Sunday, November 29, 2009

ARYA2 is smart and great fun!

Arya is back with a bang. The new Arya is not as sure-footed as the street-smart Arya who was wooing his girl 5 years ago. He in Arya2 has shades of gray, is confused at times to choose between his 'best friend' and his love. But he still is quick-witted thinking brilliantly on his feet and continues to spring surprises with his eccentric unconditional love and friendship. And of course it is still Allu Arjun, obviously. Arjun displays an elan with the role which makes it impossible for us to imagine someone else in his shoes for Arya. Add to that his jazzy fluid dance movements that evokes utter awe. His energy lightens up the screen and brings to life a brilliant script from Sukumar.

Sukumar does not disappoint like he did with Jagadam and now lives up to the promise he made with Arya in 2004. He moulds the hero's obsessive and juvenile character very well and makes the whole plot engaging with a remarkable scripting effort. The dialogues are sharp. The picturization of songs is thoughtful and beautiful. The only glitch looked to be the lack of an emotional build-up to the love the Hero develops for his girl. However, the quick pacing of the movie does not leave us any time to wonder, Instead, we are thrown headlong into the sequences involving Brahmanandam which are rip-roaring. Devisri Prasad's music which is very hummable and which goes very well with the gregarious mood of the movie and amazing dance moves of Allu Arjun.

The production is excellent and all visuals display certain finesse, thanks to the DI and Visual Effects. Arya2 is unadulterated entertainment orchestrated well by Allu Arjun, Sukumar and Devisri Prasad. It's been quite a while since I had this much fun watching a Telugu movie on the big screen.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

KURBAAN: A refreshing watch

*ing : Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Vivek Oberoi
Music : Salim-Suleiman:
Dialogues: Anurag Kashyap, Niranjan Iyengar
Direction: Rensil D' Silva
Qurbaan becomes Kurbaan because it is Karan Johar's production and as we all know he has a thing for K. And maybe he will get more superstitious now that Rensil D'Silva makes a good debut with Kurbaan. Kurbaan is treated well and if you liked Fanaa, you will like this too. Despite the loaded backdrop of Islamic terrorism, D'Silva does not fall for the familiar traps - of justifying (like some of the recent harebrained Bollywood movies) or judging the terrorist acts. Kurbaan is no treatise on post 9/11 terror. It instead is matter-of-fact about how things are post 9/11. Terrorists in here are calculating, suave and driven. And more importantly not much rabble- rousing dialogue of type allah hu akbar is made to convey the point. Kurbaan is about how a terror camp operates from a New York basement and how one in the camp looses his way in the journey of Jihad to instead Kurbaan his life for his ladylove and his unborn child. In one scene, the protagonist after cold-bloodedly killing one comes home and lays beside his pregnant wife and starts lovingly feel the unborn through her tummy. He, the Jihadi, in the end Kurbaans his life not for some one's death but for his own unborn child's life.

The first half is gripping with thoughtful dialogues by Anurag Kashyap and Niranjan Iyengar. The screenplay is taut and paces the movie treating it like a thriller. Saif, Kareena, Dia Mirza and Vivek Oberoi are well cast and they do very well. It is only in the second half that despite the obvious grind towards the climax, nothing new, like a twist or some developments in characters, spices up the proceedings and for a 2 hour 40 min movie, this matters. The main loss here is for Saif's character and so the whole point of the movie gets diluted a bit. Saif's character should have been explored a little more towards the end to show his vulnerability, predicament. Instead, the movie here masquerades as an action thriller which it is not. The writer D'Silva should have also implied that this terror camp has some other centres of support apart from the NY basement. Otherwise, it is tough to sell the audience that this basement camp blew up a plane full of high-profile US and UN delegations and yet continued to operate from the same base evading the CIAs and FBIs. And in 2nd half, thrown in are more and more amateur American extras playing FBI and cops. Inadvertently, the b-grade cops make some scenes comical. But yes, they are much better American cops than those we have seen earlier in Indian movies!

However, despite these minor flaws, the movie does not cease to engage till the end. The background score, photography and acting is excellent. After some sensible writing for Rang De Basanti and Maniratnam's forthcoming Ravan, Rensil D' Silva makes the big transition into direction. He is the reason for me watching and I am not disappointed. And I hope so would you be.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sachin: The Zeitgeist

His life seems to be a stillness in a frantic world... [When he goes out to bat], it is beyond chaos - it is a frantic appeal by a nation to one man. The people see him as a God...- Mathew Hayden, on Sachin Tendulkar

The paeans seem just natural. Sachin, the 16 forever kid, completes his 20 years in international cricket and the accolades are pouring. A few generations of inspired young Indians who now grew up along with him call him their idol. Ask anyone who grew up in 90s abt what inspired them then. Pat comes the answer "Sachin". Simply put, Sachin was the only thing international in India for any teen in 90s. He was the hero in the rapidly changing times when India opened culturally and business-wise to the world. He triggered the self-belief that we can take on the world and be the best. Sachin 'crossed-over' and became the world sports icon in the 90s while our other sports and games teams struggled. And despite all hype our Bollywood never made the much talked abt crossover till now. When everything Indian stayed safe in a cocoon, it was cherubic Sachin gifted with the willow who opened up the world for the young generation. The curly-haired youth knew just passion and no fear and so in gay abandon played the ball ruthlessly attacking the most feared bowling attacks. He was the zeitgeist - the spirit of our times. 2 Decades after his debut, miraculously, the boyhood innocence continues, the passion continues, he regales us as if he didn't age, as if he is impervious to this world and its weathers. And that's the cherry on the cake - that those grew up idolising him, including the likes of Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal and Virender Sehwag, still get to live the joy today everytime he goes in to bat. We are blessed.

Heard abt what a genius Sachin is from Lara and other greats. Heard and seen all technicalities of still head, ball-eye coordination and body balance from Gavaskar. But these still don't explain 20 years of relentless excellence at the top in international cricket. Any other cricketer in teens under such media and public scrutiny would have simply died down in the heat of popping flashbulbs. Countless 'geniuses' had a meteoric rise and had an equally meteoric fall. Sachin's own buddy Kambli is an example of what often goes wrong. Sachin but stayed up there, fixated with the one thing he cared about - cricket. As I write this, I see a flash attributed to Viv Richards, the master marauder. If asked to pick between Lara and Sachin, he would pick up Sachin because the latter is more consistent. Now that's what it is all about - Sachin is abt longevity, Lara abt blinding flashes of brilliance now and then. Its as if Sachin's schoolboy innocence permanently took over him shutting out worldly distractions while he grew up. Is that why there is still that boyish charm and earnestness in him, a father of two kids? Its as if he retires to another planet after every game only to come back later for another game! So clean is he, away from hype and controversies. In a cricket mad country of a billion, how else could one cope up with the relentless praises, criticisms, gossips for 2 decades and yet pile the tons?

I am not even talking abt his fitness, the innumerous surgeries he went thru, the horrible tennis elbow which forced him to reinvent his game. He had enough on the physical front but i think its how he coped mentally that bought him to this pedestal of being a sacrosanct legend. Sachin is more abt the mind than abt the body. "If you're unlucky, you'll get injured, even if you're the fittest guy in the world," he says. "What I don't want to lose is the desire to get back in action and the hunger to go out there and perform." He also emphasizes how the mind is above techniques and stuff when he says "Your technique cannot go wrong overnight, It's just the thought process." It is this gifted passion that seems to continue to entertain us after 20 years. For all those wonder if the mountains of runs he already piled up leave any hunger and motivation left in him, he says "It's not about achievement, So long as I love playing the game, so long as I enjoy the sound of bat hitting ball, I'm going to do it. I don't have to force myself - it just happens." It is that passion and desire that keeps Sachin youthful despite every passing April 24. And at the same time, he is earnest about whats records mean. "People do remember landmarks," "You want to be remembered 50 years down the line, like people remember Don Bradman and Garry Sobers now. The word 'landmark' itself sort of compels people to remember you." No hang ups for him. He just is true to himself.
While his passion for the game could be the one reason for his longevity, it is his almost natural way of taking fame lightly that gave him firm feet and made him impervious to distractions. When asked if all media scrutiny weighs him down, he said “This is the way I've known my life from the age of 14. I'm comfortable with it.”. He also said "I remember I was asked a question in Sydney after I got the double-hundred. 'Were you reading the newspapers because the media was after you?' And I said I never read any. 'What about tomorrow?' they asked. I said that I don't need a newspaper to make me believe that I've got a double-hundred. Whether there are highs or lows, I try to maintain a certain balance." Now that explains why Sachin didnt go mad for all the media coverage he gets! His level-headedness is visible when he says "Let me give you a small example. Earlier when I used to hit the ball in the air and get out, people used to say, 'Why can't you play all along the ground? It's simple. You don't need to hit the ball in the air.' Now, when I play all along the ground, people say: 'Why don't you hit the ball in the air nowadays?' Basically, people are not satisfied with what one does. You've got to figure out what's the best thing to do for your team and as an individual - try and go ahead with what your instincts tell you." While the nauseating spineless criticism, especially when India loses, does not go well with his fans, Sachin says that the public perception doesn't bother him. "Eventually, people don't score runs for me; I do that," he says matter-of-factly. "Basically, I have to feel good about myself and find a way out. People have been good to me by calling me up and suggesting a couple of things. But you have to figure out what suits you best and go ahead with that. I've had the help of a lot of senior cricketers, and my brother at home." One can't help wondering the home he grew up in to gain this kind of balance in outlook right in his teens. A Marathi writer-poet father as a role model could have injected this intellectual honesty and grace. His father was supposed to be so amicable that he wont let anyone, whether a postman or plumber who visits his home, leave without a cup of chai. Sachin could have as well got his well-rounded character from his father. For someone who never attended college, travelling around the world, coping the conditions and adapting for the climes, getting along with fellow players, crowds and the media, while maintaining the freshness in his game is amazing. And this is while, parallelly, he studied his +2, fell in love, married, had kids and captained the team. To survive this frenzy he must have had amazing clarity of thought and unwavering attention to his game.

While much has been said about his achievements, not much has been told abt his work ethic. After all, Bradman was supposed to have practiced batting 5 hours everyday. There is an anecdote from Sachin's boyhood, when after travelling all night for a game and reaching the destination at 3am, he got an hour's sleep. Then he wakes up his coach and asks whether they could proceed to the ground because our little master wasn't happy with his game! He still maintains that meticulous streak now after 2 decades. He is the first to arrive in the nets and the last to leave. Sachin's commitment in the game is seen not just when he bats but also when he fields and bowls. That shows how devoted he is for the game. The game, he says, begins much earlier for him in his mind, much before it kicks off in the field. In fact, Javagal Srinath opined once that Sachin's captaincy's drawback was that Sachin expected others to be as dedicated to the game as he himself is. Sachin didn't find it and it disappointed him. Sachin seems to have accepted that and moved on, away from captaincy.
It is clear what maketh this man. Unwavering passion for the game, level-headed personality, work ethic and undivided attention he gave cricket ever since he was a schoolkid are what made him a 'genius'. For all of us who grew up with him, his genius is part of our own collective consciousness. The national anthem may give him goose pimples, but I get them when I see him. Its not just about cricket or his game. It is about how he made a generation to dare to dream and achieve. It is not just about what we all become when he bats but about what we all became inspired by his feats. We owe him. Long live Sachin, forever the 16 year old.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Sachin's Hyderabad heartbreak and about what ails his haters!

"I have seen god, he bats at no.4 for India" - Mathew Hayden

"Sachin is a genius. I'm a mere mortal"- Brian Charles Lara

India me aap PrimeMinister ko ek Baar Katghare me khada kar sakte hain..Par Sachin Tendulkar par Ungli nahi utha Sakte.. " - Navjot Singh Sidhu on TV

"Sachin cannot cheat. He is to cricket what (Mahatma) Gandhiji was to politics. It's clear discrimination. " - NKP Salve, former Union Minister when Sachin was accused of ball tampering

"The joy he brings to the millions of his countrymen, the grace with which he handles all the adulation and the expectations and his innate humility - all make for a one-in-a-billion individual" - Glen McGrath

"Nothing bad can happen to us if we're on a plane in India with Sachin Tendulkar on it." - Hashim Amla, the South African batsman, reassures himself as he boards a flight.

"To Sachin, the man we all want to be" - Andrew Symonds wrote on an Aussie t-shirt he autographed specially for Sachin.

“Beneath the helmet, under that unruly curly hair, inside the cranium, there is something we don't know, something beyond scientific measure. Something that allows him to soar, to roam a territory of sport that, forget us, even those who are gifted enough to play alongside him cannot even fathom. When he goes out to bat, people switch on their TV sets and switch off their lives." - BBC on Sachin

"We did not lose to a team called India...we lost to a man called Sachin." - Mark Taylor, during the test match in Chennai (1997)

"The more I see of him the more confused I'm getting to which is his best knock." - M. L.Jaisimha

"He can play that leg glance with a walking stick also" - Waqar Younis

"On a train from Shimla to Delhi, there was a halt in one of the stations. The train stopped by for few minutes as usual. Sachin was nearing century, batting on 98. The passengers, railway officials, everyone on the train waited for Sachin to complete the century. This Genius can stop time in India!! "- Peter Roebuck (Aussie sportswriter)

Sachin, the phenomenon is beyond expression or words for me. It has hence been difficult to blog about him and so I never did. After a real long time, I was engrossed in a cricket match yesterday. Did someone say 50 over cricket is dead? Would a 20-20 for all its hype ever produce this kind of epic? I wondered for few minutes if it is 2009 or 1999? 3 days after Ricky ponting said "We've kept Sachin in check so far. His scoring rate hasn't been too extravagant'', Sachin, the batman shrugged off the mentor-anchor role he has assumed lately and went on to be the marauder he was, clobbering 9 4s and 4 massive 6s. Sadly, India as a team too resembled that of the 90s. While Sachin mounted a great challenge, almost all else run away from the field. So, if Australia's batting line-up threw up scores of 112, 93, 45, 57, 31 with all scores above 100% strike-rate,Team India petered off with 175,59,38,23. If in Chennai in 1998-99, Sachin left the last three wickets 17 to get; yesterday he left them 19 off 17 when he fell for deceptive change of pace. Like it happened then, his weak-hearted teammates blew it up once again. One batsman doesn't know when to run, the other doesn't know how to run and of course the captain is boorish enough not to acknowledge Sachin's extraordinary innings in the awards ceremony.While Ponting marvelled Sachin "hit almost every ball in the middle of the bat" and that it is "one of the great one-day innings that I've seen", all our Dhoni said, as if suffering from constipation, was that the innings was "a pleasure" to watch. We are still in the 90s dude - the Azhar days, nothing really changed! Not even Sachin's critics who I rather dub as 'I hate Sachin' brigade. I knew they would come once India lost yesterday night. And true to it, I see the same brigade in the papers and Internet today. Despite worldwide recognition for undiluted talent, work ethic and sincerity (sample at the top of this post), this brigade persists. This post is an attempt to understand this brigade.

As we soak in all the front-foot pulls, straight drives, cover drives, late glances, paddle sweeps and the subsequent laurels from the Aussies, it amazes me on how after 20 long years, 435 one-dayers we still want Sachin the opener to run his ass off and finish the game for us in the 50th over while the other 10 will continue to 'learn' basics of running between wickets, holding on to straight catches and wicket-keeping playing international cricket. Some even whine that he 'chokes'!! Coming in to open, scoring the highest by any batsman against

Australia, (in fact his ninth ODI hundred against them, the most by any player against a single team) and getting dismissed only in 48th over with a meagre 19 runs to score is still 'choking' for the "I hate Sachin" brigade. I have seen many of this brigade over the years and while it puzzled me earlier in the golden 90s as to why someone would criticize Sachin, the sole performer, now it is more entertaining as I seem to get why this happens. All accusations of this brigade make for good laughs. More than Sachin or his game, these accusations reveal more about the guys who fling them. Some psychology here.

Somehow many from this brigade can not comprehend Sachin, his perfection, lack of controversies or weaknesses, a near perfect personal life. They simply hate his machine-like consistency and frustrate over the absence of chinks in his armour. He is too good to be so perfect so they suppose something must be sinister. Maybe they dare try comparing their own lives with his! So all they try doing is knitpick and in the process give us outrageous fun with their bizarre and preposterous takes on the little master. Here comes one. One of my friends once thundered Laxman was the better batsman than Sachin, I was all ears to know the technicality I missed. He reasoned that Sachin didn't have a 281 type innings! I was enlightened, not about anything but my friend. Some others argued for the piggyback rungetter Dravid. That was atrocious. Did Sachin ever show so much promise in wearing down his own teammates with some abysmal strike-rate or lack of initiative? Dravid is, of course, in a league of good test batsmen but never did he show the dynamism to attack and win irrespective of his statistics. That Sachin's contribution to Indian cricket's victories is unrivalled is a fact unfathomable to these. Some others creatively talk about how Sachin scores for himself and not for the team. I never quite understood this. Were not those countless 100s he scored considered in team scores? Yet another from the brigade charges, now this is the cherry on the ball, that Sachin fixes and makes money loosing. Now if they care to know how much he made by a 'winning' career over 2 decades, they would know money would no more be an incentive for him! So much for the ignorance of our 'seasoned' commentators from this brigade. Some others try to fudge the statistics to prove something about scores and averages. They conviniently overlook the invaluable initiative Sachin takes and the confidence and the fighting spirit he inspires in the ranks while playing. Even if it were a 20 or 30 runs sachin-style, look at the morale shift it produces for the team. That is precisely why Team India feels bogged down when they lose his wicket.

These harebrained criticisms are but natural offshoots from half-literate Indians who neither understand sporting spirit nor Cricket in its enterity. I doubt if most of them ever held a bat to a ball. How else could they be so mean towards someone who toils all through the match only to loose by an agonizing few inches. A real sports fan would understand his heartbreak, his pain in Hyderabad, the one of the many he faced in his career. I sincerely hope the folks in this brigade open their eyes, get real, not for Sachin's sake but for their own sake. Sachin is anyway a legend, and whether they like it or not, their kids and grand kids will read it that way in their school texts a few years from now. Instead these 'critics' should open their eyes for all beauty and earnestness around instead of wallowing in endless cynicism about everything and everyone seemingly perfect. They should accept their own frailties and appreciate Sachin's character, courage and conviction. Let them be reassured that it is perfectly okay to be imperfect. That is how they can start enjoying their own lives and spare us from their bizarre fun. Amen.

Photograph: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Operation Greenhunt I: Chidambaram, when would your violence end?

vi·o·lence (v-lns)n.
1. Physical force exerted for the purpose of violating, damaging, or abusing: crimes of violence.
2. The act or an instance of violent action or behavior.
3. Intensity or severity, as in natural phenomena; untamed force: the violence of a tornado.
4. Abusive or unjust exercise of power.
5. Abuse or injury to meaning, content, or intent: do violence to a text.
6. Vehemence of feeling or expression; fervor.

ethnic cleansing –noun
the elimination of an unwanted ethnic group or groups from a society, as by genocide or forced emigration.

  • Seven per cent of India's children under five are malnourished.India ranks a dismal 66 out of 88 countries on the world's hunger index. That puts India even lower than the starved sub-Saharan Africa. Despite this, every year India lets substantial amount of foodgrains rot in FCI godowns. Last year, foodgrains enough to feed 10 million people for an year were let to rot while millions were suffering malnutrition and hunger.
  • An estimated 200,000 people are displaced besides losing rich ecological resources due to the dam on Narmada.Between 1951 and 1990, 40 million people were displaced as a result of 'development' projects like this.
  • Millions would be displaced in the central government's 'Operation Greenhunt', which is about to start with approx. 70,000 troops, against Maoists in Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Bengal, incidentally the states with most poverty in the country (with exception of Bengal). See the map.

Going by the definitions of 'violence' and 'ethnic cleansing' marked in red above and considering that all people mentioned above belong to same group/category, all the 'people' mentioned in the above 3 scenarios are being subjected to unspeakable violence by the government's abuse of power. The people are forcibly evicted from their land and made to starve to death when there are surplus grains around. They have no employment, no schools, no hospitals, no water, no electricity, no transport. They simply have none of the amenities any government provides. By forcibly dislocating the people and making them lose their cultural and economical moorings forever, the government is conducting ethnic cleansing.

The 'people' mentioned in all the above scenarios are tribals, voiceless citizens of this country living in the major parts of India that, far from being shining, are reminiscent of sub-Saharan Africa in hunger and poverty. They form 8% of this country's population and yet see no benefits of governance. In fact, in the sense of the term, they are not 'governed' and they never were, not even in colonial India. So the fathers of our Constitution rightly envisaged some protection for them in the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution which grants the tribals complete rights over their traditional land and forests and prohibits private companies from mining on their land. The land is the only thing they own and it defines their culture and livelihood. And this land which is now labelled 'the red corridor' is rich in mineral wealth worth trillions of dollars. So the government is out to grab the land too from the tribals. The 'democratic' government unashamedly violates the constitution. And so we now have a full-scale war plan - Operation Greenhunt. The mandate for the troops is clear. Put the hills on fire and the tribals will automatically vacate the mineral rich lands.

It is in this context that it sounded ironical when Mr.Chidambaram asked the Maoists to "Halt the violence". Surely Harvard educated Chidambaram knows the implicit structural violence the state, of which he is now an important part, has been perpetuating over tribals for decades through its policy-making and so-called development initiatives. Even without firing a single bullet, the state with its actions and inactions, was committing violence of unimaginable scale, round the clock, against the tribals and against the letter and spirit of our own constitution. When would this violence end?