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Masala Zindabad

Yup, it’s up and running.

We kick things off with a podcast featuring MemsaabStory – part one of a wide ranging discussion about the largely forgotten/ unknown/ nameless character actors of Hindi cinema. The feed is in the sidebar.

I swear we aren’t on meth. That’s just my poor editing skills at play. We did our best to follow the advice of all you lovely people who wrote in; I hope it worked.

Thanks for listening!

[pic]

 
5 Comments

Posted by on November 23, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Personal

 

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Spoiled for Good, not Evil

Back when I was a teenage asshole, I used have great fun yelling out important plot points at my extremely spoiler-averse BFF. I think she basically walked around with her hands plastered to her ears for a whole week after Gupt came out until she could see it too.

And then there was me – the girl who’d read Agatha Christie novels back to front because I always “like to know”. It’s earned me a number of puzzled frowns and blank stares over the years, even from fellow ending-addicts who prefer to leave at least their mysteries unspoiled, but it couldn’t be simpler for me: I derive very little satisfaction from figuring out whodunnit, I’m a lot more concerned with how and why. I’m not really looking for a two-in-one “Get a puzzle free with this story” deal.

I’m very specific about what I like.

The ends of things, especially a book, is often a good indicator of what the rest of the material is like. There’s a reason why the most famous line from Gone with the Wind is from the last chapter – that’s where authors often store their best work. A book that peters out or pulls its punches at the climax is not a recommendation, no matter how powerful the prose or sky-high the praise on the cover. I might still pick it up, but I’ll know how to manage my expectations.

Reading Matt Yglesias and Ta-Nehisi Coates on the subject, however, I was reminded of AMC’s Rubicon, which just wrapped up its freshman season this Sunday. I suppose you could call it a sort of bait-and-switch: you’d expect the story of Will Travers (James Badge Dale), an intelligence analyst and “pattern recognition expert” whose chance discovery of a mysterious code leads him down a deep, dark rabbit hole and soon endangers the lives of all those close to him as well as himself, to come with a lot more bells and whistles.

Instead Rubicon‘s the kind of show that the British still make, the ones that are put on a diet of speed and steroids when they decide to remake it for the American market. It’s a show unafraid to take its time, devoted to establishing not just the world in which its story unfolds but also its atmosphere.

Little things about Rubicon appear designed to evoke fleeting memories of uneasiness you might have experienced over the course of your life. I don’t have to be an analyst on the brink of a momentous, life-threatening discovery to understand that feeling of paranoia when you’re walking down a deserted street in the middle of the night and you start imagining that that guy who got off at the same stop as you might be following you home with evil on his mind. I don’t have to be planning catastrophic world events to recognize hushed conversations that fall silent at the sound of high heels clacking on the floor of a temple to modern architecture.

Half the season of Rubicon was seemingly devoted to building these little moments that might have made you impatient at the time but ultimately served to underscore later events. If you hadn’t heard Maggie’s sad observation to Will, “This is the closest we’ll ever come to that lunch date, isn’t it?” or glimpsed her face after her disastrous booty call, the scene where Will confronts her about her betrayal wouldn’t have landed with the punch it did.

But how many people stuck around to watch that take place? Not many if even reviewers needed to be lured back:

At one point, Rubicon was in prime position to set the world record for “slowest paced episodic television show.” I even joked that I wasn’t smart enough to understand Rubicon. As it turned out, though, it wasn’t particularly confusing, it was just boring. Through the first three episodes, no character ever seemed to turn on a light let alone say something interesting. Minutes of screen time would be spent watching a guy we barely knew sit alone in the dark. I’d think, wait, that’s what I’m doing right now; why would I want to watch someone else to that on television?
[…]
Somewhere, around the sixth episode, something happened. I mean that literally — something finally happened. But things kept happening and, most importantly, the characters started developing personalities. I’m not making this up, Kale Ingrim (Arliss Howard) just may be the best character on television right now.

I was hooked early on, but that little nugget about the 6th episode caught my attention since my general rule for a new series that I find interesting is 6 episodes: that’s how long I give it to reel me in, after which, 9 times out of 10, I’m as committed as I can be without a wedding ring. Just ask Bones – I even forgave it that all time low of a season 4 London-based premiere.

But not everybody hangs around as long as I do. Not even me, if I find it heavy going. It took me just three episodes to bid farewell to Boardwalk Empire although it’s apparently going through a renaissance of its own so I might have to revisit and stick around for the full six.

And that’s the point about getting spoiled – if somebody were to tell me “stick around because things improve at such-and-such point when this-and-that happens”, that only makes me more inclined to watch it. Unless those plot points don’t appeal to me at all, in which case I’d be grateful to save my time because the Lord knows there’s no dearth of quality television out there.

But I’m apparently the minority.

 
10 Comments

Posted by on October 19, 2010 in Books, Entertainment, Movies, Personal, Review, Television, Video

 

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Friends with Validation

Note: If you haven’t yet seen last night’s episode of Mad Men or intend to see it at some later date, and are opposed to spoilers, then please skip this post.

Don Draper is in the midst of a very tough season – he’s a divorced dad without the illusion of family to moor him, responsibilities keep piling up at work and tying him down, he’s fast turning into a old fogey with a drinking problem, and now the one person who loved him despite knowing everything about him is dead. Meanwhile, Peggy Olson is having a Peggy kind of season – she’s pulling herself up one painful inch at a time towards the glass ceiling she doesn’t even know exists because she hasn’t made it far enough to know anything other than there is in fact a ceiling, juggling a so-so romance, and fighting with her mother while struggling to keep her skeletons buried.

In The Suitcase, they bonded over vermin, secrets, anger, respect, loss and an attraction that could go anywhere. Peggy wants to know she’s important to Don because her job at his office is the most significant part of her life. Don wants… well, Don wants Anna but he’d be happy to have someone who sees him for who he is without being repulsed by that knowledge (hello, Betty!).

All of this reminded me of a movie I’d seen fairly recently: The Switch.

The Switch? you say. That sounds familiar. Isn’t that…no! The Switch, starring Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston? In case you’re on your way over to my home to burn me at the stake, I should tell you I’m typing this while doused in flame-retardant. Maybe I just have it on the brain because I saw it last week against my better judgment but The Switch makes pretty much the same case in double the time and with half the awesomeness.

Wally doesn’t really think much of himself or hold out much hope for happily-ever-after. His idea of realism is colored by his father abandoning him as a child, which might well be a contributing factor in his growing up to be a “beady-eyed man-boy”. But Kassie knows him to be neurotic and messed-up and still wants to be his best friend. Meanwhile, Kassie just wants Wally to be supportive. She doesn’t really want him to look out for her, she wants him to be involved in her life. (At least, I think that was the plan – somewhere along the way the movie kind of forgets about Kassie except to remind us she’s the knockoff-Nutella in the sweet Bateman-Thomas Robinson sandwich, so I guess we’ll never know.)

What really brought the comparison home to me was the scene in which Don tells Peggy that she’s “cute as hell”. The subtext of that scene was that Don might mess things up with his secretary (and be willing to take his punishment for that like a louse man), but he knows and likes Peggy too well to use her like that, whatever anybody else might think or however many (unconscious?) hints she might drop.

Forty years later, we learn Wally took the same tack in The Switch by simply abandoning Kassie at their second date when things got a little heated between them.

For all the energy spent discussing the old saw about a man and woman never being friends, I wonder why nobody talks about what happens when a man and a woman are friends. It seems to me that in the movies (and television) it eventually comes down to exactly this point:

Woman wants Man to validate her choices in life (unlike all the other men she’s known). Man wants Woman to appreciate him (unlike all the other women he’s known).

Even the grand Bible of the “men and women can never be mere friends” theory, When Harry Met Sally, is about the same exact dynamic. Sally is constantly trying to convince herself that she made the right choices by bouncing them off Harry, while Harry likes the fact that Sally is his friend despite their history together right when his confidence is at low ebb.

I wonder if this translates to Hindi as well.

 
8 Comments

Posted by on September 6, 2010 in Entertainment, Movies, Television

 

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The Shame of Young Adults


Video NSFW

Auntie: What are you reading?
Child Amrita: Gone with the Wind. Have you read it?
Auntie: What?!
Child Amrita: I don’t really understand all of it but I think it’s great! The drama is out of this world! I think I’m addicted to good trash for life now. In fact, I’m gonna get the movie now and watch it.
Auntie: Stop it immediately or you will lose your childish innocence too soon!
Child Amrita: *grumble* When I grow up, nobody’s gonna tell me what I can read or not.

Teacher: What are you reading?
Tween Amrita: The Giant Book of Murder. It’s great.
Teacher: What?!
Tween Amrita: Look, it has sections devoted to axe murderers, serial killers and poisoners. I’m totally going to mine this for information that I will cunningly introduce into my English school essays to blow my competition out of the water!
Teacher: Stop it immediately! Or you will grow up into a psychopath.
Tween Amrita: *grumble* When I grow up, nobody will tell me what I can read or not!

Friend: What are you reading?
Teen Amrita: The Wheel of Time. It’s great!
Friend: What?!
Teen Amrita: Yeah, I’m really into fantasy fiction! It’s like science fiction but better! There’s parallel universes and alternate realities and magic and strange creatures and -
Friend: Stop!
Teen Amrita: Why?
Friend: I dunno. It sounds stupid and I’ve never read any. Here, read Chicken Soup like everybody else.
Teen Amrita: *grumble* When I grow up, nobody’s gonna tell me what I can read or not.

Internet: What are you reading?
Present Day Amrita: Young Adult fiction. It’s great!
Internet: What?!
Present Day Amrita: Yeah, I was too busy reading regular adult stuff when I was kid but now I find that there’s a lot of YA fiction out there that’s really good. So now I’m catching up.
Internet: Stop! Or at least have some shame! You’re reading stuff meant for children.
Present Day Amrita: *grumble* When I grow up…

I didn’t even know I was supposed to feel inferior about it. Should I cover my copy of Mockingjay with brown paper the way some women who read sexy romances on the subway do? What about graphic novels? Are those cool? Or is everybody sneering at me for choosing to read a comic like a little baby?

If only I read less and monitored the reactions of random strangers to my choice of reading material more, I bet I’d have the answers to all these pressing questions.

 
23 Comments

Posted by on September 2, 2010 in Books, Personal

 

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C’est de la Folie

C’est de la Folie

The Charge of the Light Brigade is one of the best movies ever made about war. It is about class and the thin line that separates foolishness from bravery on the battlefield; the aloof decisions of powerful men who choose between life and death for other human beings. Extensively researched, it tells the story of one particular battle in the Crimean War, the Battle of Balaclava, later made famous by Lord Tennyson in his poem of the same title.

That movie, of course, was directed by Tony Richardson in 1968 and starred John Gielgud, Trevor Howard and Vanessa Redgrave. But this is Flynn Week, so we shall discuss the version made thirty-odd years before that, starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Patric Knowles.

If you’re the kind of person who finds Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom offensive then The Charge of the Light Brigade is definitely not for you. In fact, eating monkey brains at a dinner hosted by a manic Amrish Puri playing the head of a cracktastic Kali temple is probably the kinder depiction of the two.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, The Charge of the Light Brigade begins on the Northwest frontier of British India. A clearly know-nothing envoy of the crown is in “Suristan” to meet the cagey new ruler Osama bin Laden Surat Khan (C. Henry Gordon) and somehow convince him to remain friendly to British interests while cutting off the annual allowance with which the British government bought the cooperation of his predecessor and the tribesmen he ruled.

Captain Geoffrey Vickers (Errol Flynn), a veteran of this treacherous terrain, doesn’t really think much of the mission, the envoy or the supposedly “gentlemanly” Surat Khan who lives in an amazingly chic mausoleum with some truly fashion forward pillars in the midst of which he naps on his throne and breeds vultures that he keeps in giant birdcages right smack in the middle of his audience chamber. Coz he’s a savage, see, fancy British education or not.

With England firmly embroiled in The Great Game, rulers in sensitive and potentially hostile areas like Suristan are vitally important. Vickers isn’t all that keen on the idea but ends up saving his hide anyway when a gorgeous spotted kitty is about to make him her dinner while they’re out on safari. Surat Khan immediately pledges friendship and eternal debt to Vickers.

Meanwhile in Calcutta, Vickers’ fiancee Elsa (Olivia de Havilland) is reconsidering quite another pledge. Love being blind, she has fallen for Vickers all right – Perry Vickers (Patric Knowles), Geoffrey’s dorky little brother. Elsa’s father, predictably, doesn’t think much of a man who would make out with his brother’s fiancee, even if he thinks his elder brother is the jolliest of good fellows who’d be willing to hand the love of his life over to his younger brother, all neatly tied up in a bow. He’s much kinder to his daughter as he points out that Geoffrey is Errol freakin’ Flynn, dummy!

Turns out Elsa’s dad was on to something as Geoffrey chews his brother out when he comes clean about Elsa and him falling in love with each other. This creates a misunderstanding between the brothers, especially since weepy Miss Elsa is “a respectable lady” who can’t bring herself to hurt wee Geoffrey’s feelings even though she managed to fall in love with his brother in his absence. Oh, boo fucking hoo. Not even Olivia de Havilland can sell this selfish little drama queen to me.

Now I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking the same thing by this point – why are we spending all this time in India when the movie is about a battle fought in Ukraine?

Well… here’s the thing: when your popcorn movie is based on a poem, no matter how stirring its lines, you need to jazz it up a little. All that stuff about office politics and incompetent aristocrats running the army is all well and good, but when you’re making a movie about Errol Flynn leading a suicide charge against an enemy many times the size of his force, there better be a honking great reason for it.

The filmmakers chose the massacre of the surrendered British, including their women, children, and servants, at Kanpur (or Cawnpore as they spelled it in those days) during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 (or The First War of Independence as we learned to call it in India) as the motivational event. Except the Battle of Balaclava took place before that so they relocated the events to a fictional outpost and made savage, vulture breeding, Russki-loving Surat Khan the aggressor.

Although Vickers is sadly mistaken about how low Surat Khan’s willing to go, even the blackest of villains has their limit. He spares Vickers his life (and that of Elsa) for having once saved his own. Just as Vickers lived to regret his good deed, Surat Khan will presently repent his momentary lapse into honor when the two come face to face in the Crimea.

Apparently, when the Russians saw the incredibly outnumbered British charge the guns at Balaclava, they thought the Brit soldiers must be drunk. A French Marshal said: “It is magnificent but it is not war. It is madness.”

Curtiz takes this sentiment and runs with it. When Vickers comes to know that Surat Khan is present behind enemy lines in The Charge of the Light Brigade, he unilaterally takes the decision to change the more sensible orders handed him by his superior to avenge the deaths of the women and children Surat Khan murdered. Naturally, a spot of insubordination and horrific carnage is incidental to the whole process as befits an officer as bold, principled and courageous as Vickers.

It’s almost genius. At one stroke the movie reclaims an act of such foolhardiness that it actually worked; and sanitizes the very real revenge the British exacted for Kanpur by way of the extremely bloody suppression of the revolt, all of which took place in India instead of some faraway country and was visited on the heads of all sorts of Indians instead of just one villainous one.

It’s a little difficult to find a copy of The Charge of the Light Brigade as Warner Brothers never re-released it, owing to the production’s practice of using trip wires to bring down the horses during the battle scenes, which led to hundreds of the animals getting either killed or having to be put down. Yeah. Um. But another way of looking at it, to follow in the movie’s silver lining example, is to remember that the American government was so horrified, Congress passed the law about harming animals during shoots. Yay?

If you can look past the fact that The Charge of the Light Brigade is stolidly a product of its times, it’s a great blast from the thankfully past and includes a performance by a young David Niven, who went on to use one of Curtiz’s phrases from this movie as the title of his memoir Bring on the Empty Horses. Always worth it.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on August 27, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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Future Overlord

Fantasy is not fiction. It’s life in India.

After Phase I in which loads of clever kids went to the original IITs and grew up to become New India’s success stories, came Phase II in which loads of parents programmed their kids at special indoctrination camps tuition classes to become the New Indian’s successful employees. And now we’re entering Phase III where parents are building customized children to train the ever increasing vast blob of Phase II applicants.

Rejoice, parents of substandard children! Manipulating a fetus is no longer something restricted to villains in science fiction novels and Hitler. My favoritest tabloid in everty ever brings joyful tidings:

Prof Tulsi Narayan Prasad, an advocate at the Supreme Court and a serious practitioner of astro-genetics, had to fight the world around him when he proposed that the sex of a to-be-born child could be manipulated.
[…]
“It’s a science called eugenics,” Tulsi Prasad said, explaining the way his genius child was conceived. “By employing it, we can ensure that the child achieves the desired traits. As I knew what we wanted, we followed the prescription for a genius mind…I and my wife had to plan everything in the process of having the child, right from our diet to our mood to the sex itself.”

Oooo-kay. A little reminiscent of the sex scene from Rosemary’s Baby, perhaps, but genius and deals with the Devil both demand a certain amount of sacrifice.

It’s all worth it in the end:

Hailed as a child prodigy, he finished high school when he was just nine, B.Sc by the time he was 10 and M.Sc before he turned 12. “It wasn’t surprising at all as my parents had told me that I was programmed before birth to be genius. I knew I was different when I discovered that I was more fascinated by physics while the others my age were into sports and games,” he said.
[…]
“But now I have learnt the art of pretending to be ‘normal’,” he added. “I finished reading A Brief History of Time (by Stephen Hawking) when I was six. I loved it even though I didn’t understand everything there,” he said, giving glimpses of what it was like to grow up as a programmed child.

I hope all those people freaked out by Indians’ Hitler obsession are reading this. :mrgreen: Astro-Eugenics is the way real Aryans do it, baby.

PS: Hey buddy, when the revolution comes, just remember it was all fun and games! Seriously. Please don’t eat me or preserve me in a slime pod or whatever it is that advanced specimens do. Thanks!

 
7 Comments

Posted by on July 29, 2010 in Life, News

 

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Potty Training for the Win!

Being Indian, I obviously lack the social subtleties and sense of humor required to fully appreciate Tunku Varadarajan’s examination of the Indian spelling bee champ phenomenon.

As human being, however, I am transfixed by this casual observation:

There are certain cultures–particularly Asian ones–that produce child prodigies. Relentless parents, goading their children to success at the youngest possible age, are but one explanation. These are all cultures in which, traditionally, children have begun work early, in which childhood as we know it in the West is an alien idea. Indian kids are potty-trained by two. In America, that would be regarded as precocious. Pressure is brought to bear much later on purely American children than on those kids whose parents persist in old-world child-rearing ways long after they immigrate to America.

Um, whut?

What kind of pooping monsters are y’all raising, white people? No wonder the Injuns are hunting down your wimminz with such ease.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on June 8, 2010 in Entertainment, Life, News, Newsmakers, Video

 

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