Thursday, April 29, 2010 0 reflections

Re-learnt lessons

Sometimes it’s odd how the most insignificant seeming things start to bother us, isn’t it? I take a quick look at the day’s tabloids from back home and almost nowhere is there a mention of Tharoor now focusing on road repair works in his constituency. Its unimportant to me personally, I know. It does not affect my daily routine but it still bothers me that the clown fest we call ‘Indian Media’ decides to stop giving him more mileage until he does something spicy like decides to start his own version of the IPL called TPL – Tharoor’s Premiere League. Or announces a book called “My experiments with lies”. Weird. I guess I should care about the fellow only as much as he cares about me but it is perhaps in these meaningless nothings that mundane lives like yours and mine finds its solace.

But back to what has caught my thoughts lately. As a way to finally get an exercise regiment going and to continue finding ways of blending into the local culture more, Jaya and I decided to buy a bicycle last week. As would have been expected, I took my chances with this new found delight of ours and went up and down our apartment building’s backyard (a miniscule distance of about a 100 meters really) a few times to ‘test drive’ Rocky. And there in lies the objective of my thoughts – the pedal brake.

Now, here in Denmark, for some unfathomable reason, cycles have this bizarre concept called a ‘pedal brake’. What is it? Well it’s a brake that kicks in when you pedal backwards. Yes! Imagine that! Horror of horrors!

Back in an Internet-less and cable TV-less India, the only activity I remember being absolutely obsessed with was cycling. Oh how I would zip through the neighborhood – up the steep streets of Basaveswarnagar, down the rocky paths of Rajajinagar, past the dusty corners of Magadi Road. Ah – bliss. My modest red colored Hero Ranger was a beauty! I still remember the day dad had brought home that magical piece from Raja Cycles in N.R.Road in Bangalore. With sweat dripping down my spine I would huff and puff my way into the house, kick away the slippers and run in for a quick bath before diving in to do homework or watching good old Doordarshan.

Now, during these eventful years, the one thing I remember enjoying more than actually flying forward with the mean machine was pedaling backwards. There was something cool about being able to move forward by accelerating backwards. Like a good old magician’s fascinating trick. It was like defying gravity or challenging the laws of mathematics. Fascinating indeed. In fact, that solitary action might have been the most enjoyable thing I can recall from my cycling days. And now, as I took my test drive with this new age punk called Rocky, it dawned upon me that pedaling backwards to go forward wasn’t an option anymore. I had to keep myself focused towards moving forward or staying still. No backwards movements here. No sir. If you attempt it, you stop. And rather rudely too!

Notwithstanding its blatantly obvious metaphorical value in today’s India, I did have to conclude that it was all about learning new tricks about the old dog. A relearning that truly brought back memories.

Saturday, April 24, 2010 0 reflections

Welcome home Rocky!

Copenhagen is popularly called the cyclist paradise. Little wonder then that it was time we brought home a little paradisaical treat of our own. Friends - meet Rocky. The latest member of our quickly growing Indo-Scandinavian family. Rocky is fast, light and most importantly - cheap. ^_^

Click below for larger versions of Jaya and her latest obsession - Rocky!

PS: Yes - I too took a ride on Rocky yesterday and it was a little ...ahem...rocky. o.O

Thursday, April 22, 2010 11 reflections

Magadheera - Re-defining 'inspiration'

One of the many effects Hollywood has had on the world has been the oft misused instance of the word ‘inspired’. Almost every other flick, particularly from a craze-maze hotch-potch called (in somewhat un-Shakespearean way) Bollywood, is being quoted as being a remake of a product from that mountain city in the United States. And sadly, so wrapped are we with Bollywood that we rarely pay attention to the magic being woven in regional cinema. True – not all of us Indians are blessed with either the resources or the time to sit through those select few that filter past the much revered National Awards or the more drooled after yet eternally scoffed at Academy Awards. But nevertheless there is no denying that there is some serious work being done in our regional territories to up the standards of traditional cinema making over the last decade.

One among them – with all due respect to my home ground Karnataka where cinema has somehow lost its way in a bizarre forest infected with cannibalistic mediocrity – is the South Indian cinema scene. It is no secret that Bangalore possibly has more Tamil and Telugu cinema goers than Kannada cine-aficionados. And yes – there is no denying that the kind of stories written in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam have forever been rich sources from where our hapless Kannada film makers have continued to pour themselves generous buckets of words from. Hence, being a fellow who enjoys good, entertaining cinema regardless of language, I have indulged in non-Hindi, non-English, non-Kannada cinema several times too. I have seen movies in International tongues like Spanish, Polish, Hungarian, German et al and regional ones like Tamil, Marathi, Bengali to name a few. The one language I somehow never managed to see many movies in has been Telugu. The only two movies I can recall, not including Magadheera, are Shankarabharanam and Bommarillu.

And so – to increment my Telugu movie counter, I decided to take a gamble on the 2009 release of mega-star Chiranjeevi’s son Ram Charan Teja’s flick – Magadheera. I had heard rave reviews about how brilliant this movie was last year and so it was only apt that I leapt at the first Blue-Ray version that came my way.

First things first – Magadheera isn’t a brilliant movie. It is an AWESOME movie. And no – not for the storyline which is as old as the gorgeous yet fake hills that stand majestically in the backdrop of its sequences. Magadheera is a benchmark in Indian cinema purely because it shows the other film makers what exactly ‘inspired from’ means. It is a slap on the faces of those beer bellied producers whose only homework would have been to pour some scotch and come up with the magical equation…

Known hero + Hot girl + Rain dance + Love story + Family sentiment + Needless songs + Cliché fights + Cheesy dialogues + Mandatory rape attempt + Revenge saga + x = SCRIPT

The ‘x’ is usually the variables that go into making another hackneyed desi version of what was probably a decent original in Hollywood or elsewhere. What Magadheera does successfully is convert what could easily have been another run-of-the-mill love story into an epic. And how? By converting what could be termed ‘copy’ into the right meaning of the word ‘inspiration’.

The story of Magadheera is that of rebirth. Yes – as I mentioned there is nothing new in this bottle of tales. And hence, the story unfolds in two separate time periods – 1600 and now. Needless to say, if you have seen the publicity material for the movie, you’d have guessed that the warrior look for the hero is from the former period. So in this dish of recurring love, recurring enmity, recurring friendship and reappearing memories, we have a pretty straight forward story to narrate. But there – right there – is the difference as clear as that of an apple and an orange. I can safely say I have never seen such a flawless execution of visual effects and 3D imagery in Indian cinema before. It has artwork that can be easily put in the same column as visual masterpieces like '300' and 'Lord of the Rings'! The breathtakingly gorgeous ravines and valleys, the giant statue of Lord Shiva on Mount Bhairava, the shots of Udaigarh and the royal palace interiors and game ground, the white sand deserts that lay for hundreds of miles on the outskirts of the city - every detail simply oozes with master strokes. It is clear that the director, S.S.Rajamouli, not only understands international cinema but also knows how to translate it to fit our local needs.

Some brilliant scenes come to mind –

- The opening credits where paintings are used to capture the mood of the movie.
- The opening scene which starts by the depiction of the last few moments of what appears to have been a gruesome battle.
- The way our hero, in his former life as a royal guard, kills exactly 100 men from barbarian King Sher Khan’s shaitaan ki fauj on Mount Bhairava. Very reminiscent of '300' where murder was more an art form rather than a violent act of crime. Spectacularly shot.
- The scenes depicting the royal palace in Udaigarh and its exotic interiors.
- The scene on Mount Bhairava with a jaw dropping view of the Aravali mountains in the backdrop. Phew – the list goes on.

Having written enough reviews highlighting the story, music, performances, action and direction, I thought it was time to talk about a movie that works so well just for its sheer presentation quality, that even if at times the other departments feel a tad jaded, there isn’t much harm done. Here’s a grand round of applause to the technical team of Magadheera for finally cutting the BS between mundane ‘copy paste’ and true inspired work.

Well done folks! Hopefully now we will see some serious attention given to the word ‘inspiration’ in our Indian cinematic circles before being bandied about recklessly.

Saturday, April 17, 2010 1 reflections

The Inheritance of loss - a review

There is an undeniable vein of cruelty and regret that is peppered all over Kiran Desai’s Man Booker Prize winning novel ‘Inheritance of loss’. It not only showcases human vulnerability in those moments but also highlights a wide range of issues that seem so relevant in today’s apocalyptically poised world of a million worries. Everything from shifting globalization, economic divides, displacement, post colonial effects on a nation, terrorism and that oh-so-familiar thread of jingoistic ownership is brightly highlighted in the story. A theme, I thought, most recognizable given the black and white we witness in each tabloid spill.

The tale opens with Sai, an orphaned teenage girl, moving to her UK educated grandfather Jemubhai Popatlal Patel (a retired judge) in Kalimpong at the foothills of the Kanchengunga. She is in love with her Nepalese tutor Gyan. Staying with the judge and Sai is the cook whose son Biju is in New York, working and existing as an illegal immigrant in various desi and American outfits.

The core of the story runs in two parallel segments. One, that of the judge and Sai and their life in Kalimpong which is on the verge of a Gorkhali insurgency in demand for a separate state for themselves – Gorkhaland. The second strand is that of Biju and his encounters with the ever illusive ‘American dream’ far away in the chaotic and detached Big Apple. While Biju is busy moving from one menial job to another, the cook is proud of his ‘Amreeki’ son and continues to write to him requesting him to find similar glory for his friends and acquaintances. A habit Biju has a very hard time making his father realize as being a counter-productive exercise for someone as volatile as him.

Sai’s entry into his life forces Patel, the judge, to reflect upon certain dirty facts about his own past. As a young chap who had set sail to Cambridge University, Patel has his personal collection of bitter memories from that stint. Racial abuse, humiliation and blatant disregard to and the intense damage to his self esteem continues to haunt the judge. This, despite his achievements as a government official in Independent India. This throbbing vein of cruelty that was meted against him erupts in an endless barrage of rape, abuse and disrespect for his young wife – Nimi – who ends up becoming the victim of Patel’s immense hate for the West and everything related to it. A hate that is the result of consistent neglect and nonchalant shame.

"...he forgot how to laugh, could barely manage to lift his lips in a smile, and if he ever did, he held his hand over his mouth, because he couldn't bear anyone to see his gums, his teeth. They seemed too private. In fact, he could barely let any of himself peep out of his clothes for fear of giving offence. He began to wash obsessively, concerned he would be accused of smelling. To the end of his life, he would prefer shadow to light, faded days to sunny, for he was suspicious that sunlight might reveal him, in his hideousness, all too clearly.

There are also a string of second level characters in the book – the Anglophile sisters Lola and Noni; Father Booty, a Swiss national residing, as is later known, illegally in India and Uncle Potty – an incorrigible drunk who finds his solutions at the bottom of the bottle – who contribute to the goings on in their very well defined personalities.

The book discusses a wide range of issues that we, as Indians, should be able to identify with. The disintegration of the moral compass, the obviously visible corruption of our governing systems, and the infinite seeming struggle of the common man to achieve that one ounce of common peace – all of this mushrooms around the characters and their journeys.

Having read a lot of Rushdie, I could not help but find similarities in the way Desai stitches her narratives. I remember mentioning in my reviews of Rushdie’s work, how he enjoys running sentences. This is more evident in Desai’s work than any other I have read so far. Something as simple as a boy getting ready for a challenging day of learning and knowledge at school is described in one lengthy paragraph!

"..Fed he was, to surfeit. Each day, he was given a tumbler of fresh milk sequined with golden fat. His mother held the tumbler to his lips, lowering it only when empty, so he reemerged like a whale from the sea, heaving for breath. Stomach full of cream, mind full of study, camphor hung in a tiny bag about his neck to divert illness; the entire package was prayed over and thumb-printed red and yellow with tika marks. He was taken to school on the back of his father's bicycle."

But despite this attempt to appear as a clear devotee of Rushdie’s style, there also exist some masterpiece of lines that hold your attention to the narrative with the sheer brilliance of their execution.

"He retreated into a solitude that grew in weight day by day. The solitude became a habit, the habit became the man, and it crushed him into a shadow. But shadows, after all, create their own unease, and despite his attempts to hide, he merely emphasised something that unsettled others. For entire days nobody spoke to him at all, his throat jammed with words unuttered, his heart and mind turned into blunt aching things."

"…; a banana that in the course of the journey had been slain by heat. No fruit dies so vile and offensive a death as the banana, but it had been packed just in case."

"Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself."

Despite the very obvious political backdrop such as this, I never thought the novel was political at all in the way it showcased its characters. It came off more as an image of the effects commoners have to go through caught in the middle of such strife. What did become clear was Desai’s view of how everything Western isn’t actually the way to progress. Her skepticism of the West is clear in many extracts that discuss the anglophile sisters Lola and Noni and their ‘sanitized elegance’.

Desai’s point is driven home by her conclusive attempt at examining how post-colonial rule has done more harm than good in the developing nations. Her lines like “in its meanest form, brand-new one day, in ruin the next." seems like the perfect way to describe the disastrous mess that India can be considered sometimes. It could be because of this conclusion that Biju is subjected to a direct wave of rage and fury, an emotion he was quite remotely located from in New York, his first day back home. Desai suggests, that for folks like him and others caught in the same puddle of uncertainty, escape is not an option. And as Sai concludes…

"Never again could she think there was but one narrative and that this narrative belonged only to herself, that she might create her own mean little happiness and live safely within it."

Desai’s artistic expression cannot be denied in ‘The inheritance of loss’ despite the oddities that she highlights. The underlying effect of western influence of civilizations such as India is a painful truth we are made to acknowledge. And for this, I would definitely recommend a read.

More book reviews @

Thursday, April 15, 2010 4 reflections


Dear reader,

A desperate attempt to break the block that stands threatening my words. For whatever its worth.

Here. Now.

From the drivel here,
From the stupor now,
I pause to ink. I think. And think.
I got here with an aim,
I sit now with no game.
From the ripple here,
In this downpour now,
I rise to stink. I blink. And shrink.
I sit here to create a thought,
I stand soiled in this messy drought.
On with my ramble here,
Done with my rant now,
I begin to sink. Sink. And sink.
I burn in my defeat here.
I churn out a…piece, somehow…

Thursday, April 08, 2010

A piece on peace

Click on image for a larger view

Found this rather disturbing piece while browsing through today’s daily. It reminded me of an old O’ Henry tale where the protagonist, keeping Henry’s religious adherence to irony alive, smashes a store window to be put behind bars. Reason? To avoid the bitter cold of the winter skies that threatens to whisk out the life of him. What made this story of Ibrahim Razak Mulla more comically poignant was just how grim and bizarre are the ways in which justice works (if at all!) in India. Makes one wonder what this man has had to go through (a guess not too hard by the look of the still fresh seeming scabs on his body) to now have driven himself to a point of no return. Was probably just the reason why this story was on Page 6 and the meaningless Sania-Malik
tamasha was on the front page. Tragic.

One can only hope that Ibrahim has finally found some peace. In an almost Shakespearean tragedy sort of way,of course, but still – peace.

Friday, April 02, 2010 4 reflections

Easter eggs under Swedish skies

Note: Non-face images can be clicked for larger versions!

With the skies still unclear about which weather range they should be in – either spring or winter – we continue to get a little sunshine, a bit of rain and loads of chilly wind spills each day. Given the hopelessness of such a situation, it only seemed apt that we go ahead and make the most of the holidays that came our way. Hence – we decided to head to Malmo city in Sweden this Easter Friday.

Now, for those who aren't aware, Denmark and Sweden are like Siamese twins connected by a small body of water. I mean seriously, it's like 30-40 minutes train ride from Copenhagen Central to Malmo city. I remember looking at Jaya's amazed expression when we hissed into Malmo South after just over 35 minutes since our boarding at Copenhagen Central. 'It used to take me to more than an hour to get to VT!' she said, absolutely wonder stuck at the possibility that within an hour, we had spanned across borders without so much as a wrinkle on our clothes. This was the kind of contrast, I thought, we Indians can never completely get over given the battle-like conditions we travel under back home.

One of the most fascinating parts of this journey is the Oresund Bridge that combines a two track railway line below a four-loan road bridge tunnel across the Oresund strait. This is the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe that connects the two countries. The architectural brilliance of this bridge is something one should see to properly appreciate. The view of this bridge from Malmo is equally breathe-taking. Despite the slightly foggy weather, we still managed to get some decent images.

The air had a rather generous touch of the cold as we walked into Malmo. In fact, despite my 2+ years in Denmark, this was my first time visiting this city too. I had been to Helsingborg in 2008 (another Swedish city at the other border of Denmark) but it wasn't quite the same since I had to take a ferry across the Baltic waters. Our immediate want in Malmo, was to get a good glimpse of the Turning Torso – a famous landmark that stands majestically as a unique and spectacular example of Sweden's architectural beauty. Built between the years of 2001 and 2006, the Turning Torso is primarily used for residential purposes. We could not help but speechlessly gawk at the attention to detail that stood so obvious in front of us. As we stood and snapped various memorable photographs of the Torso tower, we only hoped that such a monument soon makes its blessed appearance in India too. Wishful thinking, I know.

We then moved on to the sea-coast to catch a glimpse of the Oresund bridge that had brought us to Malmo from Denmark. The sun, aptly timing his appearance, kept his visibility brief but it was enough for us to get click-happy on some swans that seemed lost in their own world. As Jaya walked around capturing images of the various flocks that had surrounded the area, the sights and sounds of a festive Easter Friday was cracking itself open upon us. We spent about half an hour at the coast before heading towards the city center where we planned to have lunch.

The center of Malmo is, as is evident with most metropolitan cities, a place buzzing with a lot of activity. Considering it was a public holiday in Malmo, there still was a decent crowd milling about the town square and enjoying the smells and sights of the dozen odd restaurants that stood mushroomed all around it. We walked into the square wondering if we should try something adventurous when, as if from nowhere, we were greeted by a familiar word – Indiske. That is, as you might have guessed, both the Danish and Swedish word for 'Indian'. Now, from experience I know that walking into every place that is called that specially in a place that isn't peppered with Indian faces isn't the best idea. But one look at the menu outside and we knew we had to give it a shot. I mean, how could one pass off classics such as 'Polok Poneer' and 'Onion Bhojee' ? So, keeping our hungry fingers crossed, we decided to venture.

And would you know it? What we ended up getting was possibly one of the best Indian food I've had in all my years overseas. That, considering my decade long existence in alien waters, is a huge statement! The 'Polok Paneer' was so well made that Jaya joked that it was definitely an old Indian lady sitting in the kitchen and dishing it out! Served with a steaming cup of basmati rice and a bowl of sweet tomato raita, lunch was just the tonic we needed to boost our starving senses. As we guzzled in these treats with a tight salt lassi, we knew we had taken an adventurous step after all – even if it meant with a cuisine we both are well acquainted with.

We then headed to the markets to do what most Danes come to Sweden for – shop! Reason? Well, the Swedish Kroner is 0.7 times weaker when compared to the Danish Kroner. Don't ask me why, but all I know is if I buy a jacket in Sweden for 2000 Swedish Kroners, I would have spent only 1400 Danish Kroners from my account here in Denmark – which is roughly about 240 US. Sa-wee-tta! With a deal this delicious, how can one walk away with minimal shopping? So to keeps things interesting, Jaya and I went ahead and bought ourselves all sorts of merchandise including sunglasses (for her, of course), leggings and beach shorts. The best part? The final amount multiplied by 0.7! Needless to say, we plan to re-visit Sweden soon.

As we made our way back to the station, we caught sight of some beautiful Easter decorations on the streets. A giant golden egg had been placed with just the right shine needed to attract the tired tourist's curious eye. Jaya snapped a few nice ones as we took in the aroma and colors of buildings built during the renaissance period. It was fascinating to actually notice how, while being mostly similar to the designs we see here in Denmark, the buildings in Sweden had such a cleaner looking surface with clear-cut and sharp angled edges. I am no architect, not by a far mile, but there was something more accurate and tight about the buildings there that just isn't that obvious in the good old Viking country we live in.

As the Oresundståg inter-city express hissed its way back to Copenhagen central, we sat back looking at the snaps of a truly interesting Easter Friday that had made this trip feel more like an amazing Sunday instead. We look forward to heading back sometime soon!

Happy Easter everyone!