In The Armchair

Sea Slugs and Resignations

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on February 23, 2013

Tabatha Southey hits the ball out of the stadium:

A team of Japanese scientists has announced the discovery of a sea slug that has a disposable penis.

Sea slugs are hermaphrodites.

Sea slugs mate with both sets of sex organs, concurrently. I imagine (reminding you that sin lies not in the desire, but only in acting upon that desire) that double-sex must be a pretty tempting proposition, one that could lead many a sea slug astray. Twice. And at the same time. Sea-slug Craigslist postings must be novella length. Questions abound: Does the involvement of four sex organs automatically make the most mundane Monday-night, post-“let’s-see-what’s-on-Netflix” sea-slug encounter an orgy?

More here.

How Much Did Enthiran Cost??

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on November 15, 2010

Enthiran, the Rajnikanth movie, was released to huge publicity and an incredible public reception.  In Boston, the initial ticket prices were double the usual movie ticket prices, and people still went.  They came down to normal around week three or four. That’s when I went and saw the movie.  It was an ok movie.  Somewhat silly in places, but it had its entertaining moments.

According to Wikipedia, Enthiran cost Indian rupee162 crore.  This is quite amazing to me.  Indian rupee162 crore equals $32.4 million.  In comparison, Jurassic Park cost $63 million in 1993 and The Matrix cost $63 million in 1999.  The special effects in Enthiran are pretty good, and somewhat innovative, but the amount of screen time they get is minuscule compared to the effects in Jurassic Park and the Matrix.  Plus, they’re far poorer in quality than —  not as as detailed or spectacular as — the effects in those films.  I presume the cost of CGI special effects has also declined.

According to the Indian Express, a major reason for the cost was the special effects which alone cost 40% of the entire budget.  Even accounting for inflation, I can’t understand why Enthiran cost so much. Did they simply get ripped off by the special-effects-wallahs?

Out of Ideas?

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 21, 2010

It’s pretty harsh to say that cheating and plagiarism is nowadays part of India’s core identity, but it’s true.  Institutionalized cheating in nearly every examination is just the tip of the iceberg.  Our newspaper reporters simply read various other newspapers to make up their report. Fashion fads are copied from the West.  Students will defend exam cheating in debates, and talk openly and boastfully about their cheating exploits.  But the most visible aspect of India’s xerox culture is plagiarism in visual media.  We copy most successful TV programmes from the West.  We copy music.  We copy storylines.  We shamelessly copy entire scenes, camera angles and all, even if you’re one of the biggest directors.  Bollywood takes plagiarism to new heights (and new lows).  See here for the tip of the iceberg.

But it’s not just India that’s running out of original ideas.  America is, too.  It’s not quite as bad in Hollywood.  They’re still trying pretty hard, putting out a variety of content.  But not much of the new content is hugely successful.  A really good new concept is a rare thing.  (The last one I can think of is Shrek.)  More and more, they’re turning to unoriginal content.  In Hollywood they don’t plagiarize — because that’s just a lawsuit waiting to happen.  Hollywood nowadays prefers to bring out sequels to existing movies, feeding off the success of the first installment.  They adapt bestselling books.  And comics.  Then they begin remaking old movies and TV series, crossing over from TV to the big screen and vice versa.  This trend seems to be on the rise.  In the last few years, we’ve seen the Batman movies, Phantom, Iron Man, Superman, Spider Man, Watchmen, Flash Gordon in the super-hero genre.  TV crossovers to the big screen include Star Trek and the A-Team.  Star Wars has gone to TV.  Harry Potter, Narnia, Lord of the Rings come from popular books. I’ve heard about ERB’s Barsoom series being turned into movies. The list goes on and on.

Could it be a function of the rising costs of doing business in a competitive entertainment industry?  Since incidental costs are high, it’s safer to bet on something tried, tested, and known to be widely popular than a new concept that might bomb completely.

“Charlie Bit Me!”

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on June 24, 2010

I just stumbled upon this YouTube meme.  It’s funny, but I don’t know why it’s SO popular…

The original:



Remade again:

In the news:

I can haz lolcatz?

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on May 11, 2010

Ha ha.

Ha ha.

Related memes: lolcat, 4chan.

Maikalal Jaikishan

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 31, 2009


The world is mourning the death of Michael Jackson. It is interesting to think what the man meant to different parts of the world. It became fashionable to scoff at his music, to portray those who listened to it as musically deficient. I say, who cares?

I had a couple of early encounters with Jackson’s music. The first, I think, was when I suddenly developed an interest in “Western music”. Back in 1985 or so, this was some mystical chaotic unmelodious music that the cool kids listened to; it didn’t have melody and the lyrics were impossible to decipher, but it did have a certain peppy spirit. I walked into a store that sold music cassettes and asked for “Western songs”. The first thing the guy pulled out was something called “The Best of Sentimental – Vol. I”. But it was only instrumental music, and I was wary of spending all the money I had on something that experimental. The next thing the guy showed me was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I had no idea what the hell it was, but it looked cool with Jackson in a white jacket on a black background; it was one of the best blind purchases I’ve ever made.

I encountered him again during a jamboree: they played the Thriller music video at night.  It scared the living daylights out of me; I couldn’t sleep for 2 weeks after that.  But still, I knew of every album he released, every new dance step he invented.  Not because I was particularly interested in his music or his dance.  I wasn’t.  But he just had a media presence.  Everything about him got reported.  He represented Western music in a way that no one else has, and I don’t think anyone else will.

We found a way to make Jackson our own; everybody knows that Mai ka lal Jaikishan was actually born in Bihar (or maybe UP) and only became famous in the USA.  For a couple of decades, I’m convinced that in India, Western music was Michael Jackson.  The same way that science fiction was Asimov, the action star was Amitabh Bachchan and photocopying was Xerox.  There just wasn’t anyone else.  (Yes, some people knew a little more about Western music, and are probably appalled that I’m revealing all this Indian ignorance that will rub off on them but unki to aisi-ki-taisi.)  When Jackson cancelled some of his India performances, I think Indians were more bitterly disappointed than anyone else would have been.

If only I could find that cassette!

Indian Films, DVDs, Quality and Piracy

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 18, 2009

FellowshipOfTheRing_posterI got an HDTV set a few months ago.  My first reaction was one of disappointment.  All the ordinary 480i definition channels looked quite bad.  They used to look good on my ancient CRT TV set.  It’s because of the fuzzy nature of the older set as well as the size: the HDTV not only makes the jaggies look bigger, its gridwise pixel layout (as opposed to the CRT’s nearly random phosphor dot coating) makes the errors stand out even more.  I prefer watching hi-def channels now.

When I tried to play a DVD for the first time on this new HDTV, I was a little apprehensive.  How would it look?  As it happens, I needn’t have been overly worried.  The movie I tried was The Fellowship of The Ring.  The LotR trilogy extended editions have exceptionally high picture quality, and what was more, my Blu-Ray player is a PS3 — which does a great job of upscaling the DVD to 1080p.  I could hardly notice any difference between the LotR DVD and hi-def TV (though Blu-Ray disc is, of course, at a completely different level).  I tried a couple of other DVDs and was generally pleased with the quality.

mahabharat All that changed when I popped in a DVD of B. R. Chopra’s Mahabharat, produced in India by Moserbaer.  The first disappointment was that it wasn’t widescreen, but that seemed only natural since it was produced for TV more than 15 years ago.  But once it started playing, I realized that something was horrendously wrong.  The picture quality was about the same as VCDs.  Every still has jaggies and pixelation.  There are two versions of the Mahabharat available (in June 2009): a VCD version, for about Rs. 1200 -1300, and this DVD version for about Rs. 3000.  It is amazing that those who produced the DVDs made such a poor transfer from film.

MissammaThis isn’t my first encounter with incredibly poor DVD quality in Indian films.  I have a very expensive (Rs. 500) DVD of the old Telugu film Missamma which is unwatchable, not because of jaggies or pixelation, but because the original print from which the movie was taken itself seems bad.  At first I assumed this was because the film was old, but that’s not a likely theory.  Films are ordinarily projected onto large cinema screens, which means they must have very high analog “resolution”.  I visited a friend’s house, and he had a pirated version of Missamma.  Amazingly, the quality is much better!!  There are other problems.  Some DVDs will say they have subtitles on the cover, but won’t have subtitles.  (Of course, if they do have subtitles these are a source of much amusement because of the quality of English.)  Many have scratches or encoding defects that make them completely unplayable.

To be fair to Moserbaer, I’ve watched other Indian films on their DVDs which had quite high quality.  I’ve heard that Indian studios deliberately produce low-quality versions of some of their films because the DVDs are invariably pirated.  That piracy occurs is indubitably true: nearly every Telugu movie released is immediately available online for free download in VCD (or better) quality.  With Hindi films this is not quite so common, but you can buy pirated Hindi DVDs for $1 in most Indian grocery stores in the US.  Indian movie producers and directors have lashed out against U.S. audiences in interviews.

piracyIt’s interesting to speculate on the reasons for this piracy.  Most of the downloadable piracy seems targeted at the US.  Here in the US, legal copies of Indian DVDs are hard to come by. They are also priced ridiculously high.  A DVD which costs about Rs. 200 in India may simply be outright unavailable, or available for $15 (about Rs. 750).  And then there are the quality issues: even if you paid the high price, you might be buying a dud or have subtitle issues.  Besides, you have to put up with several minutes of un-skippable advertisements and blurbs on DVDs you paid for!

It seems to me Indian movie producers are missing an opportunity here.  They need to work harder to ensure quality, and make sure legitimate versions are easily available for a good price in the US.  That might be enough to stem piracy.

3×3 Sliding Tile Puzzle

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on February 26, 2009


Resident Evil 4 has a Sliding Tile Puzzle, similar to the 15 Puzzle but 3×3 instead of 4×4.  There are several cookie-cutter solutions available online, such as this one, that assume a starting configuration.  But what do you do if the first thing you did when you came upon the puzzle was mess it all up?  What’s interesting about the 3×3 puzzle is that there’s a very simple solution starting with any configuration.  It can be solved using only 3 different moves:

  1. Clockwise movement of outer tiles:  If the empty square is on the outer ring, move the tile next to it into it so that the tile moves in clockwise direction.
  2. Moving a tile from the outer ring into the center (if the center is empty)
  3. Moving a tile from the center into the outer ring (if an edge square is empty)

The idea is to make the outer ring look like a clockwise-rotated version of the final solution.  This is done tile by tile, by inserting each piece in its correct position relative to the outer ring of tile.  Follow these steps: First, visualize what the outer ring (excluding the center) should look like.

  1. Pick any outer ring tile that is on the outer ring in your current configuration.  It doesn’t have to be in its final place.  Call it tile 1.
  2. Now, identify the tile that comes behind tile 1 clockwise in the outer ring in the final solution.  Call it tile 2.  We will try to correctly move tile 2 into the spot just behind tile 1.
  3. Get tile 2 into the center: if the center is not empty, empty the center by moving the center tile to the outer ring.  If tile 2 is in a corner, rotate the entire outer ring clockwise until it is not in a corner, then move tile 2 into the center.
  4. Now again rotate the entire outer ring so that tile 1 is in a corner and has a space just behind it in clockwise orientation.  Move tile 2 to the empty space.  Now tile 1 and tile 2 are in the right order.
  5. Tile 3 is the tile that comes after tile 1 and tile 2 in clockwise orientation in the final solution.
  6. Move tile 3 into the center.  If it’s in a corner, rotate the entire outer ring clockwise until it’s not in a corner and then move it into the center.
  7. Now rotate the entire outer ring clockwise until tile 2 is in a corner and there’s a space just behind tile 2 in clockwise orientation.
  8. Move tile 3 to the empty slot.
  9. Now repeat these steps for tile 4, tile 5 and so on.
  10. Once all the outer ring tiles are in place, move the center tile from the outer ring to the center.  Now rotate the outer ring clockwise until the puzzle is complete!

Slumdog Millionaire

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on November 22, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire is based on Vikas Swarup’s Q & A, a book I picked up at random from Landmark in Kolkata a few years ago.  The book had an great concept; the execution was passable.  I got the same feeling from the movie.

The story is about slum kid Jamal who grows up and gets on Who Wants to be a Millionaire (probably Kaun Banega Crorepati).  He gets all the answers right, which makes the police think he’s cheating.  They take him to the lockup, where he tells his life’s story and how he knew the answers to all those questions.

Slumdog Millionaire is not for those with weak hearts — or stomachs.  The violence is graphic and explicit.  You can almost feel someone’s head splitting open like a coconut when it’s hit with a club.  Mutilation and brutality abound.  The targets are often little kids.  The other side of the coin is the frofusion of filth.  The filth gets as graphic and explicit as it’s possible for filth to get, including one particularly cringe-inducing scene at the beginning of the movie.

What is the purpose of the glut of violence and filth in a movie like this?  The movie tries to depict the life of a slum-dweller.  The depiction of slums in India is not over the top.  Indeed, most Indians going about life’s business in big cities (even those not living in slums) have been in close proximity to slums very similar to those depicted in this movie, with their attendant filth, at some point.  I have walked on huge pipes surrounded by gigantic open sewers on occasion, and I was always middle class.  I was in a taxi that drove through small pukka roads carved out of landfill mountains on which slum-urchins were scavenging for bottles, plastic and paper.  The levels of violence we see in the movie are completely commonplace in that world.  The filth and violence simply serve to tell the audience where the protagonist comes from.

Still, I think the writer (or director?) carried the debasement a little too far with the “Amitabh Bachchan” stunt; it was gratuitous and absolutely unrealistic.  It just doesn’t seem like anyone, even a slum child, would do that.  Another slightly gratuitous scene is the Hindu mob, everybody’s favourite punching bag.  While violence of the type shown did happen, I think it happened at times of stress and tension when people were already scared.   Not out of the blue on a pleasant, sunny day without any provocation.  But perhaps I can explain this away: maybe that, from the kids’ perspective, it really was a normal sunny day.  It just didn’t seem that way.

Watching the movie, I almost felt it was Bollywood.  The grittiness, the angles: it had a Bollywood feel.  Not the “masala” Bollywood, but the more realistic style that has been catching on lately.  But interestingly for such an Indian-style movie, this movie is not made by Indians.  Sometimes I think that makes it have little details that are so commonplace to us Indians that we don’t notice them, like the sparking noise made by pantographs sparking as they pass over power line junctions.  Beaufoy and Boyle, the writer and director, did a great job, despite occasional glitches: there were a few times when I thought the movie seemed a little lost, as if the director was wondering, “What next? Should I do this or that?”.  But that’s just a minor foible.  One sequence I especially liked was the “TV gatherings” sequence, familiar to all Indians, where almost the entire country comes together at the same time through some shared interest to gawp at any TV available: at a neighbour’s house, at an electronics shop.  Rahman’s music sets the perfect tone.

On to the most glaring deficiency in the movie.  Somehow, they failed to explain how Jamal and his friends learned flawless English.  (Or was the English in this movie supposed to be Hindi really, translated for Western audiences?)  In the novel, this has a specific, plausible explanation.  The movie does away with this.  What’s grown-up Jamal doing that lets him dress so well?  He looks like a well-heeled yuppie with a rich dad.  No explanation.

The actors were great. I thought both Dev Patel and Freida Pinto seemed a little too genteel for their characters — they look like well groomed, privileged rich kids — but their acting was pretty plausible.  I especially liked the two “kid Jamals”.  Very believable, and their make-up was great.  They did have the ungroomed look of slum kids.  I am quickly becoming a fan of Tanay Chheda’s (who played middle Jamal) acting.  He was fantastic as Rajan Damodaran in Taare Zameen Par, and he did a fantastic job in this movie too.  Irfan Khan is dependable as always.  His character comes off as unsympathetic but not malicious.

The truebred Bollywood dance sequence at the end of the movie was just an excellent dessert.  Even though Dev Patel and Freida Pinto can’t dance.

Quantum of Solace

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on November 17, 2008

This is probably the worst Bond movie ever made. It’s so bad I’ll just rant.

It doesn’t even feel like a Bond movie. There were no “wow!” gadgets. There’s some cell-phone mumbo-jumbo and touch screens masquerading as cool gadgets, but we’ve seen these gadgets used to better effect even in TV programs.

There’s no romance. Craig’s Bond matter-of-factly sleeps with one bit-part girl. The main female is supposed to be interesting but is absolutely not. No interesting women, no chase, no Bond charm working its magic.

There’s absolutely no style: elan wasn’t written into Daniel Craig’s role. I think they were going for Jason Bourne more than James Bond. (Why would a Bond movie director do something like that?). Even the fights and rooftop chases seem copied from a Bourne movie. They end up with a weird cross between Bond and Bourne with neither the smooth style of the former nor the brutal effectiveness of the latter.

The villain is the weakest Bond villain I can remember. He has neither menace nor humour, neither style nor strength. He’s a pushover whose strength supposedly derives from the organization he represents. So maybe the organization is the real villain. Except that the organization plays almost no role in the movie; we’re just told (repeatedly, often) that it is a Very Menacing Organization. It’s like Aliens with no aliens, just an actor who keeps repeating “the aliens are very scary”.

Let’s talk about the chase scenes. The mandatory chases are there, but they are the most uninteresting chase scenes I’ve ever seen. Daniel Craig doesn’t look worried during the scenes. This happens in some other Bond movies, but Craig looks like he just wants to be done with shooting the scenes. Chase scenes should have some creativity; I think any random man-on-the-street could have scripted these scenes in 15 minutes. Utterly boring.

Finally, this film has absolutely no highlights. I’m finding it hard to think of a single thing that was unique or impressed me in any way whatsoever. A single piece of dialogue, a brilliant scene, a novel stunt — I’m coming up with nothing. That’s how bad this film was.

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Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on November 7, 2008

fasionIt’s unusual to see a realistic portrait of a human being disintegrating mentally in and Indian film. It’s been done a few times, for example in Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Maara starring Anupam Kher. Fashion is a movie where this is done with two different people.

Fashion is a movie that depicts the highs and lows achieved by the people in the modeling and fashion industry. It’s a film that portrays various aspects of its primary topic. The glitter is in evidence but it’s just a mood-setter in this movie, a thinly brushed-on veneer of glamour-paint. Most of the movie is about the weaknesses of the human character: the arrogance that comes with easy success, the meanness and lack of strength exposed when success turns to failure. It’s hard to find a single cliche in this movie. There are many movies that show people descending to low levels because of a mental sickness; this movie shows what being in an industry like the fashion industry can do to healthy, normal minds. The movie often makes the viewer think about what’s going on.

The unfortunate thing is this happens only in parts of the movie. Although the topics and writing are great and handled well, I found the movie gripping only in parts. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but some parts are just a tad too bland to grasp attention. This could’ve been a great movie, but it ended up being merely good.

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The Triplets of Belleville

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

It’s rare that I enjoy an animated film this much, but The Triplets of Belleville is a beautifully directed, drawn and animated film that really drew me in. It’s an odd story, about a very capable grandmother who trains her grandson for the Tour de France. The grandson is kidnapped, and the grandmother sets out to rescue him with their dog, meeting the weird triplets of Belleville along the way.

The art was one of the things I really liked about this movie. It isn’t just animated like a cartoon; each frame looks like real art. Another one of my favourite things was the dog’s personality: everything about it is very dog-like and, to one who knows dogs, recognizable.

Beautiful film, heartily recommended!

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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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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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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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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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