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Monday, December 22, 2008

Best Movies, 2008

Movie viewing has indeed been exciting for me this year as I have had the opportunity of watching some of the best new films and also of visiting some classics for the first time, after having waited for long. I am particularly indebted to the UTV World Movies channel on television, that has showcased some of the finest films from around the world, especially from Europe and South-east Asia. This year also saw the theatrical releases in languages like Spanish, German, Turkish and others as NDTV Lumiere distributed them at the multiplexes of the major Indian cities, including Kolkata.

Here is a listing of the ten best films seen this year, albeit listed on the basis of personal preference:

1. Into the Wild (2007)

2. Atonement (2007)

3. Persepolis (2007)

4. My Blueberry Nights (2007)

5. Solino (2002)

6. Todo Sobre Me Madre/ All About My Mother (1999)

7. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

8. Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na (2008)

9. Aamir (2008)

10. I'm Not There (2007)

[Beyond the aforementioned Top 10, there were plenty more seen this year that got me mesmerized or hooked to the screen, small or big, like... naming a few of them, randomly,
'Michael Clayton', 'Changeling', 'Igby Goes Down', 'Rendition', 'October Sky', 'Chapter 27', 'Black Snake Moan', 'Southland Tales', 'Secrets & Lies', 'Lost in Yonkers', 'The Merchant of Venice', 'Eastern Promises', 'Memoirs of a Geisha', 'No Country for Old Men', 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford', 'A Mighty Heart', 'Juno', 'Letters from Iwo Jima', 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street', 'The Lookout', 'Scaphandre et le Papillon'/ 'The Diving Bell & the Butterfly', 'Iluminados por el fuego'/ 'Blessed by Fire', 'American Gangster', 'Ladre di Biciclette/ The Bicycle Thief', 'The Jane Austen Book Club', 'A Good Year', 'Hostel', 'The Hottest State' 'When Niezstche Wept', 'December Boys', 'Lions for Lambs', 'Cassandra's Dream', 'Eyes Wide Shut', 'The Machinist', 'Lords of Dogtown', 'The Tracey Fragments', 'Leatherheads', 'Young People F***ing', 'Invisible Waves', 'Riri Shushu no subete'/ 'All About Lily Chou-Chou', 'Rendez-vous', 'Cadillac Records', 'Caramel', 'Rock On!!', 'A Wednesday', 'Magonia', 'Fa Yeung Nin Wa/ In the Mood for Love', 'Bacheha-Ye Aseman/ Children of Heaven', 'Amores Perros/ Love's a Bitch', 'Janghwa, Hongryeon/ A Tale of Two Sisters', 'Das Leben der Anderen/ The Lives of Others', 'Le Dernier Métro/ The Last Metro', 'There Will Be Blood', 'Khuda Kay Liye', 'Ramchand Pakistani', 'Body of Lies', 'The Happening', 'Day Night Day Night', 'Mumbai Meri Jaan', 'Wanted', 'Kung Fu Panda', and 'Wall-E'.
'There Will Be Blood'

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The Song of the Heart

Who doesn't like to sing?
Let me clarify, I am talking about singing in general; for example, singing in the choir, the shower or car, or even in a local pub or bar on karaoke night. The kind of singing that comes straight from the heart. That has nothing to do with how skilled or trained a person is or isn't as a singer. Singing, that is singing the song of the heart, is a proven positive and is regarded by all experts as healthy pastime.
It shouldn't surprise one to be told that cutting loose with a song playing over the radio can offer real, tangible, personal benefits.
Let me explain why....
To begin with, most of us sound better singing along with another voice, even if that voice comes from the radio. While we are singing, we are also toning our abdominals and diaphragm, boosting our circulation, increasing our oxygen intake and improving our lung capacity. Singing eases muscle tension and relaxes the body and the mind.
And what about singing in the shower? Isn't it wonderful how great we sound in the shower, even if we normally don't sing that well? The reason for this is that the shower acts like a professional sound booth, with the water absorbing the echoes from our voices. As a result, we can get volume, nice reverberation, and even a little bass in that space. Furthermore, our singing creates sound frequencies that actually stimulate a pleasure center in our brains. So, it's no surprise that we hop out of the shower feeling happier and better prepared for the day, no matter how good or bad our singing may have been.
Singing with other people, as one may do in a choir, also provides a positive boost, stimulates a pleasure centre, and has a social benefit. Research shows that people who sing in groups, like choirs, tend to feel more involved with their communities and more interested in participating in activities that benefit the community as a whole. So, singing may in fact help us become a better citizen!

I hope that the next time YOU are singing in the shower, or the next time YOU find yourself belting out the song of the heart in the morning, and even if YOU just hum it a little louder, YOU will feel even better about this positive pastime.
[Pic courtesy: 'Into the Wild', Picasa]

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

If Lemons Were Melons......

Dost thou love life?
Then do not squander time,
for that is the stuff life is made of.
- Benjamin Franklin

We all feel some time or the other that only some insanely lucky people are blessed with endless good fortune, tons of money, good looks and, more than anything else, an ability to overcome every problem. It often seems like nothing can touch them; they navigate through life's waters with ease and always bounce back from every knockdown. They are the ones who can recover quickly from their financial losses and setbacks, quickly gaining control, they are the ones who happen to tackle even the most difficult problems and emerge victorious.

Having though all that we should also ponder on our line of thoughts, it seems to have a strange paradox: the so-called 'lucky ones' are not thoroughly devoid of problems after all, they just manage to turn their weaknesses to strengths, their insecurities to opportunities! That means it must be something innate, something that is integral to their very thought processes, and to their stream of conscious actions.

Let's face it -- life is full of 'little things' that zap our energy. They are no match for the powers of the self that can help one tower above the humongous barriers, in the uphill battle of life. With one's energy in tact, one can surely forget about life's little annoyances, and build a defence mechanism or an immunity to face larger and still larger challenges. With one's spirit unbroken, with one's fabric of resilience pores-free, one can expect to have some of that energy at hand, so that the odds can even be bypassed altogether.

I am always that naive student who observes keenly, and hence I have noticed that in life, there always seems to be at least one pest! The key to keep oneself protected from the troublemakers that stand between an individual and success lies in one's attitude in life. We all need extra energy to cope when struggles arise in matters of the heart. We can reclaim our personal power even when we feel impoverished by recalling the simple analogy of lemons being perceived as melons - if one starts spelling them so, by a mere shift of the letters of alphabet.

I have seen the successful individuals master the art, and I have just summed up their involuntary mechanism; I am just a learner, a wee beginner.

For myself, I am an optimist -
It does not seem to be much use
being anything else.
- Winston Churchill

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dance Dance - Top 10 Mover-Shaker Movies

"We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance."
~Japanese proverb

Well, dance is not my forte. But I find it hard to resist the temptation of watching people dance on screen, especially if the film has a romantic storyline to go with it, that touches maybe a teeny-tiny part of my heart or my soul...
Included in this list are the personal favorites of mine.... movies in English language... that celebrate dance, the dance forms in these flms span over a wide range: from contemporary to clssical, and are served up in combinations of music, dances, songs and choreography. Often there is an an alternative, escapist vision of reality - and sometimes the tremendous film choreography enhances the protagonist's statement in life.
My top ten favorite dance flicks are:

1)Dirty Dancing (1987)

(This is the first ever film with choreographed set pieces that had captured my fancy, especially because it had a soap-opera like tale, which appealed to my romantic sensibility when I knew nothing about good cinema, and because it had Patrick Swayze & Jennifer Gray who sizzled on-screen, and it also had a syrupy score to boast!)

2)Bootmen (2000)

(This Australian film had a typical feel-good flavor, and it had Adam Garcia who I had first seen in Coyote Ugly, and had thought to be a great young thing on legs!)

3)Flashdance (1983)

(This is a story about a struggling Pittsburgh woman with two occupations, as a welder and an exotic dancer, and she wants to get into a ballet school. Typical tale; great musical score, that is one of the most successful ever; and the fresh charm of Jennifer Beals.)

4)Footloose (1984)

(Starring Kevin Bacon, Ariel Moore and featuring Sarah Jessica Parker. A city boy comes to a small religious town where rock music and dancing have been forbidden and banned. Infectious charm - hard to escape!)

5)Newsies (1992)

(A typical Disney live action musical, starring Christian Bale, David Moscow, and Bill Pullman, plus Robert Duvall, it gave me a high when I had hit a personal low in my youth.)

6)Swing Kids (1993)

(The story of a group of youth in Nazi Germany who listen and dance to forbidden swing regardless of the consequences. Christian Bale, in particular, captured my attention.)

7)Moulin Rouge (2001)

(It is NOT a dance flick; It is a musical film directed by Baz Luhrmann, based largely on the Giuseppe Verdi opera La Traviata. But the way dance sequences in the musical setting of the Montmartre Quarter of Paris, France, was used, makes it win my vote!)

8)Chicago (2002)

(This again is NOT a typical dance flick, it is Rob Marshall's adaptation of the super-successful stage production, but the elaborate choreography in this rich and robust musical film is the reason I include it among my favorite dance flicks.)

9)Billy Elliot (2000)

(A talented young boy becomes torn between his unexpected adoration of dance and the collapse of his family. Jamie Bell is a terrific discovery and he is the film's main attraction. Brilliant screenplay; typifies the best of British cinema.)

10)Singin' in the Rain (1952)

(This classical musical featuring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds had to be included as I was pleasantly surprised to see what a great movie it indeed was, in so many ways; the dance numbers being just one of the reasons for its inclusion. The film is beautiful, tuneful, and even includes poking fun - though lovingly - at Hollywood itself!)

Endnote: I have included just the movies in the 'Movers-n-Shakers' genre made in English. In Hindi films, we have a far more intrinsic relationship of the song and dance routines with the screenplay, yet our films only on rare occasions portray the dancer as a protagonist, tracing his or her journey in life through the medium of dance.
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Friday, December 05, 2008

Children with Problems; Problems with Children

These days almost all parents have some issue or the other with their children. The common perception is that parenting is so difficult a task, that, I feel, is only partially true. Most of the parents find it taxing because they do not consider it as a wholesome responsibility, and merely see it as a job.
Of course, every child is an individual with his or her own unique traits. We don't want to label our children but at the same time, it's important to accept the nature of their temperaments. It's particularly important that we teach sensitive kids to handle stressful situations in a healthy, effective way. When children don't have a handle on anxiety, it's likely to escalate when they become teenagers. Children who struggle with anxiety are more susceptible to developing depression and mood disorders and anxious teens are at risk of becoming involved with drugs and alcohol in a desperate attempt to relieve their discomfort.
When I focus on the children with problems, I am not even considering the serious problems or challenges like learning disabilities, ADHD, Asperger's syndrome, Autism, and Obsessive Compulsive disorders. They still form a minority, most of the parents are simply tearing their hair out about their children's oppositional and defiant behaviors - kids that think they own the world. Kids who throw temper tantrums, sass back at their parents, beat up their siblings, refuse to do as they are told... kids who think only of themselves, and want everything NOW! Kids who are, frankly, a parenting nightmare.

The common problems with discipline seem to be of two kinds: sometimes we are too insensitive to children's wishes and other times we are unwilling to set limits. When we do not listen carefully to children's wishes, we teach them by our example to be insensitive. When we are unwilling to set limits, we teach them that they do not need to respect rules. The solution is to help them have the experiences and opportunities that they want but to use our adult wisdom to set limits. Children understand the language of love, more than we adults do. Love translates into genuine concerted efforts to help our children blossom.

One of the best ways to help children develop compassion is to get them involved in service. Ideally the service should fit their talents, maturity, and interests. Small children can join a parent in making and delivering cookies or in singing to lonely neighbours. Older children may be able to help a parent clean or paint an older neighbour's house. Teenagers may want to join some community service and engaging them in discussions on suffering and people's efforts to help, our children can be better taught to assume moral responsibilities and we can effectively groom them as adults who we can be proud of.

Sometimes children learn to be afraid of the bad without learning to love the good. One must try to understand their feelings of fear and anxiety. Parents also need to help their children to be optimistic, happy, and hopeful. Notice how much each of your children feels positive and hopeful. Help them to notice the things they are excited about. Help them to deal with the things they worry about.

The best pattern is for a child to have many people in his or her life who enjoy, appreciate, encourage, and celebrate that child. Of course different children have different preferences for how they want to be loved.But all children need to feel valued. A wise parent not only finds ways to show love to each child but helps each child have experiences with other adults who are supportive and caring.

I have often found, in my experience, that parents even do their bit to mould their children as not-so-sensitive beings; it is so appalling! I agree, sensitive children are often particularly susceptible and vulnerable to the actions and words of other children and adults and tend to get their feelings hurt easily. In some ways, when this happens, these sensitive children lose their childhood. Instead of being carefree and interacting joyously and freely with the world, they become overly self conscious and begin worrying about how people see and react to them. Often they "read" adults or peers as they anxiously watch for approval or disapproval. They are unable to enjoy the "here and now" as they constantly look ahead for a reward or a reaction. Children who are sensitive, or score a bit high if a tab is kept on their emotional outbursts, are usually born that way. However, when children go to school, they will interact with all sorts of children and teachers who will be unlikely to modify their behavior to suit the child's disposition. This can cause a sensitive child to become frustrated and anxious. There are times when it's appropriate to step in and help our children and there are times when they must learn to stand on their own two feet.

Parents of a sensitive child will continually be making judgment calls regarding how much their child can handle without assistance. However, whenever possible, work towards empowering your children to stick up for themselves. By jumping in to help our children too quickly, we teach them that they are helpless and that the things that happen to them are beyond their control. Learned helplessness is a surrender of the spirit. Remember, even though you're trying to be helpful, rescuing generally shows a lack of faith and reaffirms your child's belief that he (or she) does not have the ability to handle difficult situations.

Children are likely to interpret and respond very differently to their experiences, depending on their temperament. Sensitive children are likely to be wonderfully compassionate, bright, creative and imaginative. They may also have a difficult time dealing with stressful situations and may be prone to being worried and anxious.

Many of these parents feel completely hopeless. They have read all the parenting books, tried all the parenting advice, and yet their kids just seem to get worse instead of better. Sometimes the behavior problems get so bad, they even start to think about putting their children into care, into special homes/schools, as they just cannot cope.
There is indeed no magic wand (that's what some parents want), that can suddenly make a child's problems vanish at once. But what can surely be done is to redress the problems in a guided manner. Parents are increasingly dysfunctional themselves, and the short-cut they commonly opt for is an unhealthy blame-game, or a series of repressive regimens. They need to make their children more confident, and much less stressed, themselves. Compassion and disciplining need to achieve an affable balance in their parenting. A parent has no right to torment or traumatise one's child, nor does a parent need to to be in a false awe or false trepidation when he/she looks at his/her child. Following just this simple and basic directive diligently, one can see the shouting, threatening, tantrums, and all the other behavior problems decrease significantly, and the helpful, polite, and good behaviors will thus increase. Parenting, and life, will start to become fun again.

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Aamir never fails to surprise!

Aamir Khan is always known to spring up one surprise after another, as he keeps reinventing himself, essaying myriad roles, on screen, as the actor par excellence.

Just as the Titan Watches commercials and the Tata Sky promos have become the talk of the town for millions of viewers, Aamir is ready with the remake of the Southie hit 'Ghajini', in which he has tried multiple makeovers. The film is scheduled to hit the big screens this December and it promises to be a huge draw. Here's wishing him all the best!

[pics courtesy: Titan Watches; 'Ghajini']

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Not So Buoyant.....

I am feeling not so buoyant this week..... yet a sense of compulsion makes me write a post for my blog..... I am appalled, like millions of people, by the Mumbai mayhem that has seen so many people dead, and many more injured and grieving. As if the financial depression, the social tension, the communal strife, the natural calamities, the freakish accidents and other disasters were not enough as dampeners, now we are scarred by distrust as well as a mammoth fear of being devoured by the senseless violence unleashed on us by the terrorists.

I wish people were more aware of our environment and I also wish I knew how to make it more harmonious. At the micro-level, there is a larger need for creating balance and harmony in relationships. We can't help feeling more and more stressed about meeting about smaller - read baser - things, preventing our biological clock from running out. There is too much clutter in our lives. Either we succumb to the loneliness, or in an effort to be more social, we increase our anxiety manifold, dogged by silly little concerns. Trying for a last bid effort to save our very existence with drastic changes, we might struggle with even achieving the sustaining levels. Things keep changing almost overnight for many of us. And a quick and easy fix that works in mysterious ways isn't likely to be found. We often need to take a good cleaning out, after a hardcore recce is done.

As I reflect on my own journey just a little, I lament lacking the strong convictions that could have otherwise strengthened me. I try not to formulate adjustments too hastily. But I still am unable to conserve my physical strength by organizing your domestic and daily responsibilities into an efficient schedule which allows ample rest periods. I keep feeling overworked, and relief is hardly in sight.
My annoyances and inconveniences keep piling up. Having differences with housemates or workmates or friends or relatives has become a norm. I hate to admit that even my affability has hit an all-time low. How do I stay strong while I am butting heads with someone important and influential? How do I reach a fair compromise?

I wish my work and daily responsibilities were more stimulating and interesting for me during this period. But work and domestic duties never seem to blend harmoniously! My friends are important to me now, but my social interactions in this realm of your life have hardly been helpful. It is a paradox that I look for guidance and support in all the odd places. Generally, it is my emotional intensity that multiplies my confusion. Today my only concern should be in stabilizing my directions and desires, tempering my passions with faith.
I wish it is just the stars, the celestial confluence & combination, and may the negative celestial influence not last long.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mumbai Mayhem

My Heart Bleeds for Mumbai

Mumbai- City of joy, opportunities, and glamour

City of wealth, wit and humour,

City of cricket, films and vigour,

City of health, hotels and Reliance power

The picture today is really grim and gory.

It is Mumbai but with a different story,

My heart bleeds for Mumbai as it grapples with a terror strike of the worst kind

And innocent lives are lost, and thousands are in pain...!!!!

[For the uninitiated:
(Newsfeed -courtesy- Yahoo News, Associated Press, Google & Press Trust of India)
Mumbai, on the western coast of India overlooking the Arabian Sea, is home to splendid Victorian architecture built during the British Raj and is one of the most populated cities in the world with some 18 million crammed into shantytowns, high rises and crumbling mansions. Mumbai is the commercial and entertainment capital of India, and houses important financial institutions, such as the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) and the corporate headquarters of many Indian companies.
The Hotel Taj,flames seen leaping out from the domed structure in the pic above(one of the heritage hotels that assume a place of pride for all Indians,overlooks the fabled Gateway of India that commemorated the visit of King George V and Queen Mary), Oberoi Hotel and other prominent places were under siege - as a band of terrorists attacked last night, with a view to kill, and even hold on ransom, foreign tourists and innocent civilians. The terrorists opened fire at nearly half a dozen places in south Mumbai at around 10pm on Wednesday,26th November, 2008 and soon took hundreds, including foreigners and businessmen, hostage. Gunmen opened fire from AK-47 rifles at the city’s busiest railway terminal, CST, killing nearly 20 people. Fear swept through the city, as frequent gunfire was heard from public places. Explosive-laden vehicles, including a taxi near the international airport, blew up. The Indian Army, Navy, Mumbai police and STG & Ant-terror Squad are jointly countering and trying to restore normalcy, as the entire world condemns the dastardly act of the terrorists. ]

May Mumbai Shine Again!! May the People of Mumbai Fight Back With Resilience & Uniform Solidarity! The Kolkatans Are With You!

Friday, November 21, 2008

The U.S. and Us

There has been a universal interest in the American Presidential election this year, and after the victory of Mr Barack Obama, the international response and jubilation has been unprecedented. Shortly after the results were announced, there was a deluge of posts and write-ups on the Net, expressing a range of emotions including excitement, discomfort, reservation and hope. This in itself is quite remarkable and, at a time when our world needs, more than ever, greater synergy, to face mounting challenges of terrorism, financial crisis and global environmental degeneration, I am nothing but hopeful.

Of course, in Britain and in much of Europe, Obama's victory has been met with both excitement and enthusiasm for the American people and for what they accomplished. Europeans seem to believe that this election represents a shift in thinking about American policies and racial issues. They feel that this decision will help to redeem America in the eyes of those who have developed negative feelings over the last decade.

In our country, and also in the countries in the Indian sub-continent, it is a pleasant surprise that the U.S. has finally elected a bi-racial president, especially one who has been so vocal about his strong global views. Even in the Middle East, there seems to be a feeling of relief as a result of president-elect Obama's views on the U.S. involvement in the war-torn regions in that part of the world.

In Africa, and in particular in Kenya, the homeland of Obama's father, people are too overwhelmed. The African people obviously feel a close tie to this man who represents a strong connection between the two continents. Likewise, the pride that many African-Americans have expressed in lieu of the president-elect's achievements has also been very touching.

It is good to see that so many American citizens chose to take advantage of their right and privilege to vote, unlike the previous years. Just before the elections, there were non-partisan Public Service Announcements on the Net, which encouraged the American to be more forthcoming, and participate in the democracy, by voting. American celebrities teamed up to spread awareness among the otherwise politically indifferent, and somewhat diffident urban middle-class and upper middle-class Americans. The non-partisan PSAs, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way, in particular, caught my attention. They attempted successfully to engage and inspire young people to register and vote and participate in the election process. Celebrities appearing in such PSAs included: Amy Adams, will.i.am (of the Black Eyed Peas), Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Bacon, Halle Berry, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Connolly, Courteney Cox, Ellen DeGeneres, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Jonah Hill, Dustin Hoffman, Anthony Kiedis, Ashton Kutcher, Adam Levine, Laura Linney, Eva Longoria, Tobey Maguire, Demi Moore, Natalie Portman, Giovanni Ribisi, Ethan Suplee, Kyra Sedgwick, Michelle Trachtenberg, Usher, and Forest Whitaker. The substantial increase in voters who actually went to the polls is remarkable and represents hope for the democratic process. Likewise, the fact that many Americans looked beyond race when they marked their ballot choice is a win for democracy for all the world's citizens.

As I listened to Mr Obama speak, right after winning the race for the White House, at a rally in Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois (broadcast on CNN), my heart was filled with joy and immense admiration. It may be freezing in Washington in January (20th of January, 2009, has been announced as the date of the swearing-in ceremony), but for millions of people from around the world the excitement would be palpable to see the new President-elect being sworn into office. It would not just be a change of party, that always fuels a little more interest, but this time we are all keen to see a member of the African-American community becoming the President of the United States of America. For most African-Americans, Mr Obama's election as the President is a dream come true that they didn't think they would see in their lifetime, and the same applies to me, a representative of a society developing and striving against all odds, clamouring for its share of progress and of equal opportunities. It is important for all of us to feel hope and to feel the ability to make our world a better place. Mr Obama has a tall task ahead!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Solitude, Twilight & Love

I have been so used to solitude
I used to bask in it.....
For me, solitude is... twilight
But, now, when I look at you,
I think: How can I live
Without you? You're the person of my dreams.
Of course I know I can, but I must give
My heart room to tell it as it seems.
Romance must have a language fit for feeling
More than fits between the earth and sky.
For love there cannot be a floor or ceiling:
My love goes down too deep and flies too high.
So when I say I cannot live without you,
Know I can't imagine so much pain;
And when I claim to always dream about you,
Well, know the moon is happy once again.
The sun reveals cold truths for all to see,
But I must light my soul, my heart
While your smile can light up the world,
For me, shining from within,
Breaking out between the clouds
That form the skin of self.
Love seems sweet as the sun's liquid joy
Love is my twilight,
Sweet it is, captured in sweet wine,
My happiness is captured in your love
My solitude engulfed by sweet love.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Friendship redefined?

Dostana is the new film from producer Karan Johar's.... and it puts friendship in a whole new bracket - something of a first for mainstream Indian cinema. Dostana literally means friendship, and the film celebrates friendship, period. But.... yes, there is a big 'but' that separates it from the yarns on celluloid that we are so used to, and even indifferent to. This time, the story takes a whole new dimension as the two leading lads pose as gay lovers, to be able to share a swanky apartment in Miami. Hey, the film's basic premise suggests that director Tarun Mansukhani does not intend to break new grounds as there isn't a serious take on homosexuality. On the contrary, it's a madcap comedy perpetuating the silly same-sex stereotypes that has been the staple fare in Hollywood B-grade ventures for a really long time. The promos of Dostana did prepare one for a no-brainer laughathon, however, on seeing the movie today at a packed house morning screening, I have had to do a rethink. I must say that the zany romantic comedy does dare to push the envelope in its own way. It brings homosexuality out of the closet, gives it respect and dignity and doesn't treat gays as 'abnormal'. Well, maybe not in gigantic scoops and servings, but in a small-dollops kind of way.

Love triangle in Hindi movies often centre around two guys falling in love with the same girl, or two girls choosing to love the same guy. But Dostana is a first! It's the first Hindi film that, at the core, is a rectangle (three men loving the same woman), but two of them pretending to be a couple. The so-called shock-value associated with the screenplay is diffused thanks to a stellar cast that seems to understand the director's brief perfectly.
Besides John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan who are the talking point, as the mock-gay couple, Priyanka Chopra looks stunning (she has never looked better) and delivers a first-rate performance. Bobby Deol lends apt support as her boss, who is later besotted with her. On the whole, Dostana with its new-age friendship funds is a winner all the way, helping one chillax in these depressing times.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Body of Lies

Body of Lies is a must watch film, for all fans of director Ridley Scott, and for all fans of Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe (Thinking, everytime: 'What next?'), and for all Kolkatans - Kolkata is given a miss by many of the superlative films from Hollywood - this is one of the rare & pleasant exceptions for the cine-buffs of Kolkata!

Body of Lies is a thriller based on the novel of the same name by David Ignatius about a CIA operative who goes to Jordan to track a high-ranking terrorist. The film is written by William Monahan, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Iranian actress Golshifte Farahani and Australian actor Vince Colosimo. Production took place in Washington D.C. and Morocco. Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe have had an amazing partnership, with such great films as 'Gladiator', 'American Gangster' and 'A Good Year' between them. However, Crowe reportedly agreed to do the supporting role in this film after the script was revised by Steve Zaillian. Significant contributions to this intense narrative has been made by Alexander Witt, the Director of Cinematography, and by Marc Streitenfeld, who has scored the original music for the film.

Detailed plot synopsis
(Alert - Do not read it if u want to steer clear of the spoilers!):
Roger Ferris (DiCaprio) is a CIA operative in Iraq who is trying to track down a terrorist by the name of Al Salim. Upon following up a lead, Ferris' asset (who he has become good friends with) is killed during a car chase involving terrorists, RPGs and two missile-firing U.S. helicopters. Ferris recovers from his injuries at a U.S. facility in Qatar before he is sent to Jordan to run down some intelligence he recovered in Iraq. Meanwhile, unknown terrorists plan to follow up an offscreen series of bus bombings in Sheffield, UK with more attacks in Manchester, England but blow themselves up when the police find their cell. Later, another cell undertakes a cell phone-triggered bombing in a Dutch flower market that kills at least 75 people.
Ferris' handler, Ed Hoffman (Crowe), keeps tabs on Ferris via Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Towards the start of the movie, Hoffman speaks to his CIA superiors. He explains to them how terrorists are turning their back on technology by throwing away their phones and computers and using old methods of communicating face-to-face and with written messages. Because of this, the terrorists are very hard to track.
In Jordan, Ferris tosses the ineffectual Chief of Station out of his office before he meets Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), head of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department, or GID who tells Ferris to never lie to him. Hoffman finds an Al Salim safehouse in Jordan and tells Ferris to conduct a surveillance operation on it. However, Hoffman organises another operative to conduct an operation without Ferris' consent. The other agent screws the operation up and blows his cover after saying something compromising to a terrorist from the safehouse. The terrorist takes off running, intent on relaying information that the safehouse is being watched. Ferris chases him down and kills him by stabbing him, getting bitten by dogs in the process. Hani covers up the killing by passing it off as a robbery and Ferris accuses Hoffman of running "side operations", telling Hoffman to lay off.
Ferris meanwhile goes to hospital to tend to his wounds.

While in the hospital he meets a nurse named Aisha, and he gradually falls in love with her. Hani recognises one of the men living in the safehouse as a man he had known for years named Karami and He takes him out into the desert and coerces him into working for Jordanian intelligence (he has been sending money to Karami's mother and making it appear as if it came from her reformed and successful son, so she doesn't know Karami is still a thief and now a wannabe terrorist, and he is shamed and surprised when Hani does not kill him but lets him ride away on his bicycle). Hoffman asks Hani to hand Karami over to the CIA, most likely to interrogate him but Hani refuses, having earlier told Ferris he does not believe in torture. Unknown to Ferris and Hani, Hoffman tells Ferris' CIA subordinate to follow Karami and kidnap him. Karami gets away and notifies the terrorists in the safehouse that it is being watched, resulting in the safehouse being lit on fire and abandoned. Ferris' partner is caught and Hani blames Ferris for the destruction of the safehouse before telling Ferris to leave Jordan.

Ferris comes back to the States for a while and argues with Hoffman, whom he derides as power-hungry and fat. He then comes up with a plan to make contact with the terrorist Al Salim (Alon Aboutboul) by staging a significant terrorist attack, the logic being that Al Salim will hear about this attack and try to make contact with the terrorist group who committed it. With the help of one of Hoffman's CIA friends, Ferris is able to frame a Jordanian architect named Omar Sadiki by posing as a financier contracting a bank's construction in the UAE, making him look like the head of a terrorist cell.
A "terrorist attack" is staged at a US Military Base in Incirlik, Turkey. A bomb is exploded in the base and Ferris uses unclaimed local bodies dressed as soldiers to legitimise the attack. Al Salim sees the report of the attack on television and tries to make contact with Sadiki.
Hani tells Ferris to come back to Jordan because he knows that he needs Ferris. Hani then talks to Ferris about his suspicions that Omar Sadiki is a terrorist to which Ferris lies and says he doesn't know anything. Ferris later tries to save Sadiki from being kidnapped by Al Salim's henchmen but fails and sees another CIA agent nearly killed in the subsequent car crash. Salim gets information from Sadiki about Ferris, realising that Sadiki is not a terrorist at all, and then kills him. Ferris goes back to his apartment and finds out that Aisha has been kidnapped. He then desperately asks Hani for his help, explaining to Hani that he made up Omar Sadiki's terrorist cell and the attack was faked but Hani refuses to help Ferris because he lied to him.
Ferris gets a call from the kidnappers and is told to wait for a van. The van picks him up and drops him in the desert. Meanwhile back in CIA headquarters, Hoffman is watching everything via an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Ferris is then picked up by a group of men in cars and the vehicles create a massive cloud of dust before splitting up. Hoffman attempts to follow Ferris but loses track of which van he is in.

Ferris is taken to Al Salim, just across the border in Syria. When Ferris asks Al Salim about Aisha, Salim tells Ferris that someone has lied to him and he has been doublecrossed. While Ferris insults Salim and laughs in his face, an angry Salim crushes two of his fingers with a hammer before turning on a video camera and ordering Ferris to be cut loose. He is to be executed on video in a manner similar to other cases in Iraq. Just before Ferris is executed, Hani and his men burst into the room, killing all of the terrorists and arresting Al Salim.
While in hospital, Ferris is visited by Hani who reveals to him that it was his men who kidnapped Aisha, using blood she donated regularly at work to make it appear she'd been killed or wounded. He then brokered a deal with Al Salim (using Karami) to trade CIA agent Ferris for money. It was one of Hani's men who rang Ferris and dropped him in the desert. The plan was to wait for Al Salim's men to pick Ferris up and then follow them to Al Salim's location, where they could then arrest Salim. The plan played out successfully, even though Ferris was nearly killed, and Hani tells him that Aisha is absolutely fine.
In the end Ferris tells Hoffman that he quits the CIA. Hoffman prepares to leave Jordan and resigns himself to Ferris not changing his mind. At the movie's end, Ferris preapres to make contact anew with Aisha. The culture clash that is evidently in the purview interestingly never becomes a blown-up issue in the nuanced moments between Ferris and Aisha, and that espouses hope for their relationship, at least we viewers can hope so.

Courtesy: Wikipedia, Warner Bros.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Happy Birthday Tabu!

Today happens to be the birthday of Tabu, (born Tabassum Hashmi Khan) who is one of my all-time favorite actresses. She has had a rather interesting career, having acted in several crassy, commercial ventures, alongwith some rather offbeat films where she has carved a niche for herself with her sensitive performances. She has acted in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bangla and even American films. I personally think that she has a lot more to offer, even though she has won the National Film Award for Best Actress twice.

Despite being launched by Dev Anand many moons ago, in a typical forgettable potboiler called Hum Naujawan, she gave acting a backseat and pursued her studies for a while, as she was very young at the time. Her elder sister Farha was the one who enjoyed the limelight back then, acting in mainstream Bollywood movies. Tabu was launched as a heroine by Boney Kapoor in a huge reincarnation opus called Prem, in 1993. The film bombed badly. But Tabu was noticed as a rustic beauty, with an infevtious smile. She did some rather forgettable movies in which all she had to do was to shriek, and dance around the trees, dressed in a ghagra-choli, or in garish outfits. I gave all of them a miss - though now am quite eager to catch them on telly, just for the heck of it!
I fell in love with Tabu's charms when I saw her in the Tamil film Kadhal Desam in 1996. Her character - called Divya - was so full of life, so vibrant, that I could instantly feel the vibes as I saw her for the first time on screen.
Since then I've seen her in numerous films, and here comes the list of her films that I have seen till date, be it on the big screen or the small:

Jeet (1996)
Maachis (1996)
Virasat (1997)
Darmiyaan (1997)
Border (1997)
Iruvar (1997)
Chachi 420 (1998)
Kohram: The Explosion (1999)
Hum Saath Saath Hain (1999)
Hu Tu Tu (1999)
Biwi No.1 (1999)
Thakshak (1999)
Hera Pheri (2000)
Kandukondain Kandukondain (2000)
Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar (2000)
Astitva (2000)
Chandni Bar (2001)
Aamdani Atthani Kharcha Rupaiyaa (2001)
Filhaal (2001)
Saathiya (cameo) (2002)
Aabar Aranye (2003)
Jaal: The Trap (2003)
Maqbool (2003)
Main Hoon Na (cameo) (2004)
Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities (2004)
Silsiilay (2004)
Fanaa (2006)
Cheeni Kum (2007)
Om Shanti Om (cameo) (2007)
The Namesake (2007)

My personal favorites are: Maqbool, Chandni Bar, Kandukondain Kandukondain, Iruvar, Maachis, Cheeni Kum, Abar Aranye, Astitva & The Namesake. Tabu is known to have become selective in her film roles, fair enough, but I want her to be seen in many more films that would endear her even more.
Wishing Tabu a Very Happy Birthday!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Cinema-Houses of Kolkata

In the recent past, I have picked up, like most Kolkatans, the habit of watching movies at the multiplexes. The chain of multiplexes - Inox, Fame, Adlabs - rule the roost in all the metros and Kolkata has been no exception. The multiplex culture has hit us late (not counting the pioneering State-sponsored effort called Nandan, a standalone film cum cultural centre that came up way back in 1985), compared to some other Indian metro cities, but now we are all used to it and have adopted it in style.
Movie-going now comes with add-on options - luxury shopping, dining and pubbing, to name a few.
But, in my childhood, and even a few years back, watching movies in Kolkata meant visiting the single screen theaters of all shapes and sizes, in all kinds of localities. Watching movies in these cinema halls, better referred to as 'Cinema Houses' by the elite and the intellectuals, meant soaking in the ambience of cross-cultural traditions, and taking a peek at the cross-section of society, unified only by their love for cinema. The cinema-houses, needless to assert, were open to all, irrespective of race, caste or class. As the patrons were from all sections of the society, the audience had quite an egalitarian and representative character.
One of the reasons multiplexes are replacing single-screen theatres in the city is that people are becoming more affluent. The exorbitant prices charged at the multiplexes deter the not-so-affluent to watch movies there, at the same time extra comfort and cutting edge sound & projection systems make movie viewing a delight for the connoisseur. Thankfully, after the multiplex boom, some halls like Priya and Menoka have been wonderfully renovated, without letting the entry prices soar to the skies. It seems quite an irony that, financially, single-screen theaters are difficult to run. The market dynamics have changed so much that many of these spacious single screen cinama-houses started resembling like the dinosaurs that had to be edged out by the plexes.
Now, on a personal note, maybe with just a tinge of lament for the bygone era, here is the list of cinema-houses of Kolkata which I have been to, till date. Incidentally, some of these just remain in the oldtimers' nostalgia, as they now cease to be; sprawling malls and shopping arcades have come up in their place. Some are still very much functional and some have come back in business after a hiatus.

New Empire
Minerva (renamed: Chaplin)
New Cinema
Ahindra Mancha

My Creative Pastime

In the daily rush to meet deadlines and fulfil obligations, our creative self often gets shuffled to the sidelines. And that's not a good thing as our creativity is so closely connected to our sense of self-fulfillment. Creativity helps us to experience the magical and playful side of life. It lets us explore our passions and express ourselves artistically.

In my case, my preferred creative passion is my blog. I love spending time blogging on things that are close to my heart, which gives me with much joy and satisfaction. It is a very grounding pastime, and one that I also get to share with others as I spend glorious hours writing about personal experiences, and issues, mostly impromptu & unrehearsed.

Sadly, many people don't consider themselves creative, especially if they don't write, paint or play music. But that is a limited perspective of creativity. There are many forms of creative self-expression with different kinds of execution and levels of expertise. Within each and every one of us exists an artistic being just waiting for the opportunity to shine.
Our creative expression touches us on a very personal level. It can be as simple and spontaneous as singing in the shower or the car. It can be a playful moment of making up a silly limerick or strumming chords on a guitar. Or it could be a more directed and focused activity such as sewing a quilt, cooking an exceptional meal, or making home a special place to relax and enjoy.

So, friend, how do YOU express your creativity? Just open yourself up to the possibilities around you, and hopefully you will find ways to explore, nurture and enjoy your creative side!

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Space of One's Own

There are times when each of us feels that we need some space. 
 Actually, what we need is some time to ourselves and some place to recharge our batteries and renew our spirits. 
 In ancient times, such places were considered sacred and were often found in nature – a grove, a hill or valley, or a mountain.

But we don't have to go outdoors to find a sacred space. 
We can create a sacred space right in our own home. 
It doesn't matter how small our living quarters are, even a corner of a room can do nicely, provided it fits the bill, that is to say that it satisfies certain parameters. 
A sacred space is an area where one can sit and meditate, contemplate, or let one's mind wander and relax, ponder, and dream. We can place a small table or a shelf in a corner on which we arrange images or photos or pieces of artwork that hold meaning for us. 
We may incorporate Nature with perhaps some flowers or a small plant, or seashells, or perhaps a crystal. 
Lighting a candle or some incense, or an essential oil diffuser can add to the atmosphere of serenity. 
All we have to do next is to place a comfortable chair there, or even a mat will do. A wind chime or some bells, or playing a cassette or a CD of soothing music can also help us set the scene. 
A space of one's own can help one actualize one's goals in the best possible manner, needless to say that it becomes just the first step where one can afford a frank and intimate soul-searching. In case of a pre-generated conflict, a discussion about possibilities of 'an esteem boost', and of 'who gains and who loses by changing or not changing things', becomes vital. Instead of rolling around in a fog that dangerously confuses one's indifference and passivity against active intolerance, one can genuinely want to be inspired by the good and the great to imagine what is possible – in that place where all life prospers. A conversation, with one's own self, initially rigorous, can eventually be constructive and compassionate in the arena of personal space. A conversation, that is both logical and passionate, thus ensues and releases one from feeling stifled. 

Endnote: Joseph Campbell, the famous American author who wrote about myths and incorporating them into our lives, understood the importance of a need for a sacred space. He says it best, and I quote: "If you have a sacred space and take advantage of it and use it every day, something will happen… Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again."

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Defendit Numerus

Defendit Numerus (There is safety in numbers)

"The mathematical sciences particularly exhibit order, symmetry, and limitation; and these are the greatest forms of the beautiful."
(Metaphysica, 3-1078b)

Check out these cool numerical formations, resembling staircases:

1 x 8 + 1 = 9
12 x 8 + 2 = 98
123 x 8 + 3 = 987
1234 x 8 + 4 = 9876
12345 x 8 + 5 = 98765
123456 x 8 + 6 = 987654
1234567 x 8 + 7 = 9876543
12345678 x 8 + 8 = 98765432
123456789 x 8 + 9 = 987654321

1 x 9 + 2 = 11
12 x 9 + 3 = 111
123 x 9 + 4 = 1111
1234 x 9 + 5 = 11111
12345 x 9 + 6 = 111111
123456 x 9 + 7 = 1111111
1234567 x 9 + 8 = 11111111
12345678 x 9 + 9 = 111111111
123456789 x 9 +10= 1111111111

9 x 9 + 7 = 88
98 x 9 + 6 = 888
987 x 9 + 5 = 8888
9876 x 9 + 4 = 88888
98765 x 9 + 3 = 888888
987654 x 9 + 2 = 8888888
9876543 x 9 + 1 = 88888888
98765432 x 9 + 0 = 888888888

1 x 1 = 1
11 x 11 = 121
111 x 111 = 12321
1111 x 1111 = 1234321
11111 x 11111 = 123454321
111111 x 111111 = 12345654321
1111111 x 1111111 = 1234567654321
11111111 x 11111111 = 123456787654321
111111111 x 111111111=123456789 87654321

Brilliant, isn't it?
I wish life too had as much symmetry & predictability as in Mathematics!

According to an old Indian saying, "As the crest of a peacock assumes a place of pride in its resplendent beauty, mathematics too does the same at the head of all knowledge".

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

My ten all-time favorite Hollywood soundtracks

Any list of this nature is bound to be non-exhaustive, as there are far too many original soundtracks that are my eternal favorites. However, I have dared to come up with an all-time favorites list, limiting the number to just ten.
My favorite composers are James Horner, Hans Zimmer, Randy Newman, Alan Menken, John Williams, Elmer Bernstein, John Barry, Philip Glass and Jerry Goldsmith, and several other musical giants of Hollywood who have, time & again, proved that a great original score can lift a movie by several notches, and, in case of of a promising movie material, the score simply translates the scenes into pure magic.
Alas, I couldn't include all the great compositions of the masters in this very listing. But, this I can assure that the ones I've named are close to my heart. Each album generates a deep personal association, with the movie, and the tracks.
The names in the list aren't in any order, chronological or preferential.