Sunday, October 26, 2014

half entertainer

Palace of Illusions, Angela's Ashes, Eat Pray Love, Bhima, the Lone Warrior...such are the books I have been reading for quite sometime now. So when I received Half Girlfriend as a birthday present, I was rather pleased. Ah! Something different, I thought.

So one not so fine day, feeling down and low, I thought I'd treat myself to something light and easy. I started reading it. I started smiling. I even giggled. Wow! its been ages since I actually giggled, that too while reading a book. So I proceeded bravely with this happy-happy feeling lingering in my head.

As it might be general knowledge by now, Half-girlfriend is the love story of a boy from Bihar. The backdrop in the first half of the book is the prestigious St Stephen's College, Delhi and the second half is Bihar. The narrative goes back and forth tracing the life of the protagonist, Manav Jha. A boy from a small town called Dumraon in Bihar gets into St Stephen's College in Delhi through the Sports quota. Does Manav's first love blossom? Does his life change? Answers to these questions go on to form the rest of the story.

So what are the characters like?

Manav Jha: Its nice to see a protagonist come with his own flaws and weaknesses. There have been many such memorable characters in literature but there is something in them that makes you overlook or justify their weaknesses. But it is not the case here. Also there is no noticeable growth in the character graph at all.  I shudder to imagine that Chetan Bhagat is somehow trying to generalise the behaviour of small town guys through the almost uncouth, unthinking actions of Manav Jha and even his friends. Manav seems to have just one motive all through his life. The Bill Gates situation is just a coincidence that he reluctantly takes part in. At one point after his graduation, his decision rises our expectations of him, but then nothing we expect happens. He just seems to be an overgrown teenager at the end of it all. So when he goes and achieves his 'dream' towards the end of the story, I couldn't help but think, "Oh? Did he have to cross continents and run 6 kilometers in the snow for THIS?".

Riya Somani. A shallow character, who doesn't do anything to the psyche of the reader. If there was an intention to weave a web of enigma around this character, the attempt falls flat I must say. Those diary entries also don't help her in any way.

The Somanis, the mother aka, Maharani, Rohan...all a bunch of stereotypes, something Chetan Bhagat has never freed his novels of.

The first half of the book has this fuzzy feel-good factor to it. I couldn't help but smile at the small funny observations. The Titan Watch ad couple, the biscuits...and many more. But then one starts tiring of it all. I almost felt irritated with the characters, the erratic movement of the story and ultimately with Chetan Bhagat himself. I am sucker for romance and all mushy stuff on earth but sorry mate, not this time.

The storyline looks very promising through the middle of the story but it lets you down terribly. I feel Chetan Bhagat had a rock solid premise on which he could build on something new and inspiring. I, in fact expected a Swades type of inspiration and purpose at a point.The feeling that one comes across is either that of a lazy author or an over-confident one, rushing to complete a Bollywood film script. We already know this book is ready to be made into a film and I actually found myself thinking about the cast. And Mr Bhagat has conveniently cast himself into it too.

It's a known fact that no one reads Chetan Bhagat for the literary value but I couldn't help notice several editorial errors in the book. A serious flaw in the narration I felt was that the editor ought to have decided clearly who the narrator should be. When the book starts off, the Chetan Bhagat is the narrator. Then the story takes on a flashback mode and the protagonist becomes the narrator. Once the flashback mode is over, Chetan Bhagat and Manav Jha take turns to narrate incidents in the first person. This tool can be extremely strenuous for the reader. Chetan Bhagat ought to be a little more considerate towards his readers especially since he thinks people can improve their spoken English by reading his books (I am not saying it, CB says it himself through Riya Somani.). The editors have also been overlooked a gross repetition of many expressions, one of them being "What?" so commonly used by youngsters today in various intonations to convey so many things. But we don't expect it from an established writer. He can't be running out of words? I am sorry but I had to pause reading the book at a point to check if I was reading the original edition or a pirated one because the basic rules of margins and page numbering are broken in many places. Alright, I am nitpicking now.

Yet, I would say that Half Girlfriend is one hell of a wasted opportunity. I will be last person to say a film or a book needs to carry a message. They work great as just pieces of art too. But  Half Girlfriend has neither style nor substance.

Read it if only you are die-hard Chetan Bhagat fan.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Extra Notes

Courtesy:ebay





This song came to my mind like a bolt from the blue. It must have been at least 14-15 years since I last heard this song. It was never even featured in any film though it was included in the Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin album. A very romantic Ghazal with lovely Urdu(?) lyrics. 

I'm surprised that after all these years, I somehow remembered every note of this song. Strange! (I wish I remembered my 9-times Table this well ;))



I am sure it happens even now, but in 90s there were often extra songs in a Movie Album. These songs were perhaps composed for the film but never got used. For some reason, I used to look forward to these extra songs. One such song was Dil Ka Aalam in the Aashiqui album. Many years later, this song somehow got made into a music video, perhaps for MTV.  

The cassette companies would tout these extra songs as BONUS (think startbursts on the cassette covers). 

Interestingly, two such songs, one in Tezaab and the other in Dil became so popular that they were added to the films after  their release. 

tezaab

Amitabh ko bulaao to jaane - Tezaab - can't find the video but someone has posted the lyrics here! http://www.hindilyrics.net/lyrics/of-Tumko%20Ham%20Dilbar%20Kyun%20Maane.html

Aaj na Chodunga tujhe - Dil - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NZ1eNGZSGY

Coming back to Aashiqui, I've always felt strange about the song Tu Meri Zindagi Hai in Aashiqui. This beautiful song probably couldn't find a place in the film, yet Mahesh Bhatt must have been so in love with this song that he put it anyway. That explains the silly and illogical picturisation of the song.  

Closer home in the south, there was this song called Kinnerasani Vacchindhamma, which was originally part of the Saagara Sangamam album. It was just a few lines but a very catchy number. But it never got used in the film. However, a few year later, Vamsi, who was K Vishwanath's assistant used a full version of this song for another film of his, Sitara

I understand that most film music composers have independent compositions in their kitty that they take out in case of emergencies. I would love to delve deeper into such trivia sometime. Any inputs on this topic are welcome. 


Monday, September 15, 2014

Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaya

I had written this in March 2010 for mouthshut.com . Stumbled across it today.
Vinnaithandi Varuvaya Movie

I got to watch a love story after ages and man! what a love story it was! 
Not the sugary DDLJ type and not the tragic Titanic style. This is truly something else! 
I found myself crying in most portions of the movie - not sure if it was for the music, the lyrics, the dialogue or the story itself. I think it is the beautiful amalgamation of all these elements that moved me. 
This is a simple plot about a boy madly in love with this pretty lass who is just not able to make up her mind. When I say "simple" perhaps I am using the wrong word because it is really not that simple. We've only heard stories about love stories having a happy ending or a sad one. But no one really paused to talk about what goes on in the minds of either of the lovers - except perhaps those who have actually experienced it. Quite complicated and very interesting actually - two lovers of such contrasting natures. 
Gautam Vasudev Menon (GVM) seems to have understood the psyche of a woman really, really well - I'm tempted to think if this story is autobiographical. What else can explain so much intensity? Gautam Menon comes across not only as a sensitive writer but a very intelligent film-maker in the way he has played around not only with the script but our minds.I am actually angry with him for making the movie so close to reality but that's the most endearing thing about the movie. Every situation, every character, most dialogues are so true to life. Particularly a few situations like when Karthik (Simbu) is working hard in Goa and is unable to take Jesse's calls. Then those SMSes that they send each other (right from the train scene until the end)...I'm sure everyone has sent or received such messages at some point! Even the swear words that Karthik uses - so natural for a guy as frustrated as him. Most of all, atleast 1 in 10 women can identify with Jesse and her angst. The place when they are in a restaurant and she begs him for them to be just friends because its so much more easier....that is the anxiety of any woman who doesn't want to lose a dear person in her life but at the same time be rid of the guilt of hurting others. I loved the parts when Karthik's friend, Ganesh is worried about the immediate practical problems but all Karthik can think of is his girl, with a sparkle in his eye (making us smile, shake our heads and say, this guy is a goner!!) 
All through the movie, the director grips you by the heart-strings and leads you along. Don't even mention the sudden twist at the end...it was too much for a die hard romantic like me to take! 
GVM has taken a bold step in casting Silambarasan (Simbu) and he has done a great job in turning a rather brash, uncouth often vulgar street kid into this cute, lovable boy-next-door with honest dreams and aspirations. Any girl would fall for such a boy! Can you believe it? I have actually started thinking he is really cute and simple. Finally, he looks and behaves his age. I really wish he packs off his vague scripts and obeys the directions of people like GVM, Maniratnam and the like. But he still needs to work on his diction - though his English is okay, his Tamil is slightly jarring to the ear.Trisha....lucky girl. She has more to do that just look pretty. One solid role only after Nuvvosthey Ne Oddhantana (telugu - Santhosh Subramaniam in Tamil) and Abhiyum Naanum. The southern film industry can take pride in the number of (honestly) woman-centric themes compared to the Hindi film industry. So Trisha, you've made money. Now is the time to make a Name!! :) 
The music of the movie? I have to write a separate article about it!! If we thought Harris Jayaraj and GVM had a great understanding of each other's thoughts, AR Rahman and GVM have too much of it. GVM must be a great communicator and ARR is blessed with a deep insight into the director's mind. The songs and the background score are too good. Thinking back, I think it is the background score that moved me to tears in many parts. And Omana Penney...how much I cried...and it was out of excitement...the situation, the way it leads to the song, the hope created and most of all the song itself. What a song - there's no limit to how creative our darling ARR can get. And then Aaromale - wow! so apt to trace Karthik's development into a mature filmmaker from a love-lorn boy. 
Gautam Vasudev Menon, a great movie and a big hug to you for making it! Just a little thing, please, we don't want to see the group dancers the next time. You have your fans and we will watch your movies even without those dance(r)s - you don't need them anymore. You still retain the freshness and charm of Minnale but we expect you to dispense with the group dancing ritual. And God knows about your New York fixation! Please globe trot a bit and take us along with you just like you take us with you on your sentimental journeys!


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Anjaan - (only for) the fearless

Anjaan in Tamil means fearless. This totally applies to me.







Well, when I first saw the poster of this film, I told myself "Don't even bother." Something that looks like a Kohli-village setting, with Kohli fisherfolk, a boat, Samantha inappropriately dressed (so unlike her) and Surya (my darling once upon a time) also looking like a fish out of water (pardon the pun). Yet, I went and watched the film. The doing of my desperation and greed. It had been so long since I watched a film on big screen. And this was also a chance to check out the new multiplex, Luxe at the Phoenix Mall.

Right. Greed it was. And I went. Actually Anjaan also means the 'unknown' in Hindi. I made a mental picture of Run and Sandai Kozhi and assured myself it might not that bad after all. Alas! I didn't know!

**Spoliers ahead.** (Ha, ha! The word 'spoliers' makes me laugh. How can you spoil something that's already spoiled?) Anyway, the story is this. A dreaded gangster, avenges his friend's and his own death. That's it. That's all it to it.

There's a very poignant and symbolic scene where a taxi driver shows his car full of smiley stickers and says the stickers are there just to hide all the bullet marks on the car. If the movie were the car the bullet marks would be the cliches it has been fired with. Sadly, there are no smiley stickers to cover-up the cliches in this case.

Here are just a few:
1. The location of the story. Mumbai. Where else? Come on, its a gangster movie. There are no gangsters anywhere else in the world. Those that have a housing problem, sometimes shift to Pudupet in Chennai. The wealthier ones (that is, those that afford Ray-Bans) go to Malaysia.

2. The name of the main Gagster..er...sorry Gangster. Suresh, Ramesh, chey no. All of them have only two names. Either Raju Bhai or Salim Bhai. Our hero's name is Raju Bhai. Oh, but the directors of Anjaan couldn't decide until the end if they should call him Raju Bhai or Raju Bai. The LOL moment is when Raju's girlfriend tattooes his name on her arm as 'Raju Bai'. Why would any girl tattoo her boyfriend's name with the suffix Bhai on her arm? Either she wants to change her status from girlfriend to Rakhi sister or it must have been a typo on part of the tattoo artist, who was instructed to write 'Raju Bye-Bye'. Oh whatever!

3. Just like good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, there are good gangsters and bad gangsters. The bad ones walk about in suits or better still Tuxedos, maroon bow tie and all that. And yes, they have always been in the business of importing gold biscuits and/or sparkling diamonds neatly tied up in maroon velvet pouches. (I would love to watch a movie where they deal with Gluco Biscuits and Cadbury's Gems for a change.)

4. As always, there is a very loyal man. Yes, he is Muslim and what does her wear but a kurta with a checkered scarf around his shoulders? Not to forget the grey beard. And his introduction scene. How else can a Muslim character be introduced in our movies? Long shot of a Mosque. Zoom to the interiors of the Mosque. Seen from behind, a man sincerely praying. Slowly move to his left and close-up on this devout expression and freeze. (I'm sure there was this greyish mark on his forehead. I just didn't notice.)

5. The revenge plot itself is so cliched. You actually know what's going to happen next.

This is a real conversation between two young viewers, one aged 7 and the other aged 6.
(Some 30 minutes after the film begins, around the same time that the interest in popcorn and Pepsi begins to wane) Girl 1: When will the songs come?
Girl 2: Only when girls come. See there are only boys so far.
(With this statement, the Girl 2 had summed up the entire Indian film industry in a nut shell.)

During the second half of the film, there is a Burkha-clad girl hovering around the hero.
Girl 2: Hey that is Samantha! I know, I saw her red nail polish!
(This is supposed to be a suspense point in the story. Yawn!)

The story-telling is THAT predictable. I have never really 'liked' Rajini's Baasha but compared to this, it atleast had some conviction.

It is so obvious that the producers have every idea of selling this movie all over the country. It has more than a dozen actors from Hindi films. Manoj Bajpai. The first scene he is shown, I wondered why he looks so sickly and pale. By the end of the film, the regret of being a part of this hotch-potch is quite evident on his face. The scene he dies must have been his favorite scene. Apart from him there are a dozen talented Hindi actors in this film. Why they agreed to do such dim witted roles, is a mystery? And, there is even Bramhanandam, perhaps in the worst role of his career. And none of them have even bothered to lip-sync in Tamil. Each of them is merrily speaking a language he is most comfortable in. But the dubbing is in Tamil. Not only the plethora of actors from other languages, there are Teugu songs and Hindi songs playing at every point, each of which is pointless and superfluous. It is so obvious that the director is trying to a nation-wide 'reach'.

Music. What music? The only song that kind of stays with you is that oddly titled Bang-Bang song, which is again a rehash of Billa but still.... The rest of the score, terrible. I believe Surya has sung one song himself. I don't know, because by then I was checking my FB account. The only question I want to ask Yuvan S R is, "WHY? WHAT'S HAPPENING TO YOU?"

The female-lead / heroine. The lesser said the better. That is what seems to be the catch phrase. 'Less is more' (at least where their costumes are concerned).

You might ask if there is any at all that is good at all about the movie. Yes, Surya. Great looks and talent wasted. Apart from looking super suave, he leaves a gentle reminder of the actor he was and the respect I had for him. And then Vidyut Jamwal. He looks fantastic. You feel sad for him. He plays a side-kick to the T. Poor guy is even made shake a leg for Lungi dance. Man, he is so uncomfortable in that scene and for some reason he is constantly looking at the camera. Even Television actors know that they shouldn't do that!

When I watched the film I decided not to write about it. Not worth my time and effort. But even two weeks since I've watched it, if the film is troubling me, the reason is ANGER. It angers me that directors so grossly dumb down the audience. I am no film expert, but I can definitely make out the difference when I see a director/writer/producer taking an effort and failing and when there is absolutely no effort, thinking that nobody will mind. I can never stand a writer who belittles the audience. I'm sorry but I take it very personally. It angers me that an actor like Surya can do something like this. Yes, who doesn't need money? Haven't Kamal Hassan and Amitabh Bachchan  had their share of Masala films too (can anyone ever forget Maharaasan and Shahenshah?) but their good work over rides all of that. Thing is, these actors, including Surya are sincere in anything they do, if only they choose the better of the bad films they are offered.

At least I hope better discretion prevails and I avoid watching such films in the future.

PS: And the theater Luxe? I would say in Tamil, "Lux(e) aa? Lifebuoy alavukku kooda illa." (Loosely translated: What about Lux(e)? Its not even as good as Lifebuoy!)
Oh, BTW, the Girl 2 happens to be my Junior!




Monday, August 04, 2014

Re-runs

I've been dying to go to the theaters and catch a good new movie. But then I realised there aren't any good ones to watch. So this weekend was a re-run weekend.

I watched Delhi-6 AGAIN
I watched Sindhu Bhairavi AGAIN
I watched Enthiran AGAIN

Three wonderful films. Each from a completely different genre. But all of them bound by one common factor. Amazing music. 

Saturday, August 02, 2014

'Krishna Consciousness!'

Courtesy: http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/1020/1511/1600/12Krishna.jpg
While I am stuck at the crossroads of a spiritual quest, wondering which way to go, my 6 year-old's conviction often stumps me.
She has 'Krishna' etched in her mind so strongly that I sometimes wonder how she developed the idea. Yes, her mother was quite spiritually oriented and even religious till the child was say, 2-3 years old but then, that's about it. The little girl's Krishna Consciousness (if I may use that term) is so deep that she gives her thoughts his ('His'?) name. Whenever she wants to tell us about something important running in her mind, she will begin by saying , "Krishna says.....".
She asks him for ideas when she is unable to take decisions. She recommends him to solve her Mamma's problems. If she wants it to rain, she asks him for it. If thunder and lightning bother her, she scolds him for it.

These days, he has become more of an invisible secret friend that most children her age have. She sometimes even fights with him. She says she is older than him. She tells me about how Krishna worries her and his mother by always picking fights with demons. So this morning when she got a little rude and nasty about him to me, I asked her, "Is okay to talk about him that way? Isn't he God?" She coolly answered (I quote) "Yes, but he has asked me to treat him like a friend." 

Simple and yet profound.

They say Gurus may come in any form and shape and size. I will only be too happy to be led by a tiny but strong hand.

Since we are talking about Krishna, I want to tell you this. Very strangely among hundreds of books at a book exhibition, I spotted this book. It stood there calling out to me. It is as if the book was written just for her. It is also the prettiest book I've seen in a long time. It talks about how Krishna is with the child during the day, at night and even in the child's dreams. Titled Krishna Loves You, this makes a beautiful bed-time read, gently lulling the child to sleep with a smile on his/her lips.  

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thoughts on fashion

There just a thin strap between casual dressing and careless dressing. (In an office setting)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Aagadhu...aagadhu

SPB's voice has been ringing in my head for the past 2 days, now that the submission date for my book has got really, really close. The difference is that SPB is passionately singing (with full emotion and dramatics) about deathlines and I am thinking of deadlines. (Don't bother watching the entire video, I wouldn't want to gross you out.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwOmjfZO3rQ

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cinema Wishlist

My day started with gratitude for a good Samaritan reminding me about 'not forgetting my passions' this morning. As I was reading the paper in the same grateful mood, I read a tiny article about Kamal Hassan's plan to play the lead in the Tamil version of Drishyam. My reaction was a loud "WOW!". Man! I love Kamal. I love films in general! Right at that moment, this wishlist started generating in my head one after the other, just like flight information board in an airport. I want to put it down before I forget.

1. I don't want to see Kamal Hassan in K S Ravikumar films (at least for sometime to come).
2. I want to see Rajinikant only in Shankar's films (the exception being a Balki film - just one, for the thrills). 
3. I want to see Surya in an Imtiyaz Ali film.
4. I want to see Dhanush in a Gautam Menon film (without any of the 'suffering' or 'the anger' - in any form)
5. I want to see Ajith in a Gautam Menon or a Balki film (or even a Maniratnam film - now please don't judge MR. He's basically an artist and he's had his good days.)
6. I don't want to see Ranvir Singh in any film.
7. I want Shruti Hassan to go back to singing.
8. I want to see the leading ladies in GOOD films, flaunting only powerful performances and nothing else.
9. I want to see the ladies in Tamil-Telugu films take up strong leads and to stop being just a pretty tree on the Alps.
10. I want to watch a solid good film this weekend. I'm famished.

Update May 2015: I want to see Rajini in a solid role like the ones Amitabh Bacchan does in Hindi!




Sunday, June 22, 2014

Europa! (Part Three) - Paris - Adventure, Exploration Unlimited

Paris is still fresh in our memory. The reason is that it was the last stop before we got back home. But by the end of the fifth day there, we almost owned it. There was a sense of familiarity-we felt so at home. The first day was as if we were thrown to an alien land our eyes blindfolded and our mouths scotch-taped. But by the last day, we felt we were leaving, only to be coming back soon. Gare du Nord, Chatelet Les Halles, Porte d'Italie, Chalet, Tolbiac...the names we had never even heard before, now keep ringing in our ears, bringing 'nostalgic' smiles on our faces.

So, we were in Paris for 4 nights and 5 days. The first 2 hours were almost 'traumatic'. With all our luggage, we confidently strode into the Metro from the Charles de Gaul Airport, thinking, all we need to do was just hop on and hop off to get to the hotel. But that was not it. If managing the luggage was hard enough, we had to change trains. No elevators. Only stairs. And a few escalators. While the hubby and junior managed, I found myself bumping, bungling my way through the escalators (I have a bit of a 'escalophobia' yes, that's the word for my fear of escalators). Hubby helped me with most of the luggage but even a handbag and a backpack felt like a thousand tonnes. The second station went miles and miles and miles. Hundreds of strange new faces around us, confidently zipping their way through the station. A zillion thoughts in my head, "oh, am I in the way of these people?", "what will they think of me?" "what will they think of Indians?" And finally the big question amid copious tears, "why are we even here? we should have gone back home from Zurich."
The trains stop at each Metro for just about 3 seconds before a scary sounding  beep would go off and the doors would close. So we were cautious, ready and quickly got off at our station, Place d'Italie. Now how do we get to the hotel? As we were standing there and figuring out the maps, avoiding eye-contact with the flower-seller who first tried to sell his flowers, then kept staring at us and then repeatedly asked us where we wanted to go. We somehow got out of the dark dungeons of the underground metro and saw day-light (yes there was still some light at 9 pm). We tried figuring our way ourselves - ignorant people are the best victims of con men, you see. We did ask a few people too. No con men luckily but most of them didn't know where Hotel IBIS was or the address or English. There was even a very drunk couple (around 60-70 yrs old!) trying to help us. After 30 minutes of search, a very sweet family who were also there on a holiday whipped out their cellphone and with the help of Google Maps informed us that we had got off at the wrong station! We had got off at Place d'Italie but we should have got off at Porte d'Italie!! How the hell were we supposed to figure that out in 3 seconds, amidst all the anxiety?
A young boy helped us. (maybe Asian? When you are in a foreign land, your eyes keep searching for familiar looking skin-tones. To your mind, even a Spaniard or a Mexican looks Indian.) He was on the same bus that we took to get to the hotel. We got off at the bus stop he told us to. He took us to the map that was fixed on a street corner. He apologetically informed us that we should have got off at least 3 stops earlier. Now what? Walk back! It was already 10:00 pm. We walked and walked and walked. Finally reached the rather small hotel, which was all closed and packed for the day. No restaurant. No room-service. We would think of that later. We first wanted to just dump the luggage in the room. The room...aha!...no more than 50 square feet. The tiniest hotel room I have seen all my life. Baby cribbing. Hubby cribbing. He was bent up on vacating immediately but it was 10:30 in the night dammit. We decided to wait till morning. It was finally 11 pm when we stepped out into the chill air to grab some food in a restaurant. The first stop was an extremely seedy looking Tuscan restaurant outside the hotel. More of a tavern. We heaved a sigh of relief when the waitress-with-too-much-make up-on squarely said, "sorry no vegetharian". We quickly darted across the road to another 'Italian' place - nice and warm, with some great food. The biggest blessing of the harrowing day was our baby. She was extremely co-operative. Walked all those miles without a single whine. Stayed hungry without a tear. As if she understood it all.
Phew! That was Day 1. Day 2 was great. We moved into the more expensive but lovely Novotel (thanks to some timely assistance by my brother-in-law). And as if by magic, everything started falling in place...and I started falling in love. A lot of lessons learnt (which I want to share sometime here).

State of mind on day 1: "Oh I hate Paris. We shouldn't have come here."
And now: "Oh I can't wait to go back there some day."

Europa! (Part Three): Paris!

Paris!
A wonderful city loaded with oomph, charm and charisma!

Our visit was just a sampler as it were, of this lavish spread of beauty and magnitude.

I think the best thing we (rather my husband did) was to pick up a five day pass through the Metro line in the city - the RER (the underground Metro) as soon as we landed. What an amazing connectivity! What surprises me is that the entire Metro system is so organised and standardised that it becomes completely reliable. For instance, take the train routes - each route is colour coded. Now where ever you look for a particular route, the font, the size, the colour everything remains just that. Absolutely no confusion.

So, after a harrowing first evening and the unsettling morning, our first 'sight seeing trip' was to Eiffel Tower. A truly grand assemblage of iron and steel. I never imagined it would be huge. (I couldn't help remember scenes from Queen). The moment we stepped in, it started raining and how! The heaviest rainfall in the season perhaps. Not just rain, the gusty and chilly winds just blew our minds out. All tourists were huddled at Level 2. So were we...sipping hot coffee and taking in the most amazing views from the very top. We unfortunately couldn't do much because of the rain. Also our baby, who was extremely patient and co-operative till this point started showing signs of weariness and homesickness. She wanted potatoes and ladies finger and nothing else. Now where do we find that in Paris? People had told us of Saravana Bhavan but we had no idea where it was. So we walked around looking for it. While we were walking, we passed by a FOREX shop and I thought I saw an Indian - a South Indian, a Tamilian to be precise. Like I said in another post, when you are desperate, even a Mexican starts looking like your countryman. But we still retraced our steps. And politely asked the gentleman, "Would you know where Restaurant Saravana Bhavan is?" He looked up and asked "Tamil pesuveengala?" Those were the sweetest words I had heard in a long time. I could hear Thavils and Sivakasi pattasu in the background. We eagerly replied in Tamil and he sweetly wrote down the train routes and off we went profusely thanking him. The little one who has always smirked at the mention of Saravan Bhavan in Chennai was jumping with joy. We finally reached the place after changing 2 trains. What do we see? A tiny T Nagar, with everything from 'Annachi Kadai' to 'Thanga Maaligai' to 'Anjappar'. And of course Saravana Bhavan. We got back to hotel with silly grins pasted on our faces. Food wasn't great but yet, we were pleased.

The next day, we headed to the famed Notre Dame. We weren't actually very keen on seeing exactly one place or the places listed in the 'must-see' list. We just wanted to explore. We stopped at street corners. We admired the roads. We gawked at the Palaces. We asked someone the directions for Notre Damme. But we found ourselves at the Saint Chapel instead. We didn't mind much. Its a chapel housing the most intricate stained glass paintings depicting scenes from the Bible. Beautiful!

That morning, we had looked up children's parks on the internet and found a place called Jardin d'Acclimation, one of the oldest amusement parks for children. So off we went. It's such a beautiful park with everything that a child would want. A zoo, an aquarium, plenty of space to run and play, a farm kind of a corner with all kinds of farm animals and huge sand pits, wooden houses, pine trees..you name it. Yes, there were rides and games too but as it was almost the end of the day, they weren't functional. (We weren't interested either!) There wasn't an whiff of commercialism about the place. If there is someone visiting Paris with children, I would definitely recommend this place. A great place to rest those tired touristy feet while your children get a break from seeing old building and statues which really don't mean much to them. Our moody little one shrugged at the Eiffel and said, "Its just a steel building. What's so great about it?". And at the Louvre, with a roll of the eyes"Oh, they are just drawings and paintings.". So you know what I mean!

Day three was important. On the agenda was Disneyland! Its been a month since we got back but I still see it in my dreams. It just transports you into a world of fantasies and fairies. Everybody knows about Disneyland. The lesser said the better. Unforgettable!

The last day. We made quick visit to the Louvre...so quick that I was almost in tears when I left it. We had a flight to catch that evening. So much to see. One needs at least  3-4 days, if not one week to take in all the wonderful pieces of art. I only feel the object on display needs to be labelled in English along with a little note about it. There is an audio guide but I its more useful for those who have time and the extra 7-12 euro to spare. And like a lot of people have told me before, Monalisa was a disappointment. Neither can you get up close and personal with her nor can you appreciate her beauty even from a distance. Such is the crowd there.

So, our almost 15 day trip to Europe came to an end. Three countries. Four cities. I was charmed by Florence but felt a sense of belonging in Paris. Probably that was the only city, we really 'lived' and 'explored' on our own. A regular traveller would call us lazy. Apart from Disneyland, we didn't have a major itinerary. We woke up late. Never stepped out before 11 am. We got to observe people on our journeys on the Metro. I'm sure we'd be scolded by friends for not visiting this or that place. I think by being laid-back, we were able to soak-in the real feel of the city. And I am glad.  I know I am going back to Paris. When and how, I don't know, but when I do, I know it is going to be a homecoming of sorts.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Horn NOT Okay Please!



picture courtesy: http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/





We often complain about the incessant and unnecessary use of horns on our roads. Honking is a sign of impatience and lack of disrespect to the other road users. 

Don't you think so?

*Nobody enjoys hanging around on the road even after the signal turns green. It might take a second or two for their vehicle to get started. Give them that time.

*Horns are exchanged in place of swear words when motorists fight on the road. The louder, the worse! 

*Drivers of bigger vehicles use it as a bullying technique to nudge smaller vehicles out of their way.

picture courtesy: http://www.zazzle.com/


I feel if we all collectively introspect, we might be able to break this annoying habit. Why don't we try this. 
Let's ask ourselves, "For every 15-minute drive, how many times did I honk? And why? Was it really necessary?"
Let's avoid using the horn unless we want to avoid danger. 

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Europa! (Part Two) - Viva la Italia!

After an awesome stay at Zurich, our next stop was Florence. A whopping 500+ kilometers by road, impressively managed by my brother-in-law. Though right at the start we were stopped by a dutiful cop who stopped us for ignoring a rather inconspicuous 'one-way' sign. We knew bribing wouldn't work. So coughed up a heavy fine and proceeded on our way. With due respect to the men in the car, their anxiety and the time and money lost, I must say the cop was extremely good looking (I only thought about it but my daughter loudly mentioned it!)

Anyway, so off we went. The journey was smooth, relaxed and interesting. Excellent roads. Amazing tunnels. The roads did take a 'toll' on our budget, though.

At Florence, we stayed in a small and quiet town called Bagno a Ripoli. With Florence as the base we made day-trips to Lucca/Pisa and Rome.

Day 2: As I have always heard, the entrance to the area within which the Leaning Tower is located is absolutely unassuming. But the moment you enter it, the entire square, with its cathedral, baptistery and
of course the Leaning Tower is breathtaking. These magnificent whitish-cream structures are offset by lush green lawns. The Leaning Tower just stands there like a moody hero - valiantly defying gravity. You just can't your eyes off it. Just how does it stand that way? Amazing! I learnt later that there are a few more towers like that in the world a few accidental and a few man-made. After clicking a few quintessential touristy pictures, we moved to the walled city of Lucca.


Lucca. This is one of cities I will never forget and would want to visit again. I don't know what, but there is some vibe that I felt as soon as I moved from the exterior part of the town to the walled area. The walls (dating back to the 15-16 C) don't just guard this town. They guard history, tradition and heritage. The cool air is thick with pride. It resonates culture. Probably the lack of the usual touristy crowd gave that special feeling about this place. So to speak, there isn't much to 'see' here. At least, you have a choice. The promenade has lawns for you to just 'be' and do nothing. I felt so drawn to it that I just didn't feel like leaving it.

Just one of the beauties
We had to rush out Lucca reluctantly as we had just one evening to visit Firenze (Florence city). Ah! The historic center of Firenze! What do I say? Is it for real? Someone might as well have just assembled settings of a couple of breathtaking buildings, some mind blogging statues, a romantic bridge and said, here you go. "the model of a dream city". How can one small area possibly contain so much art and history? Though I was spellbound by this unique place, I couldn't help thinking, didn't this place go through wars/ industrialisation / modernisation / urbanisation? How do they do this? Buildings contstructed 100s of years ago remain intact! No wonder it is a UNESCO protected heritage site. Imagine the effort the government and the people must be taking to preserve it. Having read so much about this place, I was saddened to realise that I all that I saw
was only a small fraction of this magnificent city. At least I am glad I could spend a few precious moments by the most amazing 'old bridge'. As I gazed into the glittering waters of River Arno by the setting sun, I thought of all the glorious people of yore who placed art above everything else in life and lived life like a dream.

Day 3: We headed to Rome with mixed feelings of anticipation and anxiety. We had heard horror stories of it being over-crowded, yet didn't have the heart to give it a miss. So we drove, parked and walked. The Vatican was our first stop. We walked around the square. Didn't brave the serpentine queue to the Sistine Chapel. We then moved visited the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum before calling it a day. It might've been the oppressing heat, the milling crowds or the tight itinerary but the city of Rome somehow didn't capture my imagination. But I must say, the only word that comes to my mind when I think of Rome is 'grandeur'.

Streets of Rome
The Colosseum


Day 4: After spending a couple of hours in a sweet little town called Greve in Chianti, we headed to Venice.


Venice on the face of it, is a regular city-broad roads, busy, tall buildings and business establishments. This part is the mainland, where we stayed. We took a bus to the Lagoon Area. From the bus as we caught glimpses of a busy port and the water reminded me that we are actually headed to this famed city on water. When we climbed on the first bridge, it looked like a regular canal on a river. But as we walked on, we were totally amazed by how an entire town could stand on water. With hundreds of bridges, it functions just like any other city. We learnt from our Gondola oarsman (gondolier) that there are even Ambulance boats. That bit of trivia came, thanks to an inquisitive nephew who remembered to ask questions, while the grown-ups forgot everything else while gawking at this water wonderland. We spent two half days here and I am glad we split it up that way. The first half we just walked around and explored. The second half was reserved for the luxurious and expensive Gondola ride, well worth all the money and effort. Fortunately for us, our gondolier took us around the calmer, residential parts of Venice. A very relaxing and yet interesting experience it was. He said he did not want to take us through the crowded, touristy parts, claiming "eet ees tooo noiseeee". As we were crooning the inevitable song from the film Great Gambler, my mind (as always) went off wandering, wondering about these people and their unique life. I might want to write a story about someone living there...someday.

A Gondola (not ours)
Clothesline-how did they get it up there?
So this rich experience rounded off our Italian part of the journey. I left this legendary land, promising to return sometime.


Note: These pictures are owned by me. They might not be of much use but in case you want to use them, please check with me first.



Sunday, May 18, 2014

Europa! (Part One)

Vacation! That's been the sweetest word to me for quite some time now. Our first vacation in two years. Now that it's over, I'll say, boy! what a vacation it has been. It has been quite a whirlwind.
We planned late, the visas came late, we were packing (and unpacking) until the last minute... There's so much to share about these 15 days, I guess I will do it in parts - easier for me and you!

So, where do I begin? 15 days, 3 countries, 7 cities...Our first stop was Zurich, then we drove down to Florence, with Florence as our base, we visited Pisa, Lucca and Rome, we then moved over to Venice, spent a day and a half there and our last stop was at Paris before we got back home.

Zurich. Everything about the place is so pretty. Particularly since it was spring time, there were flowers in bloom every where. Greenery at every corner. And freshness at every step. Yes, brrr....it was really cold. We honestly didn't expect it to be that cold. Though the temperatures showed 17-20 deg C, the air was extremely chill. But we managed, thanks to my sister-in-law (from Poland) who had thoughtfully packed some jackets and sweaters for all of us.

Everything in Switzerland was so 'Yash Chopra'. I could feel it everywhere - the gardens of Zurich, the trams, the bridges and even the hooded cyclists on the streets of Zurich who kept zipping by (if you know what I mean).


I didn't know if his films were shot in the places we visited  but then I could feel the vibes. (No wonder they have named lakes and trains after him). Every inch towards the snow-covered Alps made my heart flutter.The mad, hopeless romantic that I am, all the way up to Jungfrau, I narrated the story of DDLJ, scene by scene to my (very patient) husband who had never watched the movie. And I was in tears by the time I finished (I smile sheepishly as I think about it). But such is the place. It evokes an extremely happy feeling in your heart wherever you go.

In Switzerland we visited the Zurich lake, Rhine Falls, Kyborg Castle and Jungfrau. Jungfrau was spectacular with an altitude of 11333 feet and a temperature of -4 deg C - never seen anything like that before.

The town in which Kyborg Castle is located, is a quaint little town with each house competing with the other in prettiness. If I could, I would have loved to get to know the owners of these charming houses. Every house is free standing, with abundant space around it. Almost every house has a garden and its own play equipment. Idyllic!

The Rhine falls which I believe dates back to the Ice Age is this luscious flow of fresh water, unimaginable to a regular resident of Chennai. Never have I seen such a tremendous amount of water gushing its away without restraint.







The city of Zurich itself is quiet and unassuming. Surprising, since it is one of the most important cities of Switzerland. The city is very well connected by the tram service and it is generally easy to get around. Traffic rules are very strictly followed with the utmost respect to pedestrians, which I was very pleased with.

There are a lot of good restaurants including the inescapable 'Big M' (of course we did find it very useful). Then on our way back from Italy (we stopped by Zurich again), we ordered in a meal from an Indian restaurant interestingly named Masala!

I am glad we started out with Zurich - it was love at first sight. A great motivation to go ahead with the rest of the long tour in Europe.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My World: Keepsakes

My World: Keepsakes: I had been looking for a couple of my old friends quite a lot for the past few days. I searched on FB, Googled them and in the proces...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Keepsakes



I had been looking for a couple of my old friends quite a lot for the past few days. I searched on FB, Googled them and in the process even came across a site called https://pipl.com/.

While at it, I had this question in my mind. Why am I doing this? Not that there was something 'special' happening between us..not that we parted ways after a fight and I want to make up...and definitely not that I am 'curious' about these people. If you're deciding that I am a virtual stalker. I will clarify - I am not one! (at least this time around :P)

It just beats me how we just drift apart from certain people we once used to care about and had spent so much time with. I feel I lost these friends just out of my carelessness.

I guess we all go through a phase of rushing through life. At that time, the present and perhaps the future is all that matters. And then, after a few years, with things more or less in place,we often wonder whatever happened to those people.

pressed plant: old pressed fern stem/leaves in old hymn book

Many people have told me reconnecting isn't a great idea. You might realise how different the person is from what you remember or that it might complicate existing relationships. I don't think reconnecting means rekindling a relationship or being in touch with that person on a daily basis. For me, getting back in touch with an old friend is like finding something for which there is really no use now. It could be a pressed flower or a dried leaf between the pages of an old book, thoughts you penned down as a teenager on a scrap paper, an old yellowed letter, a forgotten photograph, a greeting card, or an old cassette tape.

You might sometimes look for such things because something triggered a memory. Or you might come across it at the most unexpected moment. Either way, it gives a minute of boundless joy or brings at least a smile on your face.

I am sure most of us would not make a big thing out of that leaf, letter, photograph or the card. We would just quietly put it back, but this time in a scrap book or a box of memorabilia.

pic courtesy: http://www.rgbstock.com

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest - DOOM bachaaley

Even when the rushes were being aired on TV, with one longing look at Aamir Khan, I told myself, "Even Aamir can't tempt me to watch this movie." But anyone who knows me well, know the exact things that will tempt me. Two of the things being a mommy's day out and well...Aamir Khan.

So we went - two tired mothers, in need of a break. Happy to be on our own, not having to answer a gazillion wh-questions.  And I am glad we went.

And I am glad Aamir gets introduced (and how) almost in the beginning itself. Else, we would have walked out of the movie hall even before the interval. The man is a saver. Yes, he is - he saved my mommy's-day-out and he saved Dhoom-3 too.

Talking about introductions, the entire first half is full of intro scenes with various degrees of impact. AK on his (drool) BMW bike. Uday Chopra (caught in a tamil/malayalm speaking villain's den), suspended by his legs. And Abhishek Bachchan in guess what...an autorickshaw, bearing a tacky registration number 786. Katrina Kaif's intro is a proper strip-act. And the introduction of Aamir Khan (the second time) is the cleverest - it happens in a dressing area with mirrors! The intros I think foretell the role/importance of each character in the story. It ranges from clever to downright silly.

As always, the story is about how two Indian cops get posted in the USA to investigate into a series of thefts (the rolling of the eyes starts right there).  But here, the crime is more about damage than actual loot. The investigation deals with who does it and why they do it.

I have managed to expand the story as much as I could. I really tried. Coming to the casting...

Aamir Khan: Like I said before, he saves the movie. As always, he looks great. He acts well. Becomes the reason for one to sit through even the dumbest of movies. The best part about him is his conviction that comes through his portrayal. I am sure he's had fun doing this film. You must check out his expression in close-up when he rides the bike (furious and all!).  Though he has given numerous interviews about why he chose this film (apart from the money), I think he has been casted in this role for his acting prowess. He does a fantastic job switching between his two roles. He plays both parts really well-this is no big deal for him really.

pic courtesy: zeenews.india.com

Abhishek Bachchan: Why is AB's baby doing this to himself? Like I was telling someone, perhaps a certain heartbroken damsel is taking revenge through the much influential producer of this movie. There's no reason why any actor of a decent standing
will accept a role like this. I normally like Abhishek B. So, the lesser said, the better.

Uday Chopra: Well, this is what one would expect out of him - tom foolery. He doesn't let you down. This motor mouth perhaps has the maximum and perhaps the best lines in the movie.

Katrina Kaif: I don't even want to get there Just glad that there isn't anything for her to do in the movie. Even the Dhoom song appears right at the end of the film, by when 90% of the audience has walked out/escaped from the cinema hall.

Jackie Shroff is a surprise element. I wish we could see more of him in this movie and other movies as well. I've always been a fan of his subdued stylishness and relaxed performance.

The movie sets out to show how smart cops are (fantasy element) but ends up as a reality show. Even Sivaji Satham and his team have been consistently clever for the past I-don't-know-how-many-years on Sony TV (CID). I am no action movie buff but I know that there is thrill, suspense and fun only if the cops and the bad guys are shown equally, smart, sharp and cutting edge. This is like setting up Alok Nath and Johnny Lever against Shatrugan Sinha for heaven's sakes. If the cops were dumb in Dhoom 1, they get the dumbest in Dhoom 3. The makers better pull up their leather chaddis if they want to make Dhoom 4 wihout getting doomed. But thinking of the crores this movie is said to be earning, you never know!

Except for one catchy romantic song (I forget what the song was :P), there isn't much to the music. The Malang song is thankfully good, as it repeated several times through the movie.

Like I always say, I cannot write reviews and this is just my experience of the movie and not review.

And talking of experience, love happened twice - no three times while watching the movie. With Aamir Khan. With Aamir Khan again. And with the BMW bike. Man! What a super-sexy bike it is. Fine, agreed, even the BMW engineers wouldn't have imagined their bike could do so much as the film makers have thought for the bike. I told you its a fantasy film.

If I'm reborn, don't know if I can marry Aamir Khan because there's no guarantee he'll be reborn as Aamir Khan. But I'll definitely own a BMW bike. It's a promise!