Tuesday, December 26, 2006
A couple of other things come to mind when we talk about his movies. The first is that all his movies start out very genuinely, well grounded in reality and the main characters sketched out nicely. It takes a while before the movie descends (or ascends depending on your point of view) into fantasy. The only problem is that this descent or ascent or whatever is not smooth, but rather abrupt and if you are not expecting it, you don't like the sensation. It is kind of like roller coasters. If one anticipates being dizzy and nauseated and looks forward to it, one likes it! The other thing is that his songs stand out by themselves. If for some reason it is not sufficient for you to hear the great A. R. Rahman, you also want to see the songs visualized in as fantastic a context as possible, Shankar is your man.
Find below a chronological list of his movies to date and my take on them. All of them are pretty good representatives of Fantastic Fiction!
Gentleman (1993) : This was his first movie. The social atrocity being fought by the protagonist is corruption in the field of higher education (asking for donations for seats in medical colleges and such). You don't really want to know much more about the story.
High points : Very tight screenplay. Picturization of songs Chikku Bukku (not the first time somebody tried to integrate animation in a tamil movie song, for example recall superstar's Raja Chinna Roja, but nobody did it this well before or since for that matter) and Paakkaathe.
Low points : Shankar had not yet figured out how to integrate the comedy track into his main script yet.
Kadhalan (1995): A rather simple love story embedded in some intrigue associated with political corruption and terrorism.
High points : The fathers of the protagonists played by S. P. Balasubramanium and Girish Karnad. Both were fantastic. Picturization of the song Kadhalikkum Pennin. The simple love story part of the movie.
Low points: Screenplay gets confusing in the fantasy part of the movie. Shankar goes slightly overboard with the special effects, a trend that just heads downhill with all his subsequent movies.
Indian (1996): One old man's fight against corruption of all kinds in modern India. Everybody knows the high points of this movie, Kamal, Kamal and Kamal. He is fantastic as both the old man and the young man. Very nice screen play. And everybody knows the low point of this movie too, Shankar going Oh so overboard with his special effects gimmicks.
Jeans (1998): I think the only reason that Shankar made this movie is for him to explore for himself how to make a technically superior double action movie. The story is simple, boy meets girl kind of thing with a few twins thrown into the fray. The movie is pretty funny, especially when S. Ve. Shekar is on screen. It would have been an out and out fun good movie but for Aishwarya Rai and her inability to act and the painful dubbing of whoever spoke for her in the movie.
Muthalvan (1999): This is by far my favourite Shankar movie. Racy script. Real depth to most of the scenes. No excessive display of gimmicks. Arjun is fantastic. The only minus point in my view is that Manisha Koirala was too old to carry off the village belle role she was cast for. Don't you worry about the story and such. Just watch it!
Boys (2003): This is the one Shankar movie that did not work at the Tamil box office. The reason according to my wise opinion is that the real part of the movie is too real and the fantastic part of the movie is not fantastic enough. I liked the movie. It is a simple tale of young boys and their libidos. All the boys are really good. Genelia does not know how to act or dance or anything, but she is the only casting glitch. I heard that the movie worked very well in Telugu, indicative of the fact that Telugu audiences are less hypocritical than the tamil ones? BTW, this was the first Shankar movie I did not see in the Movie theater and I like the songs of the movie too much to endure their picturization so I skipped through them with the heavenly invention called the DVD remote. So, I cannot tell you if they were good or bad (bad would be my guess from what I hear).
Anniyan (2005): Multiple personality disorder Shankar style! Vikram was fantastic. I did not buy his personalities Remo and Anniyan (what is with the voice of Anniyan?), but I so bought Ambi! He had it down pat right down to keeping his mouth prim and proper at all times! And Prakash Raj was fun as well. Apart from that, not all that good for a Shankar film, narrative not tight enough. And of course this was the first Shankar film without A. R Rahman and I missed him in the BGM of the movie, which was rather run of the mill.
Well, so much for that. Waiting with bated breath for Sivaji, what with superstar and all, A. R. Rahman is back and so is Balaji Shakthivel...a lot to look forward to.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
A little history first (no, not the history of coffee, for that you can look here and here for example, as always MY history with coffee). I grew up in an orthodox Madrasi Tamil Brahmin household. So, the morning ritual of "suda suda oru tumbler filter Kaapi" was an integral part of life. It was the first thing I did in my life in the kitchen, make coffee. And for years and years I took my BSA SLR cycle every week to my local coffee shop and fetch my mother's blend of coffee freshly ground for her, ready for me to pick up. I loved the smell of the shop. My mother spent more on coffee than on electricity at that time, for she bought this special Peaberry roast that was very expensive. But, I never drank coffee when I was at home, namely for the first 17 years of my life. I somehow did not like the taste of the final product. My brother started drinking coffee when he was twelve or something. But I never did. I now know the reason. I hate chicory in coffee. At the time I thought I hated coffee. That, as you will find out if you stick with this rambling till its end, was completely wrong.
Then I went off to college and started drinking coffee, for no better reason that the milk in my hostel was some watery version of what it should be and tasted better with some of the brown liquid that passed for decoction mixed in with it and also socially at the canteen and the small shops outside our college because that was what people did. And then I went to grad school and started working hard for the first time in my life, regularly sleeping less than I wanted to, what with core courses and teaching and so on. I discovered that coffee helped me stay up better and started having a few cups a day, still rather indifferently. Almost anything, the suspicious brew in the graduate lounge and instant coffee from the microwave at two in the morning.
My love affair with coffee started when I went to live in Europe for an extended period of time. "Un cafe solo por favor" was the first thing I spoke out loud in Spanish. As if by some magic, I discovered a taste for coffee. I had cafe au lait in Paris and discovered the pleasure of having coffee with a little piece of chocolate to nibble on the side. Then I went on a five day hike in the hills of Granada in Andalusia in Spain in December. It was cold and we were walking from dawn to dusk. One of the Italian guys in the crowd suggested on the second morning that we start our day with a Cafe Corretto. When you ask for it, the guy at the cafe sets an espresso in a large glass in front of you and then starts pouring Grappa (a rather strong liquor as I discovered) till you tell him to stop. I found out by my third cup of Cafe Corretto that the appropriate amount of Grappa for me was exactly as much as there was coffee. It made me just warm enough and just high enough to keep walking till the next village. So, that was the first experience of coffee with alcohol. By the end of my stay in Europe I was hooked to coffee.
After coming back to the United States, I struggled for a while to make coffee that tasted right to me. But after experimentation for six months I settled into a system that worked for me and have stuck to it for four years now. Every morning, after my wake up ritual and ablutions, it is coffee time. I make coffee two ways, the first is the standard American drip coffee, with the recommended one scoop of dark roasted coffee grounds for every six ounces of water, but boosted with an extra scoop of espresso grounds. I drink it straight, no milk, never sugar. And one itsy bitsy piece of 99% Chocolate Noir degustation from Lindt. Two cups makes me feel good. Three cups makes me high. I am in heaven for those ten minutes of my day. And on bad days that is the best part of my day. The other way I make coffee is with my Italian coffee pot. This I drink with steamed milk and usually skip breakfast afterwards. Again, heaven! Just me, my cup of coffee and the silence of the morning (my coffee ritual is at 4:30 am on most mornings)! Boy! did I miss out on this pleasure for so many years!
I never became a connoisseur so to speak. I know the jargon now, Arabica, Robusta, Peaberries and Blue Mountain Coffee and so on. But, being an academic, I have dedicated my life at the altar of science in a manner of speaking and cannot afford to indulge in such things. On the rare occasions that I get to taste such heavenly brews I relish it, but then I go back the next day to my generic (not so generic as Folgers or Maxwell house, but still pretty generic) dark roasted coffee. And to tie the story back to where it started, when I went back home after being hooked to coffee, I discovered the real pleasure of Madras filter coffee. I made my mother brew chicory-less coffee at home and had a little taste of heaven. Then, with my father, went out to explore the world of filter coffee in Madras and discovered quite a few Bhavans (Geetha Cafe in T Nagar for example, near Naidu hall) that have good filter coffee with less chicory in them. So, now one of the things I look forward to whenever I go home is Idly vadai and "kaapi sugar illaama" at the nearest Bhavan the second morning of my stay (I am too jet lagged to see the morning of my first day back). So much for the first small pleasure in my life, history geography and all.
So, I am going to try something else that I have not tried before. Recently I posted a few thoughts about my dear ARR. What that did for me was make me realize how much I miss listening actively to him and so I went back and listened to some of his more obscure songs that I have not heard in a while, like Malargale Malargale in Love birds and Sevvaanam in Pavithra. That was one of the first active things I have done in a while. So, I thought to myself that over the holidays, I will try and post thoughts about the simple pleasures in life that when nothing else is working make life worth living, even if momentatirly. Let us hope that this does the trick.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
We were living in Coimbatore at the time and I was in the 8th grade. I had gone to get a haircut with my brother to our regular hair salon. In those days, that was where I heard most tamil songs for the first time, for our hair stylist's brother owned the adjacent cassette shop and the day a cassette was released our guy would get it and play it through out the day, and if it sticks, through out the week. I happened to go there three days after the music of the movie Roja was released and several days before the famous Oliyum OLiyum that most of my friends remember as their first encounter with Rahman. And luckily the song I heard first was "Chinna Chinna Aasai" (I say luckily because if it had been Rukumani Rukumani instead, the story may have unfolded differently). I was floored. My first thought was "What has come over Illayaraja? This sounds so strange and so different." It was a natural first thought for me because up to that point all songs I had liked were by Illayaraja. And the hype and chatter about the revolutionary music of Roja had not yet started, or at least I had not heard any yet as this was pre "internet and instant information proliferation era" in India (and of course I would hear a whole lot shortly through the slower media that were around).
Another fortunate occurrence of the day was that my dad had no change in his wallet that morning and hence had given us a hundred rupee note to take with us. So, I did a reckless thing. After our haircut, I dragged my brother over to the cassette shop and bought myself a Lahiri cassette of Roja. It cost me something like 23Rs I think, but I am not really sure. This is reckless for I was not allowed to spend money without approval from my mother. This was the starting point of my addiction. Throughout the rest of my years in India, I went out to buy A R Rahman's new releases within a few days of them coming out, almost never being able to afford them, but unable to help myself. And, when I went back from the United States for the first time, I had some money of my own to spend for the first time in my life and guess what my first major expense in India was? I went to Music World in Spencer's Plaza in my Madras Nalla Madras and bought all the AR Rahman CDs they carried at the time. It cost me 4500 Rs and my mother thought I was crazy. But all I could think of was the fact that I could not get Pudhiya Mugam and May Maadham for they did not have it.
But I digress, back to the early stages of this love affair, the "love at first sight stage". For what must have been months, Roja was the only cassette I heard. I cannot describe how magical that felt, largely because I don't remember :). But I know for a fact that I listened to the cassette a whole bunch of times because I ran through 3 tapes of Roja before Pudhiya Mugam came out! The third one stayed with me for 10 years before I lost it while moving. And of course as time passed, I, along with everybody else in India at that time, realized that we were witnessing a revolution. Nothing would ever be the same again in the Indian music scene. And also, as time passed I learnt more and more about Rahman's music, this was the progression of the love affair beyond the "can't keep my hands off you stage". It was only with May Maadham that I realized that A R Rahman grows on you, that first impressions are never right. The way this happened was that the cassette my dad bought for me was a combination one with Kaadhalan on one side and May Maadham on the other. For the first couple of months I hardly heard May Maadham at all for my first impression was that it was not very good. But now, some of the songs in May Maadham are on my all time favourite list. The next thing I learned was that you have not really heard Rahman till you have heard him fortissimo on a good music system. This was when I heard Thiruda Thiruda for the first time in my dad's new car almost a year after I had bought the tape. And so my learning grew and our relationship (me and Rahman's music, in case you forgot during the course of my rambling) progressed.
There is one thing that Rahman has done for me without which I would have missed out on an important experience until perhaps much later in my life. I had heard that art can move you. I ahd no clue what that meant until Rahman. When heard at a vulnerable moment, En mel vizhundha mazhai thuliye, Vellai pookkal, Kaalaiyil dhinamum, Yeh jo Des hai and more recently Lukka Chuppi to name a few, bring tears to my eyes. They are not tears of joy, they are not tears of sorrow. They are tears associated with this inexplicable feeling of being moved. And of course many a times I have jumped for joy for the shear energy in songs such as the now legendary Chaiyya Chaiyya and Veerapaandi Kottaiyile.
Nowadays, I have fallen behind in my listening of Rahman's compositions. I heard Bombay Dreams almost a year after the music came out. I am yet to hear Mangal Pandey. I have been hearing good things about Guru, but have n't had the time to make a proper acquaintance with the album. So, I guess I am not the "fanatic fan" anymore. But the magic that Rahman has brought to my life remains unparalleled (probably because I am too old for magic to happen anymore) and I reflect the sentiments of a lot of people of my time and geographical coordinates. Love you, ARR and thank you.
PS: This of course is a subjective account of MY experience. But the www is full of more objective accounts for example see this and this.
Monday, December 18, 2006
The Verdict first : The movie works!
Genre : Romantic comedy, Family entertainer.
Synopsis : Not worth talking about. Rich boy meets poor girl. Falls in love. His family objects. He persists. The girl's brother tests him. Villains show up. Everybody lives happily ever after. Basically Maine Pyar Kiya with a little Hum Aapke Hain Koun and just a dash of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Predictable. Mostly unoriginal.
So, why does the verdict say that it works?
1) And this is the primary reason. My Man Siddharth! His energy levels in the first part of the movie are near manic! And he has carried the second half off at a more sedate pace as well!
2) The rest of the cast does what they are asked to do to a perfect T. Trisha, even though grotesquely over made up, manages to look good (in a few scenes, an Aishwarya Rai that can act a little).
3) Choreography: I was really impressed, especially Something Something and Niluvadhamu Ninu Epudaina the only somewhat original aspect of the movie I could see.
4) The almost slapstick comedy that is integral to the movie, keeps you distracted enough to not be bothered by other things you would be bothered by otherwise.
So, lots of unoriginal ingredients borrowed from here and there, but tied into one package in a way that hangs together long enough that you get through the movie without major problems.
As a critic, I am of the point of view that any story is acceptable and must be taken in as is. The only thing that distinguishes a good movie from a bad one is how the story is told. Also, I am a perfect audience of one for any movie. I cannot criticize a movie the first time I watch it because I am totally absorbed by what they are telling me on screen. It is only after the first viewing and seeing how that leaves me feeling, I decide if I should watch the movie again to see what in the movie made me feel the way it did.
Ok, that is it for now. Coming up, reviews of Siddharth's movies I have been watching for the past couple of weeks.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Now, this is in principle alright because in any work of art, the viewer's perception is the correct perception, irrespective of how it matches up with the creator's perception. Along the lines of "Oviaththin Jeevan Engu uLLathu? Uttru paarkum aaLLin kaNNill uLLathu" type thing. What is bothering me is the following. I had a major problem until a few years ago. I acutely misread signals sent by people to me. This lead to several rather needless confusions in my relationship with my friends. But, now that I am older and wiser, I thought that problem was one that belonged in the past. But, my misreading of Rakesh Mehra's and Siddharth's intended portrayal is indicative of the fact that the problem is actually still there and the only thing that has happened is that I have stopped interacting people for a while now? If that is the case, then there is more trouble in store for me in the future!
Saturday, December 16, 2006
I just looked at my blog and in the two weeks or so that have elapsed since my last post, that leaf has turned old and fallen off and today is new leaf day again! So, what have I been doing in the meantime whenever the need arose to waste some time? I have a crush! I have n't had a crush like this since Shah Rukh Khan in DDLJ! This time around, it is this guy Siddharth. I usually dont get crushes on chocolatey guys like this, so this one is an anomaly. Just look at him!
My list of permanent crushes consists of people like Greorge Clooney. So, I guess I am undergoing a change of life or something. Anyways, what I have been doing these past two weeks is watching Rang de Basanti, Ayutha Ezhuthu, Boys and even Nuvvostanate...first golt movie I have watched by myself! BTW, check him out here as Siddharth, not Karan or Santosh or Arjun, going a thousand words per minute in the tone of a desi sophisticate. Got to go now and try and turn a new leaf!
Monday, December 4, 2006
Sunday, December 3, 2006
An aside: Yesterday evening was more colorful, USC lost and the Gators beat Arkansas. So for somebody that bleeds orange and blue, both were good for the soul. My friends back in gainesville went overboard celebrating. I had conversations with some really hung over folks this morning. If I am still awake at eight tonight, will be sure to check out the BCS verdict.
Saturday, December 2, 2006
Also, I went to a popular physics talk this morning. J was talking about "jamming". The purpose that this served is to make me realize one more time that when I say "cow", you may hear "dog" if that is the only four legged creature you have seen and you have a vague idea that a cow has four legs as well. If communication is this tough, how are we ever going to be successful in making another person understand what we are thinking? It is depressing to contemplate this.
The only other thing I did between yesterday afternoon and now is that I watched the movie "Jillendru oru kadhal". I thought it was an "okay" movie. The screen play as such had a lot of potential. It needed a Maniratnam touch to turn into a good movie. Still, may be beacuse of the state of mind I am in now, I liked it. I was n't expecting to, as all the people that told me about the movie said it was bad. The other good thing for me is that I have added three more songs to my list of A. R Rehman songs I like a lot. And one of these songs has the potential to move to the category of songs that always make me smile.
Aside: After writing the title I realized I seem to be very fond of "Another". Indicates boredom may be?
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
But this is clearly not true. All of these people do the stupid things that people do. I cannot say this for a fact about the blogsphere inhabitants, but most certainly about the people I know in real life. And, if the media, the movies and statistics are any measure, the people that I know are representative of the people out there. So, how does one reconcile these two facts? That is, people recognize the stupid things for what they are but continue to do them anyway?
The reconciliation lies in the fact that once one realizes something, one has to go through the exercise of putting it into practice. And the latter is the hard part. All of us know what the right thing to do is. All of us know that anger, disappointment etc are not emotions that are allowed logically. They originate from the ego and hence should not play any role in our lives. But, it is only the rare few who have the energy and application to turn this inherent knowledge into an everyday fact of life, like breathing or eating or something. I don’t think any of the above is very clearly put. But, I don’t have the energy to reread and edit it this just now.
Monday, November 27, 2006
This post is about the above Thirukural. I learnt this one when I was very young and it has always bothered me that Thrivalluvar picked out the sense of hearing as the supreme of all the senses we possess. The reason I was worried may be summarized as follows. Under most circumstances, one does not encounter great people or great thoughts "live" so to speak. Most great thinkers and their ideas I know through books. So, I thought that sight and the ability to read, the gift of language was most important in the advancement of one's maturity and knowledge.
But now, I have come to understand the choice of hearing as the supreme sense in the following way. The first, and probably the context directly relevant to Thiruvalluvar's thoughts, is that one understands and retains better the words that we hear rather than the words that we read. I have not yet sorted out why this is, but by empirical observation have concluded that this is indeed true. Perhaps the reason is that reading requires a greater application than hearing. The other context is a rather Freudian one. It is an accepted fact these days that conscious thought is the exception rather than the norm. Most of the processing in our brain and the origin of most of our actions is indeed unconscious. And clearly one can hear unconsciously, but one cannot read unconsciously. This ties in with the "greater application" statement made earlier. Hence what you hear is clearly the predominant part of what influences your thinking and actions. I don't know why I did not see this for many years.
Friday, November 24, 2006
It is a Friday afternoon after thanksgiving. I went to work this morning, dabbled around. Found more questions than answers, then came back home for lunch, a cigarette and green tea. Then, I started to watch a mushy movie about puppy love between a young boy and girl. I describe it as puppy love just because of how I have come to think about emotions of that sort. The movie was a reasonably realistic portrayal of how two people in love feel.
All of this started me thinking about passion. In the recent past I have come to think of passion of any kind as a negative emotion in the sense that if your actions are all driven by logical thinking and analysis, how can passion have any meaning? The answer is that passion is indeed meaningless if you are completely “analyzed” for want of a better word. One can of course talk about passion in lots of different contexts. But given where this story started let us stick to passion in relationships. In this context, I mean the feelings that one has when one falls in love for the first time. Then, if you stayed with the person for sufficiently long time, inducing these feelings requires stronger and stronger stimuli as the years pass. But, as stated earlier, these should play no significant role in how the relationship works. Even then, most couples never give up these feelings and hence the need to keep stimulating them.
The positive thing about giving up the urge to stimulate these emotions is that the passion comes with some associated baggage that manifest themselves as jealousy or possessiveness or something else, but generically, dissatisfaction of some kind. And I am living proof that if you stop trying to stimulate the “passion” part of things, the baggage drops off as well. But then, once in a way, and these days as I am living alone for the first time in my life and seem to be slightly depressed or suffering from apathy due to some other reason, more than once in a way, you feel nostalgia for when you could feel the way you used to.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
First, let us consider the context of an ordered crystalline solid. Further, let us assume that the solid is a defect free single crystal. The energy required to deform such a solid is set by the bonding energy that is primarily electrostatic. So, the thermal energy is much smaller than the typical energy scale in the problem. Therefore, a very good model for the solid would be a lattice of balls interconnected by stiff springs. In this case, the elasticity is linear up to very large applied stresses and the problem of getting a constitutive relation reduces to a Newtonian N particle problem that can be readily solved by going to generalized coordinates that are the normal modes of the system. Next, we ask, if we superpose thermal fluctuations on this answer, how is it changed? The result? It is not changed at all. This result is surprising at first sight, but is a rather obvious artifact of the harmonic nature of the interaction. One can readily verify this by writing down the partition function. The conclusion then is that for a perfect crystalline solid, statistical mechanics is irrelevant for understanding the elastic response of the system! You can hardly ever say this for a finite temperature N particle problem!
So, when does stat mech play a role in understanding elasticity of a crystalline solid? When there are defects in the solid. What happens is that as you increase the applied force on the solid, well before you probe the limits of the harmonic approximation made on the interaction, the defect gives. So, the response of this system is governed by what the defects do, rather than what the background perfect crystal is doing. The dynamics of defects in a solid is an elegantly formulated problem. A well developed theory exists a la E & M for understanding this. I don't know much about this so I will stop by saying that the problem of defect dynamics and defect interactions is a nicely formulated one that one can look up. The point of interest here is that the defects will now have a statistics associated with the temperature of the system. Therefore, in order to understand the elasticity of this system, one needs to take into account the fluctuations of the defects in the system. I don't know much about this either. But I mean to look it up and will tell you when I do.
So much for crystalline solids. There is of course a whole class of amorphous solids whose entire elasticity is statistical in origin, rubber being the standing prototype of this class. They are the reason I started thinking about elasticity and stat mech in the first place. But, I guess I must take another idle morning to sort this stuff out for myself.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
all of them as artificial as the Matrix itself, although only a human mind could invent something as insipid as love. You must be able to see it, Mr. Anderson. You must know it by now. You can't win. It's pointless to keep fighting. Why, Mr. Anderson? Why? Why do you persist?
Neo: Because I choose to.