Thursday, June 29, 2006


I had to wait a whole year before I actually got to read this book, for reasons that will sound silly now. But the point is that the longer I waited, the more excited I got about reading the book and when I was finally done with it, I was glad that I waited that long. Glad for the simple reason that I matured a lot emotionally during that time and that helped me to identify and empathize with the intricately sketched characters in this Pulitzer prize-winning post-civil war drama.

Trying to describe Beloved in a few lines or compartmentalizing it to a restricted genre of books is not just impossible; it is an insult to this phenomenal work of the genius, Toni Morrison. So I wouldn’t attempt it. Briefly put, the story is about Afro-American woman, Sethe and her family as they attempt to survive with dignity through and after the civil war. Their struggles set against the background of racism and hate pre and post civil war, form the crux of this heart wrenching drama about surviving against the odds.

In the present tense of the book, Sethe lives with her daughter Denver. Her two sons have left her and her mother-in-law Baby Suggs has died. Paul D, a previous acquaintance and ex-slave moves in with her. Another daughter Beloved mysteriously comes back to her from the dead. At first it is about what is happening now. But as the book progresses, we keep getting glimpses of each character’s past life that builds the story, bit by bit; offering insights into the character’s psyche and the conditions that forced them to do what they did and what they do now. Morrison doesn’t attempt mere justifications; she lets us live their lives vicariously so that we don’t just empathize, we identify.

The storyline is not the kind that will generate immense enthusiasm at first go and I have to admit that for me, the first few chapters dragged on forever. I even contemplated giving up entirely, but there was something about the engaging and the down-to-earth writing style of the author that kept me going. And in the end, I was glad I did. Because as the story continued, I found myself living it in the real sense, becoming one of the members of the family, mute but capable of feeling their troubles, the hidden and the seen, rejoicing in their little happiness and praying that their woes end early.

The book is both realistic and fantasy-induced at the same time. Realistic, for its accurate, fact-based account of the inhuman treatment meted out to the slaves. I remember gasping in disbelief, several times as I read the atrocious and horrendous ways in which the whites treated the blacks, for this opened me up to a new level of torture and disregard that humans are capable of. My suffering and pain seemed so miniscule and insignificant in the face of the enormity of these people’s troubles that I felt lucky to be born as a free individual and be treated as a human being, independent enough to make my own choices and steer the course of my future. I felt lucky to be able to eat, drink and sleep by my will; to be able to work the way I want to; to have decent clothes and adequate shelter; to have use of my body and organs as I wish; to not be flogged for dropping a glass or be screamt at and whipped for looking straight into my employer’s face; to not have to be at gunpoint every minute of the day, afraid that the next shot would take my life; to know the identity of my mom, dad, my siblings; to have my family close to me and my friends, unafraid to rush to my side if I need help; to not be mistreated just because of my skin color; to be decently paid and praised for all the good work I do; to walk, talk, laugh and most of all breathe free.

The fantasy/horror element of the book is in the form of the baby ghost that haunts Sethe’s house and later as Beloved, who Sethe takes to be her own dead child, because of the similarities that are too good to be mere coincidences. However it does not distort the storyline, which essentially remains that of pain, struggle and survival. The best character in the book is that of Denver, who is shown to mature from being shy, reticent, and socially awkward to being the responsible, sensible adult, ready to take control of her life and her family. Her meticulous characterization and deftly handled transformation leaves a lasting impression. She is truly an inspiration, both in terms of the writing and the character.

All in all, it is one book to be slowly read, thoughtfully chewed and soulfully digested. Not one of the regular fast track skim-and-scan bestsellers!!

You might want to refer to the following for a better critical appreciation of 'Beloved' and many other books. (listed under the literature study guides)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Batman:The 'look' that stuns

Here are some frames from Batman's 1999 karmic adventure 'War on Crime'....check out the amazing range of color shades, not to mention a slightly brighter, slicker look given to overall plot design.The melancholic, gothic shadows have been exchanged for some neatly positioned highlights.

'Batman: War on Crime' is the second of the series of graphic novels (Superman: Peace on earth, Shazam!: Power of hope, Wonder woman: Spirit of truth) written by the Paul Dini and Alex Ross and superbly illustrated by Ross himself. A wider canvas for a realistic story visualization and a closer-to-heart, introspective tale makes this book a must-have for all the die-hard Batman fans.

I hope to get my hands on this one pretty soon!!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Love you till the end of day

Some might praise you, say you are wise
Others might rebuke you and look otherwise
Let all your admirers or detractors have their say
But I will still love you till the end of day

There will be times you will be down, in hurt and pain
And life looks morose, no joy, no gain
But let all the problems come what may
I will love you till the end of day

A time might come when we are far apart
And it looks like the reunion is never to start
Don’t worry though, I will find a way
To show you my love till the end of day

I wish you a wonderful life my friend
Let your joys and pleasures never end
Just remember one thing when you are happy and gay
There’s someone who will love you till the end of day

This is a poem dedicated to a very special friend (and ardent critic) of mine on the occasion of his departure from the rest of us for a long time....

This is for you buddy.

Try not to laugh at the contrived attempts to maintain a rhyming scheme. LOL.

Thoughts for the Day

Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow it to the dark place where it leads.

Defeat never comes to any man until he admits it.

Whether you think that you can or that you can't, you are usually right.

A love affair with knowledge will never end in heartbreak.

We are all either fools or undiscovered geniuses.

If you wish to post any counter thoughts on these, you are most for eg:

A love affair with knowledge will never end in heartbreak. Yeah, but could cause irreparable brain damage though.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Weekend Watch: Schindler’s List

My very first attempt at writing a serious, full fledged film review, starting with the unsurpassed ‘Schindler’s List’ – which I watched last Sunday.

Go and watch this one, it’s more than worth it!! Hope the review makes you do it…

Steven Spielberg is a man to reckon with and is at the height of his legendary powers in the stunning ‘Schindler’s list’, a 1993 classic that set the benchmark for all movies of its genre. A powerful visual statement on the life and the times of the Jews under the Nazi regime, it minces no frames in showing the brutalities and atrocities committed in the name of racial superiority.

It is a story of the German catholic industrialist Oskar Schindler, who begins to earn great returns by exploiting the free Jew labor, but finds an awakening of his conscience when he sees that his factory is the only hope of survival for the Jews and begins to buy as many of them as possible using all his wealth and contacts, with competent help from his able accountant Stern. By the end of the war, he manages to save about 1100 of them before he has to flee for his safety from the Allied forces.

The movie begins by showing how Oskar cleverly manages to get his voice and authority established in the upper corridors of power. He befriends German officials using the razzle dazzle of lavish parties, beautiful women, exotic food and wine and extravagant presents. Using the gift of gab and charm, he opens up doors of opportunity and wealth ceaselessly. With an estranged wife and a non existent family life, Schindler has his crockery factory, a clever accountant and a few inconsequential flings, to fill his time. He smartly recruits Jews from the labor camps, free of charge and is soon on his way to being both immensely rich and powerful. However as the time passes by, he can’t shut his eyes to the atrocities committed against the Jews: as they are looted, killed, mutilated, evacuated, enslaved and tortured mercilessly. He painfully realizes that the only way that he can save the Jews is by employing them in his company and proceeds to buy them from the corrupt German officials. The war ends and the surviving Jews are liberated, but Oskar has to escape lest he be captured by the victorious armies.

The well-scripted movie is not only a cinematic masterpiece but a fitting tribute to the man who single handedly saved more than a thousand lives. The cinematography (black and white) is flawless and unparalleled, with each frame delicately composed to bring out the drama and the character of the scene. In one of the most brilliant scenes of the movie (there are countless others too), while Oskar watches from over a hill, as the Jews are being paraded and shot, a little girl catches his eye as she moves around the city to escape the Nazi wrath. This girl is ingeniously shown in color, against the black-and-white imagery of the movie and is later shown again, lying amongst the corpses as Oskar watches the exhuming and the consequent mass funeral of the dead Jews. A master stroke delivered with panache that stays with you as the most hauntingly memorable scenes ever seen.

The graphic violence is so riveting and real that it makes you wonder if such inhumanity is possible, and sends shivers down your spine when you realize that it did happen, not very long ago. As I watched the movie, the terms like ‘Holocaust’, ‘Ghetto’, which till then were just words from the history textbook, assumed their true meaning and I gaped with increasing horror at the images that spelt 'heinous' and 'horrendous', in bold capitals. There were scenes of cold blooded murders, mass shoot outs, point blank head shots, children and women scampering to hide in the closets and secret passageways, scores of people paraded towards the gas chambers, women shorn of their hair and disrobed, men and women closeted in huge wagons like animals and sprayed with jets of water through hoses, the cruel German in-charge taking random shots at the camp from his balcony gunning down innocent people for the heck of it and so much more. Words fall short as I try to describe what only the images can convey in their entirety; such is the craft and the art of this movie.

At the heart of this engrossing story is the charismatic Liam Neeson, donning the character of the war profiteer Oskar Schindler, towering both literally and figuratively in the most powerful performance of his career. Ralph Fiennes, as Amon Goethe, the psychotic, sadist, alcoholic German in-charge who shoots Jew prisoners at will and tortures his house maid for the pleasure of it, eerily sketches one of the most hated characters to be portrayed onscreen. Ben Kingsley as the dependable accountant makes his character relatable with the ease of a pro and essays it with all the idiosyncrasies, fears and helplessness intact. Other characters in the movie do not have as much screen time for them to be memorable but they do play their parts quite effectively.

The real hero of the movie though is Steven Spielberg. At the end of the movie, when the credits started appearing, I felt like kneeling down in reverence when his name appeared. The man is an institution in himself and it is unbelievable when you realize that this guy with no formal training in filmmaking, towers above all as the greatest filmmaker that ever lived. I can go on and on about his mastery but one will only truly appreciate his genius when one sees the ‘Schindler’s List’, a movie that is bound to bleed your soul as you come to terms with the heinous crimes and inhuman suffering, perpetrated for the sake of hate.

For those interested in knowing more about the real Oskar Schindler, Amon Goethe and facts and figures from the Holocaust, including the original Schindler's list, do visit the following link

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Stingy's guide to fun

Post 1:
This is one of my first posts about how I had a lot of fun and did not end up broke. It is about a one day trip to one of the popular hill stations in Maharashtra, called Lonavala. It is about 40 kms from Pune.

Five of us started off in the morning at about 10 am. After an hour long train journey from Pune, filled with discussions about the concept of ‘Free will’ vs. ‘Predetermined Destiny’, fueled by the reading of the book ‘God’s Debris’ by Scott Adams, me and four of my friends reached Lonavala. After some well rehearsed haggling (a talent, nurtured over years of economical shopping in the bylanes of the Fashion Street and Linking Road) with the rickshawwala, we started off in the rickshaw to go around the city and then moved on to Khandala, which is at a 6 km stretch from Lonavala. Even though it was quite sunny yesterday, the place was as charming as ever. First we had some lunch at Kamath (you always manage to find this franchisee place at all the tourist locations in India….) and then moved on to a place called Tiger valley. It had a real great view, with high, pointed rocks and plain plateau forming the two ends of the curve that I silently christened as the “Tiger’s Jaw”. It was striking in contrast to the rest of the area, especially when a huge cloud cast its deep dark shadows over the curve.

The Mumbai-Pune express highway winding through the majestic mountains, covered with thick, lush green jungles provided a nice balance of rustic and the modern. Since we had a friend's digital camera and my camcorder to our generous disposal, a flurry of photo sessions and video shoots ensued. Claiming to be somewhat of an expert at these things (since I have taken the cinematography online course, all the images seem to be analysis charts of shadow and light, color and contrast, focus and exposure and I heap my miniscule, oft-mistaken theories mercilessly, with great pride, on the helpless and the uninitiated.) I was directing people to take photos in a certain way, from a particular angle against a definitive view and even though all of them must have wanted to throw me down the edge fence line that we were sitting and posing upon, they were sweet enough to shoot me those tight, single-line smiles, which I strongly suspect were clever masks for their tightly clenched teeth within.

The only scary factor about that location was that it was at a dangerous curve of road, where the stretch was inclined in a gravity-favoring way and the vehicles had to slow down almost against free fall, with the respective drivers sweating it out to keep control. Thereby our photographic enthusiasm had to be curbed a bit, being restricted to certain spatial co-ordinates and physical positions that suggested minimum danger and reduced the chances of the photo-in-making being dubbed as “The last photo taken by XYZ”.
We couldn't resist the temptation of the melting 'gollas' and relished them hungrily. With maroon lips and stained teeth, we were quite a sight for the sore eyes. Moving up the road, the kulfi seemed irrestible too, the blazing sun making it all too delicious so we had a taste of it too. Then we stopped by a porcelain vendor selling colorful cups, glasses, and other such crockery items at reasonable rates. After much deliberation over the design and the color, three of us settled for three varicolored mugs for office tea times.

Then we moved on to a garden, again with a spectacular view of the other side of the valley. The highway was seen from here too. There was lot many sights to see other than cuddling couples and frolicking kids; like a cactus plant where love stuck had carefully carved out the names of their beloved in its barren and thorny stems. Such a contradiction: the dry cactus used for expression of the most vibrant of emotions, love. There was a cartoonist too, offering caricatures at a measly Rs.40/- but then in my case, his work wouldn’t have had a challenge since I already look like one. So in the view of the greater humanitarian purpose that I had to serve of not making the man feel like his talent was wasted, I decided to give it a skip.

Anyways, some more photo-sessions blossomed in full swing, with all of us, taking turns, in group of 2 or 3, to mimic the act of pushing each other from the top of the mountains, to the best of our acting abilities. It was lot of fun till I began to fear that one of my friends might actually get into the skin of the rogue character that he/she was playing and take the opportunity to end their constant pain (ahem…this is a clear reference to me) and push me over the edge. I cunningly stepped down before it went too far.

Finally we moved to this place called Shooting point, had another amazing view of the mountains and the deep valleys, with a few waterfalls (the rains have vanished for a while, so the scarcity) and meandering streams. To get to the shooting point, there were two ways: one- a relatively steep 50 degree runway down which needed quite some rock climbing skills and the second - a roundabout, safer walk down to the same place with minor challenges such as a few slippery stones. The second one was a better option anyday but then people who know me know that I consciously and subconsciously look for trouble and have a penchant for choosing the less conventional (read: the stupid oaf's way). My smarter friends took the better way and I tried to push my luck too far when I chose the first.

As I began my climb down (this HAS to be mentioned: As a undeniable evidence of my stupidity, I was wearing heels on what could unquestionably be a moronic choice when you know that you are going to a hilly region and would have to do some climbing), rocks started slipping under my feet and soon I was crawling (bottoms down) rather then actual climbing down. Then it got worse as I faced the slope down. Wow...this was it!! Either I go back, which was less tougher and laugh at myself for being such a coward or I take this almost suicidal fall of shame and have others (my friends and some unknown people who were staring from below at me int his moment of if waiting and hoping for me to fall) laughing at me. I chose and the next moment was hurtling down the path with demonic speed, imagining how tangled how I look when I crash. My life was beginning to flash in front of my eyes, when suddenly it was over. Yeah, I did it!! But till then my friends and those unknown people had all moved away and I had no one to flash my victory smile unceremonious. Pretending not be affected by this, I moved on.

The rugged terrain on which I stood now, had almost an 80 degree steep fall, punctuated by protruding rocks, uneven surfaces and carelessly grown bushes. It was just breath taking, not to mention that I was already out of breath thanks to my little adventure. Again there was a lonely waterfall here and a few streams nearby. A few picturesque houses were seen on the mountains that enclosed the valley, nestled snugly amidst the glory and harmony of the beautiful nature around. I felt that I should paint that whole scene, but then I when I feel like I want to sing (out of the joy of my heart) and do it, the results often aren't as harmonious (rather others think that they are not, I like to believe that they are just jealous)so I dropped the idea. Instead I just stood there watching the brilliant work of the greatest artiste ever.

Now my friends were again onto their photoshoots, but I, being a person, too tired of all this paparazzi affair and privacy-violating photoshoots kept away from it. It is another thing that none of my friends actually asked me to pose for any pictures then but Whatever. After that it was time to go and I chose the saner way to go up, along with the others. Ah, smart me!!

At the next point there was a dam but since no photography was allowed and we refused to part with our precious equipment, we had to turn back. Anyways we argued, what is the big deal with a dam, a few turbines, some high walls and a bit of equipment - nothing really worthwhile so we gladly spent our time doing the more important stuff - food. We had some cotton candy, few gulps of ice slush and 'butta', all worth the 'dam' time.

We asked the rickshawwala to take us back again to the station, which he promptly did. It was just a matter of 10 minutes before the train arrived, while we discussed our lovely day.

After the train journey from Lonavala to Pune, we walked down from the station towards the bus stand, an almost 15 min stretch away and there luckily found the bus home, almost immediately. Again it was a walking distance of about half an hour till we reached home, but it was so entirely delightfulIy amidst the teasing and the harmless jokes, whilst enjoying the beauty of the sunlit sky that we didn't realise it at all. By now, the looming clouds had begun to turn a darker shade, threatening to pour out at any time. The sky looked like a pregnant woman whose water was about to break. And in time it did too. But by then we were snuggling in the cosiness of our homes with a faintly tired body but a wildly invigorated mind, listening to the thundering music outside accompanied by the elusive rain. It was just 7:30 pm.

Now for the whole blog title justification thing:

The whole trip cost us about Rs. 100/- per head (excluding the food expenses-lunch, gollas, kulfi, cotton candy etc., again not very expensive), Rs. 500/- in total. We decided to go by train, instead of private vehicle, haggled with the rickshawala for a reasonable charge, used the bus - when in normal circumstances we would have opted for rickshaw and walked when it seemed like fun. It all turned out well plus we could fancy ourselves to be people who might make some smart investments in the future. A great trip and a good ego boost - all in a day's time.

Here are some details of the expenditure:

Rs. 104/- (Train ticket to and from Lonavala to Pune station for 5 people)

Rs. 330/-(Auto charges for the day)

Rs. 66/-(Miscellaneous - bus to and from Pune station to residence, pack of chips and biscuits shared by all)

Company of friends - priceless.

Till the next one....

Saturday, June 17, 2006

MI 3: Tom ‘Ethan’ Cruise’s $200 million egocentric extravaganza

Ting…ding..ding..ding..ding..ding… Ting…ding..ding..ding..ding..ding…ding…

The unmistakable MI 3 music had begun playing in my head long before I had entered the theatres that day, and it was more fun as I raced up the stairs, imagining myself to be some kind of spy on a mission….but more about myself later since this blog is for the movie MI 3, the well publicized summer blockbuster with the most famous movie star in the world, Tom ‘Popular’ Cruise at its helm…

The opening scene of the movie is predictably in the now-hot style of Director JJ Abrams (creator of the racy Alias and multi-layered Lost) where the Philip Seymour Hoffman asks the tied Cruise about the elusive Rabbit’s Foot. This Rabbit’s Foot is such a top secret that even in the end; no one knows what it is, including Tom ‘Producer’ Cruise. I guess the director couldn’t decide what he could possibly designate it to be, considering that nuclear weapons aren’t shocking enough for the audience bred on daily doses of WMD and any other thing isn’t just dangerous enough. So he took the easy way out –kept it a secret, atleast till the next installment, MI 4. (no big surprise…everyone can see it coming…)

The story isn’t all that complicated, except that the ‘spy’ terminologies used are, and the characters aren’t all that new, except that we are made to believe they are. Ethan’s fiancée Julia (Michelle Monaghan – whose resemblance to Katie Holmes is just too good to be a coincidence) thinks he is a traffic pattern expert (now that’s new!!) as they get engaged before he has to rush off to save one of his protégé, held by the sadistic arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Zillions of bullets, explosions and a helicopter chase through the wind mills – later he manages to rescue her only to have her die from an explosive charge planted in her head. He now has to track down Davian, who is to close some arms deals in Vatican City and he does too. Zillions of bullets, explosions, a bomber plane blasting the bridge-later Davian escapes and captures Julia, making Hunt go after the Rabbit’s Foot. Hunt and his team (Ving Rhames, Maggie Q, Jonathan Rhys Meyer) has to get the Rabbit’s Foot, save Julia, capture Davian and corner the double agent inside IMF all in a matter of 48 hours.

Sounds familiar? That’s because it is. With minor changes here and there, the storyline more or less resembles all the spy thrillers that we have seen before. The most – clichéd however are the dialogues. Deliberately and uninnovatively styled to get those immediate cheers and claps before the audience has faint recollection that they have heard those lines before. The action however is top class; with the stunts, getting bigger, flashier and more breath taking than before. It has all that you could list on a must-have-in-action-flick: bomber planes, monster trucks, slick cars, giant vans, helicopters, machine guns etc. of course apart from the regular MI franchisee gadgetry. The stunts are pacier too with Tom ‘Stuntman’ Cruise hopping from the top of one skyscraper to another, hanging from the base of the car shooting at the vehicles behind, scampering wildly amidst full-blown Shanghai traffic, running away from a missile and getting smashed into the side of a van due to the after – explosion and his usual top spy Hunt antics.

Arguably the most popular of all the motion picture sound tracks, the Mission Impossible title track ensures that the audience gets into that pulsating, expect-action-and-blowups mood. The new soundtrack though not as great as the previous ones (including versions from ‘smash rock’ Fred Durst and ‘eccentric’ Moby), nevertheless maintains the basic beat and gets us looking forward to the movie. The background score though is inconsistent and not up to the mark.

The cast has been cleverly assembled to attract all sorts of audience – Ving Rhames and Lawrence Fishburne, the dependable Afro Americans; Maggie Q, the curvy Asian incentive; Jonathan Rhys Meyer, the attractive British heartthrob; Michelle Monaghan and Keri Russell (as Agent Farris, the Hunt protégé) , the American cheerleaders; and of course Tom Cruise. The most inspired casting decision however is Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Owen Davian. In just a few minutes of screen time (Tom Cruise is busy hogging the limelight for almost 99% of the frames) he makes Owen more memorable than the rest of the cardboard cutouts around him. This guy’s got his stuff right and is clearly a director’s delight.

It is Tom, cruising along all through the movie, being the good guy, the great guy and the best guy. It is his money that you see being blown up so he might as well have all the spotlights. And damn, he’s still a great eye candy!!
So go watch this movie, but don’t expect some class cinema; it is entertainment and one hell of it while you watch. But nothing lingers long after the movie ends.

All that stayed with me after I emerged from the theatres was

Ting…ding..ding..ding..ding..ding… Ting…ding..ding..ding..ding..ding…ding…