In The Armchair

I Love Evince!

Posted in Computers by Armchair Guy on July 31, 2008

Evince, the Gnome document viewer under Ubuntu 7.10 and up, is simply a great piece of software. It has some simple features which enhance its usefulness for academic work.

Incremental search instead of boring-old-search make evince my favourite viewer for almost any type of document it supports.

The extra feature I use most often is “Open a Copy” in the File menu. This opens up another instance of evince displaying the same file, very useful when you need several different pages of the document open at the same time.

Another useful related feature is, if you click using the middle button while following a PDF link, the link opens up in a new window (just like in Firefox). That way you don’t lose the original page.

Of course, evince could be made better. Here’s my wish-list:

  1. Add a cycle-through-bookmarks feature for the cases when I want quick browsing in one window instead of many
  2. Add an “Open a Copy” toolbar button
  3. The version of evince I’m using on Ubuntu 7.10 doesn’t work at all with the print server CUPS; maybe this is already fixed in the newer versions
  4. DVI files are blurred (or maybe over-antialiased)
  5. We need browser-style back and forward buttons in addition to the page back and page forward buttons, so we can follow links more easily
  6. Would be nice to be able to place two arbitrary (not just adjacent) pages side-by-side.
  7. Alternatively, allow left-right split window with synchronized scrolling made possible (i.e. scrolling one scrolls the other by the same amount)
  8. Add a “search for full word only” option to the incremental search
  9. More when I think of it!
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Whizzytex on Ubuntu 7.10

Posted in Computers by Armchair Guy on July 28, 2008

Whizzytex is a pretty nifty application that updates a compiled TeX pane in real-time as you type into emacs. Under Ubuntu 7.10 it comes as a package in the repositories.

With my installation (on a Thinkpad t61) I’ve had an annoying problem: every few seconds, emacs will freeze completely for a 1-5 seconds (presumably doing a slice compilation or some such thing for whizzytex). This can happen right in the middle of a yank, and it can happen ten times a minute.

Here’s my solution, though I can’t explain why it works: put the line

(setq whizzy-load-factor 10)

in your .emacs file. The problem still occurs but very occasionally (once in 5-6 minutes, which I can live with). Whizzy is a lot more responsive now as well.

There is one downside: this really increases processor usage. My laptop runs hot and the battery doesn’t last long when I have the load factor set high this way.

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Observation/Rant #003

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 27, 2008

The Era of Godfathers

It’s interesting how gangsters and mafias have taken over significant portions of the film industry.

Ten years ago that comment would have meant something different: gangsters were financing films in a big way back then. That has changed, partially thanks to the official classification of the Bombay film industry as an industry, which makes film financing through regular means easier.

What I mean here is gangster films: movies that have Bombay-style mafias and gangsters as a central plot element. I don’t quite know which movie started the trend: early ones include Parinda, Satya and Company. I think of Satya as the one that started the trend, though Parinda was an earlier film. The trend migrated from Bombay to the Telugu film industry. At least, I think that’s the direction it went although Ram Gopal Varma – director of Satya – started off in Hyderabad.

I view this genre as separate from other movies which feature outlaws in central roles, such as Robin Hood-themed films. The gangster genre usually has a remarkably uniform depiction of gangster organizations. There’s an all-powerful ganglord surrounded by subservient subordinates at various layered levels. There are a few trusted lieutenants, some people below them, and the rank and file. Some films within this genre depict the gangsters as fundamentally honourable people, others depict them as lacking any sense of ethics, so perhaps you could divide it into sub-genres.

What’s amazing is the number of films featuring such organizational setups, both in Bombay and Hyderabad.

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Okkadunnadu

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 26, 2008

Or, another one bites the dust.

Chandra Sekhar Yeleti was, to me, the Golden Boy of Telugu cinema. Along with Sekhar Kammula, he looked like one of the few who bring a semblance of sanity to Telugu movies, with good plotting and realistic direction. Aithe was a great story, and although it had flaws (I didn’t think it was polished enough and hated the poorly spoken Telugu, and the acting was lacklustre), I thought it pointed to good things ahead. Then I saw Anukokunda Oka Roju, and I was sold on Yeleti. That movie was so perfect I could hardly find a flaw with it.

So it was that I looked forward to watching Okkadunnadu with a great deal of interest. I was hoping for something that was an improvement on Aithe, or even (though unlikely) on Anukokunda Oka Roju. When the movie first started, I thought I’d hit the mother lode. The first 30 minutes or so are excellent, with a tightly told explanation of the story’s basic premises and central problem. Having set me up with expectations of a blissful couple of hours, Yeleti then proceeded to demolish all of my hopes.

The first signs of trouble started with the Matrix-inspired wire-fu sequences when Kiran (Gopichand’s character) escapes from the hospital. Soon, he was single-handedly wiping a hospital drug-storage godown with 40+ goons. (When he hits a goon, the goon flies and lands a minimum of 20 feet away.) That could’ve stopped there, and the movie might still have been good – but that was not to be. Kiran solves all the problems he faces in this movie in this most direct fashion – by wire-fu-ing unbelievable hordes of thugs. There’s nothing else to the movie. The rest of the story is this: Kiran single-handedly bashes up Bombay’s most notorious don’s entire gang. He does so without any guile, either; simply walks into their midst and beats them all to a pulp.

What’s so sad about all of this is that Yeleti obviously has the ability to direct great movies. Perhaps it was the lukewarm box-office performance of his earlier films that prompted him to turn this potentially good movie into a no-holds-barred masala hotchpotch. It’s really too bad.

In short: stop watching this movie after the first 30 minutes. You’ll be left burning with curiosity, but perhaps unslaked curiosity is better than what you’ll see if you keep watching!

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Observation/Rant #002

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 25, 2008

The Age of Strained Accents

I don’t think anybody can have missed it, but most of the top lead actresses in the Telugu film industry aren’t Telugu any more. Shriya, Kamalini, Genelia, Ileana, Charmy, Kajal, Tabu (who could be an exception since she’s from Hyderabad), Sonali Bendre, Trisha – they’re from everywhere but Andhra. A few lead actors (Siddharth Narayan for example) are from out-of-state but most are Telugu.

Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with non-Telugu people acting in the Telugu industry. If out-of-state actors have talent they are bound to be an asset to the industry, raising acting standards and contributing in various other professional and cultural ways. And I think that the current crop of actors and actresses have really contributed in a big way. If anything, I think there should be even more out-of-state actors in the Telugu industry. But one thing that does happen is we get to hear Telugu spoken with really odd accents. Voices are dubbed in many cases, but not always – and then we get to hear some annoyingly tamasha Telugu.

Now I love local Telugu accents and dialects as much as any one – they’re interesting and keep things real. But these aren’t local accents; they’re just poorly spoken Telugu that happens when Telugu is written in Devanagari or Tamil or whatever and the actors try to read it without any experience with the language. And there just doesn’t seem any sign that directors care; even Sekhar Kammula’s films have some really weird diction. I still have hopes for Chandra Sekhar Yeleti (of Anukokunda Oka Roju fame); if he keeps making movies with the kind of attention to detail we see in that movie, he’d probably take care to avoid bad accents.

Hindi Movies to Avoid

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 24, 2008

Here are some bad Hindi movies that I had the misfortune to watch. A 1-star rating means that I would unwatch this movie if I could. A 2-star rating means it’s still pretty bad, but (depending on your tolerance level) you won’t feel like you’ve been tortured mentally after watching it.

  1. Hyderabad Blues 2 (2 star).Silly and aimless but not horrible.
  2. Bombay to Bangkok (1 star). Why would Kukunoor do this to his own reputation?
  3. Heyy Babyy (1 star). Akshay Kumar had a few good movies, but seems to be picking only bad ones nowadays.
  4. U, Me aur Hum (1 star). Tries to be meaningful and talk about Alzheimer’s disease, but is mostly just obnoxiously bad Bollywood masala. Should’ve known as soon as I saw the atrocious Hinglish title.
  5. Kisna (2 stars). At least there’s some rope Mallakhamb to watch.
  6. Kites (1 star). The worst thing about this movie is how seriously it takes itself.  Loads of unintentional comedy — but not worth watching.
  7. Dabangg (1 star).  Incoherent, disjointed and generally hard to watch.
  8. Guzaarish (2 stars). Typical Bhansali stuff — self-indulgent, pedantic, un-creative, weirdly monochrome, and resorts to cheap tricks to get audience sympathy. (Black was just as bad.)
  9. F.A.L.T.U. (2 stars). Apart from being a blatant rip-off of Accepted, it’s got no flow, events seem to happen without any reason, and it’s not funny.
  10. Student of the Year (1 star).  This movie was so bad I had to walk out midway, in spite of going with extremely low expectations (seeing as it was directed by Karan Johar).
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Hindi Movies to Watch

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 24, 2008

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of Hindi movies I enjoyed, in no particular order (so far). Most of them are recent, meaning post-1995; I’ve marked older movies. Movies I’ve written about are linked. I might add star ratings and sort them in some order later, and will keep adding good movies that I watch.

  1. Dor
  2. Pinjar
  3. Iqbal
  4. Taare Zameen Par
  5. Chuk De India
  6. Johnny Gaddar
  7. Om Shanti Om
  8. Awara (pre-1995)
  9. Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na
  10. Dharm
  11. Manorama: Six Feet Under
  12. 3 Deewarein
  13. No Smoking
  14. Water
  15. Earth
  16. Hyderabad Blues
  17. The Blue Umbrella
  18. Taxi No. 9211
  19. Swades
  20. Bheja Fry
  21. Main, Meri Patni, aur Woh
  22. Dдsvidдniyд
  23. Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi
  24. Dil Dosti Etc.
  25. Peepli Live.  This movie has art, soul and humour.  Excellent stuff!
  26. Ishqiya
  27. No One Killed Jessica
  28. Dhobhi Ghat
  29. Dhoondte Reh Jaaoge
  30. Band Baaja Baraat.  At first this movie seemed as bad as the droves of typical Hindi movies that come out all over, but the leads are excellent actors and it manages to be fun.
  31. Delhi Belly.  Everybody said this movie was “different”.  I didn’t think it was different, but it was a pretty good movie.
  32. Aarakshan. Amitabh wants kids to find the “universe” of a matrix using elementary operations, and the ending is silly, but this movie is by and large excellent.  I really liked the use of percussion in the soundtrack.
  33. English Vinglish.  Beautifully done.  I knew there was a good reason I liked Sridevi back in the day.
  34. Bhaag Milkha, Bhaag.  Finally, a Bollywood sports movie where it actually looks like the actor is a sportsman.
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Pinjar

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 24, 2008


Pinjar, starring Urmila Matondkar in perhaps her most significant role, suffers occasionally from some low production values and spotty direction. But the subject the movie deals with is so stirring that this doesn’t matter after you’ve seen the film. Form and beauty and technical perfection are just side-factors for this film; its main subject matter is powerful enough to keep the viewer fascinated with horror and distaste for hours after the film ends.

The film’s theme is isolation. Its atmospheric fear stems from the society’s pervasive oppression, and rejection, of women. Identifying with Puro (Urmila’s character), the viewer slowly becomes aware of the level of isolation a woman was (and still is) subject to in traditional “honour”-oriented societies with a tribal social structure which regard women as property. The Partition of India, which led to some of the worst civic atrocities of the 20th century, enhances and completes the isolation. Puro’s sense of being stranded alone among aliens drives the emotional charge of this movie.

Set in 1946, just before Partition, the film is about Puro, the eldest daughter of a Punjabi Hindu family, spending her time with her mother, sisters and a doting brother whom she is particularly close to. Puro’s life is a picture of perfect family bliss until her father brings his family to their native village to settle her marriage. Unknown to Puro, her ancestors, who had been dominant in the village two generations ago, visited atrocities on the Muslims two generations ago. Times have changed now: Muslims are dominant in the village and are thirsting for some payback. This sets Puro up for a horrifying ordeal: she is abducted by a Muslim man, Rashid (Manoj Bajpai), and slowly loses all hope of being reunited with her family (or indeed anyone from Hindu society).

Manoj Bajpai was consummate as Rashid; I find it surprising the Bollywood doesn’t use him more. Urmila did a good job with Puro. With most of the other actors I had a vague sense that they were a little wooden. But I hardly noticed this; it is just a vague impression in the back of my mind, which was almost completely absorbed by the events that were depicted. This is a movie where it is hard to separate the quality of performances from the subject matter. The same is true for the sets and realization of the surroundings; some of them looked inauthentic, like stage sets. The music in this movie was atrocious, and songs burst out of nowhere in the most incongrous Bollywood style possible. The entire first half-hour was over-developed and forgettable. But the story was so absorbing that all of this didn’t matter.

To me, Pinjar was very educational about an alien aspect of North Indian (and Pakistani) culture. I once spoke with an expert on South Asia who gave me a convincing explanation for women-as-property attitude. Historically, for warring tribes that needed constant supplies of warriors, women were valuable as child-bearing instruments; so valuable that it was acceptable to abduct women for their child-bearing potential. These attitudes persist in some regions of Northern India and Pakistan even today; stories about abduction of Hindu women in Pakistan still appear from time to time in newspapers. (Presumably the same attitudes ossified and later included atrocities such as honour killings.) Pinjar depicts the extent to which such abductions had become part of the culture: everyone is depicted as being complicit in the abductions; entire villages colluded to hide abductees from government authorities. Paradoxically, the abducted women are not treated unkindly; they are in fact encouraged to integrate and lead “productive” lives. The unkindness is restricted to the abduction.

There are a few other aspects of the movie worth mentioning, such as Rashid’s reluctance: he doesn’t want to abduct Puro, but his family’s “honour” demands it. Bajpai captures Rashid’s conflicted personality well. The various depictions of other atrocities during the times of partition, such as the large scale killings, also stand out. Two scenes in particular come to mind. The first is the palpable tension when Ramchand (Sanjay Suri), Puro’s erstwhile fiancee, runs from a frenzied mob after Partition is announced in 1947. The other is the sense of utter helplessness when Lajjo (Sandali Sinha), Ramchand’s sister, is abducted right in front of him from a supposedly secure police-protected refugee camp. There’s one scene where Puro meets her parents after being abducted; it was probably the strongest scene but for some reason struck me in a surreal rather than visceral way. The movie does have moments of reconciliation as well towards the end, but in some ways they were as disturbing as the rest of the film. In Stockholm-syndrome-esque ending, Puro reveals the extent to which she is tied emotionally to her new life with Rashid. Even though I know this is what really happened with scores of Hindu abductees, it is still hard for me as a viewer to accept or believe at an emotional level.

Pinjar should not be watched for its film-making brilliance (it’s got too many flaws) or its entertainment value (those elements are seriously inferior in this film). It should be watched to get a small sense for the terrors experienced by people and abductees and their families during Partition.

Observation/Rant #001

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 21, 2008

The Land of the Moustachioed Men

Watching Telugu movies, one comes to the incongruous conclusion that Telugu men are quite fond of their moustaches. Just as Japan is the Land of the Rising Sun and the USA is the Land of the Free, I think Andhra Pradesh deserves its own epithet. Join me in applauding the Land of the Mustachioed Men.

A conversation with the typical Telugu male confirms the hypothesis that moustaches are dear to the male Telugu heart. “Are you not a man?” I’ve heard some ask. “Moustaches are the mark of men.” You’ve got to applaud the few male Telugu actors who dare to appear without one. Most of them compensate by sporting an unkempt 2-3 day stubble at several points in the movie, presumably to convince the Telugu viewer that they are indeed worthy of respect as a fellow man.

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Iqbal

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 20, 2008

This is yet another brilliant offering from Nagesh Kukunoor. Like a good chef, he takes a simple recipe and executes it perfectly with good ingredients to produce a great result. The actors and technical departments are top-quality, the story is original and refreshingly simple, and the direction is perfect.

Iqbal is the story of a deaf-mute village boy, born at the moment of India’s 1983 Cricket World Cup triumph (or perhaps when Kapil Dev won the semi-final match against Zimbabwe almost single-handedly). Iqbal has an innate but unschooled talent for cricket. The story is about his struggles to learn the game overcoming his own physical limitations, his father’s restrictions, and the political intricacies of cricket academies; and whether he can triumph over the many obstacles that come in his way.

The film excels in its immersive realization of the its environment. The setting of the film is that of a village somewhere in India, where Iqbal spends his days tending his father’s buffaloes. The story-telling in this movie and its pacing are in harmony with the simplicity of the environment. It is a very textural movie. You can almost feel the grass under your feet when Iqbal gets ready to bowl. The dull thud you hear when Iqbal drives his makeshift tree-branch stumps into the ground almost convinces you you can smell the sap. You can almost smell the haystack on which Iqbal’s mentor Mohit (played by Naseeruddin Shah) wakes up after a night of drunkenness. When Iqbal first walked into Mohit’s shadowy ancestral British-era haveli, I could almost feel the dank coolness inside. I’ve never seen a small-town cricket training academy or stadium, but after watching this movie, I imagine I have a feel for what they must be like.

This is one of those rare films where many different actors get a lot of screen time. Shreyas Talpade as the title character Iqbal dominates the screen for most of the time, of course, but the other actors’ characters are all very well-developed as well. Shweta Prasad excels in the role of Khadija (Iqbal’s sister). Naseeruddin is superb as Mohit; you can almost feel his drunken character’s hangover each morning. Girish Karnad gives a balanced performance as the political Guruji, capturing the character’s ambiguous morality. Prateeksha Lonkar and Yateen Karyekar are perfect as Iqbal’s parents. But the star is, of course, Shreyas Talpade. Talpade seems to work with Kukunoor a lot, and it seems like one of those win-win professional relationships. This movie really showcases how fine an actor Talpade really is. It’s hard to describe it all, but there’s no single place in this movie where what he does looks the least bit unusual. His look of mild incomprehension at conversations he can’t hear, his moments of elation, perplexity, gloom and his usual neutral good cheer, Talpade does them all, neither underdoing nor overdoing them.

And now for my pet peeve with Indian sports movies: again, this movie fails to showcase the sport it is based on. This movie may have captured the spirit of the cricket institutions themselves. But I would have loved to see some insane inswingers or yorkers. I wanted to see Iqbal scalp Kamal’s (Adarsh Balakrishna) wicket with a ball so good that I’d burst out in spontaneous applause. These could have been bowled by a mainstream bowler and sliced in with Talpade’s action. To Talpade’s credit, he has a pretty reasonable bowling action. But the ball trajectories are played down a bit and they are nothing to write home about. In this context, I am reminded of the excellent football movie Goal starring Pele and Sly Stallone. I’d like to see a movie with that kind of reverence for the technical game itself.

This is not the kind of film that induces extreme emotional responses. It is low-key, not designed for one-a-minute thrills, maudlin emotional blows or cringe-inducing evil. Even the worst character in the movie (Guruji) is simply political, not evil or malevolent or even particularly antagonistic towards Iqbal. This movie treats its subject matter with respect. But that doesn’t mean it’s dry or fails to connect with the viewer. It’s highly enjoyable, realistic cinema.

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Telugu Cinema: Variety Entertainment

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 13, 2008

Pursuant to my rant about maturity in Telugu films, I’ve come to a realization about the Telugu film industry. Calling most Telugu movies a “Film” or the industry “Cinema” is not consistent with the way the term is normally used in other film industries.

Usually a film refers to a coherent piece of work, an invention that is internally uniform and distinguishable from other pieces of work in its ethos, not just because it is on the same physical tape or disc. The story, plot, screenplay, cinematography, or a combination of these and other elements serve to give it a distinct character. You can’t take a piece of one film and put it into a different film and have it make sense in the new context.

Movies in the Hindi and Telugu film industries often aim at a different ideal. When people from abroad stare in amazement at Indian cinema and wonder why there is a song-and-dance sequence all of a sudden, what they are missing is this: an Indian film is essentially variety entertainment. This kind of entertainment has been popular traditionally in India for centuries; a troupe of entertainers traveling from town to town putting on stage shows, with music, dance, acrobatics, a bit of drama, clowns and buffoonery, all thrown in.

The Indian movie is often a simple migration of this centuries-old motif to a different medium. The plot or story, if anything, only serves to hold the audience’s interest and to give the movie a natural ending. The main offering is the song-and-dance routines, the music, the fights. Indeed, many Telugu movies are reviewed this way: not holistically, but as separate departments: songs, fights, comedy, dialogues, photography. A review might read: “Dialogues in this film are very good. First half has non-stop comedy. Fights by Peter Hynes are excellent. Photography is terrific. Dancing by hero and heroine is very well choreographed. The hero’s style is terrific, he lives up to his image of Prince Charming with his mesmerizing looks (sic). The heroine is in her element with traditional costumes and cute mannerisms.” And so on. “She is sensuality personified,” says one review about the lead actress in a movie.Her wardrobe in this film includes dresses ranging from traditional sarees to mini skirts.” Hmm.

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Telugu Movies to Avoid

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 13, 2008

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is as important to document bad movies as good. I often forget that I’ve watched a movie before, or forget what my reaction to a particular movie was. This post will help keep things organized. It will have Telugu movies which I would rate 1 or 2 stars (out of 5). 1 star means I hated this film and it was an effort to sit through it; 2 stars means I could sit through it but disliked it. I guess I’ll keep adding films as I come across them.

Of course, these are to be contrasted to my post on good Telugu movies.

I recognize that many of these movies will be very popular ones. Nevertheless, these are poor movies. Hackneyed, shark-jumping plotting (or a total lack or a plot), cringe-inducing humour and dialogue, and lead actors who take their own shenanigans too seriously are the main problems with most of these movies.

These star ratings are not on the same scale as the ratings on the “movies to watch” page. The worst movie on that page is better than any of these.

  1. Classmates. (2 stars)
  2. Athadu. (2 stars)
  3. Boys. (2 stars) Starts off interesting (albeit crude), about adolescent boys, but turns into a hackneyed love story after a bit.
  4. Stalin. (1 star) Way too Rajnikant-ish for my taste.
  5. Jalsa. (2 stars)
  6. Nuvve Nuvve. (2 stars) The girl liked the guy because he sprayed cheap perfume on her. It also subscribes to a common Indian movie mantra: to impress the girl, treat her real badly. ‘Nuff said.
  7. Pokiri. (2 stars) Full of bloody, senseless violence.
  8. Okkadunnadu. (2 stars) I really wish I could’ve put this in the “movies to watch” list, it had great promise. See brief review.
  9. Nuvvostanante Nenoddantana. (2 stars) Incoherent film with trumped-up situations, bad over the top acting and a ridiculous plot.  Horrible.  But this movie was a huge success — my tastes don’t match most Telugu audiences’.

More as I watch.

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Johnny Gaddar

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 13, 2008

johnny gaddar
There’s been a spate of new movies coming my way lately. What’s surprising is many of them are good. After Dor, Manorama Six Feet Under and Dharm, I got my hands on Johnny Gaddar.

Soon after watching the movie, I re-read Jabberwock’s brief review of that movie, and checked out director Sriram Raghavan’s Rediff slide show on his inspirations for the film. (I’m guessing this film isn’t inspired in the usual Bollywood sense of lifting scene ideas directly from other films; to put it pompously, it pays homage to those films.) I must say I Sriram Raghavan sounds very learned on films; I hadn’t even heard of 8 out of the 10 films he cites. So, unfortunately, I might be missing out on several homage elements and similarities that I could otherwise have drawn. I’m not too upset about this, because I enjoyed the film tremendously for what it is.

Johnny Gaddar is the story of five crooks who are about to pull off some sort of deal brokered by a corrupt policeman; the deal isn’t made clear but it doesn’t matter to the film. They have to invest 50 lakhs each and are supposed to get back 100 lakhs after the deal. The five have a sort of “coalition dharma”: they’re in it together. But one of them plots to decamp alone with all of the money as well as the wife of one of the others, with whom he is having an affair.

I was struck by how carefully thought out the plot was. The plot is the weak point in most Indian movies. It usually lacks innovation, or if it has innovation, lacks coherence. On the rare occasions when it has both, there are still many other ways for the filmmaker to mess things up: Johnny Gaddar has a great (though uncomplicated) plot and manages to keep all the other things together as well. The sequence of events is carefully thought out, and though some discussions online point to seeming inconsistencies, I didn’t agree with those discussions and wasn’t able to find any inconsistencies of my own.

Building on the foundation of a good plot, Raghavan handles the various turns and characters deftly. He avoids some common pitfalls such as pacing or detail erraticism. The film moves along at a good clip, and the pace doesn’t flag disappointingly anywhere. As well, the level of detail is consistent throughout the film; unlike so many other directors, Raghavan doesn’t get tired and take shortcuts in some chunks of the movie. This doesn’t mean the level of detail is exactly the same throughout the film; that would just be boring. Rather, detail is added when a certain emotional effect is sought, but not arbitrarily reduced. The viewer is kept engaged right until the end.

Apropos of which, the ending is a grouch that I often have on many Indian (and even foreign) films. If the sequels to The Matrix had displayed any signs of above-invertebrate intelligence, the world would be a different place today. If Anurag Kashyap hadn’t gone berserk in the second half of No Smoking, we’d have a true modern masterpiece to boast of in Hindi cinema. I think this inability to think through a great ending is a natural human failing: it’s easier to create a mystery (which just requires you to think up something out of the ordinary) than to solve it satisfyingly (which requires you to logically reconcile that extraordinary invention with the ordinary). Even Arthur C. Clarke came up against this wall when he tried to write sequels to Rendezvous with Rama. Raghavan, of course, isn’t quite as ambitious in this film; nevertheless it doesn’t diminish the satisfying ending he was able to create. What struck me was that you know what’s going to happen, but the suspense stays with you until the director chooses to reveal it, to the very second. You don’t guess it a minute before, 10 seconds before or even a nanosecond before Raghavan tells you about it.

The tone of the film is dark, in keeping with the incidents in its plot; but visually it runs the gamut from traditional noir chiaroscuro to bright bubblegum tones. One thing I was really impressed with was Raghavan’s ability to create a mood. It reminded me of Anurag Kashyap’s evocative visual brilliance in No Smoking. Johnny Gaddar isn’t quite as superlatively evocative, but it’s halfway there, and its medium is screen movement rather than visual style per se. Two memorable scenes are the train scene where elements that every Indian is familiar with are brushed onto the viewer’s senses: the peculiar carriage movement of the Indian train, the flashes of light and dark out the window, the small railway platforms quickly passed, the sudden rushing onset of bridge trusses and other trains. Many movies have this scene, but the elements picked out in this movie are best-of-class. An excellent demonstration of Raghavan’s abilities is the tension created by the approach of the ticket collector during the train sequence. Another scene is the apartment search by Zakir Hussain’s character (identified by Jabberwock). Again, it is a scene familiar through firsthand experience for most of us viewers: the frustration of futilely searching for something you know must be there, the racking of brains to think of another place it might be, the brief flare of hope when a previously overlooked spot is identified, and the crashing despair of a dashed hope.

Now while this film has many things going for it, it is a low key film. “Exciting” would be a wrong word to use, though “gripping” is right. In other words, while you feel with the protagonist, it doesn’t evoke emotional highs from the viewer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I’m just trying to explain what type of movie it is.

The performances by the entire cast are very competent. Dharmendra seems to have drawn a lot of flak online for his dialogue delivery and his English, but I actually thought his way of talking was pretty natural. The interestingly named Neil Mukesh, in his first film, does a great job of depicting both his fear and determination.

Overall, it’s one of those films I would put in the “must watch” category.

Dor

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 12, 2008


Nagesh Kukunoor is an interesting director. He has made some very relevant and beautifully directed movies, like his debut Hyderabad Blues and the tight and complex 3 Deewarein. But he has also directed some absolute disasters like the forgettable Hyderabad Blues 2 and the truly odious Bombay to Bangkok, upon watching which you wonder how it could possibly be the same director. Luckily Dor falls unequivocally in the first category.

Dor is a story of two women, Meera (Ayesha Takia) and Zeenat (Gul Panag), whose lives and outlooks are opposites, though not quite diametrical. Meera lives in a stark desert landscape of sun-bleached sands in Rajasthan while Zeenat lives in a lush green mountain town in Himachal Pradesh. Meera is the bahu of a traditional Hindu family, constrained to live austerely under a ghoonghat serving her in-laws. Zeenat is a progessive, independent, forward looking Muslim woman, living in a house of her own, dismissive of her in-laws’ misgivings about her. While Meera is childlike and young at heart, Zeenat is worldly-wise and mature for her age. There is no conflict between Meera and her in-laws, but they view her almost as property. Zeenat has a conflicted relationship with her in-laws, but they come to love and respect her.

Meera’s and Zeenat’s fates become intertwined when their husbands set off for Saudi Arabia in search of better financial prospects; an incident there has Zeenat traveling across the country to find Meera. The relationship between the two women and secret conflict underlying that relationship form the basis for the rest of the movie.

This movie is all about connecting with the viewer emotionally, but it is hard to summarize its emotional tone in a sentence. Kukunoor handles the various changes, from bliss to tragedy, and the various moments of joy and despair, deftly. The pall that is cast over the two women is lifted occasionally in various bursts of joy, with some comic relief mixed in. The underlying tension and unhappiness disappear and reappear intermittently throughout the movie, but return poignantly towards the end. A major focus of the movie is the problems faced by women in overly traditional settings, and it manages to convey these travails to the viewer very well.

The completeness of the movie is quite impressive. It grabs your interest and doesn’t let go. The pacing is a bit uneven, but this doesn’t diminish the viewing experience much. The cinematography is great and serves to both emphasize the beauty of and the differences between the two types of landscape in the film. Both the lead actresses, as well as the supporting cast do excellent jobs; the only lacklustre performance in this movie is that of Kukunoor himself in his cameo role as a businessman. Gul Panag does well in picking meaningful roles and is a good actress. Ayesha Takia does very well in her role as Meera. A minor grouch that I had was with the casting: while their acting was great, neither Gul Panag nor Ayesha Takia were quite able to capture the rustic personalities required of their characters. Takia is just a tad too glamorous; Panag is just a bit too assertive. Shreyas Talpade is adequate in his role as a thief-turned-good-samaritan.

I would categorize this as a must-watch movie: it has a message, is a study of certain situations, and at the same time manages to be entertaining.

Manorama Six Feet Under

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 10, 2008


Falling vaguely between a Western and a moody detective thriller (those in the know call it ‘Noir’), Manorama Six Feet Under is a gripping and suspenseful movie. It is the story of a struggling writer/bureaucrat named Satyaveer (played by Abhay Deol) who meets a woman named Manorama, who gives him a mysterious message and then disappears. Satyaveer spends most of the movie trying to figure out what was going on and getting involved in crime, politics, and much more than he bargained for.

Abhay Deol seems to make better movie choices than his cousins Sunny and Bobby (another memorable one was his role in Ahista Ahista). Unfortunately, the intelligence of these roles is in inverse proportion to the performance of his movies at the box office. I hope he doesn’t get scared off doing good movies. He carries off his role in this movie quite well, that of a jaded government servant bored by everything in his life. The dryness of his life mirrors that of the desert. Gul Panag, who plays his wife in this movie, is very good as well — although her personality is a little too strong for the role she plays. She doesn’t quite fit the small-town housewife mould. The director managed to extract a pretty good performance from all of the other actors as well; there isn’t a bad performance in this film.

Manorama is an atmospheric movie, mirroring the dry, slow, soporific desert in which the story is set. The movie does a great job of holding its suspense right until the end. The main problem, as I see it, is with the ending itself. A good mystery unravels in front of the audience like a multiply-wrapped gift as the movie progresses. But Manorama fails in this: while a few tidbits are thrown at the audience throughout the movie, the main mystery is simply explained verbally by Satyaveer at the end.

Nevertheless, the bad ending and sedate pace don’t diminish this film much. It is a gripping, highly watchable, well-directed thriller.

Telugu Movie Reviews

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 9, 2008

Here are sites that do Telugu movie reviews:

  1. http://www.idlebrain.com/movie/archive/

    The reviews aren’t very uniform, not always informative, and I disagree with many of them. But the site seems comprehensive for recent movies.

  2. http://www.cinegoer.com/reviews/The reviews on this one are as uneven as those on Idlebrain; again, it has most recent releases. Careful with this site; it includes extreme spoilers. It reveals not just general plot elements, but the final solution to a suspense or mystery. (Think “the butler did it”.)
  3. http://www.telugucinema.com/c/publish/cat_index_33.phpThis site seems to have better reviews than the previous ones. They still have the style peculiar to Telugu movie reviews: divided up into “Analysis”, “Cast”, “Performances”, and other peculiar categories. The writing is still average. But at least they seem to recognize a hackneyed plot when they see it. A very interesting feature: they list Hollywood movies that inspired each movie!
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Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 9, 2008


Watched this movie at the local ‘plex yesterday. Jaane Tu… is the story of two friends, just friends, very close friends, who decide to help each other find the ideal partner after graduating from college. The movie is supposed to be post-college, but it’s actually reminiscent of the Freddie Prince Jr. type high-school comedies that come out of Hollywood. The flavour of the movie is romantic, escapist fun, and it succeeds very well. It’s set in and around Bombay: an airbrushed, extra colourful, attractive Bombay, with attractive, chic people. The humour throughout the movie is nice. You laugh because situations are funny, not because the actors are going out of their way to make fools of themselves. The jokes occur naturally at various points in the movie. There’s a lot of romance, and the good-looking, positive-attitude cast draw you in. The flashback narrative style jars occasionally, with focus shifting between the people who are telling the story and the dramatization of the story itself — but it’s not too bad.

The story does need some suspension of analytics. The events, characters and settings are recognizable rip-offs from various Hollywood movies; there’s very little innovation going on here. But the director does a great job of blending the elements together: within the universe of the movie, the elements are natural and not jarring. One thing that really struck me was Imran Khan’s Freddie Prince Jr. act — his clothes, hair, behaviour, everything seemed to be a copy! And what’s with the wimpy guy KOing a 2nd degree black belt?

Still, nothing is too over the top, and you can immerse yourself in this movie for a good couple of hours of fun, without cringing at some unself-conscious, unintended directorial gaffe like in many other similarly targetted movies.

Dharm

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 1, 2008


I just watched a very interesting and thoughtful film, “Dharm”, directed by Bhavna Talwar and starring Pankaj Kapoor as an orthodox pundit in Varanasi. He is forced to re-examine his orthodoxy as a result of the incidents in the film. The movie is great – nice cinematography, great acting and direction.

I first heard of the film when Talwar filed suit against the board selecting India’s entry to the foreign film category in the Oscars, for passing over Dharm and choosing Eklavya instead. Having watched both films, one can see why. Dharm certainly had a better chance than Eklavya of winning that award. There is really no comparison: Dharm is a good film, Eklavya is an embarrassment to watch.

One thing that struck me about the character played by Pankaj Kapoor is his resemblance to the central character in the Telugu film “Shankarabharanam”. The stern visage, the absoluteness of belief and action, the act of lighting an aarti in his palm — are all echoes of J. V. Somayajulu’s role in Shankarabharanam. I wonder whether Talwar – and Pankaj Kapoor as well – was influenced by that film?