Monday, February 28, 2011

India vs England - Thrilling Finish

And so the World Cup 2011 got off its meandering, lumbering start with a thriller between two sides that could well end up in the final for the way they are currently playing. India coming off a big win against Bangladesh which did expose a bit of its bowling inadequacies and England which came off a creditable win against Netherlands who walloped them for a massive 291, a match which underlined England's bowling inadequacies as well but showed the character in the team and its batting. I always feel that it is bets to come off a tough match in the initial rounds while going into a big tournament like this because it helps to quickly shake off any demons. An easy match on the other hand always leaves you feeling that you have not been tested fully.

So for me England and Australia to some extent did come off reasonably tighter games. India was relying on its famed batting and appeared slightly unprepared at the way the English came into the game. But this match would have woken up the Indians for sure because it stretched them and they can now tighten the loose areas. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses - India has a far stronger batting line up than England, the best batting side in the tournament, a reasonably good bowling side which is their main weakness and possibly a slightly older lot of cricketers on the field. England has a batting side that relies a lot of bits and pieces contributions apart from Strauss, Pietersen and Collingwood, a smart and varied bowling side that keeps opponents guessing, a younger and more athletic fielding side. Going by its recent successes, England is working well as a team, and that showed yesterday again - you cannot write it off, has a wily and thinking coach in Andy Flower. India has the Superman captain who never seems to get anything wrong - like almost pulling off a win in yesterday's game which was to all accounts lost after that fantastic partnership between Strauss and Bell.

India's capability to score 300s against any opposition is fascinating to watch. And they are doing it without breaking a sweat. On a good day we look good for 400 which might happen in this tournament. Tendulkar looked really good and composed and hopefully will sustain this same focus and form through the tournament and in the big games. Sehwag, Gambhir, Kohli, Yuvraj, Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan - man what a lineup. And every one of them going about it so professionally. Zaheer was a revelation with the old ball - to get two well set batsmen, specially Strauss in the way he did was amazing. He is difficult to go after and that is something they should do only with the new ball - with the reversing old ball and his variations, he is lethal. Munaf is predictable and the danger of him being hoicked over the ropes was always there as he bowls straight and honest. What surprised me of Chawla's last over was the length he bowled - until the last ball which was probably the right length. England almost had this in their grasp, then lost it, until the lower order restored justice.

This match had to end in a tie. I expect more such encounters with South Africa, Australia, Lanka and  Pakistan, all of which look good right now.

Amelia - Movie review

Watched 'Amelia' - a movie on the first female aviatrix Amelia Earheart (1897-1937). Amelia was a known author, pioneer and activist, most famous for flying solo across the Atlantic for which she was awarded the distinguished Flying Cross by the US. While attempting to fly around the world, her plane disappeared in the Pacific in mysterious fashion.

With a star cast that included Hillary Swank who plays Amelia and Richard Gere as George Putnam the publishing tycoon, among others, Mira Nair comes up with a fairly straightforward story. Amelia's achievements are shown like in a newsreel, her love affair with Putnam first and the aborted one with Vidal, who becomes  an aviation minister later, are rather insipid. The solo flight first, her public appearances, and then the circumnavigational flight around the globe remain as academic milestones. The rise of a celebrity who endorsed several brands, her own clotheswear with AE as the brand, speaks how much America had advanced as a capitalist country even then. Not too much to take away from the movie save the fact that it brings into focus a great  achiever and pioneer like Amelia Earheart.

It has a newsreel kind of look and feel to me which never carried it to any great heights. But it served the purpose of making me read up more on the amazing Amelia Earheart. Her early childhood is normal but it is the way she takes to flying, the way she realises that this is what she had to do and works for it is interesting in her story. Apparently, after a short ride in a plane, she worked as a truck driver, a photographer and other odd jobs to raise the $1000 to take flying lessons. It is pretty clear - all those who went on to make it big went after it with single minded pursuit - and worked for it through whatever obstacles.

300 - Movie Review

Watched the movie '300' -a violent movie based on a graphic novel. It is about the famous Battle of Thermopylae fought over three intense days of war sometime in 480 B.C., where King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) leads a band of 300 of the best Spartan warriors to counter an immensely strong, a million strong Persian army of the God King Xerxes as the Persian army attempts to conquer Sparta.

The story is narrated by Dillos, one of the Spartan soldiers who is injured in the war and is sent back by Leonidas to tell the Spartan council of what actually happened. The movie begins with a Persian emissary coming to Leonidas with the proposal to surrender to Xerxes. Leonidas says Sparta will never surrender and kicks the emissary into the famed Pit of Death, leading to all out war. But before engaging in war Leonidas has to take the sanction of the Spartan Council and before that, the approval of the Oracle and the high priests of Sparta. they refuse - bribed by the Persians. Leonidas however decides to follow his plan and engage the Persians before they can get to Sparta in a narrow corridor, the only way to Sparta. He goes with a mere 300 men to counter the million strong army - in the corridor 'where numbers don't count'. The Spartans are a proud fighting unit known never to take a backward step, never to surrender and merciless in battle. And they are joined by a few more groups Greeks, Aradians, Thebians, Thespians and others to form a small army (historically the army is put at 4000 - 7000 soldiers with the 300 Spartans in the lead).

And so begins the war against the mighty Persian army and the spirited Spartan warriors who have lived, trained for war and do nothing else. Xerxes, historically, waited for three days before he launched the attack and when asked to lay down their weapons the Spartans are famously believed to have said - 'come and get them' - the words which are engraved under the statue of Leonidas as it stands today at Theropylae. As they counter the army, wave after wave, inflicting massive casualties, Xerxes, his generals offer Leonidas, riches to give up but Leonidas refuses. It comes to a stage when the Persians are almost at their wits end as the 300 soldiers repel almost every single attack - from their arrows, to their Immortals, to bombs, to mystical animals. It is only when a hunchback, a Greek who is rejected by Leonidas to fight the battle on his side, sells himself off to Xerxes that the Persians find a path to circle the narrow gateway and surround the Spartans. Th Queen of Sparta meanwhile gets the Council's attention to the impending war and of Leonidas's great sacrifice for the country, after blackmail, adultery and betrayal of one of the Council members which is finally exposed.

300 is gory, violent with lopped heads flying off, blood spilling out of bodies, arms and legs being chopped off in a battle as fierce as it can get. The war and action is shown well and convincingly and the Spartan warriors do look as if they have trained for war all their lives. I liked the words that King Leonidas says to the hunchback when he rejects him - "the Spartan army source of strength is because it fights as a single unit. Each soldier is responsible to protect the one standing next to him with his shield, from thigh to neck. This is the plalanx formation which cannot be compromised by someone who cannot life his shield high enough.' 300 is great to watch - it must have been awesome on screen - but yes, lots of adult content and enough blood and flesh that will stay with you for while. If you are up to it, must watch.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The English Teacher - R.K. Narayan

I started reading 'The English Teacher' quite some time ago. This was among the many R.K.Narayan books I had bought a few months ago. I found this one rather difficult to read and made really slow progress in the initial pages but that could be attributed to my being distracted with other things as well. However as I moved further into the book I realised where the book was coming from and it made sense.

The English Teacher' (Indian Thought Publications, 182 Pages, Rs. 95) was first published by Eyre & Spottiswoode in 1946 in London. It is the story of Krishna, an English teacher in the Albert Mission College of Malgudi. Krishna is not from Malgudi so he lives in the hostel with other young bachelor teachers. His parents live in another town, his older brother has moved to Hyderabad and eventually Krishna also gets married. After many months of his marriage and living apart form his wife, Krishna finally gets himself a rented house and brings his lovely wife Susila and child Leela home. It is an ideal house with the new housewife taking charge, the inevitable bickering with the mother and domestic help. Krishna's life is blissful.

But things change when he and Susila go to select a house to buy. Soon after that visit Susila falls sick and never recovers despite the attentive administrations of the family. The disillusioned Krishna who was very much in love with his wife is not left to take care of his young child who is curious about her mother, who she thinks is sick and in a locked room. The child eventually finds out that there is no one in that room and is told that maybe the mother has been taken for treatment and will come back after she is well. Narayan writes with great restraint but the pain is all too obvious. The later part of the book delves into how Krishna comes to term with his loss, his dealings with the spirits through writing where Susila tells him that she is fine and that he must take care of himself. Krishna eventually finds peace and understanding of life and death.

This part is exactly what happened to R.K.Narayan who lost his wife at a young age due to a sudden illness, someone whom he loved very much. He brought up his child in the joint family and came to terms with her death through the same methods as described in the book. One can feel his pain in his writing and one can also understand his understanding as he tries to make sense of his life. It is sad, funny and makes you think. It is also a wonderful commentary on how little India has changed since those days despite our signs of progress.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Importance of Belief

Among the factors that affect the outcome of anything, the biggest to me is belief. To believe is to make it come true and almost everything in this world seems to support that. If we wholeheartedly believe in something, it is quite likely that our belief does become our experience. But if our belief wavers then it all falls flat.

If the Indian team captain believes he will win the World Cup, he will. If he doubts, he will not. Simple as that. The biggest wars have been won not by those with the stronger armies but by the ones who believed and desired a win. A belief that stems out of great commitment to a higher cause normally - a family, a person, an idea, a state, a country, a cause.

I think the best products, companies, ideas, victories and lives are built with this belief. All inventions, new ideologies, countries are built on the belief of one person. There cannot be anything other than belief that can sustain an idea when all else around you say that it is completely mad. To fight a freedom struggle with an idea of non-cooperation, to wish for racism to end, to fight for equality or justice, to build great corporations and nations - one needs to believe firmly that what one has done is right. Even if the whole world thinks its crazy.

It is amazing how many times mediocre ideas and products do extremely well while a finer product falls flat. To me the difference is belief. If one believes that everything has gone into that product, that it could not have been better, that all avenues have been explored - then you do start believing that 'yes, we have given it our best shot' - the product will do well. Because somewhere the owner of the product has gone from giving his best into a realm of surrender.

At the same time, if a person has a product that is superior, yet does not believe that it is not good enough, then this product will fall flat. How will anyone appreciate a product like this when even the maker has no belief in this product? Not even God can help such a product that has been made with no belief - despite it being a great product. All marketing experts will say that (despite not mentioning it in their books) that one of the biggest contributors for the success of anything is the mad belief or desire behind that product.

It is the same with humans. There are those with exceptional skills who believe they are pretty useless and they stay there in the realms of uselessness, and then there are those with very average skills who rule millions like these. CEOs, leaders, ministers, sportsmen, artistes...take your pick, the talented ones are not really the ones at the top. There are any more at the bottom doing mediocre things. Because they believe that they are mediocre.

Somewhere, somehow we must believe in a greater cause. Our very existence on this earth has some purpose. For those who find no purpose it will remain so - but even then they can see for themselves a set of things they are affecting by just being, by existing. There are people who are happy to see them, to have them. If we can connect ourselves to a greater cause, we do seem to fly beyond the reaches of the mediocre. We must believe that we are here  to change the world - with an idea, a word, a story - and it surely will. In the lives of all great men there are but few things we all remember. Maybe for them it was some small incident, a word - but those small incidents, words, remain in human consciousness, inspiring millions to follow.

As with many things belief is also borne out of habit. In people, in ourselves, in what we do. It also pushes you to a state that we normally do not like - surrender. To action first, and then to surrender. That opens up several doors and all one has to do is accept each opening as a step to the higher good. Belief is but everything and total belief is what miracles are made of.

I went to a workshop many years ago where I first saw this connection between Belief and Experience. It was a fascinating experience to me to see how I had experienced all that I believed in my life and was continuing to do so. And then I understand even till today how much my beliefs play out in my experience. The awareness itself is empowering.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Visit to the TLC orphanage at St. Theresa's

For a long time now, we had been planning to visit this orphanage at St. Theresa's and give some of Anjali's stuff and some other stuff. Anjali carefully picked and chose and packed the stuff she wanted to give to small babies and was pretty excited about the whole affair.

The orphanage is to the right soon as you enter the St. Theresa's campus in a secluded place. We were asked to meet Sister Theresa Marie and we went upstairs and waited. A couple of young girls, maybe ten or eleven came and enquired politely who we were waiting for, ran back inside and came back to inform us that the Sister would be coming. We waited in the waiting area and we could hear the children playing carroms and other board games in the corridor adjacent to us. They were happy, bright and beautiful children with the kind of energy that only they can possess.

Sister joined us. She was ancient, and used a stick to walk. But she had a kind face and a lovely smile and lots of life about her. Obviously she was unhappy with the kids.
'I told them not to go anywhere,' she said. 'I had to go get the vegetables and rations because the bandh has affected everything and by the time I came they were all downstairs playing in the sand. Such devils.'
Sister recounted how she could handle babies and younger children under five years ' hundred of them at once - but these older kids were completely beyond her. 'Some of them are professional thieves, liars,' she said, vexed. 'You cannot even beat them.' But then her face loses its anger. 'After the tsunami we got 150 kids at one go,'  she said. 'But we could handle them until they all went away to different places. Oh, the small ones are so beautiful.' Sister reminisced about her own childhood and how she was never much good with children - 'but God seems to have some purpose'.

We offered her whatever we bought and she said that she would send the stuff to the other place at Miyapur where the younger children were. Anjali was disappointed that all the girls were big and refused to meet them. We bid Sister good by and returned. Maybe we could go some other time. I offered to read books to the kids if she wanted me to. Sister took down my number and said she would call. If she does, I certainly will.

The World Cup

The best thing of this World Cup has been the performance put up by the Netherlands. It is fantastic that they scored 291 against a seasoned team like England which is one of the better teams in contention in this edition. All other matches have been predictable and boring with high totals and one sided matches.

I always feel that the teams that go through a slightly challenging route have better chances of winning the Cup. Primarily because they take nothing for granted after the first scare. It is always a good feeling to know that you are just that bit short - so you try that extra bit harder each game and take nothing for granted. On the other hand the side that has an easier route or is riding in big wins for most of the tournament never really gets to test its weak areas out in situations where they can recover and might find it a little hard if one match in the knockout goes to the wire. So all the big win sides including India, New Zealand, Pakistan need to get grounded even when they face a Netherlands or a Bangladesh. Australia and England have already been tested. Their challenge is to find enough gas to go over the finish line.

I am still looking for the first upset on this tournament and it better happen fast. Like they say, even I feel that the Cup is open at this stage.

Outliers - Malcom Gladwell

And finally thanks to Vinod Ekbote my good friend who promised to get me this book as a gift, I got to read it. Malcolm Gladwell keeps you engaged thoroughly and its great fun to read his books. he comes up with interesting points every now and then just as he did with his 'Tipping Point' and 'Blink'. 'Outliers - The Story of Success' is another commendable effort by the author.

Gladwell begins with a definition of outlier - 'something that is situated away from a main or related body' or  'a statistical observation markedly different in value from others of the sample'. And then he explains how outliers, achievers, super successes in various ways come about. From the Italian immigrants from Roseto who lived in excellent health due to their adopted lifestyles, the Mathew effect and the Canadian hockey team, the 10,000 Hour rule, geniuses, lawyers, entrepreneurs, the warring Appalachian families who took everything personal, ethnic theories, Asian culture, maths and hardwork and so many more anecdotes and insights. Racy and thought provoking.

I completely agree with his 10,000 hour principle. If there is to be one takeaway from this book it is that for me. To be the expert one has to put in hours. It is the key difference between talent and accomplishment. there are many who do show more promise and talent than the champions of today but they do not make it because they are too distracted and do not put in enough disciplined work on what they are good at. This work is preparation that gives them the expert status. Once you get to the expert status you do find opportunities opening up, some more than another, and in my opinion that one who is most open gets to go all the way. The experts who are rigid about how they should progress go only that far. In the end I think everyone gets what they really and truly want - and deserve.

Another thing was about communication that came up in the ethnic theory of plane crashes. Too much training goes in without telling people their roles clearly. For example the copilots who were responsible for crashing the planes because of cultural differences and consequent lack of communication should have known their roles clearly that they must take over if the captain is not able to do his job. In India also there are several instances when we know that the boss is corrupt or including the whole team in doing something wrong and we play along since he is senior and we must listen to 'seniors' or 'elders' or 'people in power'. Not at the cost of not doing your job! This is something that is not told, that is thought as being implicit - 'come on, they should know'. No one knows buddy, and like those planes that crashed because you did not tell the copilot clearly what his role was, your team will crash too.

It's a great read. Though I don't agree with some theories and statistics, I agree with the central theme that the more you do something the better you are likely to be at it. 10,000 hours. That kind of work ethic also improves your outlook to life and makes it more open and it is this that I think opens more doors for you rather than chance (on which Gladwell stresses) - your attitude and outlook to life. Go read 'Outliers' - it engages you on various levels.

The 400 Blows - Movie Review

'The 400 Blows' is a critically acclaimed French film made in 1959 directed by Francois Truffaut. It is a story of a young school kid Antoine Doinel who is considered a trouble maker at school and at home and how he copes with it by rebelling and running away.

Antoine is a spirited young lad who appears to do what most adolescents do, only he gets caught most of the time. When the movie begins the boys in school at looking at some pictures of a woman and Antoine is caught while defacing it and passing it on. He is made to sit in a corner of the room where he writes a poem on the wall about his teacher. The teacher, increasingly tired of the rebellious and mischievous boys, makes Antoine clean it up.At home his parents are both working and always late. His mother seems distracted with work at her office, late hours with the boss and her husband doe snot approve of all that. He himself works at a racing club. Between a jolly and optimistic father who is generally good fun and a distracted mother who appears keen to send the boy away, Antoine somehow tries to find his bearings.

Antoine and his best friend Rene miss the school bus the next day and decide to spend the day around Paris, having fun on their lunch money. They go to the circus, window shop and while walking around happen to see Antoine's mother kissing another man. The mother sees him too but they ignore one another. That night his mother is later, and he has dinner with his father, and while in bed he overhears their conversation about how he is better off in a boarding school. Antoine is also aware that he was born out of a wedlock and his father only gave him his name.

The next day when Antoine goes to school without an excuse letter, Rene tells him to shock the teacher by telling him something like his mother broke her leg. Antoine does better - he tells his teacher that his mother died. Of course all hell breaks loose when the school contacts the parents and Antoine is slapped publicly and taken home disgraced. His mother tries to talk to him and let him express himself and in that moment, Antoine reads a story by Balzac which is uses to write an essay in school. The teacher hauls him up for plagiarism and sends him to the Principal but Antoine runs away. he is followed by Rene who stands up for him. The two run away, hide in Rene's house which is generally empty because his father is always at the races and his smother at the club drinking. Antoine tells his parents he is off and will come back when he is a man. In a couple of days the boys are caught stealing and replacing a typewriter from the office of Antoine's father and handed back. Police, juvenile home and the parents are counseled to let the boy be in the home for a few months so he learns.

But the high spirited Antoine, the same one who gets caught while returning the typewriter, the same one who is inspired by Balzac to write a story of his grandfather's death, the boy who does not tell his father or even his mother that he saw her kissing another man, runs away from the home and runs and runs until he finds the ocean - a place he has never ever been to, or seen. And he turns back after wetting his feet. Nothing wrong with the boy it appeared to me, everything wrong with all those responsible.

'The 400 Blows' is beautiful. It shows the boy as he is, reacting and trying to make sense of the world around him in his own way. He will not be cowed down, he will still be himself and rebel, he will make fun of the teacher behind his back, he will steal the typewriter and he will run away. Just as Rene sticks up to his friend in class only to be debarred from class. I found many similarities to Gulzar's 'Kitaab' a sensitive movie about a school kid who runs away with Master Raju in the lead role. I liked that movie too.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Turtles Can Fly- Movie review

Turtles Can Fly was next on the list. A disturbing film that absorbs you completely because of the sheer danger of every moment that the protagonists live in. Real life situations that draw them, claim them and prove that fiction can never ever reach the heights of the drama tat real life can take one to. Directed by Kurdish Iranian film maker Bahman Ghobadi, this was the first film to be made in Iraq after Saddam's fall. The movie begins in the most dramatic of beginnings as a young girl leaps to her death from a cliff.

The film is set in a refugee camp of Kurds on the border of Iraq and Turkey and takes off a few days before the American attack on Iraq. The people have no access to any news and they are desperate to somehow get news of war. Enter Satellite, an adolescent who is very perceptive and manipulative and has great entrepreneurial skills. Named so because he sees an opportunity in the lack of information and starts setting up satellite dishes for each village for a tidy sum, Satellite has an army of hungry children of the village and the refugee camp who work for him. Their job - mainly to pick up land mines left behind by the Italians, Americans - a job which costs many of them their arms and legs. Satellite uses the mines as currency to buy satellite dishes and other weapons for their survival. He is assisted by two of his trusty lieutenants, a boy with one leg and another who is perpetually crying.

In between his busy schedule, Satellite also has eyes for a teenaged refugee girl Agrin who goes around with her brother Hengov, a boy who has lost both his arms and also has the powers of clairvoyance and a child who everyone believes the siblings have adopted. Satellite tries to impress the girl, fights with her brother over leadership but end sup listening to the young boys prophecies. In time it is revealed that the girl does not want the boy because he is borne out of a rape - she has been raped by Kurdish soldiers. When she leaves the boy in a minefield to die Satellite shows his heroic side as he saves the boy, at the cost of his own leg. His army of kids sympathises with him on the same night when the Saddam regime fell - his second in command actually gifts him an arm of a Saddam statue as a parting gift - he is going off to town.

But Agrin is determined to get rid of the boy and she does, drowning the little child in a lake before she jumps off the cliff. Her brother sees the vision, goes to the lake and finds the child's body, goes to the cliff and finds the girl's sandals on the edge of the cliff. As the movie comes to an end one can see the American tanks rolling into the town and a formerly USA crazed Satellite turning away from them in disillusionment.

Turtles can Fly keeps you at the edge of the seat. There is no need to say anything, no need to think anything as we watch the horror of the world we have created for the future, for our children. The children mostly maimed and orphaned and hungry live in an environment where death is but one false step away and life is a gift given every moment. Heroism is as real as the boy going into a minefield to save a child who is not related to him, love is the boy diving deep into a haunted lake that is doomed with the deaths of many unfortunates because the girl wants a red fish, anguish is the girl leaving her child in the middle of a minefield even as he cries for her, danger is in every step the kids take and in the armless boy taking out a mine with his mouth, camaraderie is Satellite taking the armless boy and the young kid to a faraway doctor on his bicycle. This is a movie that haunts you for a long time after you have watched it. And as in any great story, there is again no recourse to unnecessary music or shocking visual effects. You feel, nay taste, the pain, the danger, the disgust as you watch the movie which is told simply. If you have not watched it - do.

M - Movie Review

Last night I watched 'M', a classic rated number 33 in the top 100 movies that one much watch. The DVD was one of the many that Sagar had given me and I was keen to see this 1931 movie which was a murder mystery about a serial killer in Berlin, Germany. It was written ad directed by Fritz Lang and co-written by Lang's wife Thea von Harbou and was Fritz's first film with sound.The movie richly deserves its place in the top 100.

'M' begins with a bunch of children playing a game to a song made up on a serial murderer who will chop up the one who gets out. The middle class apartments where the children are playing are seized by apprehension about a serial killer who is luring young children and killing them off. One of the girls from the apartment, Elsie, has not yet returned from school. She is shown later being lured by a stranger's shadow that whistles a particular tune. The stranger appreciates the child's pretty ball, buys a balloon from a blind seller for her and lures her away. An agitated mother is shown looking out of the window of the tall apartment. The ball is shown bouncing until it comes to a stop, the balloon is shown entangled in electric lines. Their owner, the little Elsie has obviously lost control of her prized possessions.

The fresh murder brings tremendous pressure on the police force which combs every inch of the city. This makes the life of the underworld difficult and they decide to catch the killer themselves so the police pressure reduces on them. And thus begins an unlikely race to catch the killer between criminals and the police. The police use scientific methods to catch the psychopathic killer while the criminals decide to hire the beggars union to track every inch of the town. The killer is seen luring a child and the beggars track him down with one of them imprinting the letter M on the back of the killers coat for identification. The alerted killer is now on the run from both the criminals who got to him first and the police. The criminals track him down and he is identified by the blind beggar who hears him whistling his tune. The story takes another amazing twist as the underworld holds a court, complete with an advocate for the killer where both sides of the story are heard, where there is a case for killing him and another for handing him over to the police. What happens to the killer eventually is what the story is about. And more about how one must watch over their children.

'M' is amazing for its thought provoking story and the way it is shot. There is a lot of content, lot of thought and many viewpoints are shown convincingly. To do so in an era where one had no known techniques for inspiration and where one was making something on a pioneering bases is praiseworthy. The sense of responsibility, the role of the audience and the importance of the story being told well without any great effects or dramatic recourse makes 'M' a real classic.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Leila - Irani Movie

The only Irani movie that I have seen to date is 'Children of Heaven' which is a classic. Now thanks to Sagar I have the delicious prospect of getting to watch a few more classics. To begin with I started off by watching 'Leila' today.

Leila is a young, happy girl who falls in love and marries Reza, a family friend. The couple are madly in love with one another and everything is fine until the year turns and her in laws start talking of children and stuff. In a visit to the doctor the couple finds that Leila has some problem conceiving. All sorts of treatments, prayers and nothing works. Leila is under a lot of stress from her mother in law who always wanted her son to marry an aunt's daughter and not Leila and there are constant follow ups on their visits to the doctor, the results and how there can never be a problem with their son. Slowly the happy couple find themselves under a lot of stress. They even think of adopting a child when Leila decides that Reza need not adopt a child when he can have one of his own. She tells him that.

Her mother in law also wants Reza to take a second wife and pressurises her daughter in law to accept one. Reza is not convinced but Leila pushes him and even accompanies him to see the girls. Though she puts up a brave front she is breaking down inside and it is only a matter of time that Reza says yes to a girl. On the day of the wedding Leila realises that she cannot stay in the same house and bring up the child as she promised Reza she would and leaves for her home. Reza's family, his father and sisters, are upset with him allowing himself to be bullied  by his mother and aunt but what is done is done. Leila refuses to go back to Reza. the new wife also leaves with the lack of attention after a year, leaving Reza's mother to take care of her new born girl child. And the movie ends at another feast held in the family three years after Leila and Reza meet in a similar feast. Reza comes with his pretty three year old daughter to visit, hoping Leila will go back with him. She does not.

Irani movies have a pace of their own, a pain and angst of their own. Brilliant stuff though, their depiction of human nature within its slivers and folds is amazing. It is very understated and all drama comes through naturally, never with an intention to exploit an emotion. It allows the emotion to come by, to feel itself. It is a slow, dull pain that one feels in certain moments in life. Leila is certainly recommended for movie buffs or anyone who is interested in human drama. One wonders that it is almost the same in any culture - family, children, in laws, the sense of guilt and responsibility..and so much needless pain.

Annie Hall - Woody Allen's Wonderful Movie

As part of Sagar's attempt to educate me on movies he gave me a set of 7 DVDs in addition to the others he gave me last week. One of the 7 is 'Annie Hall' by Woody Allen which I just watched on this fine Telangana bandh day.  I am nicely stocked for these two days with DVDs and am hoping to see most of them.

I started with 'Annie Hall' (1977) this morning and completely loved the movie. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton make a wonderful pair that keeps falling in and out of love. Woody Allen is a comedian and is as neurotic as any character Woody Allen plays and his girlfriend in most parts is Diane Keaton who is a singer. One gets to see some of today's stars in bit roles - Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Hawkins to name a couple. The movie moves whackily in whichever way Woody Allen chooses to take you, dipping into flashbacks whenever he wishes, standing in the frame while the flashback is going on and actually having a conversation in the background while the flashback is playing out in the foreground. The movie apparently serves as a historical document of love in the 70s according to a website I saw.

Oh, one can watch 'Annie Hall' any number of times. Funny and so full of life.

No One Killed Jessica - Must Watch

I watched 'No One Killed Jessica' last night and found it really good and worthy of all the accolades it got.It is sensitively made and brings out all the horror and helplessness that we all experienced while watching this high profile case in which the killer almost got away thanks to his connections. Thanks to the media, the case was reexamined and the killer found guilty after a trial court had earlier acquitted all the accused.

Jessica Lal's case is folklore in India. How a young model was shot dead in public view in a high profile party in Delhi for refusing a drink to a young man is well known. The movie brings to life the same story with Vidya Balan playing Sabrina Lal, Jessica's tenacious sister who fought a lone crusade against a powerful opposition which tried every dirty trick in the book to get the culprit off the hook. From threatening witnesses, tampering evidence to what not, the case was twisted enough to let all accused go free. Enter Rani Mukherjee who plays the feisty Meera, a star journalist who refuses to see the culprits walk away free. How she traps one of the star witnesses who gets sold off for a crore to give wrong evidence and generates enough public outrage to make the system relook at the case and bring the culprits to book is the story.

'No One Killed Jessica' did not have one moment of drag. It is taut, well made and has some fine performances by everyone - Rani Mukherjee is perfect in the role of Meera, Vidya Balan is brilliant as Sabrina Lal and almost every one who has been cast has been cast well. Another movie that is on the recommended list.

Phas Gaye Obama - Entertaining

Watched this movie after much waiting. I had read the reviews of the movie and had all made up my mind when I realised that it hardly had theatres for two days. Anyways I went and got myself a video and watched it. It is entertaining and fun.

The entire plot is about how the recession in America trickles down to India and affects everyone - including the gangsters in UP who thrive on the kidnapping business. We look at Bhaisaab's gang which has a motley group of aspiring criminals trying to make ends meet - they have no bullets, no petrol in the jeep, their clients are not paying and they do not even have roti to eat. Enter an NRI (Rajat Kapoor) who is looking at losing everything he has because he has no money to pay for the mortgage of his house, thanks to the recession. He comes to his village in India to sell of some ancestral property managed by his chacha, finds a whole brood of relatives living there (recession!) and also finds that there are no buyers for this property. It is at this moment that one of Bhaisaab's gang members, the English spouting Ani, who has dreams of going to the USA, meets his ticket to the USA. When Bhaisaab hears of this he kidnaps the bankrupt NRI.

How the bankrupt NRI and the sad bunch of kidnappers try to make some money while advancing him as a valuable asset to other bigger gangs (NRI gets a share in each transaction for keeping quiet and gets enoguht o pay off his loans in the USA!) until it goes all the way up the chain to the Ministerji is what the movie is all about. It is fun and new, the treatment fresh and the actors convincing. I enjoyed it. Recommended.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Article in the Indian Express - February 20, 2011

The following article appeared in my Sunday column 'Un Intended' in the New Indian Express.

Cool Scams That Are Hard to Fathom
Harimohan Paruvu

We, the public of India, have a request to make to the government. We would like a Scam Information Department. Mainly because there are too many scams and it is getting difficult to follow them. But more importantly, all new scams are hitech and complicated and we have no clue about what is really happening. We can figure our simple scams like say the Adarsh scam which is about real estate. The Bofors scam was about kickbacks in military deals. The cattle fodder scam was about buying cattle fodder for cattle that never existed – both cattle and fodder. Mining scams are about mining in places belonging to someone else. Corporate scams are about fooling people into investing real money in fake companies. These scams are simple and transparent. But it is with the hitech scams that we need assistance in. But why does the public need to know? Because we suspect that it’s our money the scam guys are playing with! 

For the general public that is going around shaking their heads wisely at the mention of scams, there is some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that lakhs of crores of the scam money is yours. So stop behaving like it belongs to someone else. (Now that I have your attention, I request you not to have heart attacks or stage dharnas.) The good news is that it has been invested well by these smart scam guys in tax free stuff! Some have invested it in real estate, some in cash, some in cattle feed. But it’s safe and we can get it back, tax or no tax, Switzerland or Mars. There is only one problem. The new scams. 

2G? And now an S band scam? What are these? What are these guys selling off? Letters? Alphabets? Languages? For a nation that does not understand a single legal document, a tax form, a bank application or even a railway reservation form, forget it, we don’t even understand directions on roads, how the hell will anyone understand these vague alpha numeric scams? Have scams by all means, since no one is able to stop anyone from doing so, but at least educate us on what they are about. After all we are the investors. Maybe conduct special classes to explain what each scam is about and how much we, the public, have invested in each of them. 

This is where the Scam department could help us in understanding our scam position. The scam guys are using our money to sell off frequencies ranging from 2G to S. Obviously they have done it for some benefit. Now all we need to do is track how much we have made, and then pay us (the public) off, and we are all in the same frequency. (That is one frequency we all understand.) Only thing is that if we have sold off 2G, then we must have already sold off a1, a2, a3, a4, a5….22e, 2f, 2g? And since we have now come to S, my guess is that we must have made a neat packet already! 

Now look at the future of our investments. We have the juicy prospect of scams until we get to ZZ100 or more! With so much at stake for us, there is an immediate need for us to understand our scam portfolio because it is starting to look very promising to me indeed. From a Scam Market akin to the Stock Market, to scam equity, futures and options, the possibilities are endless! But first, the Scam Department please. There is much work to be done.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Hyderabad Veteran's Cricket Association Get Together

This morning, the Hyderabad Veteran's Cricket Association organised a get together at Gymkhana to felicitate V.V.S. Laxman and Pragyan Ojha and also conduct some other activities. The President of the Veteran's Association is the indefatigable Capt. Manohar Sharma who was my manager when we went on the Under 25 tour to Chennai under D. Suresh's captaincy. I found him to be one of the more perceptive, man managers and one who was sensitive to our needs. He is now an active social worker and does good community work in his area, Uma Nagar. He has also authored a book on cricket humour with several cricketing anecdotes compiled from his playing days.

Two caps I take great pride in wearing - Osmania and the HCA

Abhijit Chatterjee my old teammate from almost thirty years ago called me and I said I would be there. We were supposed to wear our whites for a group photograph and so I did and went over to the ground at 930 in the morning. The first one to call out to me was Venkatapathi who did not like me turning up in my white shirt and cream trousers. 'Why did you not wear your whites?' he demanded in his usual style, concerned for me. I joked with him that this was the dress code that our seniors wore. 'Hmm,' he said. 'Only you and Alladi Raju are wearing shirts.' Lachi always wished the best for me and we had many wonderful moments together and still do. But I played all my cricket in tailor-made shirts and trousers thanks to our Sreekala Tailors at Ameerpet!

It was quite a large gathering. Among the seniors were Murtuza Ali Baig, Inder Raj, Nagesh Hammand, Moses Nityanand, Vijay Paul, Habib Khan, Sardar Khan, Rehmat Baig, Manohar Sharma, Naushir Mehta, Rajamani, Lokender Raj, Abdul Bari Wahab, Faiyaz Baig. Some of the players who were my contemporaries were Venkatpathi, Arshad Ayub, Vijay Mohan Raj, Swaroop, Chetan Joshi, Kishenlal Yadav, Chatterjee, Vijay Kumar, C.V. Anand, Abdul Azeem, B. Srinivas, Raj Kumar, Santosh Hammand, Kamlesh Parikh, Harender Yadav, Salamath Ali Khan, Yuvraj Singh, Gajanand Reddy, Ranga Raj, Ganesh. Among the juniors were Vishnuvardhan Reddy, Nanda Kishore, Kiran, Syed Miraj, Arvind Shetty and so many more that I need a picture to tell most names. The entire Ranji team was there I think - Ravi Teja, Ahmed Quadri, Vihari, Parth Jhala, Quader, Ibrahim Khaleel and a few more youngsters, I saw Vaibhav as well.

The proceedings started with a couple of teams being drawn from the gentlemen present and a friendly game being played. Everyone had a bowl and a bat of course. I couldn't bowl because of my bad shoulder and I was not fit anyway. V.V.S. donned the pads and played a few balls and soon the game ended and we were all set for the felicitation. The program went off smoothly and senior cricketers were felicitated - Vijay Paul, Rehmat Baig, Habib Khan, Sardar Khan, Lokendar Raj and then to both current test players V.V.S.Laxman, who was also recently awarded a Padmashri, and Pragyan Ojha, with a shawl and a memento. V.V.S. spoke well and said that whatever he was was because of Hyderabad cricket and he owed much to the HCA, the coaches, the players, the seniors. He also said he was hurt that the Hyderabad team was doing badly and hoped they would come back strongly soon. A nice gesture from the Veteran's Association was to felicitate the old Ranji Trophy players with a Hyderabad cap and a Hyderabad sweater - two things I am very proud to have in my room. I also spotted Gordon Ganesh wearing an Osmania cap and asked him if he could get me one and Gordon, as he typically is, large-hearted, gave me his cap instantly. It was lovely to come back with these prized colours.

Everyone broke for lunch and with promises to meet again soon.  I was really glad I went there. Thankfully I will get a few pics from Major Kiran, my writing friend, and hopefully some from V.V.Subramanyam, the fine Hindu reporter. But until then, I will publish a pic of two caps that I cherish most - the HCA and the Osmania colours.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Talk at Don Bosco High School, Erragadda

Ever since we shot the movie at this school I had been meaning to do one talk to the senior students of this school. So the other day when Father Joseph called me and asked if I could do a talk today I was more than ready. I went to the school at 1045 am and they set up a classroom with some carpets and stuff so more children could be accommodated and all the girls and boys of the Xth class sat in two groups, across the aisle on the floor. They were a noisy bunch but listened attentively to the talk for almost 45 minutes, which was almost 20 minutes into their lunch time. So it was understandable.

I told them that they must dream big like the boys in GHS did, that their potential was endless, and that they should start taking themselves and their dreams more seriously. I told them that the process was the same whether one wants to go to space, become an engineer, a mathematician, an actor or whatever - to see their dream, to visualise their dream coming true (they closed their eyes and did that), to plan for it, to work for it with an idea of improving each day and to achieve it. I gave them the example of how one can get 100% in mathematics if one wants to. Not many shared their dreams but there was a girl who wanted to go to space, a boy who wanted to be an animator, another who wanted to be an Electronics Engineer, a girl who wanted to be a doctor, an architect, an actress and a boy who wanted to be a mathematician. At the end of the class some of them came up and shared what they learnt in the class and most had pretty good learnings.

I tool leave from Father Joseph, gifted the school a copy of 'The Men Within' and returned home. I sat for a moment on the dais from where we get a great view of the Don Bosco School ground and it was a great refresher of the shoot of 'Golconda High School'.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

India and the World Cup

The World Cup is here. India start as one of the favourites obviously. Dhoni's team has the best chance of winning I feel and if they do not, they can only blame their lack of application. It is a power packed side with one of the best captains the world has ever seen, a team that is high on morale and confidence and a team that has built character over a period of time. Hopefully they will counter pressure well, as they have been doing in the past few months and years, and pull off a much deserved win. For a team with such talent, it is not a great record to have won the World Cup only once.

However as a viewer I feel a great amount of cricket fatigue already. The players themselves do not look fresh. Nor do they look hungry. Hopefully there will be some interesting matches and not long drawn one sided matches in the tournament. I also hope that a team like Bangladesh which is hungry for success comes up with a creditable performance here and makes it into the later rounds.

Suddenly 50 overs seem too long. Anyway more on the World Cup later.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Springdale Academy de International - Annual Day

I was invited to be Chief Guest at the Annual Day of the Springdale Academy de International school which has its branches in the Dilsukhnagar part of town. They have 3 branches, one at Tirumala Hills, B.N.Reddy Nagar and Maruti Nagar. This is their 3rd year and they have already grown into a 400 odd student school going right up to the 9th class. The function was held at the Babu Jagjivan Ram auditorium, Kothapet and was to start at 5 p.m.

I reached slightly late due to a breakdown in the car that was to pick me up. By the time me and Bhavani Shankar, Harsha's colleague from Powergrid who was instrumental in inviting me for the function, reached the place it was 630 p.m. But the children were really cute dressed in their costumes and so well rehearsed that they sang, danced, recited almost flawlessly. So good and so happy were they that you really wanted to take them home with you.

After a few programs they invited us on the stage and there were the mandatory speeches which must have bored the hell out of the parents and the kids but we tried to keep it short and also passably important for the function. The message the similar - dream high, go after your goals and work hard. Which they already seemed to be doing. And then there was a large round of prizes to be distributed to all the winners in academics and sports from first to ninth.

After the ceremony we got off the stage and witnessed some more rousing performances by the children, all  looking so divine. Equally happy and satisfied were the staff and management as the function went on smoothly with each program better than the next. Dances, tabla and keyboard recitals, songs, recitation - it was really fantastic. And unlike in most schools promoted by NRI promoters the main promoter Shri Raghu's daughter was studying in this same school and not some elite school faraway.

Springdale is clear about giving holistic education to its students and it was very evident in all their activities today. They are also committed, caring and loving towards their children. It has been ranked 20th in an All India survey by India Today and 6th in the state as schools likely to be thought leaders which is a huge achievement already. They also have a tie up with a US based system which improves the quality of knowledge transfer to the children from the teachers. It was really heartwarming to see the joy, the happiness, the beauty of all the kids and the teachers and I really had to tear myself away. If Shobha had not been down with a ear infection I would have stayed the length of the program. I really meant it when i thanked Bhavani Shankar for inviting me and making my evening so pleasurable.

At Secunderabad Club for the Twenty 20 Inter Club Tournament

Was invited by my good friends Ashish Uniyal and Sandeep to be Chief Guest at the Secunderabad Club Inter Club Twenty 20 tournament which got kicked off today. Eight cubs are to participate in this tournament which include Nizam Club, Celebrity Club, New Club, Fateh Maidan Club, Press Club, Deccan Club and another club I cannot remember. It is the eight edition of the tournament and it is sponsored by Kingfisher. All matches are to be held at the Secunderabad Club grounds which is a lovely place to play over a three week period.

The program was short and sweet with the President of Secunderabad Club and another good friend Keerti Nasimhachar throwing the tournament open. It was compered by Varun Chinmala, very competently, a young lad studying sports management in New Zealand. Apart from members of the press, a few members of the Secunderabad Club, officials from Kingfisher and captains of other clubs, I could also spot my cricketing friends Swaroop, Chatterjee and Vidyuth Jaisimha. I was then invited to speak a few words and I did. This is the gist of my speech:

Thank you for inviting me here as Chief Guest on this occasion of kicking off the Secunderabad Club Inter Club Twenty 20 tournament. I know that all the clubs that are participating have a healthy rivalry, and compete keenly especially against one another. Also this culture of sports and games is being kept alive so wonderfully by all the clubs especially Secunderabad Club and they deserve special congratulations for the good work.

Sports is integral to society and its growth. In my opinion if we played enough sports there would be no war. If we did exhaust ourselves on the sporting fields then there would be no need for us to prove who is bigger, who is stronger. So better we exhaust ourselves on the sports fields than war fields. It is about the spirit of competition and while we are on that I would like to dwell on it a moment longer.

Another analogy to sports and war that I always make is that to me sports is all about war. One must approach each game, must compete, like its war. Only when we take it up with such passion, with such seriousness do we take it to the next level. And one will surely realise that this competition gets better and bigger when tehre is agreater cause than the self at stake - a school, a college, an institution, a club, a state, a nation. Give it your all all of you who will play this tournament and make it count for your club because it will not only bring in splendid performances for your club and the game, but you will grow as individuals as well.

It is important that we cultivate this spirit of competition because true compassion lies beyond fighting hard for a cause like this. As we practice it in smaller arenas we shall grow more comfortable in the bigger arenas. We shall feel prouder to be part of our club, society, state and nation.

I am reminded of a saying that goes - you know more about a person in one hour's play than in years of acquaintance. I know that for a fact. There are gentlemen here who are sitting on the dais (Keerti and Sandeep) who despite their gentle demeanour outside showed a hostile side to them when they had to fight tooth and nail for their club's honour many years ago.

So go for it. Give it your best and raise the bar with your performances. Also, I must assure you, that the beer will taste much sweeter and better if you compete to the best of your limits.

Thank you.

It is nice to be part of anything as elite as the Secunderabad Club. I must now get a couple of copies of 'If You Love Someone..' over to the club library too as Astad suggested.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Article in the Indian Express - February 13, 2011

The following article appeared in my Sunday column 'Un Intended' in the New Indian Express.

Pregnant Autos With Superpowers
Harimohan Paruvu

If traffic is an indicator of the culture of a place, we in Hyderabad have evolved distinctly in this area. Today, few places in the world can match our traffic. Though better experienced than written about, certain aspects of our traffic must be dwelt on for the sake of documentation. Apart from monstrous trucks, bullying buses, rascally autos and silky smooth two wheelers, one segment of the Hyderabadi traffic that strikes fear in the Hyderabadi heart is the pregnant auto. Yes, normal auto rickshaws also strike fear in your heart, but that’s nothing compared to what pregnant autos can do to you. 

Pregnant autos are normal autos with the supernatural capability to expand in such a grotesque way that they can accommodate eight passengers in their insides. In the front seat (there is only one), three passengers cling to the driver’s collar and shirt sleeves, who in turn clings to the steering. In the backseat, packed tighter than lovers from the Roman era, are four to five men and women, huddled closer than they would ever be with their spouses, making up for any shortfall in their romantic lives in the short distances to their destinations. Imagine this auto, packed with some eight to nine humans, heads, legs and hands sticking out at odd angles, flying at top speed heading uncontrollably at you like some drunken bull that has broken out of a bull ring. It is a sight that strikes cold fear into any heart and makes many non-believers believe in God. Obviously, these autos can ply only on roads where no law exists because no law would allow such things in public places.

Some thought that pregnant autos were the incarnation of some Goddess and almost started a new cult. Only upon a closer look did they realize that the heads and limbs in the auto belonged to a happy bunch of passengers. But there is yet another supernatural aspect to these autos. Pregnant autos are invisible to traffic cops. The poor cops can spot your seat belts, your pollution certificates, your mobile phones but they can never spot these pregnant autos as they careen at speeds not less than 100 mph, weaving in and out of traffic, picking up and dropping whole bodies or parts of passengers, balancing on two wheels precariously as they negotiate turns and braking to a complete halt when required. The whole world can see them, feel them, but traffic cops cannot. No wonder the pregnant autos of Hyderabad are the scariest proposition since the Ramsay Brothers. It is like having a tipsy James Bond drive Noah’s Ark.

Pregnant autos are a special feature of our Hyderabadi culture, and need to be preserved. However, I doubt if we can take this any longer. Everytime a pregnant auto appears, people on the road lose a few years of their life out of sheer stress. Yes, pregnant autos can be used productively for society to inflict third degree torture on hardened criminals or to frighten little children to drink milk, but overall they serve little purpose except increase the number of heart patients. I suggest that our traffic cops be given special powers and special glasses instantly (or glasses with special powers) to spot these pregnant autos and stop them from scaring the daylights out of everyone. As it is we have regular autos to worry about and now these. Maybe, like tigers and other wild animals that are dangerous but still need to be preserved, they could be kept in special enclosures. I don’t mind paying to go and watch them on a safari!