Archive for July, 2006

I saw Corporate the other. And if I were to sum it up in a single line, it would be, “Can you say that again, please??? I didn’t quite get you…” Being left with that response to a Madhur Bhandarkar film is extremely disappointing.

Madhur Bhandarkar first got my interest with Chandini Bar. And I was  pretty impressed with  Page 3.  I thought at that time that it among the most outstanding modern Bollywood productions. But, his reputation has taken a bit of a beating in my mind with Corporate.

Corporate is supposed to be the second part of a trilogy of hard hitting responses. In the first expose, which is Page 3, he takes a look at the world of high society and Page 3 glamour. In the second expose, which is Corporate, he turns his lens on the corporate world.

But the uncovering of another reality that succeeds so well in Page 3, fails miserably in Corporate. This could be because he was an insider to the world of Page 3 and understands its different layers. But, he is a stranger to the corporate world, and tries to understand it, but fails miserably. Finally, it remains the corporate world, as seen through the eyes of Bollywood. And that, like the portrayal of the South Indian, is a cliche ridden badly told tale.

As told by Madhur Bhandarkar, the corporate world is one dominated by sleaze and sex, driven only by political clout. But, as someone who actually works in the corporate world would tell you, while this could be the case sometimes, it is not the norm.

As an extension of this, while a woman could sleep with her boss to get promoted, this is in no way common. Or what about hiring a prostitute to get your competitor’s secrets from his laptop? Possible, but how plausible? And all this in a film that is meant to be an expose?!

At this point, Pinky (with whom I was watching the movie) commented, “I wish it was so easy!” I couldn’t agree with her more.

Interestingly, all the female characters working in a corporate environment go in for ‘power’ dressing as in a western corporate boardroom. I just need to look around my office to know that this is not the case in India. While there are women in suits on any given day, they are far outnumbered by the women in a chudidhar kurtas. That’s because the typical Indian working woman remains a conservative middle class girl, working to earn her livelihood. The film just overlooks this reality.

So, Bipisha Basu spends a good part of the film strutting around in a suit. She has a great body, and she looks great. But, somewhere along the way she forgets about that small detail called ‘acting’. On the other hand Kay Kay and Lillette Dubey do not have much to do, but they do ‘act’. I especially liked Kay Kay.

The weird part is that if you have never worked in the corporate world, you could believe that Madhur Bhandarkar’s films portray reality. This makes me wonder if he pulled off something with Page 3. Did he just show us the world of high society as seen through his tainted glasses? Did we just buy his version as outsiders to that world who did not know better?

I find the thought very worrying.

Either way, Madhur Bhandarkar has to work on the gigantic task of reputation building again. Let’s hope he pulls it off with Traffic Signal, which incidentally is the third of his exposes.

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I first saw Where Eagles Dare just after I had turned 10. I remembered that I loved the film. But then, 20 years later, I remembered little else.

I am sure that it has played very often on television since then. But, I managed to miss it every time. Then, Manoj bought the CD sometime ago, and we finally got down to seeing it last week.

The best parts of the film struck me all over again. I also saw things that I hadn’t seen when I watched the film before.

The story is perhaps an often told one, but it still has you guessing. It’s a spy story set in World War II – a group of British and American spies are trying to free one of their men in a German camp. But, they have an infiltrator in their midst. Who could it be??? In this way, the story unfolds.

Some of the best parts were…

  • The suspense, the suspense, the suspense. It got me the first time. It got me again.
  • Simply Richard Burton!
  • The young Clinton Eastwood.
  • The coming together of Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton. Just for that, this movie could be a classic.
  • Sharp editing
  • Quick action
  • Humour delivered that inimitable Richard Burton style. (What a body of work that man has left behind!)
  • This is how a film based on a book should be made.
  • It’s also how a spy film should be made.

Incidentally, this film made in 1968 is the original spy film. You need to look at this once to understand all the lesser spy films that followed. In fact, I think that Ron Howard should have watched this film at least a 100 times before he made the Da Vinci Code. Then, perhaps we would have awarded the disaster that the Da Vinci Code became.

On the downside, technology has advanced a great deal in the 36 years, so twenty-first century spy films are perhaps a lot more slicker. Also, some of the techniques that came into being have been re-used often over the last three decades making the original seem a little cliched.

But, the sheer power of the original smoothers that all.

You realize then that there are some things that Hollywood has just forgotten to make…epics, musicals and spy films. And this particular film belonged to a golden age.

I was at Hyderabad last weekend for a recruitment drive and just want to pen down some of my impressions of the city as I saw it.

We landed in the new Hyderabad part of the city and made our way to our hotel. The planning that had gone into this part of the city was evident. There was greenery in abundance. And the roads even if they were narrow always existed (ie, they were still to be replaced by potholes as in Bangalore).

As in Bangalore, there was also an abundance of malls, shopping centres and places to hang out. Hyderabad also has its own PVR.

On the downside, it was always very hot. And the traffic was also slow moving. The later point gave me the impression that Hyderabad  like Bangalore would not be able to withstand a full scale IT boom in the long run. Here, the advantage still lies with the bigger cities like Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai (notice, I leave Delhi out). Only they have the infrastructure (however inadequate) to withstand the influx that a full scale IT boom brings along with it (read wide roads and a dependable public transport system).

The second day saw us venturing into old Hyderabad. I liked the architecture…old designs from another age suddenly emerging amongst more modern buildings. But, again, as in Bangalore, the older architecture does not seem have to have been valued… It has been left to decay. And perhaps in time it will be pulled down. It is only in Jaipur that I have seen an entire old city treated with veneration and preserved. The rest of India could borrow a lot from there.

Amidst all of this, the Char Minar rises with the splendour of another age. It’s strange, but when they talk of the Char Minar, no one mentions its colours. But then, perhaps the image was enhanced by the fact that I saw it in the night. And set against the Chudi Bazaar, it had the charm of another age.

In the corner is a temple and a mosque – they have both been built side by side…indicative of the spirit in which they were built.

Chudi Bazaar reminded me of Commercial Street. Only it was more brightly lit and the aura of the age of the Nawabs still lingers on. Not to mention the fact that most of the shops only sell chudis.

We bought some chuddis and mehendi. Then, we went in search of a 100-year-old shop that is renowned for the fragrance of its attar. We found the shop. Interestingly, it was established and run by Gujaratis who come to Hyderabad three generations ago.

We also had a look at the Hussain Sagar Lake on the way back. Unexpectedly, a beautiful and very well maintained lake comes into view. At the centre is a gigantic statue of the Buddha. At the banks are brightly lit boats, filled with tourists/visitors. We didn’t have time to ride on the boats. But, they looked very inviting.

We also passed the Osmania Hospital (gifted by the Nawab to the state), the Salarjung Museum and the  Mantralya. Again the beauty of the architecture struck a chord. This is felt more strongly with the spectacular lighting under the night sky.

I realized something that first me on a cold winter’s night when I was riding back from Wembley to Perivale in London. It was Diwali and the Indian community and had lit up the entire area. In the stillness of midnight, it was spectacular. I knew then that nobody understands the power of illumination as we Indians do. I realized that once more when on my return to India I visited Mysore. And I experienced that for the third time when I was in Hyderabad.

Our final stop was the Karachi Bakery for some of Hyderabad’s famous Karachi biscuits that were much appreciated on my return home.

Then, it was back to the Recruitment drive.  I met all kinds of people here in my two days at Hyderabad. The quality of some of the candidates was really good. Interestingly, they came from all over India.

There more than anywhere else was clear evidence that this city of an ancient culture is also emerging as a cosmopolitan centre at the forefront of the IT revolution. I do hope that it does manage to preserve  the old, even as  it assimilates the new.

No, I cannot claim to have experienced Hyderabad. Especially in India, a claim of that magnitude would be arrogance. But, I did catch glimpses of the city. And old Hyderabad pretty much captureed my heart.

I’ve always been a fan of the man in blue… Of course, I was a bigger fan of Spiderman and Phantom… But well, I had a soft corner for the man in blue as well. Needless to say, I discovered the comics before I saw the movies. But then, I liked the movies too.

And yes, I loved Super Girl (the movie). In fact, when I was about 12, I even had  my own Super Girl dress , and  I actually  wore it every day. In retrospect, it was probably quite a sight (laugh!)

So, when I heard that Superman was about to return, I knew that I had to watch the movie. In fact, Liz and I even took off early from work work one rainy afternoon to catch the movie.

As luck should have it, the theatre was ‘Houseful’  for  a 4 pm show on a  weekday. Blame it all on the kids!!!

(So we watched Mission Impossible III, and quite enjoyed it. In fact, I wished Manoj had been there because it is his kind of movie –  a well made fast paced action film.)

And I was back in the theatre two days later to catch the man in blue.

The story starts out with Superman returning after a long absence. During this time, he has been away trying to find his lost world. But, now he’s back and doubling between being Clark Kent and Superman… and in both roles completely doting on the ‘fearless reporter’ Lois Lane. As always, there is still his arch rival Lex Luther out to get him.

Well, they got it right when they cast Brandon Routh as Superman. He makes a fitting replacment for Christopher Reeve. And  you can see him in both his roles as Clark Kent and Superman. Manoj thought that the special effects were good too.

But, they got most of the other stuff wrong. For starters, Superman spends more of his time chasing Lois Lane instead of the bad guys (and he even does that part pretty badly).

In fact, Superman Returns is actually a love story told in typical Hollywood style. In this traditional Hollywood love story, you typically have a couple deeply in love. Then the guy dies/disappears. The woman is pregnant with his son, and marries a man who is madly in love with her. She is not in love with him, but he is very ‘good’ to her (whatever that means!). Then, when her love from her past returns, he stirs memories. Of course, she does not leave her husband because he is ‘good’ to her. But, the love from the past must watch her in the role of wife to another man. In the end, she usually reveals to her love that he is the real father of her son. But, life has moved on now, and so in heart tugging finale she waves goodbye to her love and stands by her man (this being her husband).

So while Superman does return, this is what the movie is actually about. Unlike in the original Superman, where Lois Lane is part of the story, here she is THE story.

But then, I guess this is a subjective viewpoint. It does also depend on kind of movie that you like. If you liked Spiderman II, you would probably like Superman Returns. In fact, I know quite a few people who thought it was a very ‘humane’ film – Spiderman with a more human face.

But, if you preferred Spiderman I, my hunch is that you could find Superman Returns disappointing.

As for me, I am still looking forward to the actual return of the man in blue.

I had to do a piece on Bangalore at work. This is part of the visitor’s pack that we will be handing our clients and other guests. The article that I wrote is below.

Interestingly, I came across an article written by an American journalist, Brad Wetzler for Wired. The acticle had the same facts, and yet it reconsturcted a different city.

I saw more clearly than ever before that our cultural perspective shapes our world view.

Brad’s article
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.03/bangalore_pr.html

My article

Welcome to Bangalore!

In the course of its history, Bangalore has been known by many sobriquets. It has been the Town of Baked Beans, the City of Lakes, the Pensioner’s Paradise, the Garden City, the Pub City and the Silicon Valley of India. Scattered among these names, one can also trace the history of the city.

Bangalore or “Bengalooru”, as it is better known in Kannada, first finds mention in ancient Indian historical records that date back to the ninth century BC. As the story goes, King Ballala of the Hoysala dynasty lost his way in the jungle. As he wandered, tired and hungry, he met an old lady who offered him the food that she had made – baked beans or “bende kaalu ooru”. In gratitude, the King named the settlement Bende kaalu ooru or Town of Baked Beans.

But, the history of the town as a continuos settlement begins in 1537. It was in this year that Kempegowda I erected a fort to establish the city as a province of the Vijayanagara Empire. This settlement remained the Town of Baked Beans, but it was the beginning of Bangalore as we know it today.

Over three centuries later, the city was declared the State Administrative HQ of British India, playing a significant role in the British Empire’s governance of South India. The establishment of the British Cantonment was driven through the efforts of migrant labour from other parts of the country, particularly Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and North India. Today, the twenty-first century city continues to draw a cosmopolitan workforce from all parts of the country.

In these years, the Cantonment had a distinct existence from the City areas. These two parts would only gain the semblance of one city decades later, after the coming of Indian independence.

In the post-independence era, the city grew to be the hub of public sector heavy industries, primarily aerospace, space and defence. These decades also spawned a strong tradition of research within premier Indian centres of learning like the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management. This coincided with the legacy of strong educational institutions from the colonial era to make Bangalore the fertile ground of India’s information technology revolution.

But, till the 1980s, Bangalore was still identified by other sobriquets. The easy going pace of life and the relative affluence of its population earned the city the tag of the Pensioner’s Paradise.

The cool climate, rich greenery and abundant of lakes brought with it the title of the Garden City. Travel guides of this period claimed that Bangalore was one of India’s prettiest cities. There are traces of that charm that still linger on.

In the course of day, you can still move through all the different climatic shades, experiencing summer, winter and monsoon.

Bangalore in Summer also remains an experience. The air suddenly bursts into the vibrant orange of the Gulmohar, the deep purple of the Jacaranda and the soft pink of the Cassia. Rain trees spray the earth with their delicate flowers, occasionally entangling themselves into your hair. As you drive home, sometimes watching a brilliant sunset through the trees and the concrete of the city, evidence of the Garden City is around you.

But, by the 1990s, India was changing. The sleepy little Pensioner’s Paradise also transformed into the Pub City. The heart of the city, MG Road, still houses its share of well-frequented remnants from this decade. It was against this background that Bangalore began its much publicised transition into the Silicon Valley of India.

The downside of this boom was inadequate infrastructure that had to support a city growing at an accelerated pace. The flipside of the story was the arrival of the best Software Engineering talent from across the country.

Today, Bangalore is a confluence of the old and the new. Even as modern malls and shopping centres make their appearance, there is still the trace of a colonial past. Queen Victoria still looks over Cubbon Park. Elsewhere, St Patricks and the Sacred Heart School lie side by side, adding a touch of antiquity to what is now prime real estate property. In the Cantonment area, names like Promenade Road, Lavelle Road or Minsk Square are commonplace.

Bangalore is also a meeting place of other identities. There is the intertwining of town with village, which once formed the outskirts of the city. As the town grows to even develop after the villages, it is actually an interspersion of town and village. This is especially visible in Indian technology parks like Electronic City and ITPL.

Bangalore’s workforce is still drawn from all over the country. But, it no longer beckons only poor migrant labour. It is now the destination of India’s educated elite. The nature of the workforce makes this a young vibrant city. If you look around a shopping centre or a restaurant, the average age would be twenty-six, if not younger. This has translated into a vibrant, young energy that pulsates through the city.

Apart from being India’s Silicon Valley, Bangalore has always loved the Arts. This continues to find expression in Bangalore’s experimentation with music, theatre and films. This could be found in other metropolitan cities as well, but here it is art for its sake. Often there is a blending of Indian and Western influences in a style that is unique Bangalorean.

Today, Bangalore’s multiple identities are slowly coming together, sometimes speaking in one voice. This voice is heterogeneous and diverse, always bursting with a sleepless energy. Here, the only constant is change in a city that has re-invented itself again and again and again.

Get Bangalored
1. What every Tourist must do! You haven’t toured the city if you haven’t visited Vidhan Soudha, the Government Museum, Cubbon Park, Lal Bagh and the Bangalore Palace.

2. Pub Hopping There are those for whom pubbing begins and end with the tiny room called Pecos, off Brigade Road, even when it serves bad beer. Not to be outdone is Purple Haze (Residency Road) that has its own fan following, especially among faithful Pink Floyd and Bob Marley adherents. Heavy metal rules at Styx.

For the well heeled, with no particular preference, there are also the options of Tavern (Church Street) and Pub World (Residency Road).

3. Book Nooks Bangalore has its share of them. But, old timers swear by Premier and Select. Premier, off Church Street, has the air of a warehouse stacked with books. But, just ask for a title and Mr Shanbaug will pull it out. Select is your place for secondhand, rare finds.

Among the new bookstores that boast of impressive collections are Strand, Crosswords and Landmark.

4. The Coffee Shops Which is the best coffee shop in Bangalore? It’s hard to tell. But, each has their following. There is Koshy’s and Coffee House for the literary inclined. Java City for Jazz on a weekend evening. You could also have a pleasant evening at Coffee Day (Brigade Road) and Barista (St Marks Road).

But, if you are among those who love your tea, you could sample varieties conjured for different palettes at Infinitea (Cunningham Road).

5.  Theatre in the Air New theatre groups rise by the dozen overnight, and Theatre Festivals are the order of the day in the Silicon Valley of India. Check whether Ranga Shankara (J P Nagar), Chowdiah Memorial Hall (Malleswaram) or Alliance Francaise (Vasanth Nagar) have special screenings during your visit. It’s Bangalore at its best

6. At the Movies There are the multiplexes and the old cinema halls that screen the best of the latest fare. But, the city also its own cinema groups that screen the best classics, old and new, at Nani Cinemetheque (Miller’s Road).

7. ITPL – Information Technology Park Limited It’s definitely worth a dekho. Outside Bangalore’s most famous industrial park, you might even spot a cow grazing. It’s a study in Indian contrasts.

8. Festivals in the Air Indian festivals are grand spectacles. Bangalore has its own. Depending on the time of the year that you visit, you could experience a different flavour. In February, you could be a part of the Spring Festival or Vasanthabba (a la Woodstock), from dusk to dawn at Nrityagram. Then, sometime between October to November it’s a rocking Diwali as in the rest of India. In December, you could also be a part of the Bangalore Habba that celebrates the spirit of Bangalore. You could also experience a uniquely Indian Christmas – few Indian cities celebrate Christmas like Bangalore.

9. The City and the Cantonment Bangalore can still be divided into two parts – the Cantonment and the city. Stop by a restaurant in each part of the city to get a feel of both sides of the Bangalore experience.

10. Base Camp
Bangalore could also be the base camp from which you tour southern/western destinations like Mysore, Mangalore, Coorg, Hampi, Halebid and Goa.

Bangalore Film Society was screening Aparna Sen’s films this weekend. For me, it was a good chance to catch up on some films that I had always wanted to see. It was also interesting to watch Aparna Sen over the years. These are some thoughts on what I saw…

15 Park Avenue – I just went for this movie with the vague recollection that Anamika hadn’t liked it too much. I came back from the film a little disappointed too. But, I just went through her review, and I realized that my response to the film had been very different.

15 Park Avenue is the story of a family – a mother (played by Waheeda Rehman), her elder daughter who is a Professor (played by Shabana Azmi) and her younger daughter who suffers from schizophrenia (played by Konkana Sen). In a sense, it is a story of their interactions between themselves and the people who touch their lives.

The parts that I liked about the movie – the beginning of the different threads that could have been woven into great stories; the portrayal of schizophrenia as something that exists between the worlds of the normal and the disfunctional (ie – you don’t have to be a lunatic screaming and picking lice from your head that is typical from Bollywood); the way Konkana’s creation add up – that is all those stories have a source somewhere; and Shabana’s performance. And yes, the telling of the tale from different perspectives worked for me.

The part that was okay – Konkana’s performance. There are things that she does well, there are things that she doesn’t. I think that the thing that she does best is playing her character as a ‘normal’ person, not a ‘demented’ character. But in her normalness, she lives in another reality.

The part I didn’t like about the movie – the conclusion. Aparna Sen starts a lot of different threads, but she does not take it to a satisfactory conclusion. She leaves them all dangling in mid-air. In fact, I think that the conclusion that she has chosen is an easy way out.

Apart from that, there were the small irritations – Rahul Bhose’s performance as Konkana’s fiancé, the actress who played Rahul’s wife, the fact that the angst and jealousy his wife displayed has never been worked into the script so it looked totally uncalled for and the fact that a relationship is hinted at between Shabana and the doctor that remains a hint (if you can’t develop a thread why develop it?).

In a nutshell – it’s not Aparna Sen’s greatest film, but I’d still recommend that you watch it.

Sati – It was interesting to watch this film after 15 Park Avenue. The film, made almost 15 years before Park Avenue, stars Shabana again. So, it was like watching two different kinds of films from the same director and the actor, across time.

The film tells the story of a mute orphan (played by Shabana) who passes marriageable age, and is then married to a tree so that the other younger women in her family can marry. It is also the story of tremendous oppression, and a spirit that remains untamed.

What I liked about the film – the depiction of a period in Bengal’s history in all its brutality and the performance from Shabana. Even though she hasn’t been written any dialogues, her eyes speak for her.

If you think of India in 1989, this was a film that was ahead of its time.

In a nutshell – must watch.

36 Chowringhee Lane – This was Aparna Sen’s first film and stars Jennifer Kendal (also known as Jennifer Kapoor – Shashi Kapoor’s wife). I’d heard of this film since the time I was a child and I finally got to see it. I was not disappointed.

The film tells of the twilight years of Miss Violet Stoneham (played by Jennifer). Life continues, but the world that she knew is slowly disappearing.

What I liked about the movie – It is a story of the Anglo Indian community in Indian that is very well told – in fact the only one that I have seen. It is the story of a woman who is no longer young and finds herself completely alone, and that cannot but move you very deeply. It is also the story of two cultures and the points at which they meet. While doing this, Sen also highlights the superficialities of the world that surround Violet Stoneham.

Finally, there’s a superb performance from Jennifer Kendal. This is what is meant by acting. It’s a pity that we don’t have more films from her.

On the personal front, I am a nomad too, and so it was extremely easy to identify. There are times when you could be born in a land, but no longer identify with its way of life. I came out of Nani Cinematheque feeling a little shaken.

In a nutshell – Of the three, this is Aparna Sen’s finest work.

The Omen in 2006

Posted: July 2, 2006 in Cinema
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Why would you choose to remake a film and how would you retell a tale? There are different examples of remakes that I can think about. Some of them work, and some don’t, for different reasons.

Cape Fear is actually a remake of a 1930s film. It works because most of us have forgotten the original. In fact, most audiences (myself included – until Manoj enlightened me) have only heard of the modern version.  Of course, the film is also helped by an awesome performance from Robert De Niro, but that is another story. In a nutshell, it would be true to say that the film is only remembered by the 1990s version.

Nearer home, and perhaps because Bollywood is an industry that specialises on adaptations from other films, there are better examples of remakes. There is Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas. I do not believe that Devdas is Bhansali’s greatest film, but is does have its merits as a remake. It is both a casting coup and a different interpretation. The new Devdas is visualised on an epic scale, and with unforgettable musical sequences. It is also narrated with more modern vocabulary, while still retaining its old world charm. This is to Bhansali’s credit.

Another remake that I am waiting for with interest is Sholay. It is still to be seen whether Ram Gopal Verma adds any new interpretations to his narration of one of the greatest successes at the Indian box office. But, if nothing else, the remake is at least already a casting coup. Amitabh as Gabbar Singh or Abhishek as Veeru…if you know what I mean.

A remake could also be a touching up of the original film – so that a black & white is now seen in colour. Mughal-e-Azam is an example of this. It worked, but was not a great commercial success as the original. Perhaps that had something to do with different audience, different time.  Still at least it was a reminder of the epic form and it had its following – among the old and the young.

The Omen is not any of those things. It is still close enough to the Omen series for people to remember the original classic. To make matters worse, there are no new interpretations. It sticks to the original in the same way that the movie stuck to Da Vinci code the book.

There is no casting coup either. In fact Gregory Peck is replaced by Live Schreiber, who is just not up to it. And worse, the film lacks some of the best parts of the original. The Gregory Peck version stayed to haunt you, the new version is quite forgettable. But, it could also have something with the fact that the ‘divine’ is no longer as divine as it used to be. Our concepts of heaven, hell and eternity have evolved since the 1970s and 1980s.

The only interesting part about the remake is the performance given by Mia Farrow as the Nanny. But well, there are some who would even disagree on that.

There’s just one question in my mind – WHY? What was the new message you had for your audience? Or couldn’t you just live up the original? With all that technology has enabled us to do shouldn’t we be challenged to produce even greater works of art rather than create mediocre version of grand originals?