“Up in the Air”

Up in the AirYou know what? I like Shahrukh Khan. I think he has an amazing screen presence and on-screen energy which makes even his dumbest movies watchable at least for the first half. His on-screen chemistry with the leading ladies is always awesome. Yet, regardless of those screen names – Rahul, Raj or whatever – Shahrukh is always Shahrukh.

What I said about can be applied to George Clooney also. The man has a killer charm, wonderful on-screen presence and energy, yet remains to be Clooney for most of the times (perhaps except in the movie “Syrianna“). Be it Danny Ocean (Ocean’s series), Michael Clayton (Michael Clayton), Miles Massey (Intolerable Cruelty), Harry Pfarrer (Burn After Reading) or Ryan Bingham in “Up in the Air“. Clooney, with all his admirable charm and acting skills, hardly turns to become the character. He, like Shahrukh, gives the Clooney identity to most of the characters he played.

Which is why it turns out that the most notable performance of the movie “Up in the Air” is by Vera Farmiga with her portrayal of Alex. Alex is a frequently flying “air-companion” of Bingham and they have a casual sex relationship. Even an emotionally strong man like Bingham (his job is to fire people for corporate companies) who doesn’t spare enough time for family or friends (his friends are not even mentioned) gets the hang of boredom and falls for Alex. There you see Alex who asks “what are you doing here?” when Bingham knocks on the door of her house, where she lives with her family about which she never mentioned to Bingham. She goes ahead and tells him that her family is her real life and Ryan is simply an escape. Yet she does not bother to tell him later that they can meet up again. Vera simply handles the role of Alex who leads two parallel lives and compared to Clooney, she totally immerse herself into the character than Clooney making a Clooney out of Ryan.

The movie looks into the brutal realities of the corporate culture and it handles the theme so well without too much drama. Another actor who stands out in the movie is Anna Kendrick as Natalie Keener, an ambitious young woman who works with Ryan. Her performance is very honest and convincing.

The movie is subtle, convincing and comes with wonderful performances by the lead actors, but Clooney’s nomination for Best Actor in the Oscar? I think it’s not worth it.

Categories: Entertainment, Movies

Earth Hour 2010

As the Earth Hour entered the second year, I have the very same things to say that I said during the last year’s event.

But we have Earth Hour everyday!

The world is observing Earth Hour today, an initiative by WWF, as the individuals and companies would switch off lights for one hour – from 8:30 PM. But I will not be observing Earth Hour as we already have half an hour power cut officially everyday and the un-official power cuts are even longer. People from other states in India says that some of them have 2 hours long power cuts and some others have it for more than 4 hours.

All of this when people in the West (and Middle East too) enjoy the uninterrupted power and use it as much as they like (except for “Earth Hour” of course).  The creamy layer in India also eats up gallons of gas for uninterrupted power supply in their luxury apartments or villas, so they also can go “Green” in the Earth Hour. So it zeroes into the majority of common man in India who is being burnt in their non-AC rooms after his day’s hard work. And it’s not breezy outside, to go for a pleasant walk. And the common man would rather stay inside than “going out” during this time of recession. So no Earth Hour for me today.

Talking about awareness, one can do better than observing Earth Hour. Starting with shutting down the computer when not in use or switching off the AC and lights in the office bay when leaving for the day. So let those who utilize the power to the maximum around the world (except the Earth Hours) observe Earth Hours. At least that will make some change. I don’t think I need to smell like a rotten fish in the sweat for one hour in this hot summer. Those who rarely have power cuts and don’t give a damn about whether the earth heats or cools can try it though.

Categories: Environment

The Story of Bottled Water

From the house of “Story of Stuff”, now comes a new video which again makes you think. That makes me think, why are we not demanding to the Government for clean and safe drinking water for us all? Though we had a good news recently when an expert panel setup by the Kerala Govt suggested taking label steps to realize Rs. 216 crores for multi-sectoral damage in Plachimada, we have to wait to see it in action. Plus, we need to make sure that our politicians and bureaucrats do not eat up that money and would rather spend it on ensuring clean water available to all.

Categories: Activism, Environment

Blogswara in the news – again!

I must thank Indian Express for their continued support to a non-commercial platform like Blogswara. This article appeared in their Kochi edition in the beginning of the month. Thanks to you guys, for your continued support to sustain the uncelebrated, off-stream music. (By the way, have you heard the songs yet?)

Express Features

First Published : 05 Mar 2010 12:48:00 AM IST

KOCHI: Blogswara , the internet music community that acts as a common platform for amateur musicians, has released its sixth album.

The album has 14 songs sung by 22 new artists in four Indian languages.

A free music movement where visitors/ listeners can listen and download mp3 files free of cost, Blogswara (www.blogswara.in) began as a blogging initiative by a few people around the globe, who loved to sing.

Till date, many of the singers associated with Blogswara have not met each other.

According to Joseph Thomas, who was one of the first to launch the concept of Blogswara, the attempt is to showcase the hidden talent of amateur singers before the world by producing original music and sharing it over the internet.

“Soon after the release of Blogswara version 5, we had begun with the work of the 6th album. For the first time, we have included a Telugu song, last time we had included a Kannada song. It’s the first time that so many amateurs are joining the effort, last time we had 15 new singers,” says Joseph.

Professional singers like Pradeep Somasundaram and TV anchor Divya have also rendered their voice for the album.

Blogswara proves that people, wherever they are or whatever languages they speak, can come together for a cause – here the cause being music.

And the digital age has made it easy for them to collaborate, the blog says.

True to its tagline, ‘United in Music’, the album has many lyricists and music composers from across the globe, who worked from their respective places together to come up with the album.

News link here

Categories: Blogswara, Entertainment, Music

Mother this, Mother that

There is an English medium school to the back of our house. Same school where they did not give me admission because my family could not affor the admission fees back in those days. They are growing up pretty big, thanks to the increasing donations for admission and funding. Now they have several blocks, dedicated to CBSE & state syllabus and a teacher’s training school. As the school expanded, they needed to have more entrances than the main gate. So they started looking to buy off any available land/house from our street to build new gates to the school. One for kids who came by auto rickshaws, one for kids who walked on the way home and one for those who cycled back home.

The then principal of the school, a young Catholic priest who was later accused of buying vans for the school registered in his name, first approached our neighbor to see if they were willing to sell off their house to the school. They happily obliged and the priest gave them a good price for the house and the land. Later that house was brought down to ashes to make an entrance road to the school. But the road wasn’t wider enough. So they approached my elder brother one day and asked if we were willing to sell our house too. My brother said we wouldn’t. In our street, ours was the oldest and almost-falling-down-to-the-earth house. So the priest could not see any reason for why we poor fellows wouldn’t sell off their house for a very good price which was competent with the market price.

The priest approached my father secretly and asked the same thing. Father said No. When my brother came to know about this, he went straight to the principal priest’s cabin in the school and told him, “We were in this place for the past 60 years. This house was built by my father’s mother. This is our ancestral house and we are not planning to move from here. So stop approaching any one of our family with your price tags“. Priest stopped asking further (though the one who came after him tried another way of compelling us which we dealt with legally), I later took up the land from family, built a new house there and now staying with my family there.

When I look at it again now, it is not the count of years that makes me stay in that very same place. This is a house that my grandmother built with my father and his brothers. They built the entire house with the mud bricks and sandstone powder. My grandmother lived and died there (though I don’t have even a fainted memory of hers). My second brother lived in this house too, before he died at the age of 27 in a road accident and his body was brought into that very same house. This is family. There are emotions attached to this 5 cents of land. No power can ever buy that with their money, unless something real bad happens to our survival.

This is why I love that place. My home, because my family live in there. My street, because that is where our house is at. Our small semi-urban village, because that’s where our street is, my childhood friends are and the local community is with people whom I’ve known since my childhood. Thrissur, the city that I have grown up with it’s nooks and corners. Kerala, because Thrissur is a district in Kerala state. And my country India, because my state is part of this country and the people from our state have contributed significantly to build this country.

But the home town or home state changes to another form when it comes to define the country. It is not just home land, it is Mother land. I don’t understand what that means. Mother land? The country is seen as mother, we are taught. But why? A country is made of pieces of land and what makes us sentimental about it is because it hosts our home. If we were born and lived in America or Africa, that would be our home. When M F Hussain painted India as a nude woman, the fanatics and the so-called educated lot (I call them the qualified lot, because they are never educated in the word’s truest sense) came up in arms against him, asking if he would dare paint his Mother in nude form. Our nationalist blood boiled when we saw this piece of land as a nude woman. But we never raised much voices when girls were raped and killed in the very same mother land, just because they looked Chinese, though they were born in the same country. We had no problem in cutting the womb of a mother in this mother land, or killing the sons and daughters of other mothers in this mother land. Burning them. Raping them. But “insulting” a piece of land? That’s unbearable to us even when those killers and rapists walk among us.

Mother land, mother tongue… mother this… mother that… what do they mean really? What kind of conveniences or excuses do they give us? How are we assigning any meaning to them?

(Image courtesy: Focuswildlife.com)

Categories: Nation, Notes

Developments on the development

If the wealth of mineral extraction is funding social welfare spending, The Economist should ask why ordinary rural communities, like those I met in Jharkhand’s Karanpura valley, persist in a six year struggle to keep coal mining companies and thermal power plants from their land. And too why resistance groups like Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee would sooner face imprisonment than capitulate to myths about development. People living in places like the Karanpura valley are not stupid. They have seen their mineral wealth shipped out to benefit others. They understand better than anyone else that local communities must be at the forefront of the decision making process if they are ever to challenge the powerful interests that exploit Jharkhand’s wealth and continue to deny human rights to those who are being forced from their land.

We have heard it before and we keep hearing. And we keep believing all those big talks of how they help in protecting our future or how much they spend on enhancing our lives. Now, head over to see and read this excellent photo essay at Tom Pietrasik‘s blog on the reality of mining in India.

Categories: Activism, Nation

“My Friend Sancho” by Amit Varma

Being a regular reader of India Uncut, I didn’t hesitate to order my copy of blogger Amit Varma’s debut novel, “My Friend Sancho“. Even though Amit is the author of a popular blog that has a massive fan following, he never hesitated to put in his honest thoughts on topics that he wrote about. And he had taken a funnily sharp dig at many issues which I enjoyed by reading his blog. So when I heard Amit was coming up with a novel, I expected it to be unique on it’s own. The plot also, a tabloid journalist writing about an encounter killing, made it all the more interesting. But “My Friend Sancho” ended up as a huge disappointment.

The story can be summarized in a couple of sentences. A young journo goes to report a gangster-cop shootout and ends up witnessing an encounter killing. Then he is assigned to write about the victim, meets the dead man’s daughter and falls in love. Apparently, the hero is a Hindu and heroine, a Muslim (Yummy plot, right?). Story ends there. But even though Varma had a terrific plot to develop, he chooses to narrate yet another love story (yawn…) with a bit of humor (which eventually gets a bit irritating as we turn the pages) in a Bollywood-ish way. Well, I am unsure if Varma is eying an offer from Bollywood as his predecessor of such genre of fiction writing, Chetan Bhagat, who had one of his novels made into a Bollywood movie and the other ‘inspired’ a massive box office hit. The funny thing is, and I must say this, Amit Varma ends up writing a Chetan Bhagat book.

Amit Varma follows Chetan Bhagat not just in writing a Bollywoodish story, but he also tries to run off from cliches yet sadly end up falling in a new set of cliches. Look at the often-occurring sentences like this. “I exaggerate frequently, as in the last sentence” or, “okay, I made that last one up myself“. Regular readers of India Uncut would find Varma banking upon his own set of cliches in this book. The book starts off very well, like I said with a terrific plot to develop. The tabloid, the young journo’s professional life, the ethics of journalism, cops, encounter killing and most of all the cop – Mr. Thombre, meeting with the dead man’s daughter etc. It all goes very well, but sadly ends in the first few pages. As the hero meets the heroine, its just a ‘written-for-bollywood‘ story.

I just don’t understand the whole package of the book too. The lizard that makes to the book cover doesn’t have much to do with the book. It just pops up in a couple of times in the book, at odd places, with Amit desperately trying to make it funny.

As for the positives, the only character that would hang around after reading this book would be Thombre, the cop. And if this book is ever made into a movie, I cannot think of anyone but Saurabh Shukla for portraying this role. I also liked the way the novel ended, with a conversation just beginning with a “Hello“. That is a welcoming change than the hero chasing the heroine’s car, stopping it in the traffic, kissing and all that mushy stuff like in the other Bhagat’s novel. errr… I meant the original Bhagat’s novel. The book is an easy read that you wouldn’t need to carry a dictionary along, again like the other Bhagat’s novels. I read the entire book in a train journey from Trivandrum to Thrissur.

The problem with the new generation, pop-fiction authors like Chatan Bhagat or Amit Varma is like I said above, they end up making a new set of cliches while trying to write-off the old ones. Those who like Chetan Bhagat’s books will definitely like this book. And those who have read India Uncut, go for this one without much expectation and treat this as a commute book.

PS: I just bought a copy of blogger Sidin Vadukut‘s debut “Dork“. I don’t know why, but after reading MFS, I am less enthused to read bloggers in print. 😐

Categories: Books, Review

Malayalam movies, English titles

2009 is perhaps an year in which we have seen more Malayalam movies with English titles. Early 2010 movie titles also are not much different. Look at some of these titles below. Going by this, it will be too difficult to figure out the language of a movie by its name. 🙂

Senior Mandrake
Happy Husbands
Decent Parties
My Big Father
Kerala Cafe
Angel John
Robin Hood
Loud Speaker
Daddy Cool
Dr Patient
Moss N Cat
Sagar Alias Jacky
Love in Singapore

Categories: Entertainment, Movies

Thilakan and “The Gangs of New Kerala”

What goes on in the Malayalam movie industry these days make the movie lovers quite sad. The current state of the Malayalam movies is quite pathetic. We have only a couple of hits each year and rest of them bombs in the box office. The state of the cinema theaters is also pathetic that one wouldn’t take the pain of going to a theater to watch a movie and would rather watch it at his own home. With the arrival of big LCD screens, Dolby home theater sound systems and DVD/Blue-Ray discs, watching a movie at home is much much more comfortable than watching it in a theater. As a result, many theaters are closing down rapidly.

But who cares? There is absolutely no effective discussions going on about a rescue plan. The people in the industry are busy making crappy movies and the competition is so high in this field that we get crappy, crappier and crappiest movies – one after one. Then there are these organizations (AMMA, MACTA, FEFKA and all those funny names) which functions like gangs and we see their gang wars quite often. And it is cinema that dies in this war.

The whole incident of Thilakan being an outcast from Malayalam cinema has proved that there is no hope for any improvement in the near future. Thilakan had accused AMMA (Association of Malayalam Movie Artists) of not allowing him to work in the movies and he pointed fingers at the superstars (Mammootty and Mohan Lal) in particular. What followed was a series of cheap stunts.

Director B Unnikrishnan, general secretary of Film Employees Federation of Kerala (FEFKA), said that the actor in Thilakan has died. But Thilakan has some great performing moments of Malayalam cinema (or rather Indian or world cinema) to his credit and we all know what kind of movies B Unnikrishnan has directed. Unnikrishnan also said that he would resign from his general secretary position if Thilakan could prove that FEFKA banned Thilakan from acting in films. Incidentally, the same FEFKA has threatened to pull out all technicians from the movie “Dam 999” if Thilakan was cast and the producers threw Thilakan out of the project. And as far as we know B Unnikrishnan still holds on to his position.

The above incident proves that there is some truth in what Thilakan says. He also lashed out at the Super Star fans and I whole heartedly agree with him on the fan-hood. The fan associations work like thugs, threatening people if they boo in cinema halls (and they themselves send booing teams when their enemy star’s cinema is released) and they also threaten people who leave after intervals when they are fed up of watching crap movies, and now the fans of Mohan Lal and Mammootty have united against Thilakan. Kerala now see that the rivals joining hands to fight a lone, old man.

Thilakan undeniably is a great actor. The truth is that if there is Thilakan acting in a super-star movie, he outshines the super stars with his acting prowess; however small his role is in the movie. So there are good reasons to believe what Thilakan says about the popularity-hungry, fan-fed Superstars working on denying him chances. Take a couple of superstar movies for example. “Kireedam“, an award winning movie where Mohan Lal and Thilakan played father and son, had both Mohan Lal and Thilakan in an equal performance and for the movie lovers, it was a treat (remember the scene where Thilakan says “kathi thaazheyideraa…“?). Or take Mohan Lal’s commercial hit “Sphadikam“. Thilakan’s Chacko maash was the most powerful character in that movie than Mohan Lal’s Aadu Thoma. Or take Mammootty’s “Kauravar“. It was an outright Thilakan movie, though Mammootty was in the lead role. Or take movies like “Perumthachan“, “Moonnaam Pakkam” etc. I can draw a lot more examples.

But he had very little support from industry, probably because nobody wants to question the “kings” and destroy their own career. Sukumar Azheekode came in support of Thilakan but he only added more garbage to the already stinking mess. Thilakan had claimed that he is a staunch Communist, but the party kept mum on the whole matter. It is understandable particularly when Mammootty is the chairman of party-owned Kairali TV. So the party did not back the ‘lesser Communist’ when they have ‘elite Communists’ in their fold. But renowned director Shaji N Karun came in support of Thilakan. He said, “The organizations have nothing to lose if they ban Thilakan. But the it is the cinema viewers who are going to lose.” He is so right. It is not AMMA, FEFKA or any other organization who is going to lose, but us, the Malayalam movie viewers. And the members of these organizations are busy looting our money and give us crappy movies.

Categories: Entertainment, Kerala, Movies, News, Regional

Open letter to M F Husain

Dear Mr. Husain

I have great respect to artists. Especially to those like you who have set your own mark in the field of art, though I don’t understand (and can’t appreciate) certain forms of art due to the lack of my knowledge in the field of art. But as far as the freedom of expression goes, I am fully with you Sir. That nobody holds the right to tell an artist how he/she should express through their art. And an artist need not consider what his/her audience asks what to do with their artistic medium because that will kill the sole purpose of his/her work. Art is born when an artiste feels that he/she cannot live without doing it.

But you should also consider, Mr. Husain, that people are free to protest. Peacefully, yes. They can file complaints in the court and as long as the laws of the country see it fit, the court can ask you to be present and give an explanation by the law. No sir, I am not supporting the Sangh Family here. Those goons will have this or any other reason just to flare up the communal sentiments and get people into the street to get them killed. On one hand they proclaim they are a civilized society unlike the Fatwa issuing communities and on the other they issue their own Fatwas – like offering Rs. 51 crores to behead you, 1 KG of Gold to gouge your eyes and 20000 Euros to chop off your hands. But except for their blind and foolish supporters, nobody has thought a bit highly of them, so let us leave it at that.

Now coming to the matter at hand, shouldn’t you accept the end results of your work with the same courage that you took to do your creative work? Shouldn’t you face the court, like many brave souls did, to stand tall and firm for the artistic cause you had? Have you ever thought of what kind of an impression it leaves upon the supporters of freedom of expression when you go hiding in another country and fly around in your Ferrarri while you put all the blame on your old homeland? I do understand, that any man can get afraid of getting caged at this age, after having been revered as one of the great artists of our time. So if you just simply said that you don’t prefer to live in India fearing the court case, that would make more sense. But by putting blame on India, that it did not protect you or there were not enough sane and supportive voices, you are insulting the sensitivity of the majority of the people here in India, who have always supported the freedom of expression, unlike a few goons from the saffron brigade.

Were you running away fearing for your life? But even then, what makes you think you are more secure in Qatar? Fundamentalists are everywhere and if you are running away from them, you will have to run away from the whole world. So what is the kind of example that you are setting here?

You say a painter is a world citizen. But why just the painter, Sir? We are all citizens of this world, not just you. We all know that countries, states and borders are all illusions drawn by some people to stay firm to powerful places, but it is our convenience and sentiments that makes us stay where we are. Why don’t you just accept and admit that simple fact?

PS: I am also curious as to why you mentioned you had a friend, who was a “Brahmin”. What and how does that matter in proving your tolerance to religions?

Related post: I am an Indian

Categories: Art, Fanaticism, Hindutva, Nation, News