23-Sep-2007

Movie review - Dhamaal

I must admit that I never thought I would watch a movie named ‘Dhamaal’. However Outlook’s Namrata Joshi had given it a good review and I respect that dame’s reviewing skills quite a bit.

It was so worth it.

Inspired by It’s a mad mad mad world and generously recycling old school jokes, Mr Bean episodes, Tinkle stories, internet forwards et al, the movie manages to get the comedy element just right.

You need to get past Manav’s and Boman’s introductory scenes, which have the gross kind of toilet humour that makes me avoid most movies with that have a minimum of four heroes in it. Once you cross that, it is pretty much a smooth ride. The five main characters are mostly hilarious, with Javed miles ahead of the rest (Why oh why is he not acting in more movies?). All of them are on a hunt for a treasure buried in Goa. They make the trip down to Goa, fighting amongst themselves, splitting up, making other friends and finally reuniting to make one last effort. It ends with the same lightness that flows through the rest of the movie.

At two and a half hours, it is just the right length. The first half is more hilarious than the second. There are no useless jokes about women and the toilet humour stuff is just about five minutes long. A dozen characters roll in and out of the movie, all of them quite interesting. Stereotypes are shamelessly laughed at but this is the kind of movie where you expect and forgive it. It has definitely been a long time since some really decent slapstick made it to Bollywood big screen. Good time pass.

19-Sep-2007

Azhagiya Singapore

Ok. I knew the Singaporeans were obsessed with method and order. However when I looked out of my flight and saw rows upon rows of trees in neat lines and whorls, I was shocked. Heck! They surely can’t have organised woodlands.

Luckily the Asian aggression and penchant for disorder lay just below the veneer. My cabbies for the trip proved it. The first one had no clue how to reach my hotel and finally put me down outside the convention center of the hotel. The one who took me to Mustafa turned right sharply from the left lane making me get all woozy. Go, guy go.

Mustafa’s bright interiors cleared up my head though. I think the store is an ultimate test of whether you are a true shopper or not. When I saw the rows and rows of cosmetics, electronics, watches, gadgets all stocked closely together, my heart leapt up somewhat like Wordsworth’s when he beheld a rainbow in the sky. I plunged right into the crowd and snaked my way into the digital camera counter and began my crusade. This is in stark contrast to my sister who warned me to stay away from Mustafa if I wanted to keep my sanity intact. The store clearly divides the populace into candidates for shopaholics anonymous and the losers.

Shopping expeditions to other malls revealed that Singapore is a fairly expensive place and frankly India has pretty much everything (smug grin) now. So no point paying for excess baggage and a twisted back hauling an unwieldy large suitcase off the baggage carousel.

I had made a list of places to visit, which is a fairly easy task considering the Singapore tourism website is very comprehensive and given that the island itself is very small and there are not too many things to see. The Night Safari turned out to be a very surreal experience. Credit must be given for creating a very natural habitat for the animals. However, riding in a tram past a tiger ripping apart its dinner, is not exactly a natural experience. Neither is standing on the other side of a glass wall of a sleeping cheetah or patting pythons and posing for a snap. It was almost like being in the cast of Jurassic Park or Jumanji. In contrast, the trip to the Underwater World in Sentosa was excellent. Given that the closest I have come to sea creatures is on my dinner table, I found it entirely pleasant having the various fishes, crabs, sharks and whales in neat titled cages lined up on the walls. I hired an audio tour guide MP3 (Best 5 bucks spent during my stay) and slowly wandered around the exhibits listening to the evolution, history and peculiarities of each creature. The decorative sea crabs that stick bits of sponge and plants to its body were hilarious. The Japanese giant spider crab, the size of a small beanbag was terrifying. And I swear as I stood on the travelator and watched the fishes in the glass ceiling above, a stingray followed me for half the distance with accusing eyes.

Singapore’s most interesting creatures will however have to be its Chinese women. They are all petite, with clear skin and straight hair and dress everyday like they are off to attend the most important event of their lives. And what shoes they wear! Gorgeous, slim, strappy, heeled specimens that deserve not to touch the ground. Perched on these impractical footwear they walk the long distances in the malls and the MRT. My friend told me that one of the nation’s main health concerns is stress fractures and knee problems from which these women suffer. Not at all unexpected.

The one unexpected incident that did happen to me was the earthquake in Indonesia. On the third day after my arrival, I woke up and headed into the wash armed with newspapers. The front-page headlines informed me about a huge earthquake in Indonesia and assured me that tremors had been felt in Singapore. Suddenly, I could feel the tremors. I assumed it was a mere hallucination caused on account of the newspaper article and general morning grogginess. Unfortunately, the tremors continued. Changing into more respectable clothes lest I had to run down was the work of a moment. Then peering out of the window of my 34th floor room, I noticed no one seemed to be running. Then worried I would fall out and die if my window glass cracked, I leapt back a bit and opened my room door and checked for tremor-proof activities. Nada. By then, the tremors had stopped. Later on I found out that there had indeed been some vibrations.

During the weekend, I stayed with friends who were kind enough to take me for a long walk pointing out the important sights and sounds of Singapore (Merlion, Raffles quay, Boat quay, Parliament building) and fed me well. In five days I had seen quite a bit and was feeling claustrophobic from being on such a small island. My body clock was still grappling with the challenge of the 2.5 hours time difference and when I got into the plane back, I slept like a baby.

It was a good visit but certainly not what I would rate as must see. Combining Singapore with some other South East Asian country would probably be a better idea.
p.s. The post title is taken from the slogan used to advertise Singapore when I was a kid and used to enthrall me with the wonderous possibilities in the country.

17-Sep-2007

Singapore girl

There are many sure things in life - Moms always get to eat the leftovers, your boss always catches you surfing about your next vacation, VLCC ads show 100 kg before snaps of women who have managed to bring down their weight to 76 kgs after an excellent combination of diet and exercise. Which is why when I saw this ad for a slimming centre in Singapore's Strait Times my eyes fairly popped.





This lady was 66 kgs before her weight loss! That is the kind of weight where you would be considered slightly on the slimmer side in my part of the world.

Boy, is it tough to be a Singapore girl

16-Sep-2007

Ganpati Bappa Less-ia

The fact that Ganesh pandals have sprung up here and there in Chennai is good evidence of a singular lack of imagination. As a primarily Maharastrian custom, it is not too popular here. Nevertheless the State units of the more ‘nationalistic’ political parties labour on every year in the hope of generating mass hysteria and cutting through to the vote base of the Dravidian parties. As most of their other laughable ideas, this has also not worked too well so far.

One of the Ganesha pandals I managed to pass by this year was an example of why these State units should seriously consider dropping the idea. The pandal owner had neatly come up with various avatars of Ganesha depending on what had caught his fancy. I noticed a ‘nut’ Ganesh, a ‘grass’ Ganesh, a fruity Ganesh, a coconut Ganesh and turmeric Ganesh. In case you are reaching out for your Penguin book of Hindu mythology, let me assure you that all these are definitely not sanctioned avatars of the elephant god. Clearly an overactive imagination had been at work. The only problem was that the level of competence had clearly not matched the level of enthusiasm. The turmeric Ganesha was alright, merely looking like he was suffering from an advanced case of Hepatitis B. The nuts and fruits Ganeshas were also reasonably fine. The grass Ganesha looked like a mutant child of a union between Ganesh and an Ent from Lord of the Rings. What really took the cake was the coconut Ganesha. The statue was embossed on all sides with empty coconut shells all covered in a fine layer of mud. The effect was of watching Ganesh suffering from some unspeakable disease, no doubt contracted by being promiscuous with the Apsaras. Just looking at it made me want to shut my eyes and sing songs to calm myself down.

I am not the one to quibble about Ganesh being given new forms. Infact, assimilation of new ideas is probably the cornerstone of a religion’s survival. As a child I had heartily applauded when I saw Ma Durga riding a dinosaur in a pandal in Kolkatha (Jurassic Park had just been released that year). However I do protest against my aesthetic senses being offended like this.

The irony was that despite the stark ugliness of the whole range of Ganeshas, devotees were still passing by them in a steady line, touching the feet of the statues. Boy, religion sure sells!

05-Sep-2007

Boys will be boys

Here are three recent guys-dealing-with-women-in-a-romantic-setup stories I have heard/seen in recent times

Story #1

Quizzing enthusiast friend of mine meets ex for lunch. Ex tells him that she is getting married.

‘To?’ My friend asks

‘Your quizzing rival’, she replies

‘Oh, OK’, my friend replies

Later on my friend tells me he has resolved to beat the shit out of this guy in every quiz they go for from now on.

The war of the geeks clearly has its specific idiosyncrasies.

Story # 2

Two colleagues of mine, Aag and Rash are in the local train. Aag’s looker female friend turns up and Aag introduces her to Rash. Rash is clearly intrigued and wants to make a good impression

Aag: Meet Rash

Rash: Hi

Girl: Hi

Rash: So where do you stay?

Girl: Trompet

Long pause. Rash is expectantly waiting to be asked where he stays. He is mentally making up and discarding sentences. The final words are ready in his lips. His face is contorted from the effort of not preempting her.

Finally after an eternity

Girl: So where do you stay

Rash: (words tumbling out in a rush): Near Vinayaka temple, the green building in the corner, with the single window. You can see me in the balcony.

More pregnant pause as Aag and girl digest outburst of info.

Aag: (whispering) Dude. She just wanted to know where you stayed; not a route map to your house.

Rash (sheepishly): Trompet

Story # 3

Visiting my friend’s house. Her 13-year-old son Tock gets a call from his ‘special’ female friend in school. The room has my friend, her 9 year old and me. All of us quietly listen to a very embarrassed Tock

Tock: Why did you call me?


Tock: Ok, so?
…. Realizing our wide-eyed gaping is cramping his style

Tock: Oh God. Can’t I get any privacy in this house?

Later on when Tock comes back, we quiz him on why she was calling him so late in the night. He blushes pink and says because they are good friends.

Ah. The kid is learning the terminology at any rate

03-Sep-2007

Movie review - Ratatouille

I enjoyed watching this movie a lot because

1. I am a sucker for animation movies.

2. It is great to watch people saying 'two tickets for the rat movie please'. The intrepid ones who tried to pronounce said 'rat - a - tool'

3. Any movie that is about food, smelling it, feeling it and eating it is worth a dekko

4. The first five minutes alone deserved special applause. The rest of the movie was predictable but I like to see good people getting their due in the end

5. It was Friday night and I was out of office by 6.15 to watch a 7 p.m. show. I have a life!!

Time will tell

There is a dialogue in Shrek 1 that goes like this

Shrek: Ogres are like onions

Donkey: They stink?

Shrek: Nooo. They have layers

I think the audience relationship with Bollywood is somewhat similar. Most people think the movies stink but frankly it is about peeling the layers. Take for instance Waqt – The race against time. The first glance would have you believe that it is a torturous melodrama about father – son relationships. Peel its layers and then the subtlety of the message hits you. The two key themes are – corporate planning and advanced medical research.

Rich industrialist Easwar Thakur (played by the omnipresent Amitabh Bacchan) wants to teach his spoilt brat son Adi (Akshay Kumar) to become responsible and independent. This lesson needs to be taught fast since Easwar is dying of cancer. A fact which Adi learns just as he is about to get on stage to perform in a competition that will launch his film career. Adi promptly cancels his stage performance and puts his dad in an experimental research programme for increasing longevity of patients in advanced stages of cancer. He takes the mike and makes an appeal to each member of the audience to spare one minute of their lives so that collectively the life of his dad can be extended till his son is born. Voila! It works. Easwar lives for about 23040 minutes just long enough to see his grandson’s naming ceremony. *

This movie I think will finally put to rest any arguments on the ability of Indians to think laterally and innovate path breaking new methods in medical science. You can almost see Adi laughing all the way to the bank as the milestone payments for successful completion of Phase 1 clinical trials come in.

Going back to the movie – At the 23038th minute Easwar looks close to death but is still unsettled by one niggling worry. After all Amitabh probably knows from personal experience that rarely does an actor make a good businessman. Son Adi is clearly going to join the ranks of Bollywood. At this point, Easwar’s wife pips up and says that she and her daughter in law will manage the company. Easwar looks happy, the credit rating of Thakur enterprises moves from BBB to AAA, PE investors in search of a good story begin peering through the Thakur mansion windows and all is well that ends well.

* Accurate number of minutes arrived at by assuming naming ceremony happens on the 16th day from the day of birth.

01-Sep-2007

Say hello to your friendly neighbourhood genius

Yesterday was one of those days at work where you get such an adrenalin rush that you concede sometimes it is worth having access to a comp and mail.

I cracked the Mensa quiz forward someone had sent.
(For those of you who don’t know what Mensa is, it is a club for people who have an IQ of over 140, thus making them the brightest people on earth)

My colleague had forwarded an attachment where you had to crack codes like ‘1000 Y in a M’. This stands for 1000 years in a millennium. There were 33 such codes. Cracking 12 – 18 puts you in the ‘intelligent’ bracket. 19+ is the genius bracket where you qualify for the Mensa club. When I had reached 15 and was stuck for a while, I must admit I was slightly worried that my genius would not be officially recognized. Luckily after a while the golden 19 mark was hit and when I crossed 20 (always good not to be a borderline genius), I got together with two other colleagues who had also cracked 20 to compare notes.

The three of us then sat and started putting our collective geniuses together in the rarefied intellectual realms of my colleague’s office cubicle. We notched up to 25 rapidly. Other colleagues, abandoning their own individual efforts to qualify as a genius (talk about team work), joined us and began to help. Soon about five of us were loudly coming up with all sort of weird combinations. 15 P in a RT = 15 planks in a railway track?

When we hit 29, the tension was palpable. We were close to setting up a rocket science laboratory of our own. Then two of us came up with a simple and obvious solution for one of the codes. Hearts thumping, we tried it on and it worked! High fives followed and yelps of delight attracted the attention of the whole office. Including my boss who had no reason to doubt all of us were toiling away on something entirely not in sync with our strategic vision.

He came across, took a look at the sheet and then looking at all of us gave the answer for 15 P in a RT.
31 down, 2 to go.

My colleague cracked the 32nd just before we stepped into a team meeting. Halfway through the meeting, another colleague showed a SMS from his wife cracking the 33rd one.

Ah. The satisfaction of an afternoon well spent.

p.s. The final verdict on the quiz was that it was a tad disappointing. A lot of combinations that we would have considered tricky or clever were not there. But perhaps a genius is made of simpler and stronger stuff.