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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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