Monday, December 29, 2008


Where do I begin counting what went wrong with this movie?

Lets begin with the script. It was plain lousy. The concept was marvelous. There were some really strong characters in there. There was Sanjay, suffering from memory loss. Every morning he wakes up blank, disoriented. He has no idea who is he, where he is, what he is supposed to do. Every morning he spends reconstructing his life in bits and pieces, filling himself with rage, with hatred. And then he spends the day struggling against his handicap, trying to achieve that single goal that keep him alive – Ghajini's death. Then there is Kalpana, childish and mature at the same time, hot and sweet in the same instant. She is a girl to die for. And yes, kill for. Then there is Ghajini – the evil incarnate, someone who cares nothing about these small motes in his empire of crime.

But for some reason, the script writer focuses only on Sanjay. The first scene, where he gets up and goes through his daily routine of discovering himself and the last scene, where he forgets who Ghajini is and is duped by him, are well done. But other than that? Lousy writing throughout. There's too much of the deus-ex-machina in there. The police officer investigating Sanjay get conveniently killed in a road accident. Jiah Khan (she's a medical student) has clearly been put in only to provide help to Sanjay whenever the writer could not think of a better way. The internal logic of the film is lousy. There is just no end to it.

I really wish Ghajini himself had been played by a better actor. Good heroes are made by good villains. I mean, who the hell was that guy? Has anyone even heard of him? Imagine Irfan Khan, Manoj Vajpai or even Ajay Devgan in his place. Now that would have been a movie to watch.

The song and dance sequences are typical Bollywood. And I actually like that. The choreography is good, the music is nice and both Amir and Asin look stunning on screen. I also liked the fight sequences. The flamboyant exaggeration of South Indian cinema fits well here. For once the special effects blend in seamlessly with the rest of the movie instead of standing out like an elephant in Cannought Place.

In all, Ghajini is a could-have-been-great movie falling flat in it's face. The initial hype may have grossed it a lot of money but this is not a movie people will remember. If only the writer had burnt more midnight oil.

Rating: 1.5/5

Slumdog Millionaire

I watched Slumdog Millionaire last night and then slept over it to make up my mind whether I liked it or not. On waking up, I find that I like it, but not as much as the hype that has surrounded the movie. I think for this post, I'd go ahead and list what I liked and what I didn't like.

What I Liked
I like that the movie was not about India. Yes, it was set in India and played by Indian actors speaking Hindi and Indian English. However, the movie was not about India. The objective of the movie is not to tell the audience about India or how people in India live and behave. It isn't even to document the life of the slums of Mumbai. Instead, it narrates the story of a person from the lowermost strata of human society – that of a slumdog from a developing economy and the sheer irony of his life as he watches 2 Crore rupees being handed out to answer simple questions and his dreams wither away simultaneously. It is about how there are ways you can acquire insane amounts of money and yet that money can't really buy you what you want.

I like the way the movie uses Bollywood cliches and yet remains quintessentially a non-Bollywood film. Two brothers, born in poverty, orphans, fending for themselves, moving onto completely different paths in life and then uniting and one of them sacrificing for the other. Children captured and disabled for begging. Idealistic romantic love being crux of the plot. And yet, this is a movie that contemporary Bollywood cannot make. It needs Danny Boyle and the international stamp to carry it through. The likes of Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto cannot give a hit movie in Bollywood. A story centered around a gameshow can never be a success in Bollywood. It is a happy and a sad thing at the same time.

I like Irfan Khan. He has a small role, cut out in small little pieces which give him only a dialog or two every time he's on screen. And yet, he leaves a mark. After you finish the movie, you remember him.

I like Frieda Pinto. She does not have a face that can be successful in Bollywood. It is dark and sultry and not North Indian enough. It is good that the movie is not really a Bollywood movie. I hope she gets good work outside the country.

I liked how Indian the whole production was. The film was shot in India using Indian cast and crew. And according to the media, the entire production was done the Indian way. It gives a very distinct India feel to the movie. As an Indian, it may not mean much to me, but I can imagine the kind of impact the visuals will therefore have on a western audience. As far as I can tell all locations in the movie seem to be real locations. Just technically, I think it was very courageous of Danny Boyle to go ahead and make this film.

What I did not Like

I didn't like the way the game show host behaved. Kaun Banega Crorepati was not made in the same spirit. Amitabh Bachhan as a host was always polite and humble irrespective of the stature of the person in the hot seat. We got all sorts of people in the hot seat, from respected professionals to unknown housewives. And yet, Mr Bachhan was always the gentleman. Watching the movie, I found the kind of ridicule and contempt being piled on the 'chaiwala' highly irritating.

I didn't like Dev Patel's accent. Not that there is something wrong with it in itself. Just what with everyone around him speaking Hindi and Indian English, a wester English accent was grossly out of place. Danny Boyle should really have cast someone else. But then his argument was also valid. Actors seeking to enter Bollywood spent 6 hours in the gym every day. Those guys would just not have fit the bill.

I didn't understand why Jamal went to the game show at all. Yes, Latika would have been watching. So?

I guess I've ended up writing more good than bad. So maybe it is a good movie after all. :)

Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds

The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds is a novel set in his Revelations Space universe. It narrates the story of Field Prefect Dreyfus and his two deputies as they begin investigating the death of over nine hundred people and end up fighting a system-wide emergency.

I didn't like this book as much as Reynolds's earlier books. It begins alright, and goes on well till about the middle. But somewhere around page 200 of this 400 page work, it begins to falter. One, it stops sounding like a Reynolds novel. I associate his work with high-concept space opera – with the story happening mostly in space dealing with largely alien characters. However, 'The Prefect' gradually turns into a security-agency drama with one character sitting ducks and not doing much for several hundred pages and the other one is too busy playing the only good cop in the organization. It really gets irritating after a while. And it drags. I think the book needs to cut down on at least a fifty pages.

Rating: 2.5/5

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a weird movie. I saw the movie last evening and have been thinking about it since but have not been able to make any sense of it. I think I will classify the movie as pseudo-profound – a movie that, on the surface, seems very profound but really is not. Another movie in this category is Donny Darko.

The movie is based on F Scott Fitzgerald's short story of the same title. However, the movie is heavily adapted and even changes the time frame of the original story. In the short story, Benjamin Button is born as an old man and goes on getting younger until he dies of childhood. His mental age in the short story is always equal to his physical age. However, he is forced by his father to do things more appropriate to his worldly age.

In the movie, however, Benjamin Button's mental age is in line with the time he's spent in the world. Only his body is born old and dies young. He is brought up by a loving and caring mother. I think the point of the movie was that 'age' is not a matter of what you look like but what you feel inside. But that's really a moot point, isn't it. I don't see why they needed to make a whole movie out of it. Also the mysterious clock scene in the beginning and towards the end does not seem to make any sense. A repetitive theme in the movie is that everything passes. That again is a moot point and while it might make for a good theme in an emotional drama dealing with old age, in this movie it seems somewhat out of the place.

76% critics at Rotten Tomatoes have give the movie a favorable rating. I wonder why. I do agree that the make up and CGI in the movies creates a rather believable post WWI world. But other than that. I don't know. I think I just didn't get it. If someone got the movie, please leave a comment and I'd try to understand what it was all about.

The movie was too long. It was nearly 3 hours long and everyone felt it could have done with some editing.

Rating: 2/5

Yes Man

Yes Man narrates the story of a man who attends a self-improvement seminar and decides to say yes to everything that comes along. Before that he had been stuck in the same job for five years, his girlfriend had left him and he had was slowly getting alienated from his friend. But after he makes the covenant with himself to say yes, things begin happening to him. He gets promotion after promotion at his job, meets with a wonderful girl and just generally has a good time in life. Until, of course, his girlfriend realizes that he'd been saying yes to everything, even them moving in together just because he had to and not because he wanted to.

I don't wish to spoil the climax for people who have not watched the movie. Not that the climax is spectacularly easy to guess or that the whole movie isn't childishly predictable. But I think that's what I like about this movie. You can walk into the theater in any mood and you'd come back feeling cheerful and a little more positive about life. And as Jim Carry said in an interview, at this point in the history of the world, it's a good thing to be able to feel that way.

The movie gives a positive message – that of saying yes to life. To not shut yourself out and look forward to opportunities and what life has to offer you. I have to admit that I personally felt quite inspired after watching the movie. The only problem is, no one is asking me any questions to say yes to. :)

Rating: 3/5

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Prominent Facebooker has Close Brush with Death

Aman, a prominent Facebooker, became a minor celebrity after his close brush with death last Tuesday. Fire broke out in his workplace after the popcorn he had put in the microwave burst into flames and caused a short circuit burning out the electrical wiring in turn.

"The fault was mine," admits Aman, "I put the popcorn in and went back to my computer and put my headphones on. I was so lost in music that I completely forgot about the popcorn. I didn't even hear the fire-alarm. I only came to know about it when I smelt something burning real bad."

By the time Aman reached the microwave, the fire had already burnt it out and the flames were spreading all over the room.

"It was amazing," says Aman, "I immediately got my camera and set it on the shelf on the other side so I could capture everything. It was going to be a chance of the lifetime. At that time, the topmost thing on my mind was the waves it would create among my facebook friends."

Aman's Facebook friends were not disappointed. Living up to his reputation of 'the most happening person on facebook' (as rated by 237 people on 'Rate My Friends', a facebook app), Aman not only took videos of the entire incident but also took pictures from his mobile phone.

"Pictures are usually clearer than videos," Aman told this reporter, "And I can blog them real time on my iPhone. The feed is linked to my facebook account so it immediately gets published to my friends. Some of my friends were already commenting even before I'd started putting out the fire."

But the fire was not that easy to put out, as Aman discovered.

"I was trying my best to put out the flames but they were all over the place. And it was really hot. And I had to keep in mind that if I did it too soon or without some struggle, the video wouldn't come out all that great. I mean, there are thousands of indoor fire videos on YouTube. This one needed to be special. I wanted to keep the fire-extinguisher for the very last so that the whole thing had a nice, you know, climax."

Things got much worse before Aman could finish with a flourish.

"I was updating my Facebook status all the time. As I ran repeatedly between the fire and my computer I had this sudden, brilliant brainwave. Why not get burnt a little bit? Now that would make for awesome pics, wouldn't it? all the sympathy comments I'd get from the girls," Aman says with a naughty smile.

So, determined to create the most spectacular Facebook even of all time, Aman jumped bravely into the flames. Little did he know how dangerous that could be.

"Have you ever been in a fire?" Aman asks, "I mean a real fire? The worst part is not that it's so hot. The worst part is that it spreads so quickly. I'd decided to burn my left arm. But as soon as I thrust my arm in, it was all over me. My t-shirt was burning all over me and maybe even my trousers, I think. I couldn't make anything out in the smoke. I suddenly realized that this was not going to work and rushed for the fire-extinguisher. But I didn't even know where it was! Imagine that! I have been working in this office for five years!"

The irony of it was, as Aman was frantically searching for the fire-extinguisher, his colleague, Shravan, who was following the entire incident live on Facebook had posted several comments telling Aman where the fire-extinguisher was.

"It never occured me to call him," says Shravan, shaking his head, "Aman is always on Facebook. And since he was tweeting the whole thing live on his facebook status, I assumed he'd get my messages."

"But I could not get to the computer while I was burning," says Aman, "It could have caught fire. And I didn't have a webcam either so I couldn't even set up a live feed. What use would that have been? It would just have driven me out of frame of the handycam I'd set up."

Shyam, the watchman on duty at that time, was the one who finally saved Aman's life. By that time he'd seem the flames coming out the window and knew Aman was trapped there. When he broke into the room, he found Aman rolling on the floor wreathing in pain.

"I don't understand why he didn't just rush out immediately and call me. I know these sahab-log aren't that good with these things, you know, things that require using your hands, running around etc. I could have taken care of the fire in two minutes. It wasn't a big fire."

While Aman thanks Shyam for saving his life, he has no real regrets.

"In the end it was worth it," he says, "It became the biggest facebook event of all time. I got 1026 comments in total and 527 wall posts. They even started a group for me -- "The Burning Man". More than 2000 people are members there. Even today I get friend requests from completely random people. I just tell them to join the group. I've become a celebrity!"

The smile on Aman face as he finishes his story is reassuring. All's well that ends well.

"It's about loyalty," Aman adds as an afterthough, "You owe it to the guys who follow you on facebook. They put in so much time to take an interest in you. You can't but not give them your best."

Indeed. Aman's sentiments and loyalty to his Facebook friends are commendable.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi is a loose sequel to his earlier novel 'Old Man's War'. The novel narrates the story of Jared Dirac, a member of the Special Forces of the Colonial Union also known as the Ghost Brigades.

The Special Forces soldiers are genetically enhanced humans grown artificially. They are essentially emotionally immature children who have no morality and little inhibition. They are therefore prepared to carry out the most extreme missions in warfare.

Jared Dirac, however, is not an ordinary Special Forces soldier. He was created to house the copied consciousness of a scientist turned criminal, Boutin. However, the transfer was not perfect and Jared is left with bits and fragments of the criminals mind inside his own. In a fast moving and happening plot, Jared gradually discovers the motivations of the scientist-criminal and also his own and the meaning of consciousness.

A lot of Scalzi's narrative focuses around the issue of choice. In 'Old Man's War' he questions a lot of the right wing war mongery as epitomized in Heinlein's 'Starship Troopers'. But there his approach was to question the motivations of those who are fighting the war. He showed us that the ground troop often may have no idea about what or who they're fighting or why they're fighting at all. They might be fighting only professionally – that is, for money, respect or other benefits.

In this book, he questions the motivations of governments themselves. Do governments really launch wars for the good of their citizens? Even if they do, are they always successful in defining good in a desirable manner? Also, a war that is carried on only for a political purpose really justified?

The art of storytelling itself leaves much to be desired. Scalzi often launches himself into long monologues describing the colonial union politics and or the scientific principles of these hybrid humans. The dialog seems made up and artificial at a lot of places.

Rating: 3/5


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fearless by Jack Campbell

Fearless by Jack Campbell is the second novel in his 'Lost Fleet' series. It is a space opera with a military bend. It narrates the story of the legendary 'Black Jack Geary', a lost hero of a very long war who is discovered in deep cryogenic sleep, revived and is put in charge of the Alliance Fleet.

I've read the first part – 'Dauntless' – and have liked it. The narrative is fast paced and plot driven. The majority of enjoyment is derived from the very engaging descriptions of space duels in the book. A lot of stress is given on strategy and planning and the author manages to maintain surprise and suspense all through the book.

What I found amusing is that just when I was beginning to think that conventional space opera was almost dead and all you got these days were far future, high concept stories (like the ones by Alastair Reynolds) I ran into two contemporary series which are reviving the military space opera of the golden age. One is the series this blog is about and the second one is called 'Old Man's War' by John Scalzi which is a more direct tribute to Heinleins 'Starship Troopers'.

What I liked most about Jack Campbells writing is that it fits my view of show and tell. I have always been confused by the industry standards of show and tell. In writing workshops, you're always told that showing rather than telling is the mark of good writing. However, I've personally liked many books which are tell-ey, at least on surface.

Take this book for example. In one way, it is highly tell-ey. The story is narrated from the point of view of Captain John Geary and the readers gets clear insights into his thought processes and motivations. Everything is spelled out in great detail. For example, when Geary makes decisions of gives orders to his subordinates, the motivations are always explained in very simple terms. When some of this subordinates challenge his power and authority, their motivations too are explained. None of these things are left out to be puzzled out by the reader.

Such in the face writing would normally irritate most people. However, in this novel it doesn't. Because what Jack Campbell is trying to show is something on a different plane. He's trying to show how difficult decision making is and how even a very intelligent and sensitive person may not always make the right choices. It goes on to show how 'good' behavior requires ceaseless self-analysis, self-criticism and questioning. It shows how even the most spectacular heroes are fallible and questionable and in the end, merely human.

I rate this book 2.5 on 5.0.