One Plus One

I saw two movies recently. Both were aspirational and inspirational. Both revolved around Maths.

The movies I am talking about are The Man Who Knew Infinity and Nil Battey Sannata.

The former was about Srinivasa Ramanujam, the genius. Though I loved the movie, straightforward as it was, I somehow felt it portrayed Ramanujam as very desperate. I did not get the same feel when I saw his real pictures and read about him. Of course, this is my own perception, and I guess I will never know how he really was. But the impression I got of him was something we see quite often – the sheer determination to rise above your circumstances to achieve something, together with confidence in what he was doing. That he was a genius goes without saying, but the grit to make something of himself felt all too familiar. It would be so fascinating to see how exactly his brain was wired to make him such a prolific and original mathematician. It’s a joy to watch open-mouthed with amazement, and marvel at such phenomena.

The latter movie too was about the same, but in a different sort of way. Though I did like the intentions of the movie, some things felt a bit too superficial, like the bit about Maths. There was no need to even touch upon it, imho. Similarly, the last bit of dialogue, though quite representative of the scenario today, left me with mixed feelings. For those who haven’t seen the movie, and don’t mind spoilers, the last scene is that of an interview where the girl is asked why she wants to become a Collector. The answer she gives made me wince: Kyonki main bai nahin banna chaahati. Because I don’t want to become a maid. If the point of the movie was to follow your dream and work hard to make it happen, this single statement undermined it completely. Dreams are about what you want, not about what you don’t want. But other than these few moments, I thought the movie itself was heart-warming and worth a watch. It says something that the theatre was almost full on a week-day morning!

Four Books and two Movies

A brief note on the four more books I’ve read as part of the Reading Challenge.

13. Finding Audrey by Sophia Kinsella: After the heavy underworld stuff, I was looking for a palate-cleansing light and fluffy course, and this fit the bill perfectly. An absolutely fun book that I finished in one sitting. The characters were fleshed out so well and the humour was very enjoyable.

14. The Liar by Nora Roberts: I thought this would be a quick and light read, but it kind of plodded. The main character didn’t convince me too much as a victim of abuse and I thought the whole story meandered quite a bit.

15. The Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin: Set in the midst of the run-up to the Second world war, it does a pretty decent job of portraying the plight of Turkish Jews and the efforts of the Turkish government to save them. However, I had a difficult time reading it and it took forever. It seemed to just chug along like a passenger train, never quite reaching the speed that would make the journey exciting. I read that she is a best-selling author in Turkey. I’m wondering if some of the magic was lost in translation.

16. Looking for Alaska by John Green: This is my first John Green book, and I was a little underwhelmed by it. I guess teens will find plenty to relate to, and will probably cry buckets too, but somehow it seemed a bit formulaic to me and didn’t quite move me.

The movies I saw were Room and Neerja.

I wish I had seen Room on TV/DVD. It is that sort of intense, intimate movie that keeps you completely engrossed. Beautiful movie, and from what I remember of the equally lovely book, quite faithful to the book too.

I had heard about the buckets and tissues that one needed to take to Neerja, but honestly, I didn’t feel like crying a bit during the movie, except at the end, during the mother’s speech. Sonam Kapoor, I’m sorry to say, just cannot act. The role was utterly wasted on her. A better actress could have brought such nuances to the role. Sonam was her usual pouty-little-schoolgirl self, which was a real pity.

One of the best things about the movie was what D said after watching it. She said that the movie was so useful in educating all of us about what brave people such as Neerja did, since we rarely knew much about them. She wished there were more movies made like this instead of silly ones. I couldn’t agree more!


Obsessed with Beauty

Last night, at the end of a really long and exhausting day, I wound up going for a movie – Fitoor. It was supposed to be a ladies’ night out at the movies, but one lady dropped out, another lady got a call when we were half-way to the movie theatre that her little son, whom she had tucked into bed and was sound asleep before leaving, had woken up and was puking. So the taxi-driver (taxis have certainly made our lives so much easier!) obligingly turned around, came all the way back, we dropped her off, and then it was just the three of us at the movie.

Oh dear! We couldn’t keep quiet once the movie began. Post-interval, we were even shushed! Not the kind of audience one wants to watch a romantic movie with on Valentine’s eve. But the movie was just begging to be remarked upon, and we three cranky old ladies (I hope the term isn’t offensive to my companions!) were too glad to oblige.

First the positives. The movie is a beauty quite literally. The absolutely gorgeous shots of snow and icicles, red leaves and wooden bridges, eerie mansions and ornate furniture, modern museums and luxury hotels…all lovingly, aesthetically, and beautifully framed. An ode to physical beauty as well, the camera lingers over Aditya’s sculpted body and Katrina’s porcelain profile. Truly a work of love.

But then, that’s it. The script and acting, I’m sorry to say, just doesn’t match up to the level at which the movie aims. Aditya wears a look of constant pressure, as if he really needs a good dose of laxatives to ease up. Katrina is as blank as the sheet of one facing a writer’s block. Tabu just wings her way through the scenes, knowing she will be the best actor of the movie even if she does so. I really wanted to feel the emotion, get swept away by the sheer intensity of love, but unfortunately, I kept getting snared into “This part of the movie sponsored by Bata/Borges Olive Oil/Asian Paints…”, if you get what I mean.

I wouldn’t like to use the word weak for the script, but everything felt a bit too superficial. Even at the end, which departs from the original Great Expectations, the magic just didn’t work for me. What a powerful scene that could have been! Just like when they were young, and Noor ran to Firdaus abandoning his sister’s funeral, Firdaus runs to him abandoning her mother’s funeral. What poetic brilliance that is on paper, but sadly, it lacked that brilliance on screen.

I wonder how this would have worked in the hands of really competent actors. Bajirao Mastani worked because of this combination. The actors did the job competently. Fitoor could have been a brilliant movie, but the acting is its main failing. I give full marks to Abhishek Kapoor to have attempted this grand adaptation, but sorry to say, the final offering falls short of the expectations.

Wah-ji Rau!

Perhaps I was in a real sappy, soppy mood. Perhaps I was in a forgiving mood. Whatever the reason, I loved Bajirao Mastani the movie.

This is what we go to movies for – to have our breath taken away. SLB sure does that. The sheer opulence, the grandeur, the glimmer and shimmer and shine – what a feast for the eyes. The lovely deep and rich colours, the silks and velvets, the rolling landscapes and the symmetrical forts. Every shot is lovingly taken, that eye for detail and perfection never faltering. Be it a simple shot of the fort, or a messenger riding urgently with a message, the camera embraces the scene with adoration.  The colours are used so intelligently to convey different moods, different shades of emotions. How wonderful to witness such exquisite extravagance! (That messenger riding scene is imbued with forbidding greys, a sign of what’s to come. I loved the sensitivity).

The lovely classical music was the perfect foil, crystal-clear voices rising and falling in operatic harmony. The actors and acting were, if I need to be honest, were adequate, satisfactory, fulfilling the roles with what they were supposed to do, no more, no less. And that in itself was something to rejoice about. Poor acting would have pulled the heaviness down on itself. But here, it ably supported the movie as one of the pillars.

The creative licenses taken can be argued about till the cows come home. However, as a pure cinematic exercise, Bajirao Mastani fulfilled its purpose of telling an engaging tale most gorgeously. Full marks for that.


Down To Earth or Larger Than Life?

I watched two very different movies recently.

Masaan was a movie that impressed me with its writing/editing. This is the second movie, the other being Kaaka Muttai, in which I found the scenes chosen and crafted carefully, with no extraneous scenes at all. Everything was relevant to the storyline. The movie was so authentic, yet so beautifully shot. The boy-girl love story was really so cute, yet so completely realistic, and the casting could not have been more perfect! On a personal note, I too have used Benares as the backdrop for my prize-winning story City of Gods (which I’m very fond of), with the theme of modernity straining for release from the centuries of history and religious culture. So I felt very happy to see a somewhat similar theme. Benares is really a different experience altogether.

Baahubali was the other movie I caught. What a movie! I loved it. True, the story is the usual larger than life legendary figure, some of the songs could have easily been dispensed with, and Tamanna was a very weak link, both story-wise and acting-wise. However, the sheer lavish scale of the movie, the attention to detail, the way every frame is so lovingly mounted, and of course, the special effects, make the movie really worth watching. Especially the war scenes. They are beautifully done, and plunges the viewer right into the middle of the action. I’ve never seen any movie that takes the viewer along the complete war path, right from the strategy, to the retreat, and then to the glorious victory. The scenes are extremely effective without being explicit, and that’s the beauty of the whole second half of this movie. The cliff-hanger ending is a fantastic way to wrap up the first part. I actually felt proud that an Indian moviemaker had not only been so ambitious and aimed so high, but had delivered on it.

So, down to earth, or larger than life? Which did I prefer?

Honestly, you need both to make life interesting, don’t you? 🙂

Some Books and a Movie

Brief thoughts on some books I read and a movie I saw recently.

Villages by John Updike: The sentences were so convoluted and long, I had very little sympathy for the main character, and I felt restless reading this book. I could only think: OK, people like this also exist. It isn’t a book I will remember too fondly or go back to, at least at this stage.

The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks: I loved Word & Void by the same author. I waited for long to obtain The Sword of Shannara from the library, but ran out of patience and picked up the second book in the trilogy. I liked this book too. It was classic fantasy. I’m going to try and read all the Shannara books.

Chanakya’s Chant by Ashwin Sanghi: I wanted to read this book ever since it came out, since it received pretty rave reviews. I did like the book, but I honestly felt a bit let down. I thought it would have been great if he had stuck to just one of the stories (preferably the older one). Trying to thread the two stories together felt a bit awkward to me, and distracted my reading. But it’s a nice book and worth a read.

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough: What a lovely read this was! Gave me a ringside view of the events and personalities of the Wright brothers. So awed by the way they worked with such single-minded determination! I guess some people are truly gifts to humanity. I enjoyed the book a great deal.

Kaaka Muttai: An absolutely delightful movie, worth all the praise it’s received. Everything revolves around money, but money doesn’t get you everything. I loved everything about this movie, from the writing to the visualization to the characters. But what I loved best about it was that there was no moralizing, no preaching, and no condescension. It treated the subject very candidly, with absolutely no judgement and just the right touch of humour. Performances were superb, and I actually clapped along with the audience at the important climactic scene. This was a movie that I had wanted to see for a long time since I had heard so many good things about it. So very glad I caught it!

Movie Hat-trick

I had the rare opportunity of not only watching three fantastic movies, but watching them on three consecutive days!

The first one I saw was Dum Lagaa Ke Haisha. What a sweet gem of a movie this was. Perfectly made, with just the right balance and the right length for once! Very natural, so relatable, and for once, it showcased an unconventional heroine who had brains, not just beauty. She looked so comfortable with herself. The hero was not a macho muscleman, but a real person, with real misgivings, fears, and confusion. I loved the resolution. There was no falling at each other’s feet, or any such dramatic stuff, there was just a gentle realignment of views and they clicked. Though the race itself could have been mishandled and made completely melodramatic, it was done with finesse. A fine, very well-made movie, and I was glad I didn’t miss it.

The second was Birdman. For me, the one word that captured the movie was ‘intense’. I was utterly engrossed and captivated from the beginning. The little voice inside your head that drives you nuts, the artistic angst, that deep-seated desire to outdo yourself, the doubts that keep holding you back…everything about this movie was beautiful to me. The cinematography was haunting in the way it induced a kind of claustrophobia, a kind of feeling that you’re being stalked all the time. It was just awesome, it was so perfect for the setting of the movie. I loved it all. The ending was yet another sit-back-and-go-wow ending.

The last was Whiplash. To be honest, after watching Birdman, I was ready to be taken to another level of intensity. So the initial part of Whiplash, though excellent in all its nuances and narration, didn’t exactly excite me. It seemed to take a rather predictable arc, though the teacher-student relationship was one that made you cringe quite a bit. And then came the ending. Oh boy! I literally had goose-bumps at that mind-blowing finale! How beautifully captured, what fantastic music, and what intricately choreographed scenes! That finale single-handedly made the movie superlative. At the very end, when the screen blacked out after a final flourish, there was actually applause in the theatre, as if it were a live performance.

After a really long time, I got to see movies that made me FEEL. And that was really marvellous!

Smooth Sailing

As a parent, you are always on the lookout for “inspirational” stuff, be it books, movies, or people. You want your kids to look up to and learn from such sources and become true heroes for themselves in life.

Bollywood is not a very good source unfortunately. Most of the movies have way too much innuendo or violence to view comfortably in a family setting, and the ratings are absolutely no help.

Hawa Hawaaii is an exception. You can take your kids to this movie and be assured that they will not only enjoy it, but also perhaps be a little inspired by it. It is a straight-forward story of Arjun, the poor kid, naturally the underdog, who overcomes all odds to learn skating and win his first race that will hopefully serve as a stepping-stone to other successes. His band of supporters include a passionate coach who undergoes his own learning curve, a bunch of friends who egg Arjun on to achievement, and a loving mother and grandma.

To be honest, the movie could have been slicker, the editing and screenwriting a bit tighter. The absence of the dark side of both kids and adults makes it a very smooth and predictable ride, and the inherent drama of Arjun’s life is not really sufficient to keep us on the edge of our seats. Personally, I would have liked the movie to have been presented from the coach’s point of view. I think that would have struck a chord with the audience. There were so many little story arcs that would have benefited with a little more treatment to tie up loose ends.

Overall however, the movie was refreshing in its non-preachy candour, realism taking the upper hand over sensationalism. That is such a welcome change, so here’s to many many more such movies.


Post the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, there’s been a lot of discussion on drug addiction and junkies.

Let me confess here that when I was growing up, I too had an addiction — to the betel nut! Since it was used for poojas, we always had a supply. I don’t know exactly how I got into the habit of popping one every time I went into the kitchen. So much so that my mom actually had to hide the bottle! The addiction soon disappeared through sheer self-control. That made me somewhat aware of how easy it is to get addicted to something, how much it takes to get over an addiction, and how easy it is to fall into the habit once again. Luckily for me, it was not a very harmful addiction, and it didn’t last very long.

One of the best articles I’ve read on addiction is this one by Russell Brand. One can’t even begin to imagine the rollercoaster ride junkies have, up one moment, down one moment, both loving and hating it. And those who’ve come out of it appear to be walking on a tightrope, for they could slip any moment and plunge back into the abyss of their habit.

In the movie Hasee Toh Phasee, there is talk of the character played by Parineeti being a (recovered) drug addict. She is also shown behaving strangely after popping what are supposedly anti-depressants, though she is aware of its effects and side-effects. The way this entire aspect of her character has been glossed over is, in hindsight, a bit disturbing. There are a couple of stray comments when the sister says that she can’t be trusted, and when she is denied money for her project on suspicion that she will use it for drugs. However, most of this is shown as being comical while the more serious aspects are not touched upon.

It is probably too much to expect a mainstream rom-com to treat this subject more seriously. But as a friend pointed out, when she was growing up, practically every serial appeared to have a drug addict and they were shown in such bad light that she and her friends were scared off drugs quite effectively. Contrast this with a pretty girl who pops pills AND gets the guy, and the ground gets a little slippery, doesn’t it?

There is still much to understand about the nature of addiction. But I guess this is one area where “learning through your own mistakes” is best avoided!

Update: In case I’m coming across as an old stick-in-the-mud where the movie is concerned, I actually liked the movie. 🙂 It was a refreshing change and I quite enjoyed it.

Two Steps Back

Back from Chennai Express, and had to say something about it!

Ever since self-referential Bollywood humour has become quite the norm, it has lost its edge with overuse. Rohit Shetty’s Golmaal 3 evoked quite a few laughs with Mithun’s lines, but with SRK, they acquire a tired look. So the laughs are few and far between.

The other thing which hit me in the face like the shovel in SRK’s hand at the very beginning of the movie was the absolutely regressive climax. It gave me a little hope when SRK began lecturing DP’s dad about not letting girls be independent despite 66 years of independence in this country (though I did wonder why he needed to be lecturing her dad). Alas! It was too much to expect from a ‘masala’ movie. SRK went on to bravely bash up the opposition, all macho and bloodied, while DP looked on with tears streaming down her cheeks, struggling against the iron grip of her dad. This was just way too 80s for me! Do we still need this ‘I-will-fight-to-the-death-for-her’ stereotype? Couldn’t DP have been made of sterner stuff? She did appear quite tough in the beginning.

This was such a disappointment, but then again, I am being a stupidly unrealistic optimist when it comes to Bollywood. Serves me right!