Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: Ra.One

 Warning: This review contains SPOILERS.

Also Warning: For this review I have shamelessly ripped off the Q&A format I saw on Topless Robot. Although to be fair, if they didn't want to be ripped off, they shouldn't have been one of the best and funniest geek sites online.

Another warning: It's really, really long. Also, it's not complimentary to the movie. If you are a fan, go away NOW!!!

So. Ra.One. Any good?

Really? That's it? Care to elaborate?
Do I have to?

It's a review. Yes you have to.
Ok. The movie opens with a press conference where Shahana Goswami is talking about the latest invention by "Barron Industries" to a roomful of toddlers. Actually wait, it's a roomful of adults with the intelligence level of toddlers, who when told that they are surrounded by INVISIBLE rays, attempt to swat them away. Anyway, the big plot point is that "Barron Industries" has found a way to tap into these rays and create matter with them.

Next, it's the traditional "hero ki entry", with SRK riding a low rent Tron bike knockoff across the landscape. Instead of the Tron light trails, it has animated dust. Badly animated dust. Seriously, it looks like the animation was done in a North Korean sweatshop with sticks and spit. Also, he's Mangafied.

Mangafied?Yup. SRK must have seen a trailer for one of the Final Fantasy games. Ergo, long, spiky, streaked hair, a costume that looks like someone took a shotgun to a belt buckle convention and a sword taller than he is.

But that's not the G.One look!
Chill. It's just a fantasy sequence. Here he is Lucifer, facing off the villain "Khalnayak", a cameo by guess who, on a mission to rescue Pryanka Chopra's cleavage. Before that he has to fend off three oriental women who are called "Iski Lee", "Uski Lee" and "Sabki Lee". Bring the kids, folks!

Hold your vomit. There's more. Turns out this is all a dream of SRKs son (Prateek Subramanium) , who, in the tradition of all Bollywood brats sports long hair that makes him look vaguely androgynous and totally douchy. Like all kids in sci-fi movies, is an expert hacker. Also, he's in school. As revenge for waking him up,  bratboy plays a video of the teacher (a large black lady), doing a pseudo striptease in tight clothes on the big classroom monitor. Why he HAD such a video in the first place is a disturbing question that remains unanswered. Oh, and Prateek makes it look like a classmate played the video, doubling the sexual harassment fun. But that's ok, because the classmate is a fat kid. (who also falls and gets ice-cream all over his face later in the movie. Oh, will the hilarity ever cease?).

Oooooookkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk. So, the comedy can get a bit sexist, what?
It's not limited to the child either. Minutes after appearing in his nerdy dad avatar, SRK drops his keys in a woman's cleavage. We are then supposed to guffaw as he makes groping motions and mispronounces the word "keys" to sound like "kiss".

Seriously? Isn't this film marketed as a kid's movie?
Yup. Those kid's are gonna need therapy.
Moving on, daddy SRK (Shekhar Subramanium) is a professional South Indian stereotype. He eats spaghetti with curd using his fingers, tries to emulate Michael Jackson and fails in a manner most "hilarious" and mispronounces "dude". He's also Shah Rukh Khan, so sometimes, jarringly, he strikes these typical SRK poses, especially during song sequences. Go figure. He's also a video game programmer and because his bratty kid loves bad guys (as evidenced by the Michael Jackson and Iron Maiden posters on his walls. His bratty kid apparently grew up in the 80's), he wants to make the antagonist in his next blockbuster game much more powerful than the hero. Yes, he works for the aforementioned Barron Industries which is apparently EA, Activision and Bioware all rolled into one. And they want to debut their next, and biggest game in India. Also, the entire team working on this game comprises of about ten people.

Is ANYTHING in this movie set in the real world?Well, I guess they were really trying to live up to the disclaimer about the movie being a work of fiction and any resemblance being purely coincidental.

So when do the superheroes come in?
About an hour too late. Be quiet. Anyway, so the game looks like a shitty Mortal Kombat ripoff. It also has only two characters, Ra.One, the bad guy, and G.One, the hero. Who looks like SRK.

So the biggest game company in the world is staking it's future on a game where the only playable character has the face of the lead programmer?
It's also the face of Shah Rukh Khan. Your Point?

I guess, but still, two characters? So the first fight is with the end boss?
Look, it also has only three arenas (The game calls them 'levels'). Let's accept the fact that the game is just a plot device and move on, OK? Otherwise we'll be here all week.

Anyway, so it turns out that Ra.One has become self-aware (ooooooohhh!). During the game announcement party, he downloads himself into a life-size model of Ra.One that they just kept around. He then kills Akasi, an Asian American guy who does the motion capture for the game, and steals his appearence.

Steals his appearence? What the hell?
Yes, one of Ra.One's powers is that he is T1000 from Terminator 2. In fact, a lot of this movie is from Terminator 2, with sequences entirely lifted.

But didn't he just download himself into a model? Can he manipulate matter?
Look, it has something to do with the invisible rays mentioned in the beginning of the movie, Ok? Invisible rays can manipulate matter. Simple as that.

So why does Ra.One escape? World domination? Hatred for humanity? Sheer pleasure of blowing shit up?
Actually, it's because Prateek beat him in Level 1 of the game, and then quit.

WTF??!!! That's it? That's the villain's big motivation? Killing a kid?
I know, but you have to understand that the entire game is three levels long, so it's like a major defeat. Plus, even I wanted to reach into the screen and throttle the smug SOB, and I didn't even play against him.

So what happens next?
Daddy SRK dies. The movie gets all serious, and actually, much better for a while, because the visual effects from then on are pretty slick.

So there's something good about the movie?
Sure! The stunts, the VFX, and even the look of Ra.One is very well done. Ra.One looks very creepy and angry, and in a better script, could have been an effective bad guy. Here, he strikes too many "cool" poses to be taken seriously.

So where's the hero? Where's G.One?
Still in the game. Not for long though. Once Prateek figures out Ra.One is after him, he downloads G.One to the real world. What follows is a pretty incredible chase sequence by Bollywood standards, and probably the most innovative action sequence I've seen in a long time. As long as this is on, the movie is very very good. Alas, after destroying Ra.One...

Destroying Ra.One? But isn't he the more powerful one? And he loses the first fight?
Yeah, doesn't make much sense here either. Anyway G.One destroys him and takes his HART.

Whoa, back up. What the hell is a HART?
Oh sorry, I missed that didn't I. Both Ra.One and G.One have little glowy chestpieces straight out of Iron Man called HARTs. The only way one can kill the other is by shooting him in the HART.

So the superheroes use guns here?
Not all guns. They get special weapons when they reach level three.

Level three? Level three of what?
The game, of course.

But they aren't in the game anymore!!!

So how do they kill each other?
Well, in the end of the film, they duke it out in a video gaming expo where three rooms have been designed to look like the three stages of the game.

And what if the expo never happened?
That's not explained very well.

Oooooooookkkkkkkkkkkk. So level three is essentially a shootout.
Not entirely. They both get just one bullet each.

What??!!! What if they both miss?
That's not explained either.

But G.One destroyed Ra.One and took his HART. How's that possible if the only way to kill him is in level three with a special gun?
No, see it's temporary destruction. Ra.One can re-assimilate himself.

So the fight doesn't end there, right?
No it does. Ra.One needs electricity to put himself back together.

What? Isn't Ra.One powered by invisible rays that are ALWAYS there?
Yes. And also electricity.

Urgh!  My head hurts.
Yes, that happens a lot.

So anyway, G.One takes his HART. That's good I guess. That way, in level three he can just shoot it without having to tangle with the villain.
No, it doesn't work that way. See, as long as their HARTs are not attached to them, both characters are invincible and the HARTs are also indestructible.


So why does G.One take Ra.One's HART? He already beat him once, so I guess he's gone to level 2.
No he doesn't.

That's not explained very well.

Wait a minute. So if the only way to kill a player is by shooting his HART in level three, does it matter who wins the first two levels?
Well, they do say that the winners get more powerful.

But how does it matter? All the loser has to do in level 3 is take his HART off and he's immortal.

Huh??!!!! That's like a cheat code built into the game!
Yes. Although Ra.One does say later that he's "incomplete" without the HART.

But what does that MEAN?
That's not explained very well. Look, can we move on? You're making me lose focus.

Ok. Go ahead. It's not like anything matters anymore!
That's the spirit. Anyway so Ra.One is temporarily smashed into invisible ray cubes and scattered all over the road. G.One catches up with Sonia (Kareena Kapoor), Shekhar's wife, who is trying to run from Ra.On with her son. What follows is more comedy with G.One and Sonia.

Comedy? Hasn't she JUST lost her husband?
Yes. 5 minutes ago she was sadly standing in the rain when they put Shahrukh in a coffin and then scattering his ashes?

In a coff....
Turns out the filmmakers got that right, in spite of some people being confused by it. Apparently in the UK, you have to put a guy in a coffin before cremation. It was a refreshing change of pace.

What? The somber mood?
No, the filmmakers getting something right.

Ok. So more sexist comedy.
Actually it's gay joke time. Prateek and Sonia are going back to India, but G.One cannot pass through the metal detector. So G.One knocks out a punk and takes his piercings.

But you have to take off all such ornaments in airports!
Not in SRK world. Here gay security officials scan you and bite their lips in ecstasy when the metal detector beeps and you unbutton your shirt to show off your pierced nipple.

Nipple? But he's a model/robot designed to promote a video game!!!!!

Invisible rays

You're just saying that now, aren't you?
Yes. We will move on.
Back in India, there's more comedy with G.One groping Sonia's unmentionables during a fight with a dozen ruffians at the airport.

So G.One gives himself away to a bunch of police officers?
No. Police or security never appear.

There's a melee right in front of the Mumbai International Airport and there's no cops?
None. But you know who does show up? Chitti.

The robot played by Rajnikant in 'Robot'. Only Sonia grins, touches her forehead and calls him "Rajni Sir".

So it's Rajnikant dressed as Chitti?
No. G.One's digital display identifies him as Chitti. Also, Chitti uses his magnetic powers on the villains.

But....that makes.....WTF.....Huh???!!!!!
Yes. G.One, Superstar Rajnikant and Chitti occupy the same universe. Invisible rays.

I feel faint.
So do I. Back home, even more comedy. Bratty kid puts on the gaming suit...

Gaming suit?
Yes. Didn't I mention this? Ra.One is a virtual reality game. You put on the suit and glasses and the game avatar mimics your exact motions.

That's actually pretty cool.
Yes it is. In theory. In practice you have to be a martial artist and an acrobat to even have a chance at this game. Remember, I said EXACT motions. So if you want G.One to do a backflip, YOU have to do a backflip.

Hmmm. That wouldn't sell very well, would it?
No. But in this movie, who cares? Anyway so the kid puts on the suit and makes G.One do pelvic thrusts near his mother.

Let me get this straight. The kid, who JUST lost his father in a violent accident. makes a robot who looks like his dead dad do pelvic thrusts near his mother?

The kid is gonna need therapy.
I watched the movie. I'm gonna need therapy.

Anyway, so what happens next?
Ra.One is able to track them down because G.One still has his HART.

What!!?? If that's the case why did G.One take the HART in the first place???
That's not explained very well. Invisible rays??

Exactly. Anyway so he kidnaps the kid and forces mommy to crash a train. Then he gives the hero a diabolical choice, save the kid or save the mommy.

Yes. Although, since the special effects take over, the movie is watchable again. It's a lot of fun to see such extravagant VFX set in Mumbai.

Very. Anyway, so G.One meets up with Ra.One, throws a few quips, gets beaten up till level three and then kills him. Oh, and he takes his HART off, so Ra.One can't kill him first.

Dare I ask why Ra.One doesn't do the same thing?
That's not explained very well. Although he does make 9 copies of himself.

So given the choice between making the job impossible for the hero, and somewhat more difficult, he chooses to make it more difficult.

But not impossible.

Ra.One is the most sporting villain EVER!

Hmm. So it was a pretty bad movie.
Actually, once could wrap my head around the fact that this was absolutely typical, run-of-the-mill, Bollywood fare, I could enjoy the film in patches. The problem was one of expectations. The movie was built up like it would be something big. Something that mattered. It didn't. It didn't have the epic feel that a superhero movie should have. Everything, from the villain's motivation to the script felt decidedly scaled down and even....cheap. Also, the film didn't know what it was. Was it a slick superhero movie? Was it typical Bollywood masala? Was it a kid's movie? Parts of the movie didn't feel like they fit with the other parts. And the comedy didn't fit anywhere. It's was vulgar, it was unfunny and it was predictable. Vulgarity can be hilarious in the right hands even in Bollywood. Anubhav Sinha clearly doesn't have them. Also, words defy how irritating the kid is.

So did you like anything about the movie?
The special effects, as I said before are really good. Unfortunately, they're good by Bollywood standards. To the urban audience used to the Matrix and Dark Knight, they will seem workmanlike at best. The fights are also well choregraphed, with the first showdown between G.One and Ra.One having a strange poetry to it.Oh, and Akon. He is phenomenal. That he has sung the entire "Chammak Challo", a song largely in Hindi, is unbelievable. Lower your expectations and wait for the ticket prices to come down. That too if you are a die hard SRK/Sci Fi/Superhero movie fan. Otherwise, there are better movies out there.

PS: Why is it that films titled with the villain's names blow? First Ghajini, and now this.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Simla Sojourn (a.k.a a Ham-Handed Attempt at a Travelogue)

"Whatever you do, don't go to Kufri. It's basically little more than souvenir shops enveloped in an all-pervading aroma of horseshit."

So Kufri was out. As it is, this was going to be a pretty hectic tour, with a day here, a day there and a hyperactive seven-year-old all through. This is what the schedule looked like:

Delhi -> Chandigarh -> Simla -> Kalka -> Delhi -> Home

That, in a matter of less than a week. Clearly, it was a good thing the landscape was picturesque.

Remember the long train rides of your childhood? Remember how much fun it was, staring out the window and watching the landscape go by, the constantly changing flora and fauna, snapshots of people going about their lives? No? OK, so it wasn't THAT much fun as adults pretended it would be to keep us from fidgeting and asking questions, but it was better than nothing. Well, that's gone. Indian railways has reamed parents of little kids everywhere by plastering ads all over the train windows. While I'm sure converting the trains into traveling billboards makes the balance sheet look good, the same cannot be said of the view. A thin net-like material now covers almost all windows, through which only the barest, foggiest outline of the landscape is visible.

So yeah, instead of watching the world rush by, long journeys by train are now "family bonding time", which pretty soon escalates to "family blaming time" and then, my favorite, "family full-scale-argument time" with the entire carriage listening in with their ears quivering.

I kid, I kid. It's a great opportunity to get together as a family and talk about each others faults. But in a nice, constructive criticism-y way. Also, games of antakshari that last seconds (Sometimes even minutes!), before participants lose interest or realize they're too loud and stop abruptly. And of course, it's great fun arguing about who get's the top bunk, with the sacrificial lamb having to heave himself/herself all the way up, nearly falling off and crushing innocent co-passengers at least twice, before immediately realizing he/she has to pee right NOW and beginning the process anew. You can, as a family, also play a spirited game of "Hunt The Slipper". In fact, you WILL play a game of "Hunt The Slipper". Also, "Hunt The Sneakers", "Hunt The Socks" and "Hunt The Shoes". Here's a tip. They're all behind the three suitcases that have been shoved under the seats, in the hardest to reach corner. Have Fun!!

For dinner, there were options. Crummy options, but options. I could go for a Continental meal (oooh!), Indian vegetarian, or Indian non-vegetarian. Somehow, the Continental meal included noodles. Granted, Hong-Kong was once part of the British Empire, but it's still a stretch. I did go for it however, because I believe it's really difficult to fuck up noodles ( A belief that would be severely tested in the next week). That, and the fact that the Indian meal included a dish with chicken bits stewing listlessly in what looks like zombie vomit made it a really easy decision to make.

After dinner, beds were made, and after a bout of skillful negotiation with my wife about who gets the bottom bunk (OK, basically I just whined about my tiny bladder and how difficult it would be for me to repeatedly dismount from the top bunk. That, and I threatened to step on her on my way down), I helped her up, nearly dropped her, helped her up again, and finally laid my weary head to rest. Lights were switched off, mumbled conversations died out, and slowly, gently, imperceptibly I slipped into unconsciousness, lulled by the rocking of the train and the snoring of my parents.

Back To My Second Home

I missed Delhi. I didn't realize how much, but after spending two and a half years in a city, you are bound to accumulate some great memories. Unsurprisingly, most of mine involved food. Milk shakes at Keventer's, pastries and Shammi Kebabs at Wenger's, Mutton Burgers at Wimpy's - Delhi really found it's way to my heart through my stomach, and I was all set to be swept off my feet once more.

To be Continued....If I Feel Like It....

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Draconic Sonata

In the realm
Of the kings and the princes
The dragons
The swords and the lances
And ice
Locked in eternal
For a
Future so dismal
In between lies an iron throne
The blasted lands an imp shall roam
And a lady with a heart
Carved of stone
The dead
Are rising
Their eyes like stars
The deepest
Blue, their crusted scars
is waiting
with open arms
The flames now hunger
Waiting for the
Truest king of them all.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Please note that this post is just the personal experience of someone who suffers from ADHD, and not information about the disease in itself. For those interested in actually reading up on it, there are some good links given at the bottom. And if you are a parent who finds his child hyperactive, easily distracted, fidgety and unable to concentrate, at least CONSIDER there might be something wrong with him or her medically and that harsher punishment is perhaps not the answer. 

The only thing more difficult than talking about ADHD is perhaps understanding it. I don't mean understanding it in an academic manner, or understanding that it exists, but truly understanding what it it entails. That's hardly surprising, because problems of the mind aren't really REAL, at least to the outsider. But to live with a problem like this, to live with it every day, to not know when my mind is working and when it is slipping up, letting go, losing information, details, memories, is something that chokes and gags. How hard is it to not be able to rely on ones own mind? How do you remember to remember? How do you order your mind to hold on to things when they insist on slipping away like fine grains of sand slip through the fingers? How can you explain to someone that the very existence of a memory, of some little bit of information has been wiped clean from your mind; that not even a trace remains to hold on to? 

Somehow people are willing to accept limitations of a physical disease, but not mental.A promise to call someone back upon reaching home gets washed away like sandcastles in a tsunami, and moments later, nothing but the empty beach remains, barren and devoid of even the hint of a memory. And yet, when trying to make someone understand this, the inevitable reply is "You forgot because you didn't care". Does a legless man not run because he doesn't care? Does a paralyzed person not raise his hand in greeting because he doesn't care? And yet, how do I blame my friends, friends I have lost because of what they perceive as a break in the emotional bond because I didn't remember? Is it truly possible for a person to promise something one moment and forget it so completely that not a shred of memory remains? That someone can actually make a promise, pull out a mobile phone to create a reminder and set an alarm, be interrupted by a single minute-long conversation and then....simply...forget? It's not conceivable, not by any normal human being. But it's possible. I live it.

I have Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Always had it, probably always will. It is defined as 

"ADHD is a problem with inattentiveness, over-activity, impulsivity, or a combination. For these problems to be diagnosed as ADHD, they must be out of the normal range for a child's age and development."

It gives me great peace to at least know that now, because to know something is wrong with you but to not know what it exactly is breeds a kind of helplessness that can only end in severe depression. So many years of my childhood was spent believing it was MY fault, that if I just TRIED A LITTLE HARDER, if I just put in a LITTLE MORE EFFORT, I wouldn't be so hopeless and pathetic. And I tried. Oh, how hard I tried. I tried and I failed, over and over and over again, until I believed, I truly believed I was an incomplete human being. Why else would I find so difficult what every single one of my classmates found so easy? Other boys dream of being famous, being stars, making money, having adventures, becoming sports heroes. I dreamt of being someone else. Anyone else, just not me. I would ponder on the question of self, and identity, and subjects equally heavy and confusing. I would hate myself and then wonder what "myself" meant. Shockingly, I was an incredible bore. Much, much later, I would find some solace in the words of Scatman John.

I wanna be someone, I don't wanna be me
I'm always feelin' less than everybody I see
You ask me how I'm doing and I'll tell you "Just fine"
But on the inside, swear to God, I'm losin' my mind.

War and Peace it ain't, but at least someone talked about how I felt.

The only thing that probably saved me from descending into depression was perhaps the fact that I had ADHD. I couldn't focus on my misery long enough for that to happen. I would move on to a patch of sunlight, or the way ants were moving through a crack in the wall, or perhaps a book. Books were my great solace, but even they could be difficult to read. Reading to the end of a sentence, I would forget how it started. Sometimes I would discover I had been staring at the same word for minutes, while my mind was out there exploring, perhaps the world of the story itself. Words would coil themselves and double into each other, making no sense. And yet, I had to read, because I had to KNOW what happened next. And that's what kept me from wallowing in misery. Other people, both on the page and of it were so perfect, so complete, that I couldn't help being fascinated by them. I couldn't be them, but I sure could know them. So that's what I did. 

As an adult, I still stray. Not all the time, just like a man with a cold does not sneeze all the time, but I have finally learned to order my mind into doing my bidding. It's a battle I even manage to win...sometimes. For those other times, especially during work where such things cannot be risked, there is the internet and a bevy of software to constantly remind me of things I need to do and help me focus. Yes, the internet, potentially the most distracting and time wasting phenomenon on planet earth, has turned out to be my savior. Not only have I learned  about this disease and ways to deal with it on the internet, but also found other people like me, with the same problems, the same frustrations, the same anger and self loathing for not being complete. For once, I can truly say I know how it feels, and mean it. I know how it feels when your best friend accuses you of not caring enough, or your boss screams at you for not remembering a simple instruction...again, or when you suddenly remember you needed to take the tablet four hours ago, and this is the seventh straight day you missed it. I know how it feels to be called a "drama queen" for taking a minor problem like "forgetfulness" so seriously. I know how it feels to be laughed at for "pretending" it's a disease. I know how it feels when parents and older relatives say "In our time, we didn't give these things fancy names. We called it what it was - disobedience, and the medicine was equally simple - the rod" Trust me, there are days when I would pray the rod would cure me, but it never did. It fucking never did.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Love Letter to Strangers


    I see you every day. On my way to office. On my way back home. When I look out the window of my room. Through the rain-streaked windshield of a taxi. Walking, running, arguing, laughing, crying, hurting, loving, praying, begging, living. I don't know you, but I wish I did. 

I have often wondered about the lives you lead. It could be very similar to mine, or so very different. Does someone wait for you at home? Or do you step across an empty threshold. Do you play with your son, make love to your husband or wife, or do you sink into a chair, battle weary, before digging yourself out to dine on whatever can be prepared with the least amount of effort? I have often wondered about things that are of no business to me, because I so desperately would like to know you. In this teeming city of millions I would like reach out and touch you, and feel how your lives vibrate. Do you yearn for tomorrow, or do you not want the night to end? What are your hopes, what are your dreams? What makes you get out of bed when you wake up in the morning? What drives you through the day? 

You know what I would love to do? I would love to talk to you. I would love to know your story, and don't tell me you don't have one, because I don't believe you. You are alive. You have lived. You have a story. You have tales of how you lost the ones you loved and met the one you are in love with. You have been a good son, or an angry rebel. Slowly, the world has tried to shape you, and you have sometimes struggled, and sometimes relented, until you have come to be the unique combination of qualities, personal traits and quirks and beliefs that make you, YOU. You have battled deadly enemies in the school playground, and suffered heartbreak and loss in college, you have suffered humiliation and tasted glory in your profession. You have looked into the eyes of your child and seen your dreams coming true. Or perhaps you have done none of those things. Perhaps you have faced all those situations, but they have been so different for you that you cannot conceive the emotions I have been describing. Either way, your life is what the epics are made of, and I would so very much like to know you.

Thank you for listening


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tooth Trouble

Ever since I was a wee boy I have held the wisdom tooth with a mixture of terror and awe. I would hear horror stories from adults (adults!! They were not supposed to feel any pain!!!), about how the sprouting of their wisdom teeth brought them to tears and made them beg for the sweet merciful release of death. I awaited the whole deal the way teenagers in Hollywood movies wait for Freddy Kruger or that masked guy from Scream - with sheer pants shitting terror. In fact, I attribute my complete inability to get laid during my teens and early twenties to fretting excessively about wisdom teeth. It is not sexy.

Aaaand then it happened. It throbbed for a few days and then presto! New tooth! And another. I was on a roll. I had perhaps the most painless sprouting of wisdom teeth in my immediate family and it was no doubt a result of their combined curses that I found myself, at the ripe old age of 28, in a dentist's chamber for the first time in my life.

See, what had happened was, my wisdom tooth (yep, THAT son of a bitch FINALLY fucked me over) decided to explode. Well, not explode exactly, but one morning I woke up to discover that my healthy tooth had suddenly crumbled in parts, revealing jagged edges that looked mildly uncomfortable and felt like something Vlad the Impaler could be proud of. Of course, I realised this required immediate medical attention without which it could become much, much worse, so I did the responsible, mature thing. I ignored it completely and hoped that unlike any other tooth in history, it would heal itself. Also, I hoped my wife wouldn't notice.

What it looked like

What it felt like

So yeah, three days later my wholesale response to any question was "AAAARRRGGGHHHHHHH". That was when my family began to suspect. The hunt was on for a dentist of some repute. The local guy was discarded when our maid said he wasn't very good. When a person with teeth the colour of sunflowers in spring say a dentist isn't up to the mark, you listen. She isn't choosy.

Anyway after a day or two of hunting and more pain, I was standing at the entrance to a dentist's office, looking into a room that resembled a sophisticated torture chamber more than anything else. Sure, the upholstery was a gentle blue, but it was a blue mixed with the tears of a thousand victims. I was apprehensive.

The wait was about a decade or so, every second of which the jagged edges of my teeth spent getting jaggedier and jaggedier. I entertained myself with murderous thoughts about mother nature. Upon receiving the call, I walked into the previously mentioned chamber and settled down on a comfortable reclining chair. The man turned out to be an extremely soft spoken individual with a budding bald pate and a polite little moustache that barely moved when he spoke

"What seems to be the problem?"

He nodded with understanding and shoved a tiny little bent mirror in my mouth. I made myself comfortable, thinking this was as bad as it was going to get. If you are at all a student of irony and foreshadowing, you will know this was not the case.

My first clue was when he picked up a tiny little drill with the easy, quiet confidence of a man who knows HE is not the one who was going to have a spinning, sharp, pointed instrument of condensed pain jabbed into the softest part of his body that did not involve genitalia. My second clue was when he actually DID shove the drill in my mouth, all the while saying in a soft voice "hold still, hold still and relax, hold still and relax and keep your mouth open", like one of those lunatic serial killers with a fetish for victims who hold still and relax.

"I would you fucking sadist, but I have a fucking drill shoved in my mouth!!!" was what I wanted to say. Unfortunately what I did say was "AAAAARRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!". It must have sounded like an encouragement, even a cheer, because he attacked my teeth and gums with renewed vigor. Upon seeing I was in considerable pain (maybe the tears streaming from my eyes tipped him off) he advised me to hold still, relax and keep my mouth open. I complied. After what seemed like centuries the whirring stopped. The drill was out of my mouth. I was instructed to empty the contents of my mouth in a basin next to the chair. After spitting out what seemed like Edward Cullen's breakfast, I was admonished gently for not spitting with better aim (some of the blood had streaked the edges of the basin). Resisting the urge to take the drill and stick it where it was never meant to be stuck, I meekly left the chair, took the prescription and walked out of the office, shaking with pain, humiliation and rage.

Which lasted all of 2 minutes, at which point I realised my teeth weren't jabbing into my skin anymore and it was greater comfort than a thousand soft pillows fluffed by a thousand soft hands. Seriously, if you are having tooth trouble, go visit a dentist ASAP. Worth it.

If you survive.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stock-Home Syndrome

A mother's love is unconditional. Usually.
Parents put their children ahead of themselves. Usually.
A father is a shelter, a port in a storm. Usually

But this blog is not about the parents. It's about the kids. Not those who are kids today, but those who were kids once. Who suffered...yes, suffered in the hands of their parents when they were growing up, not because their parents were evil people, but because they didn't know any better. If it happens outside, people call it assault. If it happens at home, people call it tough love.

Many of my friends have horror stories. One is about how his fathers whipped him with a belt for scoring less than 80 in maths. In his class 7 exams. There is a tinge of pride in my friend's voice when he recounts how the welts didn't disappear for weeks. Machismo. 'Cos that's what dads do.

Another friend once told me why she kept skipping classes every month. Her mother didn't allow her to get out of the bed when she had her periods. She was "unclean" after all. Mind it, we were both in college. The girl was effectively under house arrest for a week every month. Only allowed to go to the toilet, the rest of the time she was confined not even to her room, but in her bed. Month after month. Year after year. It was normal to her. A tinge of sadness, a bit of irritation, but normal.

These are not isolated stories. Many people I know have similar dark patches they try to blot out. I have mine. When the abuse isn't physical, its mental. Screams. Being locked away in dark rooms. Being treated like nobody. Humiliated because they cannot fight back. The only word for it is bullying. But it's not when the parents are doing it.

So many grow up to have terrible relationship with their parents. Those that don't have terrible relationships with their children, because they think bad parenting is the only way of parenting. Few have the courage to accept the truth - that their parents frequently screwed up. That parenting was the biggest test of their parents lives, and nobody really checked whether they were ready for it or not. A person isn't even allowed to be a security guard at an ATM without going through an interview and a background check. Yet he can be a parent, no questions asked. Creating a human being and nurturing him or her into a person somehow requires less skill and knowledge than sitting on a stool and blowing a whistle really hard.

The worst part is the expectations. Expectations that the parents know best. The unspoken rules that children don't have self-respect to bruise and parents don't have to say sorry. People who are barely 23,24,25 years old are somehow EXPECTED to know how to bring up a child. And because no one really corrects them, because no one really tells them "You're doing it wrong", few parents actually grow as parents. Even at 40, even with a teenage son, they still have the parenting skills of a 25-year-old. And the 15-year-old son rebels, like all teenagers do, but doesn't really LEARN any better. And when the time comes for him to become a parent, the vicious cycle continues. Even when the child knows what he is doing is wrong, he cannot change, because that would mean his parents were wrong. That is not something the Indian society allows us to believe.

So kids, even if you are a kid of 40 with parents in their 70's, accept that your parents made mistakes. Talk to them about your pain, your suffering, and how much it hurt that they never said sorry. Tell them that you can understand that they never meant to hurt you, but they made mistakes like every other human being does. It will be difficult. It will be difficult to say these words, and even more difficult to accept them yourself. But unless you do, you will be doing the same hurtful things to your children. You will make them suffer as you have suffered. And in the end, they will alienate you like you have alienated your own parents, in your own mind. I realize I am not talking to everyone out there. I don't care. I know you are out there. I know you cannot forget. You never will. Learn to forgive first, and then only can you forget.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: Sherlock (BBC Series)

When it comes to fictional sleuths - he's the holiest of the holy, the mightiest of the mighty, the guru of gurus. Don't fuck with the formula because if you do, a thousand rabid fans will descend on you with the combined malice of a million Moriartys and tear you limb to limb. Don't you dare touch the deerstalker hat, the pipe, the bumbling assistant and the 19th century London setting - lit by its flickering gas lamps and defined by its shadows. Sure, Guy Ritchie made an action movie and called it Sherlock Holmes, but even he didn't dare change the setting. It would take a brave man indeed to overhaul the whole formula and survive.

Well, apparently Stephen Moffat is a very brave man. And a very smart man. Not only has he updated Sherlock to a Blackberry-using, internet-surfing, comeback-spewing, trenchcoat-wearing dude, he's also got the purists eating out of his hand. Because everything that made Sherlock, well, Sherlock, is still right here. In his reinterpretation of Sherlock, Moffat has created a character who is modern, yes, but also quintessentially the Sherlock Holmes we know and love, only born a hundred years later.

The number of homages, even the small ones, this series pays to the original books is staggering. If you play a spot-the-reference drinking game with the episodes, let's just say you will be in no state to drive even at the end of the first one. Much like the books, the stories begin with Watson, a veteran of the Afghan War (the new one), who walks with a limp and a cane. Unable to afford a flat in London at his army pension, he is dejected and depressed until a friend leads him to a potential flatmate, and a potential residence at 221 B, Baker Street. Before the first three episodes are over over the duo will face a strange serial killer, an international gang of thieves and murders and finally, a man who is very, very familiar to even the most casual fan, the quintessential arch-enemy, the original supervillain, the...you get the point.

As for performances, Benedict Cumberbatch does a fantastic job as Sherlock. Although the speaks-really-fast-because-that's-what-geniuses-do shtick has been around forever(most recently employed by Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network), Cumberbatch is brilliantly successful at bringing out the OTHER aspects of the genius personality, the obsession, the frustration at everyone being slower than him, mingled with a healthy degree of arrogance and of course, single minded focus. This Sherlock "prefers to text" because that we he clearly isn't a big fan of two-way communication; everything bores him unless its a cracking good mystery. And of course, his values are somewhat skewed - he shamelessly exploits other people, uses their feelings to his advantage and proudly proclaims he feels no empathy for the victims of a gruesome serial killer because it would help his thought process. This is not how the old Sherlock behaved, but it makes perfect sense here and you know what? Maybe the old Watson glossed over a few unsavory details for a more genteel era.

Speaking of Watson, Martin Freeman plays him as a man who is initially in absolute awe of Holmes' skills, then angry and frustrated at his lack of consideration and empathy, and finally, grudgingly accepting of the man Sherlock is. However, this Watson is no bumbling fool, and certainly knows his way around a gun when the situation calls for it. Yes, he seems like a rank amateur around Sherlock Holmes, but then again, who doesn't? He is the perfect foil for Sherlock and the perfect "straight guy", the everyday bloke who hangs out with a genius. In short, he is all that Watson should be.

The mysteries are heavily derived from the old stories, but feature twists where internet, cell phones and GPS systems feature prominently, without seeming like they have been shoehorned in. After all, the old Sherlock used the latest technology of the day to solve his crimes, so why wouldn't this one? Even if you have just read the old stories, the new series is highly watchable, because it's not about knowing who the killer is, it's about seeing how Sherlock gets there ahead of everyone else.

PS: Anyone who feels Cumberbatch is too young to play Holmes(it's the hair) should definitely hang around for a while. Yes, initially even I had the same reservations, but the way the actor grows into the role is a thing to watch.

PPS: Another detective, a favorite of Bengali's, has been modernized for a series of films in recent years. While the films have been of uneven quality, the "modernization" aspect has been ham-handed at best and awful at worst. Mr. Sandip Ray, please watch this series over and over and over again to understand how you can completely overhaul old stories and yet retain their authentic flavour we all know and love.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rewarding the Heroes

Let's have some perspective here, shall we?

On 2nd April 20011, 11 men trotted into the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, accompanied by the roars of over 30,000 people. For the next 8 hours, they played their hearts out, against an opponent who had handed them one of their most humiliating World Cup defeats. In the face of incredible pressure, they not just survived, but thrived, and finally, in an emphatic gesture by their captain, won the biggest prize in cricket and brought home the world cup after 27 long years.

For their heroic display, members of the team were showered with accolades. Cash prizes, swanky cars and luxury villas were theirs for the taking. Scant hours after the final match, each player was richer by a few crores, and money was still pouring in. Here's the list, for those interested

Now let's take a look at another story
On May 22nd 2010, 85 fire department personnel rushed to the Mangalore airport. Air India Express IC 812 had crashed while trying to land, and was lying in a deep gorge. The air was thick with smoke, flames and the screams of the injured and the dying. For the next 5 days, these firemen battled the blaze, rescuing 6 people from certain death as well as digging out 158 dead bodies. It was the worst air crash in India in a decade. Karnataka CM BS Yedyurappa, after the customary site-vist and sad-head-wagging promised a suitable reward for the men in uniform.

Well, their reward is finally here. And it's a princely sum of ...Rs. 100 each. That too, a scant 11 months after the incident. The reward has been given by the Karnataka Government...the same government that has promised 25 lakh rupees for every member of India's world-cup winning squad.

is wrong with you people???

Apparently, the reward is because of some mysterious "rules" that State Fire Department Officials are not ready to divulge. But hey, them's the rules. Apparently the rules say nothing about adding drops to the pools of money our cricketers are swimming in, a la Uncle Scrooge. But somehow, people who fight disasters and save lives are suddenly bound by these rules.

Funny thing, I don't really feel angry at the politicians for doing this. Politics, after all, is one giant popularity contest. Like yesteryear's zamindars and today's rappers throwing money at hookers, politicians shower cricketers with wealth to share some of the spotlight. Couple that with the warm fuzzy feeling fans get when their rich idols become richer, and you have the perfect PR exercise.

But I am angry at those who are not enraged by this. Angry at the blind idolatry that allows such things to happen. Angry at the humiliation of real heroes, most of whom will not see the kind of money in their entire lifetimes that the cricketers earned in a day.

I have no beef with our cricketers, and I do believe sporting heroes should be honoured. But there is something very wrong with the example being set here. Something very wrong with the message that winning the world cup gets you more money than you ever dreamed of, but saving lives gets you a slap in the face dressed up as a reward.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Kolkata Snapshots (Photoblog)

Just some images from my gambols around office

Nothing more refreshing on a hot summer day

Sweet somethings

Doorway to Nowhere

O hai!!!

Camera shy

Capturing the frame

Fortunes told (with extra spice)

Going UP!!!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sculpting with Spices

The heat haze above the skillet makes everything shimmer. There are little bubbles in the oil as I lean over and slowly upturn the small bowl containing a mix of spices. They hit the oil with a sizzle, the wonderful aroma of cardamom, cinnamon of nutmeg wafts through the air. Slowly I add the onions and stir until they are golden brown. Its time for the meat.

People often tell me I love to cook because I love to eat. I call bullshit. I love cooking because of the same REASON I love to eat...I love food. I love the preparation of it, I love the chemistry of two flavors mixing together to create something better than the sum of their parts, I love the process of taking different ingredients and forming a homogeneous whole, but most of all I love the expression on people's faces when they eat what I have prepared. Like most artists, good or bad, I cook for the reactions. In fact, I eat the least when I cook, because I want to spread the flavours around as much as possible.

Above: One Day, mai bhi....

Is cooking an art? I believe so. Of course that doesn't make me an artist, just a scribbler awkwardly holding a pencil and hoping that the chicken scratchings in the back of his maths testbook will someday lead to an object of beauty and innovation. And while I don't consider myself to be anything more than the lowliest student of this art form, I know I can be good because I cook out of love. Love for the food, love for the fed but most of all, love of the joy of creation.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

God Loves My Country (Not what you think)

This song kinda explains why I'm an aethist.

"God Loves My Country"
by Balthrop, Alabama

And God loves my country
More than He loves yours.
He is pounding you with thunder,
He is blowing down your doors.
And your kingdom will fall
When His soldiers come to call,
Because God loves my country
More than He loves yours.

And you know that it's so,
He's on my side.
And he's ready to roll,
And he wants you to die.

And God loves my country,
I will clear a path for Him.
He is strengthening my shoulders
As I tear you limb from limb.
And the ceiling is falling
On your children as they sleep,
And the god who loves my country
Will not hear you when you weep.

And you know that it's so,
He's on my side.
And he's ready to roll,
And he wants you to die.

And God loves my country,
I will hang you from His cross.
He delivers me to victory,
He's handing you the lose.
And the nails in your arms
They are tearing through your flesh
And His sun is beating down on you
As you're bleeding to death.

And you know that it's so,
He's on my side.
And he's ready to roll,
And he wants you to die.

And you know that it's som
He's on my side.
And he's read to roll,
And He wants you to die.

And He wants you to die,
And He wants you to die,
And He wants you to die,
And He wants you to die.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Politically Correct Incorrectness

From Caves of Spiel
"Boss, I'm not one of those guys who can be politically correct. I just speak my mind." Faker words are rarely spoken. People who generally announce they are about to be politically incorrect are usually disappointing. Sure, they say things that are controversial and just plain rude, but they are usually careful enough not to say it in front of anyone who can DO anything about it.

This mania for politically correct political incorrectness has become a bane of existence. Of course, you need people to be politically incorrect. You need them to push the envelope, to walk the razor's edge, to plunge into the waters of serious discourse with nary a heed to their own safety. Problem is, very few actually do all those things. Least of those who announce they are about to be politically incorrect. Much like pimple creams, they promise much and deliver little. Also, much like pimple creams, they tend to be pasty and flaccid, but that's a whole different story.

Used to be, being politically incorrect used to mean something. Now it's become excuse to bitch, bitch, bitch. Bitch about how the prime minister of this country has no backbone, bitch about how the country is run by a "foreigner"(the fact that she holds an Indian passport and has been 'living' in this country longer than the moaners somehow making no difference), bitch about how removing Ganguly from the test/one-day/IPL/Ranji/district/gully team is going to have fearsome consequence for those responsive. Blatantly racist and jingoistic comments are paraded in the guise of political incorrectness when the speaker knows fully well those who he is railing against either (a) don't give a damn or (b) are too cowed and marginalized to say anything.

The value of political correctness has somehow been obfuscated by all this hot air blowing around. To be politically correct is to respect someone else's feelings (remember them?). To be politically correct is to maintain silence when words will only hurt, not heal, even though that joke you thought of was like, really funny. That does not mean jokes have to stop. That does not mean pain will silence humor. But who is entertained when a celebrity tweets a joke about the tsunami in Japan, when men are still fighting to save the country from nuclear disaster? The same ones who say Japan deserves what happened because of Pearl Harbour/It's not a Christian country, that's who. Who is entertained when someone tells a racist joke about a minority group too scared to hit back openly? People who would gladly watch that group burn, that's who. To be politically incorrect about those who are weak, those who are hurting is easy. True political incorrectness is what's missing. The courage to mock the strong, openly, at a forum where they will be affected and may lash out, that's what's missing.

I love humor and comedy. I worship the art of George Carlin and Jon Stewart. People like them have been politically incorrect when and where it matters. In spite of that I have made mistakes. Mocked people with words that weren't funny, just cruel. I have been guilty of spreading my arms in a martyr-like pose and saying "Hey, can't you take a joke?", not realizing that the jokes weren't any good to begin with. I have failed as a funnyman and as a human being. But I have tried to learn from them. I have understood that a joke that is about someone is truly successful and meaningful only if it can make the subject laugh. They rest is just gravy.

It's time we started being more politically correct when it is easier not to be so and politically incorrect when it actually made a difference. It's time we started using the very human desire to vent to some good use. It's time I stopped ranting about this and did something constructive.