Archive for June, 2008

Licensed to drive

Posted: June 23, 2008 in Life and Living

It’s almost 15 years since I first discovered and fell in love with riding a bike. It’s been close to two years since the time I set out on mastering driving a car.

But, in all this time, I never had a Driver’s License for either a bike or car. Yes, I did have a Learner’s License from time to time. But, I never owned a Driver’s License, not once in 15 years.

Now finally, that has changed. I am licensed to drive – a car and a bike (the later after 15 years of being a bike person).

The day that I set out to get my license was a lovely, almost rainy Tuesday evening, It was one of those days when Koramangala looks particularly beautiful.

I joined over 70 nervous aspirants (who all hoped to be licensed to drive soon) on one of Koramangala’s by lanes. All of us waited patiently for the good part of half an hour, and then the RTO official appeared.

The bikers had to go first. It was a curious test. About 35 of us lined one behind another. Then, when we received the signal, we had to ride to the end of the road, take a U-turn and return.

Having satisfactorily performed the exercise, we were deemed fit to ride on the streets of Bangalore.

Now it was time for the thing that I was most worried about – my driving test.

“Madam, you go first” the instructor told me, trying to be gallant and let the only woman in the queue go first.

“Damn”, I thought to myself.

But, I tried not to let the lack of confidence show, and I got into the car. I felt more than a little concern for the safety of the RTO official and the other three “hoping to be licensed soon” drivers who joined me in the car.

Almost automatically, I reached out to fasten my seat belt.

“No, no, no”, the examiner told me, as if I was making a grave mistake.

After that, things did not start too auspiciously. I waded through what seemed like a sea of humanity (the other 70 still waiting to be tested) till I was forced to break. Then, as I moved from first gear, the car stalled.

Once.

Twice.

“You are going to flunk this one,” I thought to myself.

“You are not accelerating”, the examiner said, extremely irritated.

I tried to focus on the instruction, while shutting out the irritation in his voice and the fluttering fear in my heart. Almost miraculously the car started.

I tried to move into second gear, but the metallic stick refused to budge.

“I am sorry. I am not used to this car.” I tried explaining to the RTO official. But his face registered nothing.

“Right”, he barked, a little too quickly.

I just about had enough time to make the turn.

“Indicator is not on”, I muttered to myself. But, he did not notice or care.

“Right”, he said again. But, this time more slowly. I even managed to switch on the indicator and make the turn, while changing gears.

Next, I had to stop by the pavement.

“Reverse”, he said.

I immediately adjusted my rear view mirror.

“No, no, no”, he said again. But this time around the protest seemed more justified. It seems that it is best to physically turn and reverse. It’s unsafe to do it via the rear view mirror.

Once the car had moved backwards by a few paces, the RTO official asked me to stop.

I stopped and moved to neutral.

Then, my right leg mysteriously moved to the accelerator. With the car still on neutral, my leg pressed on to the accelerator. The car almost brayed in protest.

The other three “hoping to be licensed soon” drivers audibly gasped.

I apologised once more.

Then in an attempt to demonstrate my awareness of safety procedure, I pulled up the handbrake and got out of the car.

I knew that I would probably get my license. But, I couldn’t help thinking that had I been in the US, the UK, Australia or the Middle East, I’d probably have flunked that test.

Having said all of that, it does feel good to finally join the ranks of those who are licensed to drive. And trust me, it has been one helluva journey.

The happening

Posted: June 21, 2008 in Cinema
Tags: ,

Last week, I watched the latest offering from Manoj Night Shyamalan.

Not as bad as Signs, Lady in the Water or The Village.

Not as good as Sixth Sense or Unbreakable.

Overladen with every Hollywood cliche.

Still, the end has you thinking.

Could be watched one Saturday evening at the movies – if you don’t have a better film lined up.

Interesting… If you are into following the work of Manoj Night Shyamalan as a director.

Overall rating: 50:50

Note: I’ve tried to give you a sense of the movie, without too many spoilers that give the story away.

A couple of years ago, when Dreamgirls picked up two awards at the Oscars, I was curious about the film. But a colleague, whose opinion I value, told me not to bother with the film.

But, this week, I picked it up amongst my ‘time pass’ romances.

As it happens, I was watching Dreamgirls almost back to back on Moulin Rouge. So, there was some time for rumination on what makes a good musical.

Both Moulin Rouge and Dreamgirls do well on musical scores and some strong performances.

But then, there are the differences:

  • Moulin Rouge scores on spectacular sets, choreography and costumes.
  • The next point is more a personal preference – While Dreamgirls explores the American Black experience, Moulin Rouge is an innovative multicultural experiment. If you are a lover of “Art for Art’s sake” (as I am), Moulin Rouge scores over the Dreamgirls again.
  • With Moulin Rouge, there are many layers of meaning. But, with Dreamgirls, what you see is what you get.
  • Moulin Rouge stretches the boundaries of the American musical, and sets new standards for what a musical could be. Dreamgirls leaves it just where it found it.

Note of caution: If you loved the Titanic, please disregard the above comments. You will probably love Dreamgirls – it’s equally predictable and melodramatic, while faring much better on production values.

Many years ago, when Bangalore’s boulevard still stood and Plaza still played movies, Sowmya and I walked down the boulevard, attempting to capture the essence of Bangalore in photographs.

That’s when we saw it… Plaza playing Moulin Rouge. Strangely enough, we were not curious about the film. We were concerned about capturing Moulin Rouge shot in sepia on Plaza’s billboards. More than a lot of pictures that I shot in later life, it captured the bohemian old world spirit of Bangalore of the Cantonment.

This week, over 6 years later, I picked up the DVD at Cinema Paradiso. When I was done, I almost regretted not having watched the film that day in 2002. It’s a film that was made to be played on the big screen, and for a theatre such as Plaza.

Moulin Rouge takes you across time over the tradition that is the Hollywood musical. But in doing this, it raises the bar for the genre.

It blends the tradition of the musical (typical shot of two actors singing on a rooftop, umbrella in hand) with a new stylish sophistication.

Moulin Rouge stands out for me because it is a magnificent spectacle – sets, costumes and choreography are taken to a completely new level. And yet, the grandness of the spectacle is not without a sense of humour, even when this is slightly tongue in cheek.

There’s also more to the film that meets the eye. Though set in France, there is a sprinkling of American popular culture across the film. There are also reference points to American musicals and pop renditions that all find their way into the gigantic patchwork quilt that is the modern American musical.

Interesting touches of Bollywood choreography also find their way into the film. The interesting element for me here was that even from the brief moment it appears, you are struck by the distinctive difference of the Bollywood style of choreography. Indians excel at the spectacular, and the Bollywood sequences stand out in the film.

Finally, even if this film had no other merit, I would recommend it simply for Nicole Kidman! Once more she proves why she is a remarkable actress, in a performance where she becomes Satine.

As with Pulp Fiction, it’s easy to take the film at face value and assume that there’s nothing more to it. But, I think that when one scratches beneath the glitzy surface, there are many layered meanings. It is a study of American popular culture, while also being a tribute to the lost art of the Hollywood musical.

In a nutshell – A spectacular visual treat. It will be enjoyed by those who have a love of the Hollywood musical. It’s also of interest to the film critic and keene observers of American popular culture.

There are times when you are tired and your mind can focus on nothing in particular. On days like these, Manoj likes to watch a good action movie. But, I find that for me nothing works like a good Hollywood romance 🙂

Aah… To just be able to laugh and cry at a predictable story that upholds universal values of truth, and will always end ‘happily ever after’ (without getting too melodramatic about it).

So, this week I watched a couple of romances, among them Waitress, Sweet Home Alabama and Man in the Moon. By some strange co-incidence, two of them starred Reese Witherspoon.

But, I’d like to devote a few lines to Man in the Moon. Not experimental, not path breaking… But a good film that will not fail to move you.

It’s about growing up, family and redemption… A story that is always told with soul, and much of it played out very capably by a very young Reese Witherspoon.

I will not spend paragraphs and paragraphs on this film. But, it’s still my reco for one of these afternoons when you would just like to sit down with a good film. You will find that it is time well spent and it might even bless you.

Indiana Jones

Posted: June 7, 2008 in Cinema
Tags: ,

Like others of my generation, I first bumped into Indiana Jones when I was growing up. Like others of my generation, I also enjoyed the experience throughly.

This weekend saw us back in the theatre for the latest in the series – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In what is a first after a long time, I decided that I would not bother to analyse the film. I’d just sit back and enjoy every moment of it. And so I did 🙂

It would probably be true to say that this does not have the magic or the believability of Raiders of the Lost Ark or some of the other hallowed predecessors of this series. Yet it’s not without its moments of fun, sometimes linked to nostalgia.

My reco on this one is – if you are a kid between 10 to 14, you will enjoy every minute of it. Tis nice to see a film (which is not animated) that could possibly appeal to this audience. After all, we had a whole bunch of them during our growing years.

And if you are a fan of the Indiana Jones series, this does make for a one time watch.

A brief trip to Delhi brought along with it some random ramblings on urbanization. I write about it here only so that I may not forget… After all, being a traveler does give you a unique perspective and you notice details that could be missed by more accustomed eyes.

This was of course not the first time that I am visiting Delhi. I’ve been there often during the growing years. But, this was my first since 1999, which makes it close to a decade since I returned.

As the plane hovered over the city, for an instant there was the sense of a city planned, and then I saw it…A big black winding ghastly crater that seemed to wind from one end of the land to another and ended in one big gigantic oil spill. I was later told that this was the river Yamuna. Apparently, a huge drain runs across our capital city, collecting the city’s refuse, and then culminates in a dumping bed in the Yamuna. You just need to peep out of an airplane to realize its impact. When will India start taking pollution seriously? After all, if this is the condition of our national capital, it is slightly worrying to think of smaller cities.

Rambling on…

  • Pollution and loss of green cover is a national and global problem.
  • Global warming is closer than we think it is.
  • Everywhere, cars seem to be getting bigger and emptier. Correspondingly, roads seem to have less space.
  • Traffic is easier to control in places where traffic is uniform – ie, people drive similar types of vehicles (cars, bikes, buses).
  • Traffic is difficult to control in places where people do not respect the law.
  • Buildings in emerging parts of the developing world seem to be getting taller, more similar and glassier.
  • There are certain parts of the country and world, which for historical reasons, will always be cold and crude.
  • There are certain cities in India that will always be more difficult than others for a woman travelling on her own, unless we truly evolve as a nation.

As you can guess, Delhi still does not come out with flying colours in my assessment of what a capital city should be :). I would be happy not to have visit again as well (with due apologies to my good friend N, if he does read this).

Unfortunately, that is not to be. In all probability, two repeat visits that have already been scheduled, will make Delhi my most visited city of 2008. Aah… The ironies of life 🙂