2014 in review from WordPress

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 440 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


Haider sans Hamlet

I haven’t read Hamlet. The only work of Shakespeare that I can claim to know of (and that too an abridged version) is Julius Caesar, only because it was part of my high school English syllabus. So how must one react to Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider?

The past few days for me have been a steady diet of reviews of the movie, most of which painted a reasonably good picture of it, though I did manage to find one very critical piece. Almost all looked through the lens of the play set in Denmark and drew parallels or noted where the director took artistic licences to deviate from the original text. What of the cinema goer who has never had a brush with Shakespeare? What would one see and learn through fresh eyes?

Kashmir is truly paradise. The valley looks stunning whether it is dotted by yellow-leaved trees in autumn or is capped by snow. Each house is worthy of being an art piece by itself — one look at the bedsheets, carpets and the cups they use to serve hot kahwa will tell you why. Which is why you will cringe when gunfights result in bullets searing through the wooden windows or worse, when bombs disfigure them altogether.

The Indian Army is making sure Kashmir stays in a state of limbo. People are routinely made to walk in hordes, holding up their identification cards. A hooded army man inspects them, one by one. If they look suspicious, he honks his vehicle, the suspect is taken into custody and tortured behind closed doors – gruesomely enough so that his cries can be heard, to strike fear into whoever may be guilty of hiding something. Suspected insurgents disappear as a matter of fact. They languish in secret prisons, are tortured even more (nails tweaked out, wires inserted into bodies), shot in the dark and thrown into the Jhelum from where bodies are regularly fished out. A sense of “everyone-knows-but-won’t-talk-about-it” attitude prevails. A State police officer says filing an FIR will only cause more personal troubles. People who save you from knotty situations quickly turn informers. Even a lover can blurt out things one confides to her. Referring to Srinagar as Islamabad — considered normal for a lot of people — is the something the security forces don’t take lightly. For them there is only one Islamabad, on the other side of the border. And what’s with most of the top army brass being Tamilians? (Nagraj & TS Murthy, their badges proudly display)

This is the situation which our poetry-writing protagonist comes to face with when he returns home from college. If this was not enough, his mother and power-loving uncle seem to be happier after his father’s disappearance, and even finding solace in each other. As Kashmir turns wintry, Haider’s beard grows long and so does his quest for answers. As inconvenient facts are unearthed, madness starts to creep into his mind and results in one of the most memorable scenes in the movie: an energised solo recitation of the dreaded Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) bang in the middle of Lal Chowk, an area where Jawaharlal Nehru supposedly once pledged the plebiscite promise to Kashmir.

The premise is simple enough. Haider learns of his father’s dying wish to take revenge, to pop two bullets into the eyes of his wily uncle. In the process, we see how daily life is in Srinagar. The film’s co-writer, Basharat Peer, has lived up to his promise of depicting Kashmiris as people who are not necessarily fanatical about everything in life (Peer himself makes an interesting cameo just before the halfway mark). He is sort of right when he says that previous commercial directors have always overlaid the theme of unhindered patriotism in the valley’s backdrop (Roja, Lakshya et al.) or used it simply as a pretty setting for songs (Jiya Re from Jab Tak Hai Jaan comes to mind). What sets Haider apart is that it unabashedly shows the armed regiments as unethical, something you can least rely on for safety and as a tool used to gain political mileage. It was flagged as fodder for controversy earlier this year. Vishal Bhardwaj reportedly made 35 cuts to tighten the screenplay, while the Censor Board made five so that it would be appropriate for children under adult supervision. Given the present circumstances under a potentially sensitive, right-wing government, I’m thankful there have been no protests to stop its screening yet. Time will tell.

As far as the process of film making goes, some quick observations: the cameraman Pankaj Kumar’s eye has rightly captured what it considered a visual feast and Vishal Bhardwaj sits right up there with our best music directors. Bhardwaj has also, in a way, taken a step back and forward in making Haider. Some actors have crooned to his tunes — a practice that was commonplace long time ago — and the songs are strictly slotted in only if there’s reason for them to be there. This adds a much-needed element of realism. Lastly, we have properly mastered the art of how bullets hit and instantly kill people as well as how flesh splatters around after an explosion — at least this gets the desired effect of cringing.

A bit of nostalgia: Shahid Kapoor in portraying a Kashmiri who picks up his gun for revenge reminded me of his father who played somewhat a similar role in Mani Ratnam’s Roja. Both films are interestingly, set in the same time period.

One element that threads the film together is Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetry, especially the song Gulon Mein Rang Bhare (Let The Blooms Fill With Colour). It is the bond that father and son share, the thing that a mysterious informer uses to show Haider he knows of him and something that was given a new life by Vishal Bhardwaj, the composer, but disappointingly not used in the main film. More importantly, it signals hope in a rotten environment and presses us to ask the most important question. Will, as the lyrics go, the garden of Kashmir ever get on with its daily business as it once used to?

Gulon Mein Rang Bhare (Mehdi Hassan version)

Gulon Mein Rang Bhare (Arijit Singh version)

Don’t judge a show by its pilot episode

So there’s this new TV series premiering that your closest circle of friends are all gung-ho about. Its getting a hell of a lot of oohs and aahs on Twitter. You decide to download the very first episode overnight and watch it together with the gang over the weekend.
The torrent has successfully downloaded. You open the video and press play. The opening credits are exciting; good soundtrack, you say to yourself. And then you struggle through a good 40 to 45 minutes trying to watch it. F.R.I.E.N.D.S rerun would’ve been more fun, you mumble to yourself.
The pilot episode of any new TV series can seriously make or break the rest of it. I’m taking three cases where the ‘meh’ factor almost made me sentence them to solitary confinement in a corner of my hard disk’s memory: Sherlock, True Detective & Da Vinci’s Demons. Three vastly different genres, yet all had bumpy starts.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s reboot of the London sleuth had an unaired pilot, a sort of a zeroth episode of ‘A Study in Pink’. The ‘mind palace’ was still in its infancy: juvenile, jumpy and almost laughable. Cameras focused on the iPhone screens directly when characters googled or texted, instead of the trademark ‘type-in-air’ projection effect. Editing is amateurish, little or no focus is given to details and the cinematography is not sleek.
 Skip to second: enter Matthew McConnaughey and Woody Harrelson in bleak 90’s Louisiana as they set to find a serial killer. Could it be any slower? Or greyer? It reminded me of the forgettable 2012 Brad Pitt flick called ‘Killing Them Softly’. Characters just drawled on with uncomfortable, intermittent silences which are supposedly artistic.
Last one: Da Vinci’s demons, a reimagining of how Leonardo da Vinci lived and produced his works of genius during the Renaissance. Except that he sports spiked hair, gorgeous stubble, is a chick magnet, wears edge-of-fashion leather jackets and undertakes adventures more incredible than Asterix or Tintin.
 If you stick to being so judgmental about these things, it’s guaranteed that you’ll never end up enjoying them. Give them a chance, watch them one after the other and you’re in for unheralded moments of TV awesomeness — lightning quick deductions made while giving the funniest of insults to the Scotland Yard,an uninterrupted six-minute shot with no edits of an elaborately constructed hostage scene or a plausible reconstruction of how machine guns and submarines worked in 16th century Florence. What if you also realised one of the show’s creators was the guy who wrote the trilogy of Chris Nolan’s Batman flicks? Therein lays the motivation.
Dig deeper, don’t be hasty and press the play button for Season 1: Episode 02. There’s always more in store.


How to make an American monster movie



Godzilla is back. And it’s bigger than any of its earlier versions. Director Gareth Edwards’ recent reboot of the original 1954 film is a hit with fans (7.5/10 in IMDb for want of proof) and a much needed amendment for the last remake by Roland Emmerich in 1998 (remember Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno being chased by an oversized Iguana on the streets of New York? Yeah.. Cringe away)

Godzilla 2014 is a visual spectacle, no doubt. But take away all the layers of awesomeness surrounding the monster’s roar and stomping, the underlying theme is as formulaic as any Hollywood flick gets (spoilers alert):

  • Make America the epicentre of any attack, natural or supernatural. Give a damn if the monster originates from Japan
  • Centre the drama on a close-knit white American family where the father has hardly any time for his son
  • Kill the mother and make the father leaving emotionally responsible for her death till he dies
  • Son grows up to join the marines
  • Covert intelligence operation to cover up Godzilla even though it’s freaking 350 feet tall. They even have a cool acronym and logo despite being covert
  • Japanese scientist who forever sports a constipated look and he alone understands nature and its ways of balancing things
  • Japanese scientist can speak English quite well but can only say “Gojira”
  • Experienced miner who shines his torch on a prehistoric fossil and says: “I’ve been digging caves all my life and haven’t seen anything like this”
  • White army chief who loves to nuke everything and has a black deputy for racial balance
  • It’s 2014 and still the US president speaks to his army chief through a red-coloured hotline
  • Little kid on the beach is the first one to notice the sea receding and know something is coming out
  • Dog tied on a leash and keeps barking at the monster, never know whether it survives or not
  • Iconic landmark laid to waste. We’ll take the Golden Gate Bridge this time instead of Brooklyn
  • Monster is camouflaged in the dark, soldier says “everything clear” before it gets up to devour them
  • San Francisco is sent back to the Stone Age as the battle ensues but key family members will never die
  • CNN-like channel can only come up with ‘America under attack’ as its best headline, and towards the end ‘King of monsters: Saviour of our city?’ (Arnab’s ‘Nation Wants To Know’ seems classier)
  • Emotional connect between a wooden Aaron Taylor Johnson and Godzilla as they stare at each other for a few moments between the battle (get a room fellas)

Bottomline: It’s so darn easy to write a monster-movie script. All you will be short of is $160 million dollars and an ensemble cast who have received Oscar nominations

What you might not know:

Director Gareth Edwards grew up on Steven Spielberg movies and has learnt the latter’s art of restraint – he’ll keep you guessing for a long time before Godzilla actually appears

The look of the monster is a hark back to the original 1954 Japanese film. Godzilla’s head was modeled on bears, dogs and eagles rather than any lizards.

Godzilla’s roar is an improvement on the 1954 one which was essentially the sound of a leather glove coated in pine-tar resin being dragged over a double bass.

One of the original scripts for the movie was to show Godzilla trapped underneath frozen ice in Siberia before it comes to life again. Legendary pictures scrapped it so that it didn’t eerily look like a lift off from ‘Man of Steel’

Best part:

There’s a sequel in store. Wooo yeah!

Where do our prime ministers get elected from?

A quick, rough look at where our PMs have been getting elected from in the past. Also, an interesting candidate who’s standing in the 2014 elections from that place.

View this document on Scribd


14 different PMs from 1952

From the Lower House

11 of them from the Lok Sabha. Here are the states from where they have fielded themselves

Andhra 2
Gujarat 2
UP 13

From the Upper House

Assam 2
Karnataka 1
Punjab 1

Uttar Pradesh (UP) is to our PMs like how Ohio is to U.S. Presidents. Surat and Nandyal remain the only constituencies outside UP from where Indian PMs have been elected to power.

The online link of this article for Hindustan Times can be found here

The last time I saw Landmark

Very nice take on Landmark bookstore (Apex Plaza) closing down.

The Lowly Laureate

Whenever something shuts shop, the memories associated with that something swell out, that is only natural. Because memories need not be rational, this is some loss however.
One thing I realised that, we can continue to have the memories even if the source of those memories has shut down or changed course, because basically these are our memories and we can construct them however and whenever we wish to, immaterial of conditions. So basically this is not a nostalgia piece, but masquerading as one.
I do not know how my generation spent their birthdays; mine was always at Landmark Nungambakkam. Weekdays or weekend whenever it came, didn’t matter; it was the unspoken norm, lunch and dinner also didn’t matter. It wasn’t that we returned with a kart load of books, maybe just one or two.
Landmark Nungambakkam was my first idea of what a bookstore should be, a major introduction…

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Who bears the full liability for MH370?

Guest post by Sreemathy Mohan

As the final hours of Malaysian Air Flight 370 still remain wrapped in mystery, the next question is who bears full liability for the jet’s disappearance? (The current lead insurer of this aircraft is Munich based Allianz SE for both the aircraft and airline liability)

Will Malaysian Airline System Bhd be liable (even if the plane is not found?) or the airlines can allege that 777′s manufacturer Boeing was at fault for this huge liability loss? – Under the Montreal Convention of 1999 (an international treaty that covers air travel), the carrier has to pay damages for each passenger killed or injured in an accident, even if its cause is unknown. By those rules, the airline’s liability could stand at more than $40 million. (Roughly about $175,000 per passenger)

Under the convention, claims against the airline will probably be litigated in China and Malaysia, the home countries of most of the passengers on the flight.  The treaty caps an airline’s damages at the equivalent of about $175,000 if the carrier can prove it wasn’t negligent or that a third party, such as terrorists or a manufacturer, was solely at fault. If it can’t mount such a defense, its liability could be much higher.(And if the event is linked to the USA, families can sue in USA and this can trigger more awards/settlements).

Several scenarios have been offered for the flight’s disappearance, including hijacking, intentional downing or an on-board fire. Evidence of any of these could open avenues for family members to sue. There were 153 Chinese passengers aboard Flight 370, according to the airline, and might likely to choose to make their claims in the home country.

When there was a similar incident in 2009 of Air France Flight 447, which vanished between Rio De Janeiro and Paris, and the wreckage was found in sea, and the black box  discovered after 2 years in the Atlantic, there was at least an evidence which helped the investigators to find out the pilot’s struggle to recover the aircraft. But in the case of MH 370, there is absence of evidence (as of today) – right from wreckage, flight data, cockpit recordings – and so Malaysian air has a huge liability hovering! – For the families its even more harder to prove an unsolved mystery liability of others beyond the airline. Malaysian Air said that while its insurers are studying the issue of compensation based on the Montreal Convention, it is considering an advance payment to all the families.

With prayers to all the 226 passengers and 13 cabin crew who went down!