Thursday, November 30, 2006

Its back to square one

These are interesting times for Indian cricket now, if you're not a die-hard fanatic. If you are, then you have no business reading this post. You should have hung yourself in the bathroom after the 4th ODI against SA. So 'dada' Ganguly is back. This was almost expected what with all the so-called 'hopes for the future' (read Kaif, Raina etc) have failed miserably to grab the opportunities that came their way and the more promising ones were suffering from injury (read Yuvraj). So the selectors have no option but to take a step back. They have realized that India has absolutely no bench strength, so the wise men are betting on the same famed Indian middle order we had a few years ago.

First, I have a serious grouse on the following idiots in the team.

Virender Sehwag: He has done absolutely nothing of note in the last year or so. He's been an abject failure in ODIs for a couple of years now. And his test performances have been steadily dipping. Add to it his cavalier attitude and expanding waistline and its clear that he's getting too big for his boots. And he hasn't yet realized that teams actually give him width so they can catch him near third man. He needs to be sent back to the domestic arena to learn his lesson and to rediscover his hunger.

Mohm Kaif: He's always been a strokeless wonder of the Sidhu mould. But he had heart and was a great fielder, so I thought he would come good at some point of time. But despite a few promising 50s, he's never take over the mantle of senior player that was expected of him. You cannot remain a 'young turk' for 5 years.

Suresh Raina: When I first saw him bat, I couldn't believe he was a fresher. He was so authoritative and showed no sign of nerves. But all that has fallen by the wayside. He might be someone for the future, but for now he needs to do his stint in the domestic league.

Ajit Agarkar: I'm shocked to see how this guy manages to always find a spot on the Indian team despite consistently dismal failures. Its probably because the really promising bowlers (Zaheer, Irfan, Balaji) lose their way after a couple of promising series, and the selectors always seem to turn to Agarkar, knowing he can't possibly get any worse than he already is. Its time to say goodbye to him once and for all. That said, here's a beautiful piece by Anand Vasu on the enigma that is Ajit Agarkar and why I might actually be wrong in my assessment. Who cares though! Its my blog and I don't want Agarkar in the team anymore.

I'm also seriously worried about Irfan, who seemed to be a great all-rounder prospect. He bowls 125 kmph lollypops these days. Justin Kemp could take a potty break in the middle of the delivery, come back and then smash it for a six. I think the problem with these young guys stem from the fact that they've all been hand picked from the under 19 or India A teams. They've never had to slog it out in the domestic arena. I know its not highly competitive, but you still need to put in the time. There is a vast difference between facing a under 19 Zimbabwe bowlers and then facing the music from Makhaya Ntini. Another problem is that our 'stars' do not play domestic cricket. This takes away a great opportunity for these up and coming talents to rub their shoulders with the best in the business.

So now, we're welcoming back Ganguly in the test team and Laxman in the one-day team. Wait a minute! Shouldn't it be the other way around? Ganguly has always been a more than average ODI player, but a seriously flawed test player. And who knows, Laxman might be able to bring a semblance of stability to the ODI team, despite his dodgy knees and penchant for getting people run out. And making him the vice captain for the test team is a great move and sends a clear signal to Sehwag.

I also think Dinesh Karthik is a great prospect and should be given regular chances while keeping Dhoni as the first choice. Karthik's keeping seems to have improved a great deal and he's always been considered a very talented batsman, by none other than Robin Singh. Munaf Patel is coming along fine despite the injury, and Zaheer seems to have found his purpose in life on this comeback.

So where does all this leave the Indian team? All our batsmen seem to have lost their form. We can't bat for 50 overs. Our bowling is inconsistent, thought definitely performing better than the batters at tge moment. We have a few options and maybe could put together a decent 11 soon. But we have no bench strength and the prospects don't seem too bright in the near future. I would probably not harbor too many hopes for the World cup next year. And we're probably gonna get our ass whooped in the test series as well in SA.

But again, who knows! Ganguly might play one of those Brisbane innings, and the team might rediscover the joy and pride of playing for the country. And we might even start a successful run that culminates in the world cup. Sorry, just trying my hand at some optimism. Doesn't always come naturally to me...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Worst movie ever?

Ok folks. I finally have a serious candidate for the title of 'the world's worst movie ever'. No, its not a Salman Khan starrer from bollywood or an equally mind-boggling cabtun fun fest from kollywood. This one come straight out of Hollywood and stars a bona fide actor and all. Yeah, 'Nacho Libre' is my candidate. And man, does it make a good case!!!

I've always kind of liked Jack Black. He has a goofy sense of humor, great facial expressions and he does not take himself too seriously. Movies like 'Shallow Hal' and 'School of Rock' had a heart as well. So when TV ads for his new movie came out, with Jack Black clad in skin tight pants in a wresting ring, I thought good ol' Jack might have done it again. It was also fun to shout "Naachoooooo Liibbbreeeeee" in a sort of hugh pitched tone and jump around on the couch just enough to irritate W and funkaboy. I would repeat this everytime the ad came on, even back to back ones. I was carried away so much by my own hype that I even considered watching it in a theater at one point of time. Now, I shudder at the thought.

Anyhoo, I picked up the DVD on a lazy weekday and settled down for an evening of fun and macho with Nacho (okay, I only did that for the rhyme!). And boy, was I wrong? The movie had only enough dialogs to fill up an A4 sheet, and approximately 76% of that was in Spanish. Nacho is brought up in an orphanage in some godforsaken part of Mexico filled with weird characters, and he harbors hopes of making it into the wrestling world, a la, WWF. Along the way, he meets the guy who would undoubtedly be the worst sidekick ever, falls in love with a nun and takes us through some lame ass stunts (literally!). The movie conveys absolutely nothing, and I'm being generous here. I'm fine with that if there were some funny episodes along the way. Nada, here too. Jack does not even try to be funny most of the time. He thinks that he can just show up in a scene, blurt something in Spanish, clench his ass and act all serious and self-introspective and the audience will roll over with laughter. Well, roll over I did. Not with laughter, but because I was being seriously beaten up by W for subjecting her to such torture.

So did I manage to watch the whole movie? Sure, I did. Partly because I'm a closet sado-masochist and partly because I wanted to see how bad the movie could get or if it might redeem itself towards the end. No such luck. This is not so much a review of the movie, but a rant from a demoralized fan of Jack Black. I donn't even understand what the motivation was to make such a movie. Don't tell me they didn't know this movie would be a total flop! It has nothing going for it whatsoever.

So let me sign off with a piece of advice you guys are going to thank me later for - DON'T WATCH THIS MOVIE!!!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


"Don ko pakadna mushkil nahi hai.. na mumkin hai". Translation for the no hindi malum junta, "Its not difficult to catch Don.. its damned near impossible". This is the clincher dialogue in the movie Don, the latest blockbuster from Bollywood. With Shah Rukh 'King Khan' in the lead and Farhan Akhtar of the 'Dil Chahta Hai' fame behind the wheel, a lot of expectations were riding on this movie. Not to mention the fact that they were attempting to recreate the magic of the original Bachan-starrer. Did they come through in the end? Let me walk you through my experience and then you can decide.

Yes, I admit it. I went for the movie. I could not say no to Kaboor who drove all the way from downtown (35 miles) to our suburbs, and W who's been jumping up and down ever since this movie came out. We walked in to the theater, the biggest one in AMC30 and there were just 2 people in the entire place. A few walked in once the movie started, but still the count could not have been more than 10. To be fair to Don, its been almost 2 weeks since it released and we went on a slow weekday.

I vaguely remember seeing the original Big B version of the movie, but don't remember much of it. I actually remember more of the story from 'Billa' a tamil remake of the movie that catapulted the inimitable Rajnikanth thalaivar to fame. When Shah Rukh Khan walks in clad completely in tight black leather with gloves and goggles and an old ass Razr phone to boot... let's face it, I thought the movie was doomed. However, by some combination of unseen forces, the movie held my attention for the better part of 3 hrs.

Ofcourse, it didn't hurt that there was a lot of eye candy around. Kareena Kappor plays the role that Helen did in the original movie. And even today, Helen has the sort of fan following and nostalgia that seems silly to waste on a screen vamp. But she has shaken it quite a bit in a lot of hit song sequences. The good thing is Kareens has put on a bit of weight, and hence would appeal better to South Indian folks like me. Bad thing is she still can't act. Anyway, she's gone in a few minutes, so we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Then comes Isha Koppikar who's completely wasted in the movie. She just lies around swimming pools looking good, and gives her best shot in a couple of song sequences. She does come through in the end. Priyanka Chopra seems to get delicious with every movie. She's shown as some kind of martial arts expert in the movie and i'm fine with that. But how the hell does she manage to penetrate the upper most echelons of an elite international mafia organization with just a staged shooting, I don't understand! And then, she's riding bikes, kidnapping people, playing with guns and knives, all without any formal training or experience. Impressive!

The biggest letdown in the movie is Bummer Irani, i'm sorry, Boman Irani as DCP DeSilva. Don't get me wrong. I have the higest regard for Boman Irani as an actor. I really liked him in 'Mein Hoon Na', the very impressive 'Being Cyrus' and more recently in 'Lage Raho Munnabhai'. But casting him as a police officer who shares as much screentime as Shak Rukh? Come on, are you kidding me!!! He's definitely bit off more than he can chew here. His facial expressions are constipated for the most part, and I'm being kind here. The shooting scenes were Boman tries to do typical gun combat poses behind cars are hilarious. He tiptoes around like Donald Duck on Ecstacy! And ofcourse, there's the big climax suspense. Okay, let me not play too much of a spoilsport here. But I'm going to be very wary of watching another movie where boman plays such a big role! The other disappointment is Om Puri, as the man form Interpol. He just walks around looking very important and gets screwed by everyone. When him and Boman with their bulging bellies and receding hairlines, are trying to track down AK47-toting mafia men in a parking lot, you are caught between laughing your ass off and feeling sorry for the Indian police force.

And ofcourse, there is King Khan. I guess there were a lot of apprehensions about whether he would be able to pull off a role that has become synonymous with Big B. I'm not sure how he fared in that department, and I guess I was lucky in that I did not have to keep comparing it with the original. But I think he did a good job. Let me start with Shah rukh's wardrobe. Have you seen a family with four kids ranging from 3-16 years of age, each wearing the exact same shirt and trousers? The parents would probably just buy a massive piece of cloth to economize. In Don, Shah Rukh wears these bright colorful shirts, and then a tie inside the shirt of the exact same cloth. A tight checked pant usually goes with this. The end result is that the fearsome mafia leader ends up appearing a bit on the gayish side. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it becomes difficult to take him seriously as a guy who goes about killing for fun! And wait till you see all the towels and bath robes King Khan wears. They're all inscribed with a big 'D' symbol, just in case we forget the name of the movie. Shah Rukh playing the part of the paan-spitting simpleton Vijay is unremarkable. Apart from a good song ('Paan Banaras Waala..."), he does precious little.

The plot, I'm told, deviates from the original towards the end. I thought the story had a lot of twists and turns that kept you guessing. A few of these are a bit over the top. But hey, this is a Hindi movie! If you brought your logic along with you to the theater, then you're either absent-minded or overly optimistic. The movie has a very slick look and feel, especially with the editing and photography. Shah Rukh uses the song sequences to put on various pimp-like costumes, complete with velvet and frills... but to his credit, he' s probably the only Bollywood hero who can pull off such outrageous costumes.

And now for the second admission - yes I enjoyed the movie! so what's the verdict? If you're a Shah Rukh fan, this movie will make you really happy. If you enjoy slick action movies or just want a masala movie to watch with your friends on a weekend, then this movie will work. For the rest of you I want movie with logic and sense losers as well as the no hindi malum Shah rukh is a funny guy gang, stay away!

Monday, November 06, 2006

An Aussie travel blog in India

I was doing some research about some travel spots for my upcoming India trip and happened to chance on this travel blog. It is written by an Aussie woman, Donna Rendell, who's spent 6 months traveling all over India. The travel blog is intended to serve more as her biography rather than any intentional tour guide. However, the part I liked the best was her last entry, where she summarizes her stay and bids adew to India. She also succintly summarizes the country and its people, that I found refreshingly honest without being patronizing, as Western tourists usually are when they travel in a third-world country.

For example, her take on Indian politeness...
You’ll never hear “excuse me” … instead you’ll be knocked over as people push past you to get on buses, trains, into or out of a store, footpaths.

Or about Bollywood. Although, I do think she's mistaken the Kollywood and the Mallu/Telugu industrues for Bollywood...
Most Bollywood leading men are uuuugly, fat and have big moustaches.

And our love for music...
There’s only two volumes for music here. Off and really fucken loud (and distorted)!

And our love for jeans...
All the bad jeans come here to die.

And the most hilarious observation of all - the unusual Indian habit of holding hands, even among males. This shocks even me when I go back to India these days. I know you guys are crying "hypocrite!!!", but I just can't help it...
I thought all the men were gay when I first got here ‘cause they all hold hands - even the police officers.

Here's the link to the complete article...

In summary, a decent travel blog and a great commentary on backpacking across India. And to think that I haven't even visited Taj Mahal (despite living in Rajasthan for 4 years) or Kerala (yes, my neighboring state!). Hopefully, I'll manage to spend that much time traveling across India some day. Although, I suspect our prejudices will not let us absorb as much of the culture and people.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

How I ran the marathon - Part 2

Let's continue with the story of how my Chicago marathon unfolded. Instead of the actual time, I'll use the mileage as my reference.

100 metres: The only thought on my mind was "Man, this is friggin' cold!". Looked up to see the display board flashing 38F. I'm sure the wind chill by the lake would have brought it down by atleast another 10 degrees. But it was fun! I knew there's gonna be a lot of supporters, but I hadn't signed up for this. I couldn't believe the enthusiasm. What would make you get out of bed on a cold cold day and walk down to michigan ave to support some strange marathoners? I wouldn't do it even if my brother or wife were running it! Saw 2 guys running together. The caption on the back of one guy's t-shirt read "I'm nailing his sister" with an arror below pointing to the other guy. Guess they must've been brothers-in-law, but it was just one example of all the hilarious t-shirts I saw that day.

1 mile: Still very cold. Overtaking me was a group of runners all dressed as superheroes, complete with masks and capes.

3 miles: The crowd and the noise was carrying me along, but I knew I had to slow down to prevent, or atleast delay, my injury from acting up. So I turned to SpiceTooth and asked him to go ahead. I didn't want to slow him down. So it was with a heavy heart (?!) that we both parted. We won't be completing the marathon together like we did for the half-marathon last year. I prepared myself for the next few hours of running on my own with noone to talk to. Ofcourse, there were a lot of strangers that I met and struck up conversations along the way.

5 miles: People constantly came up to me and commented that my t-shirt was very funny. It was an ASHa t-shirt with a few reasons for "Why do I run?" printed on the back. Things like "I run because the beer tastes so much better afterwards" must have really struck a chord with all those people.

7 miles: I could feel the twinge on my left thigh and knew the IT band injury was acting up. So I decided to mix my running with occasional walking. Downtown was beautiful. Lots of gatorade stands along the way and no dearth of supporters. Around this time, we were near the Lincoln park museum I think. I'd been holding in my pee for a bit and saw a few port-a-potties. Unfortunately, there was a long queue. Next to it was a lawn and there were guys sneaking up behind bushes and trees. So being the true desi I am, I couldn't let this opportunity to pee publicly in Chicago downtown go abegging. I walked on the lawn and was shocked to find a guy far away actually taking a dump by a bush. I turned away. But I was quite curious as to how he planned to clean up, if you know what I mean. to my complete shock, he just got up, zipped up his pants and went back to running. Just when I recovered from the shock, I realized something else. It was actually a woman. And she was just peeing. Like the rest of us. I guess everyone has their absolute pee holding limit.

10 miles: By now, the pain was quite evident. Ran with a few pacing groups. Different pacing groups target different speeds/timing for the marathon. This is usually, displayed on a placard carried by one of them. We had taken a U and were heading back into downtown on a parallel road. Turned a corner to hear some great jazz music blaring out of a house. Pepped up the good old soggy spirit!

12 miles: I was beginning to wonder if I were ever gonna meet W, Funkaboy, Kaboor and the rest of the cheer squad. Just passed Boys town, the official gay neighborhood of Chicago. There was a great dance troupe executing a routine that would have been unacceptable anywhere but a male strip joint. Hilarious! Saw a cross-dressing band as well.

13 miles: Almost exactly near the half-way point, I saw them. Kaboor was shouting and jumping and W was holding up her camera and waving to me. Funkaboy was right behind. Man, was I glad to see them. Walked up to them, gave W a hug. Learnt that SpiceTooth was just a 10-15 minutes ahead of me. Funkaboy commented that my eyes were red and bleary. It was the cold. I left them and continued on. This was the morale booster I needed.

15 miles: Passed through Greektown, right by Pegasus. Memories of previous night's sumptuous dinner and great wine came to mind. My stomach was positively rumbling now and I needed to eat something. Fast.

17 miles: I was outside UIC (University of Illinois at Chicago), my alma mater. Noticed that a few things had changed in the building and there was a new state-of-the-art gym across the road. Ran by my lab and crossed Thai Bowl, and onto Little Italy. There were the old UIC days' hang outs. Just when I was getting nostalgic, I noticed people handing out caffeinated energy bars. Grabbed a couple and started chewing on them. Felt a lot better. Just then, I saw the cheer squad again, this time with KKM, who lived in the neighborhood. Kaboor was positively out of control screamig and cheering me on. He was full of advice on how I need to slow down near the finish line with my arms raised, so I will be captured on a few cameras.

19 miles: Passed the Latino neighborhood. Realized I'd never been in this part of town. By now, I was very tired, and the pain in the left knee was growing at an alarming rate. When I ran, I realized I was limping, running with one good foot while dragging the other. I saw a lot of people with exactly the same kind of injury. I knew because they were doing stretches designed specifcally for this. A dad had brought his 3-yr old daughter to meet his wife who was running. The cute little girl started running with her mother for a few metres. Quite touching!

21 miles: Was looking forward to the ASHA stall. Was disappointed to realize that there was no stall and it was only a few ASHA guys and girls cheering us on. In any case, it was nice to see a few familiar faces and wave at them.

23 miles: Crossed China town and a few dancing dragons. I was having a hard time even walking now. Infact, running seemed to be easier than walking. I was also taking too long for each mile. Somewhere along the way, we passed the IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology) as well. There was an African band drumming away a very peppy beat.

24 miles: All around me, I saw people limping. A few were being supported by friends and relatives for the last leg of the journey.

25 miles: Finally, hit Michigan avenue again. Each of the last few miles seemed to take an eternity. I just wanted to get this over with. Everywhere, people held up boards that said things like "you're almost there!" and "Don't give up now" and "Pain is just weakness leaving the body". Very sweet of them, but I was all ready to give up.

26 miles: Yoohoo! saw the last mile marker. Just 0.2 miles to go now. I decided I wanted to run the last part atleast without stopping. I was rejuvenated and was looking forward to seeing the old gang at the finish line. Started seeing boards for 800 mts, 400 mts and 100 mts to go.

26.2 miles: THE END. I saw the gang sitting on the benches right next to the finish line. SpiceTooth had finished by then and had joined them. I started waving at them and crossed the line. Heeded kaboor's advice and took my time when I crossed the line with my hands raised. Sure enough, got some good snaps! Grabbed some biscuits and bananas to eat. Received my medal gleefully, took a few photos and then joined the my friends outside the runners' area.

All in all, quite an unforgettable experience. The support and encouragement from everyone along the 26.2 mile stretch was just unbelievable. I thought to myself that this couldn't happen anywhere else but Chicago. And ofcourse, what can I say about my friends' gang! Its hard to find such a supportive, loyal and enthusiastic bunch of friends. This includes my girl W, always right by me encouraging and reassuring when there appear to me so silver linings. Finally, all those friends and strangers who contributed generously towards my ASHA cause. No amount is small for a good cause. I couldn't have done this without each one of them.

I'm not usually the kind to be proud of myself, irrespective of what I do or achieve in life. But on Oct 22nd 2006, I was a proud man. A marathon has always appeared to be the ultimate test of character and spirit. A test of putting mind over matter. Now, I feel like I can do anything.