Monday, December 25, 2006

All the King's men

Sean Penn has been one of my most favorite actors for a long time now. Late one night a few years ago, I saw a little known movie called She's so Lovely, where Sean Penn plays the role of a guy who has an extremely violent and emotional relationship with his girl friend. Eventually, he becomes deranged, gets cured and comes back to get his girl who's now happily married with a kid to John Travolta. And just when you're expecing him to fade in the dark, you're shaken out of your senses when you find out that the woman loved Penn so passionately that she's ready to give up her husband, kid and comfortable existence to go back to him. The intensity that Penn brought to this character was unbelievable. Ofcourse, there have been many other memorable movies since then like I am Sam (for which he should have easily won the Oscar instead of the Mystic River eyewash) or the more recent 21 Grams.

So ofcourse, I was looking forward to watching All the King's Men despite the negative reviews and critics panning Penn's performance as the hand-waving anti-establishment Governer of Louisiana, Willie Stark. And needless to say, the movie and Penn did not let me down. Yes, Penn was a little over the top. But that was in keeping with his character Willie who rises from a hick town in Louisiana to become its controversial Governer. He wants to help the people and fight the rich oil and gas companies. He wants to take the money from the hands of the rich to build roads, highways, schools, universities and free hospitals for those who can't afford it. He's passionate about the cause and will do anything to get there. In his own words, he will cut down anyone that comes in the way of him and his people's rights. His speeches are fiery, venomous and hair-raising. In private, he's a man who's slowly losing his values - he takes up drinking, womanizing and double-dealing to get what he wants. In the process, he pushes too many wrong buttons that finally leads to his demise. Sean Penn has done an amazing job in bringing this intriguing personality to the screen. Rather than being distracting, his hand waving in fact shows his character as passionate and full of zest. His southern accent is so natural that you forget he was actually born in California. He delivers a powerful performance that will leave you applauding.

The most surprising part of this movie, for me, was Jude Law's portrayal as Jack Burden, who narrates the story in his own words. Here's a guy who comes from the old rich, he's a celebrated journalist and someone who does not really believe in anything except himself. And somehow, he finds himself getting fascinated with Willy, starts believing in him and shares his vision. When he tells Willie "I don't work for you for love or for the money", Willie simply replies with a smile "I know why you work for me Jack. You work for me because I am the way I am and you are the way you are". Its a pretty loaded statement if you consider the context. Not always a big fan of Jude Law, I will probably have to start respecting him more after this role. He downplays it so well, but is always there reflecting your own opinion. Anytime something dramatic happens in the movie, you want the camera turn to Law so you can see how he reacts - with a simple nod or a faintly recognizable smile or sometimes shock.

The rest of the characters simply do not have enough screen time to develop well. Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet and Mark Ruffalo have all been wasted. Hopkins need to stop talking in a British accent regardless of the role he plays, which in this case happens to be an influential judge and a rich Southerner.

The movie is technically well-made. Every shot is taut with tension and drama, the lighting is just so, the music dramatic when it needs to be, the editing precise and the mid-century Louisiana colors captures the era beautifully.

In the end, you empathize with Willie. You know despite his short comings, wheeling dealings and using the people around him (especially Jack), he has the peoples' good at heart. The movie also comes close to representing the current political scenario with the oil, gas and arms companies still holding sway and playing a big part in American politics. You wonder what will happen if such a charismatic, even eccentric, anti-establishment guy really makes it through our political process and represents the people while standing up to those with money and influence. Ofcourse if he keeps repeating "By God's will" or the "wrath of God" like Willie does in the movie, he stands the risk of getting branded as a religious zealot and laughed out before the primaries.

All in all, a wonderfully made movie, enriched by the performances of Sean Penn and Jude Law. If you have time on your hands, and noone to disturb you at home or keep complaining about the pace of the movie, this is definitely worth a watch.

Friday, December 22, 2006

10 Greatest moments of my life

In everyone's life, there are defining moments that change the course of his/her future. It just sneeks up on you and takes your breath away. You've dared to dream about it but never thought this could happen to you. And when it does, you know your life is never going to be the same again. Getting my Kellogg admit has to be one such occasion. This got me thinking about all the other special moments that I have taken for granted. So, after much soul-searching, here are the top ten greatest moments of my life. So far...

10. Sending a check back home from my sign on bonus at Motorola to pay off my loans I took to come to US.

9. Receving an admit with Teaching Assistantship and full tuition waiver/stipend to UIC.

8. Getting a FedEx package with an offer from Motorola for my first job. I had all my friends around me and we partied hard that night.

7. Receiving the letter of admit to the EEE program at BITS Pilani.

6. Completing my Chicago marathon with my knees threatening to tear away from their sockets while my friends cheered me on at the finish line.

5. Meeting W the 2nd day in the US and getting introduced to each other with a simple handshake. Barely did I know this was going to change my life in ways unimaginable.

4. Receiving my 12th std public exam marksheets and realizing, against all reason and logic, I came first in the entire school.

3. Getting a call from Kellogg informing me I've been admitted to the full-time MBA program.

2. W and I were on a walk in the park across the road and we finally decided that we want to be together for the rest of our lives.

1. And the numero uno? I'm reserving this for the moment when I tie the knot with W on Jan 28th 2007.

Ofcourse, there are tons of special moments that did not involve me but still brought tremendous joy and satisfaction. For example, my brother getting into the IIIT program in Bangalore, my cousin - who's like my sister - giving birth to a baby boy, my grand father recovering from a heart surgery, W coming back to Chicagoland and getting her first job offer (she had moved to NJ briefly), parupps finding his first job after a long and frustrating search, dad starting his own business etc etc.

There are also some events that do involve me and deserve special mention here (and obviously involve a lot of firsts) - getting my first car, closing on my first home, my first (and last) bike in the US, my first trip back to India from the US, my first job offer at BITS (IBM - I never joined), the talk about W, marriage and cultural differences I had with my dad on the Deccan Air flight from Tirunelveli to Chennai, Sugan-Srikanth's wedding, Arun-Cindy's wedding, the inter-class cricket tournament at Santhome High school when I went in as opener and took every attack apart and got invited to a coaching session, meeting my 2 best friends-to-be at the same school, my first bicycle, performing on stage at the inaugural ceremonies of OASIS in front of a huge audience and the after-parties that followed, those lazy summer evenings playing volleyball and later chilling with good beer and great friends, the list goes on and on...

Looking back, I realized that its been an interesting ride so far. Though I know there's plenty more to come, nothing can match the abosolute thrill of something huge happening for the first time to you. My next job offer is not going to be as exciting as the first, I'm never going to meet a girl like W (not that I can do anything about it even if I do!), or I could possibly not make better friends than those that I already have. Still, I can't feel but excited about the next turn in my life and where its going to lead me. Watch this space!

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Well, that was my reaction when the Kellogg adcom called me yesterday evening on my way back from work to inform me that I'd been admitted to the MMM program at Kellogg. She laughed.

MMM is a dual degree. A Masters in Engineering Management on top of an MBA degree. So I get 2 degrees for the price of one. This is a dream come true and hopefully will mark the start of a new stint in my life and career. Anything is possible from here on.

The apping and the waiting have been horrible. But now its all worth it. I'm savoring this right now with my fiancee W and some wine.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dhoom 2 and a kissing controversy

Yeah, I was dragged begging and screaming to watch Dhoom 2. This weekend, I went to a get-together for ASHA marathoners and happened to take W along. And when I introduced Amit and his wife, they all seemed to hit it off. I knew it was a mistake right away. Why? You'll see soon. After a few drinks and dinner, Amit and wife mentioned to W that they were going to a 11:10PM show of Dhoom 2 in a theater. Till then, I had somehow managed to keep W subdued about this movie citing bad reviews and basically waiting for it to go away from the silver screen. My world came shattering down when W turned around and asked me with those big excited eyes "Can we go?". Ofcourse, I didn't have the heart to say no. Traitor SpiceTooth quietly dropped us off at the theater, and before we could say "machan", he was gone like the wind. Bastard!

Anyways, this blog is not meant to be a review of this movie. However, there was one scene in the movie were Hrithik and Aishwarya profess their love for each other. They're both near tears as they lovingly kiss each other, on the lips as it so happens. This is probably the only scene in the movie that I thought was well-made. And lo behold, what happens in India? A lawyer files a case against the actors, citing the kissing season as an indecent act.

So that got me thinking on what could have been the motivations behind such a blatantly hypocritical lawsuit?

1. Maybe he's a bit shocked and thinks that these kind of things have no place in sacred India. Then it goes without saying that he has never seen other Hindi movies where there's a whole lot going on other than kissing. In a country threatening to be the leader in HIV and AIDs cases, kissing is probably the last thing we need to worry about.

2. Maybe he's okay with the kissing as long as it does not involve Indian actors. He'll watch Hollywood movies in Indian theatres, and obviously will not file lawsuits against any kissing scenes there. However, the bollywood fantasy world is no place for such indecent activities.

3. Maybe he's pissed off that Aishwarya Rai, who's seen as one of India's biggest names abroad, is sullying Mother India's reputation?

Whatever be the reason, shouldn't he be filing petitions or lawsuits against the Indian Censoar board for giving this movie a universal rating? Why would he try to blame the actors for doing what they are told to do and get paid good money for? The only possible explanation is that he's trying to inconvenience and embarrass such actors so others are wary of repeating this in the future.

At first, my thought was that this guy just needs attention. But apparently, that is not the case. He actually avoids the media, but is genuinely concerned about such onscreen incidents. Here are a few excerpts from his interview:

Dhoom 2
, he says in his petition, lowered the dignity of Indian women and gave an obscene message to India's youth.

"They are portraying vulgarity in our Indian culture," says Dwivedi. "Dhoom 2 cannot be watched by Indian families because it is a vulgar film."

What precisely is objectionable, I ask. Pressed on the point, the advocate says "I felt the kissing scene was objectionable. I went to see the film with my child and it was quite embarrassing. The least they could have done was certify this as an adult film. No one is bothered about this, not even the censors. This is not right according to our Indian culture."

So how does he define Indian culture, where and how does he draw the line? "I don't want to get into that controversy," he says, side-stepping the question.


"My conscience made me file this case," says Dwivedi, a tall man with a receding hairline.

He is clear in his mind, though, that the Aishwarya-Hrithik lip-lock in the film is a clear case of obscenity.

Dhoom 2, he says in his petition, lowered the dignity of Indian women and gave an obscene message to India's youth.


This incidentally is not his first tilt at tinseltown. He had earlier filed a case against Dharmendra and Hema Malini, when Dharmendra said he had not converted to Islam and married Hema Malini as his second wife.

He also filed a case against director J P Dutta's LoC Kargil after the Indian flag was shown wrongly draped and placed on the coffins of Indian martyred soldiers.

The most high profile of his cases was the one he filed against painter M F Husain, when he drew Hindu goddesses in the nude.

"Husain had no business to paint Mother India and other goddesses naked. It was very insulting for every Indian," Dwivedi says, his anger evident in his tone.

But what, then, of artistic license, of the freedom of expression that is the bedrock of a democracy?

"Why don't you paint your own mother nude?" Dwivedi demands. "When you can show Durga and other goddess naked, then why not Husain's mother's naked portrait too? Let him do that first. I think it is an insult to our nation to do such acts."


But why Aishwarya? After all, Mallika Sherawat became famous for 17 kissing scenes in a single film? "I never see Hindi films," Dwivedi says. "I didn't see any of Mallika Sherawat's films, therefore I am not aware of these things. I happened to see Dhoom 2 and I found the scene objectionable. It is a film that one cannot see with one's family, and therefore I filed a case. Whenever I feel something is wrong, then I do these things on an individual basis."

Then again, not a single case he has filed thus far on such issues has met with success -- so what then is the point? "I hope to get justice one day," he says, simply.

"I am not disappointed; I only want that such acts should not be repeated. other filmmakers must learn from past experiences, by not including such obscene scenes in the future. If that happens, then that is my victory."

Monday, December 04, 2006

Tamil rap

I saw this video by a tamil rap band on youtube at a friend's place a few weeks ago and totally enjoyed it. Since then, this link has been forwarded to me almost as many times as it has been viewed on youtube (120,152 by the latest count). So I decided this was something that I had to blog about. The album is called Vallavan, and it is created by Yogi B and Natchatra. I have to say these are really cool sounding names in the mould of hip hop legends like the the Notorious Mr. BIG or Tupak Shakur! They even have a web-site for their album. Someone mentioned these guys are Malaysian Tamils, I'm not sure about that.

Coming to the song in question, its a remake of the 'madai thirandhu' by Ilayaraja in the movie 'Nizhalgal'. Its an amazing song where Chandrasekar (yeah, the guy who always loses one arm or gets screwed over by someone or the other in every movie!) with aspirations to become a music director just lets go and dreams about a life of fame, fortune and babes chasing him on the beach. The song was just another example of how 'mottai' was way ahead of his times. These guys have taken this framework and have added some amazing rap lyrics to the mix. This could've been funny if it hadn't turned out right. But it is clear a lot of hardwork and commitment have gone into making this song and video. And its all worth it!

I loved the 'petta rap' song in 'Kadhalan'. The rap was very hummable and merged perfectly with the song. Though the song was a big hit, it was not followed by similar efforts from directors who seemed to be focussing more on our own ethnic 'ghana' culture. So will the concept of rap in Tamil catch on agin after this album? Its difficult to say. I heard A.R.Rahman is working with a rapper on an album in London. Apparently, this is the guy who has rap bits in recent songs from 'Vettayadu Vilayadu' etc. Would be interesting to see how that turns out. But I feel that Tamil as a language poses quite a few problems in writing rap songs. Do you rap in pure Tamil (like Yogi B and co) or in colloquial Tamil (like petta rap)? Can you use swear words (what's rap without them!)? Well, you know you can't rap about friday night parties, booze, women, different types of asses or any of the other gangsta' shit in Madras. So what do you rap about? Water problem, politics, theppa kulam festival, ration queues etc I presume.

The song closes with a one-liner by Kalignar Karunanidhi in his coarse voice. I'm not sure if this was intended to be serious or funny, but I found it extremely hilarious. Definitely worth a lookesy you guys -> Yogi B n Nachathira Feat Lock Up - Madai Thiranthu.