and planners wake up to the sad state of affairs and fix the problem sooner than later? What the Pune BRTS needs is simplicity. Stop over-engineering. We are not yet ready for cycle lanes. We are not yet ready for dedicated corridors marked off by the stupid lane dividers. Clean up the roads, mark lanes by paint and enforce lane discipline, let people get in the habit of driving with discipline. Give good parking spaces for private vehicles. Deploy the buses on important arterial routes and main roads. Imagine hop on hop off airport-like minibuses with day or month passes taking you around FC-JM, East Street-MG and Laxmi Road.

It's not a difficult problem to solve, we just need someone with the vision to keep things simple.