Saturday, March 14, 2009

The story of India - Part I - beginnings

A sweeping documentary that tries to highlight Indian history from the origin of the first subcontinental humans to the rise and fall of numerous great empires and dynasties over 5000 years.

I was a bit skeptical about the concept of being able to do this but this series is amazingly well taken. Michael Wood, a veteran presenter and British historian, is wonderful throughout. A witty and articulate he seems to enjoy his task of presenting that makes him a very likable host. In fact he seems to be learning as much as the people this documentary is made for. This makes him very personable.

I have always been very interested in history. I love reading about the rise and fall of great empires such as the Roman Empire but have limited if any knowledge about my own country and ancestors.

This documentary series starts with the first settlers of India. Wood travels to the beautiful backwaters of Kerela and Tamil Nadu to find ancient rituals whose words have possibly been passed down from these settlers from Africa. These rituals and hymns are said to pre-date languages with every hymn being preceeded and ended by sounds that can only be bird songs. I was boggled by the thought of rituals performed more than 5000 years ago still being performed by the descendents of those first settlers.

Mother India, Wood says, is literally that. Every human who is not of African descent can trace their origins from the migration of humans from Africa to India. Amazingly there are still people in villages in the remote parts of Tamil Nadu who have ancient markers in their genes that can be traced to Africans today.

The Indians owe the British a huge debt of gratitude for it was they who promoted the field of archeology in India and discovered the Indus Valley Civilization only in the 19th century! It was the most populous and largest civilization of its time, says Wood. The civilization was huge ... the ancient city of Harrapa apparently had a population of 200,000 people, which would make it a rather decent sized city even by today's standards.

Much of the civilization was discovered by accident. Wikipedia has a very detailed article about the civilization.

Wood attempts to discover why the Indus valley civilization dies out after having thrived for more than a millenium. Weather patterns and the drying up of the lifeline of the civilization (water from rivers), and a weakened monsoon is one theory put forward in the documentary. It is said that the people of the Indus valley civilization move eastwards into the Ganges plain to become simple farmers again.

The advent of the Aryans and the rise of Sanskrit takes centerstage after this. Wood travels to the Asiatic society in Calcutta. Sir William Jones the founder of the Asiatic society believed unlike his contemporaries that India was not a primitive society, says Wood. He persuaded a sanskrit scholar to teach it to him and along the way made some truly ground-breaking discoveries as he translates the Vedas. 

In a revolutionary lecture made by Jones, he points out that Sanskrit has many fundamental words in common with Latin and Greek. He believes that the origins of Sanskrit and possibly the basis for the hindu gods could be from outside India. 

He goes on a quest to Peshawar to find the origin of Soma - what the ancient vedic scholars called the nectar of the gods (Soma). He finds that it is still served today in Peshawar. He delves further and finds that since horses are not native to India the Aryans may have come from as far as Central asia. A brief visit to Turkmenistan and a perusal of an archaeological find by a Russian archeologist seems to tie the origin of Soma to these parts of the world.

He then moves onto the epic poem Mahabharat and how much of an impact the story has had on all Indian civilizations that followed. Wood states that Indians believe that this poem is the greatest story ever told and that it incorporates every facet of life within. More than just being a story it contains lessons on how to live life.

A picture of a scroll with a painting depicting the Mahabharat

He tracks down an Indian scholar who believes that the story of the Mahabharat may not be all myth. Using data points from the story the scholar unearthed the ancient city of Hastinapura buried in a hill that bear marks of being destroyed by a great flood.

It's bigger than Troy for the sake of comparison says Wood - 700 yards across, possibly a great citadel in its heyday. Pottery, the legend that named the place and the flood believes Wood could indicate that there was more to the Mahabharat than just being a myth.

This first part about 50+ mins long

Wood will next delve into the Alexandrine invasion of the Punjab, the Golden age of the Mauryans and the rise of Buddhism in the next part.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Taare Zameen Par - A review

Cinema produced in India can generally be classified into the following categories: Entertaining, Watchable, Bad, Thrash, I want my money back.

Most movies that I have been forced to watch this year (1st day 1 show no less) can be bracketed into the latter few categories. It often pains me when I realize that people spend large amounts of money to film in exotic locations, create elaborate sets, hire some of the supposedly biggest names in the industry and yet come out with movies that I would happily relegate into the dustbin were it a piece of paper.

However there is one movie that I had the pleasure of watching that comes into a category that the Hindi film industry has almost forgotten about. It is called the good movie category. The type of movie that people who end up spending their hard earned movie deserve to watch.

Taare Zameen Par is veteran actor Amir Khan's directorial debut. Amir Khan is one of the few actors in the Hindi film industry whose films regularly check into the good movie category. Unfortunately his films are few and far between. His last venture Fanaa a pathetic venture starring Kajol made people wonder if he could ever capture the cinematic magic of the movie Lagaan again.

Happily he manages to do so with Taare Zameen Par. The movie has all the hallmarks of a great movie. It makes entertains you, makes you laugh, cry and at the same time makes you think... not just about the social issue handled so wonderfully in the movie, but also about the movie itself.

I headed into the theatre thinking it was a kids movie. I bought tickets without knowing anything about it. I had read no reviews nor had I heard any of its songs. I had no idea on what to expect from it.

The first half of the movie is extremely entertaining with lots of "I did that" moments as we follow the misadventures of the adorable Darsheel Safary in primary school. Be it getting taunted by your classmates about not getting test papers signed, or getting into fights, or to being told to stand outside class - there is something that everyone can relate to from their own lives.

Our protagonist - Darsheel Safary or Ishan as he is known in the film is a brat - a complete opposite to his perfect brother who is a topper and tennis player). He does whatever he feels like and has a tendency to lapse into a world of his own and ignore everything that happens around him. He has an unique perspective about the world and is constantly pulled up for being a misfit in a conformist world. He is a wonderful artist and uses his wonderful imagination to its fullest, but other than his brother and mother finds few other admirers. His family loves him dearly but are often left wondering what they can do to with him.

Ishan's many misadventures that include walking out of school and loafing around the whole day end up with his over-achieving father packing him off to boarding school to get disciplined.

However boarding school transforms the carefree brat into a recluse. The rigors of boarding school life causes him to withdraw completely into a shell. He struggles to cope with the loneliness thrust upon him and misses the love of his mother who despite his many transgressions was the one person who stood up for him. Ishan's condition goes from bad to worse and he becomes withdrawn ... unable to express his despair to anyone around him. Slowly we see a boy whose spirit has been broken. A boy who looks like he has nothing more to look forward to from life.

However just when things look their darkest for Ishan, along comes temporary art teacher Mr. Ram Shankar Nikumbh. Ram Shankar is refereshingly different from the other teachers in the school. He does not tell his students what to do .. rather he encourages them to think outside the box and bring out their inner artist from within. All his students love his style of teaching and have a blast in his classes. All except Ishan who does nothing but stare blankly. Stumped by his behavior Ram Shankar investigates and discovers that Ishan is dyslexic. As somone who was dyslexic himself, he takes it upon himself to help Ishan.

Taare Zameen par is an emotional rollercoaster. Grown men wept unashamedly as Ram Shankar manages to bring Ishan out of his shell to help him regain his shattered self-image.

I would gladly go out on a limb to state that this movie is possibly one of the best movies I have ever seen. Amir Khan, Darsheel Safary and Tisca Chopra (Ishan's mother) deserve to be felicated for a fantastic performance.

The music of the movie suits the movie to a tee. There are a couple of tracks that stand out (Maa and the title track). The speical effects in the movie are one of the best I have seen in a hindi movie.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Painted Veil

I really like watching movies. Not a crazy looney having collectables and stuff. Just appreciate good ones. And yes, I do own a reasonable descent collection of good films.

One of the many which has positively intrigues me is The Painted Veil, released in 2006. I’m not much of a fan of romantic movies but, this was an exception. Really fell in love with the mesmerising, elegant beauty of China.

The Painted Veil is based on the novel by Somerset Maugham, set during the most dramatic periods of unrest. It unfurls the love story of a couple at odds, who find solace and liberation in the most challenging circumstances

The story is set sometime during the 1920s. Kitty (Naomi Watts) is an upper class, popular socialite, closing in on marriageable age. Remaining unmarried beyond the marriageable age was considered a blasphemy during those times.

Dr. Walter Fane (Edward Norton), a quiet, young, intelligent, shy and somewhat dull Bacteriologist, meets Kitty at a party. She accepts Walter’s proposal for all the wrong reasons.

They move to Shanghai where Kitty befriends Charlie, a diplomat and eventually falls in love with him. Walter discover's Kitty's infidelity one day. Kitty asks for a divorce, but Walter refuses it. Charlie too does not want to take the affiliation any further. When she realizes that Charlie was ‘just having fun’, she is crestfallen.

Deeply hurt by his wife’s betrayal, in an act of vengeance, Walter accepts a job in a remote war – torn interior village in China hit by a deadly cholera epidemic, and takes Kitty along, endangering both their lives.

This cold, indifferent and loveless relationship amidst an unknown and fatal environment tests their power of endurance. Their journey brings meaning to their bond and they embark on a journey towards self discovery. Kitty is forced to confront the reality of the situation. The wrenched disease gives both a reason to survive. Forgiveness and understanding acts as a balm to the severed relationship.

The movie has many layers to it, love, colonialism, transition…Kitty’s adultery may be considered as an important twist as it opens doors to a new kind of relationship with her husband. Edward Norton and Naomi Watts excel in their parts and make the characters absolutely endearing. The movie has some light moments which are really enjoyable.

I absolutely love the closing lines of the movie.
Stitch Accomplished !!!
I admit that it is not a neat job, but hey i'm a novice who spent 3 sleepless nights trying to complete it, with all my love.
Will do a better job next time.
You can clearly see how much I made the cloth suffer heeheh.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Nice Little Insults

One does not really need to use the 'F' word to insult. Movies and television series have made us creatively infertile.

Here are some classy examples from a time gone by, where you can see the clever use of words to insult and yet not a single cuss word.

"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."~Winston Churchill

"A modest little person, with much to be modest about."~Winston Churchill

"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."~Clarence Darrow

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."~William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"~Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it."~Moses Hadas

"He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know."~Abraham Lincoln

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."~Groucho Marx

"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it."~Mark Twain

"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends."~Oscar Wilde

"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend...If you have one."~George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second...If there is one."~Winston Churchill, in response.

"I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here."~Stephen Bishop

"He is a self-made man and worships his creator."~John Bright

"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial."~ Irvin Cobb

"He is not only dull himself, he is the cause of dullness in others."~Samuel Johnson

"He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up."~Paul Keating

"He had delusions of adequacy."~Walter Kerr

"There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure."~Jack Leonard

"He has the attention span of a lightning bolt. "~Robert Redford

"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him."~Forrest Tucker

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


When I want to gift somebody, I usually get down to painting, something, a landscape / geometrical drawings, delicate art and stuff. I am pretty good at it too. I believe that this is more valuable than ‘off the shelf gifts. It feels nice when your art finds its place in the lives of people you like.

I don’t know what got over me this time round, I wanted to do some handwork. Went to the British Council, glanced through books, fuse ideas….and voila, settled down for ribbon embroidery. The art books are fashioned in such a way that they hypnotise you into believing ‘Oh! That’s terribly simple!’ I fell into that trap too.

The colourful pictures enchanted me into choosing a particular theme. Took help from my friend who is pretty good at this work. Went hunting for the raw materials very enthusiastically, choosing colours, textures, decorative details…conveniently forgetting that time is a constraint.

She very patiently showed me how to do different kinds of designs using various stitches. It looked so conveniently easy. I thought I could finish it quickly. When she left, I sat down very obediently to start where she left. To my horror I found I was only good at punching holes. At the end of it all, one corner of the cloth took quite a punch and looked quite dead. Needlework is not my cup of tea I think. I’m too rough for it, I need to haul all my patience and my lost art of handling a needle before I choose such an effortless project next time.

All is not lost though. Other 3 corners are ready to take on me. I shall win over them and modify the original design to hide the battered part. After all you must finish what you started. Good luck to me!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Marine Drive

Had been to the other office in Air India which faces Marine Drive. The sea looked very inviting, so decided to take a stroll and reach office via Marine Drive. The gusty wind bringing with it tiny droplets of water, the sky dotted with dark grey clouds, the multihued sea extending into the horizon, the waves lapping ceaselessly onto the shore, realms of open space waiting to be conquered…was very exhilarating. But, for some reason it also reminded me of lines spoken by Kind Lear in, the second scene of Act 3 a scene that denotes his despair in absolute state of madness. I know it is contradictory to what I mentioned earlier.

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!

You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout

Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!

You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,

Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,

Singe my white head!

And thou, all-shaking thunder, Strike [smite] f

lat the thick rotundity o' the world,

Crack nature's moulds, all germains spill at once,

That make ingrateful man!

Rumble thy bellyful! Spit, fire! spout, rain!

Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire, are my daughters:

I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness;

I never gave you kingdom, call'd you children,

You owe me no subscription:

[why] then let fall Your horrible pleasure:

here I stand, your slave, A poor, infirm, weak, and

despised old man:

But yet I call you servile ministers,

That have with two pernicious daughters join'd

Your high engender'd battles 'gainst a head

So old and white as this. O! O! 'tis foul!

Marine Drive is also called the queen's Necklace. One get the best view from an elevated place, at night. It one of Mumbai's busiest roads & an important artery for the heavy suburban traffic heading downtown. Many five star restaurants and buildings built by wealthy Parsis that sport an art deco look, popular during 1920s and 1930s, line this stretch of the road.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Scent Of A Woman

Sunday had been a busy day. But managed to squeeze into my movie archive to watch Scent of a Woman.

It has always been one of the many 'talked about moves'. It also finds a place among the list of movies where skin show and sexy women are not really given so much importance.

Scent of a Woman is about Charles Simms played by Chris O'Donnell, a prep school student and Frank Slade, played by Al Pacino, a blind and lonely war veteran.

Charlie has to spend the Thanksgiving weekend, looking after Lt. Colonel Frank Slade, a bitter, friendless, blind veteran when Slade’s family go away for thanksgiving weekend. Charlie has managed admission into the school for the privileged few, purely on merit. To cover his expenses he takes up the arduous task. He embarks on a tour of self-discovery when Slade decides to make an unexpected visit to New York City. Charlie’s idea of a quite Thanksgiving goes for a toss when they head there. Frank wants to live life to the fullest before the last day of his life. Charlie is bewildered by Frank's vociferous antics but his infectious enthusiasm keeps Charlie hot on his heels.

In the mean time, Charles is privy to an act of vandalism and is blackmailed into revealing the identities. He is faced with quite a dilemma to and is dazed about what to do next. In the few days they are together, Frank gives good advice and Charlie takes notice of every word he says.

This maybe yet another movie about human bonds, but the realism with which the characters are portrayed is commendable. The relationship between Slade and Charlie is strong ‘cause they make it work. The movie is not too long. Chris O’Donnell stands his own in the towering presence of Al Pacino.

The dialogues in the movie are vibrant, you just can’t miss the endemic after-effects on hearing it. It resonates even after you’ve heard it. One of the most famous 8 minute dialogue delivered by Frank is truly outstanding. I burst into goose pimples every time I hear it. There was a mention about this in connection to the stuff leaders should be made of, in The Times of India.
Here’s an except from that article.

“ In the climax of the film Scent Of Woman, Lt. Frank Slade, memorably portrayed by Al Pacino, defends his young protégée, Charlie Simms, who’s about to be expelled from his school, Baird, for refusing to reveal the identity of his fellow students who played a prank. Slade’s speech remains one of the finest expositions on leadership in a work of fiction…..”

Trask: Mr. Sims, you are a cover-up artist and you are a liar.

Frank Slade: But not a snitch!

Trask: Excuse me?

Frank Slade: No, I don't think I will.

Trask: Mr. Slade!

Frank Slade:This is such a crock of shit!

Trask: Please watch your language, Mr. Slade. You are at the Baird School now not a barracks.
Now Mr. Sims I will give you one final opportunity to speak up.

Frank Slade: Mr. Sims doesn't want it. He doesn't need to labeled, "...still worthy of being a 'Baird Man.'" What the hell is that? What is your motto here? Boys, inform on your classmates, save your hide. Anything short of that we're gonna burn you at the stake? Well, gentlemen. When the shit hits the fan, some guys run and some guys stay. Here's Charlie--facing the fire, and there's George--hiding in big Daddy's pocket. And what are you doing? You're gonna reward George, and destroy Charlie.

Trask: Are you finished, Mr. Slade?

Frank Slade: No. I'm just gettin' warmed up. I don't know who went to this place--William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan, William Tell--whoever. Their spirit is dead; if they ever had one, it's gone. You're building a rat ship here. A vessel for sea-going snitches. And if you think your preparing these "minnows" for manhood, you better think again. Because I say you are killing the very spirit this institution proclaims it instills! What a sham! What kind of show are you guys puttin' on here today? I mean, the only class in this act is sittin' next to me. And I'm here to tell you, this boy's soul is in tact. It is non-negotiable. You know how I know? Because someone here--I'm not gonna say who--offered to buy it. Only Charlie here wasn't selling.

Mr.Trask: Sir, you are out of order!

Frank Slade: Out of order, I'll show you out of order! You don't know what out of order is Mr. Trask! I'd show you but I'm too old, I'm too tired, and I'm too fuckin' blind. If I were the man I was five years ago I'd take a flame-thrower to this place. Out of order? Who the hell do you think you're talking to!? I've been around, you know? There was a time I could see. And I have seen, boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But there is nothin' like the sight of an amputated spirit. There is no prosthetic for that. You think you're merely sending this splendid foot-soldier back home to Oregon with his tail between his legs, but I say that you are executing his soul! And why? Because he's not a Baird man. Baird men, you hurt this boy, you're going to be Baird Bums, the lot of ya. And Harry, Jimmy, Trent, wherever you are out there, fuck you too!

Mr. Trask: Stand down Mr. Slade!

Frank Slade: I'm not finished! As I came in here, I heard those words...cradle of leadership. Well, when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall. And it has fallen here, it has fallen! Makers of men, creators of leaders, be careful what kind of leaders you're producing here. I don't know if Charlie's silence here today is right or wrong; I'm no judge or jury. But I can tell you this; he won't sell anybody out to buy his future! And that, my friends, is called integrity. That's called courage. Now that's the stuff leaders should be made of. (pause) Now I have come to the crossroads in my life. I always knew what the right path was. Without exception, I knew. But I never took it. You know why? Because it's too damn hard. Now here's Charlie; he's come to the crossroads. And he's chosen a path. It's the right path. It's a path made of principle, that leads to character. Let him continue on his journey. You hold this boy's future in your hands, committee! It's a valuable future. Believe me! Don't destroy it...protect it...embrace it. It's going to make you proud one day...I promise you.