Saturday, October 24, 2009

Taran Adarsh does it again

Last Friday, I decided to go out for a film, and found Blue playing in a local theater. Looking online, I found a review that praised the film unequivocally, and thought it was worth checking out. After the film, I wanted to find out how anyone could praise such garbage and even call it a movie. Guess my surprise - I had missed reading the reviewer's name - it was a Taran Adarsh review. For those who don't know my relationship with Taran Adarsh's reviews, I refer you to the following posts - Bad Film Critic with Data and Bad Film Critic

Reading his review again, I could not stop rolling with laughter, and being mad at myself for not having checked earlier who wrote it.  He starts his review in his usual childish style (compare with his earlier review of Krissh):
Roll out the red carpet.
Blow the conch shells.
Beat the drums.
It's time to pop champagne...
Then he writes this classic line:
Let me keep it concise and to the point. You haven't watched something like this on the Hindi screen before. Never ever!
I couldn't agree more - it is so rare to see such garbage - I really don't think I have watched a worse film on the Hindi screen before.

He then writes, 
It requires courage, willpower, fortitude, vision and of course, the financial backing to accomplish a project of this magnitude.
Again, I couldn't agree more. It definitely requires great courage and willpower to go against even the bare minimum of common sense and good taste to make a film like this. One has to pay a lot of money to a lot of people to force them to come up with such garbage.
Final word? Go, grab a ticket, if you haven't booked one yet. This under-sea treasure hunt is a kickass film. A must-see for all those who love adventure flicks.
I feel like I got my ass kicked for sure. Out of great compassion for fellow cinema-goers, I give a heartfelt warning. If you must watch this, make sure you do so in a multiplex where you can get out and request the theater to watch another film.

Now, what's so bad about this film? First, it feels like someone threw money around like it grows on trees and got to film action sequences or song sequences wherever they liked. After they had these sequences, someone must have felt - lets write a script that sort of strings them together. As a formality, we find the characters telling us what the strings are, without a trace of conviction. Adarsh's comparison with National Geographic is ridiculous. Even National Geographic documentaries have a better script and storyline than this film. Akshay Kumar is fast slipping into the ranks of Salman Khan (in other words, he's going to be on my do-not-watch list unless some magic happens). 

That the director is a terrible one is clear from the way the film is shot. In a good film, we do not overdose on the heroes. When the hero interacts with others, you at least get to see the other person and there are dialogs which are mouthed by other small-role actors. That brings you in to the story. In a trashy film, the director does not bother to keep the camera on the side-actor for more than 100 microseconds, during which time the dialog delivery also happens. No expressions can be seen in such a short time, and one is left thinking that this is essentially an ego-trip for the actors involved. Such is the case with Blue, right from the first shot where Akshay Kumar and Sanjay Dutt battle a shark. We don't even get to see the other people on the boat and their expressions. Moreover, they are supposed to want to take the shark out to save the fish, but all the fish have escaped already. 

Flimsy excuses for every action sequence follows. Perhaps the worst insult to our intelligence is when Akshay Kumar jumps off his catamaran in a motorcycle, ostensibly to commit suicide but actually to escape, and how - in the sea bed, our man uses the air from motorcycle tyre to breathe and wait out a hurricane!!! This is after countless action sequences where our hero is more or less like a fish - does not require oxygen like other humans would.

The story is mostly told in the last five minutes of the film, and even here, it sounds concocted in a hurry with little regard for the audience's sensibility.

The only reason for watching this movie would be to give it the worst Hindi movie of the decade award. This one is definitely a finalist! The silver lining is that Taran Adarsh's reviews are so predictable that they can help us pick good films by doing the opposite of what he says.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Meditating with iPod

Those who are looking for technology that can assist meditation, you can use your iPod to play an opening and a closing chant quite easily, with meditation time in between.

First, create two playlists in iTunes called "Opening Chant" and "Closing Chant," and put in the chants (or gongs) of your choice. Transfer them to your iPod. Then, go into the main menu of iPod and select Extra-> Clock -> New Clock. Select your time zone (e.g. California), and click to see next menu. Select Alarm Clock, then select the time at which the alarm should go off. Lets say you want to meditate from 5:30 - 6:30 PM. Set this timer to 6:30 PM. Go back and select "Sound," and pick the Opening Chant playlist.

Repeat the steps for a second alarm clock, only pick the time to be 6:30 PM, and select the "Sound" to be the Closing Chant playlist.

That's it! Happy meditating!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Diwali Dreams

This is a skit I wrote around 2006, on the occasion of Diwali, on request from an IIT alum for their annual day. It was not performed, but I enjoyed writing it, and wish to make it available for any use.

Scene 1: Kal (Yesterday)
Father and mother are talking to each other.

Father: We must plan a big Diwali (Festival of Lights) celebration. Our son is coming home after a long time.

Mother: Indeed, I am eager to make so many sweets for my daughter-in-law. She especially loves rasamalai.
Father: Our grandson must be old enough to walk. I must go buy some clothes for him.
Mother: Let's tell them about our plans today. Our son should have called by now.

Phone rings..
Son: Hello Ma, how are you?
Mother: I am fine beta, how are you? What time is it?
Son: Great! It's 9 PM Friday night, as always and it's 9:30 AM at your end, as always!
Mother: Son, we are making our Diwali plans - we're really excited about all the things we will do when you come here. Your father is here too, and you can hear him on the speaker phone.
Son: Umm.. Ma, Baba, I am sorry, but we're making other plans this time. The thing is, we only get 3 weeks of vacations every year, and we use that to come to India. This time, we want to go to South America.
Father: What? So you won't come home this time, son?
Mother: We haven't seen you all year!
Son: Please try to understand. We really miss you, but we must have some time on our own too. With our current lifestyle, we're unable to get a vacation any other time.
Father: Don't worry, son. We will see you next year.
Mother: Yes, I will do puja for you, bahu and our grandson.
Son: Thanks, Ma, Baba! I knew you'd understand. I have to run now, we're going to a movie.. all is well here, I will catch you next week.
Mother, Father: Bye!

Father and Mother look at each other.
Father: Hmm, we broke our backs to get him to school. We got him through IIT coaching classes, he got through to IIT and he is a big man now in the US. He does not have any time for us.
Mother: There, there. You should not make hasty conclusions. They have their own life to live and we have ours. Our happiness lies in their happiness.
Father: Hmmm.

That night.. Father is sleeping and he sees a dream. Enter from left, a young boy carrying a sack with things in it. He is hardly able to walk because of the weight.

Father: Boy, I see you are struggling with that weight. Can I help you?
Boy: No one can help me. Only I can carry this weight.
Father: What weight is this?
Boy: These are my expectations. I have lots of expectations.
Father: Why don't you let go? You won't have such a load then?
Boy: But what will happen to my expectations then?
Father: They will cease to be.
Boy: Really? You mean I don't have to drag it around?
Father: No. It is you who decides to drag it around. So also it is you who can leave them behind. Life will be much easier.

Boy hesitatingly lets go, then looks at the bag

Father: If you don't let them go, you will lose your freedom. Your expectation will bind you, little boy. Here, let me help you.
Boy: No, no, no!!!! (yells)
Father: (takes the bag from him and throws it) There! That's all there is to it!
Boy: Huh! Huh! (looks at himself, his hands, and becomes very light, jumps up and down) I am free! I am free! Yipee! (hugs father) Thank you! I am free! (Cartwheels out of stage)

Father sits down, smiling. Then lies down. Now he wakes up with a start.
Father: Oh God! Oh God!! (Wakes up his wife) I am free! I am free!! Can you believe, I am free!!
Mother: Have you gone mad, dear husband? It's 2 AM!
Father: Starts dancing.. I am free, I am free. I have no expectations from our children. We will be really happy this Diwali!

Scene 2: Aaj (Today)
Husband and Wife are brooding.
Husband: You know, something's bothering me.
Wife: What, my dear?
Husband: I feel like I am not balancing all our relationships. I want to show a lot of love toward my parents. But I don't know how to do so.
Wife: Hmm.. This is a complicated topic. Let's talk about it in the morning.

Husband and wife lie down. Wife gets up. A boy walks up to her, looking very unhappy. He has a toy fire engine stuck to his hand.
Boy: I want to talk to you. I need your help.
Wife: What is worrying you, child?
Boy: I am deeply troubled. Someone told me you can help.
Wife: Tell me what is troubling you.
Boy: Well, I have a little sister, and I have been trying to show her some love. But I don't know how, you see - she breaks my toys and I am really attached to my toys. Someone told me you can help me out.
Wife: Do you really care for your sister?
Boy: Yes, I do.
Wife: Well, love goes hand in hand with sacrifice. To test your love, you must test your ability to sacrifice.
Boy: What is sacrifice? Do I have to give up something?
Wife: Yes, you must give up what is really precious to you and what you would like to have. This precious thing must be something your loved one would like to have from you.
Boy: Oh, she loves my favorite toy - the red fire engine.
Wife: Then, you must give it to her.
Boy: But I can't, it is my favorite toy - see, my hand is stuck to it. See, it came with this glue attachment glue. I spread it all over the toy and then put my hands on it. Ever since, the toy has been stuck to my hand.
Wife: There is a special magic oil that can remove the glue.
Boy: How do I get this oil?
Wife: Think about your sister, and how much you love her. When you do that, look in your pocket - you will find the magic oil.
Boy: (closes his eyes and smiles, the puts his hands in his pocket) Oh!! Here it is!!
Wife: What does it say?
Boy: Detachment Oil.

He pours it, and it comes off his hand.
Boy: Yay!! It came off! It came off! Sister, sister, see what I have for you.

Runs and gives to sister, who is delighted. They go off stage.
Wife goes to lying position. Then wakes up with a start. Wakes her husband up.

Wife: My God, I have the answer to your question.
Husband: What question?
Wife: How to show love to your parents.

Husband sits up now

Husband: How?
Wife: What is the most precious thing we have or are looking forward to?
Husband: Hmm.. It is our time together when we go to South America.
Wife:We break our attachment to that and gift our time to our parents.
Husband: Hmm.. but that's hard. I really want to go there. Ever since I saw the package, I got attached to it.
Wife: (Smiles) I know. You need the magic oil.
Husband: What?
Wife: Nothing. Think of all the love and joy you will bring to your parents, and attach yourself to that idea.
Husband: (Closes his eyes) Hmm.. (Smiles, calms down, becomes light) You are right, my dear. We will go to India. Let's surprise them.

Scene 3: Kal (Tomorrow)
Mother and father are lighting the diwali lamp.
Father: This one has all our prayers for their happiness, wherever they are.
Mother: And this one is for any misfortune on their path to come to us instead.
Father: Now, let us light two more for them.

Two are lit, and two are about to be lit, when son and daughter-in-law come in with their child.
Son: Stop. Those two are for us to light.
Father: My God!!

Lots of shrieks, emotional reunion. Tears on everyone's eyes.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What is Honor?

I was asked three interesting questions today: What is Honor, who should we honor, and how should we know whom to honor.

That set me thinking, and here I present some thoughts. In order to understand honor, we have to make a distinction on it's movement. It can be either offered or received. When it is offered, it is usually a selfless act, else we classify it as flattery. A selfless act is always beautiful. When received, it is a dangerous temptation, for that is when we stand the risk of identifying ourselves with our ego. In Sanskrit, the word for honor is "Maan." And the word for bruised ego is "Abhi-maan." They are deeply connected.

Honor is the recognition of selflessness. When we see someone who has gone beyond the little self, we are reminded of our own potential or self-imposed limitation. It is to acknowledge this potential or limitation that we recognize one who has gone beyond. A teacher who has gone beyond the call of duty and truly cared for the student is worthy of honor, for they have used their work (karma) to transcend their ego. We can draw a similar analogy for all work.

We have answered what is honor and who should we honor. The third question, prima facie, seems to be the same as the second. But it is distinct and also the most interesting one. For, honor is meaningless without the perceiver of selflessness. A perceiver must transcend their own ego in order to recognize the selflessness of another. A philosopher-friend once told me that the one who gives honor is greater than the one who receives it. For the perceiver has chosen to see the good while having other options and has recognized the good. In so doing, the perceiver has connected deeply with the divinity in the other through the divinity in their own self. One knows when to honor when one makes this connection. This connection often happens involuntarily when we see great acts of selflessness.

Once this is accepted, it is clear that receiving honor as one's due is a disaster. The receiver must understand that it is the giver's greatness that they choose to see the divine, and must in turn honor the giver. To think otherwise is to walk down a path of great self-deception.

The astute reader will point out that we are then engaged in cycles of honoring. This is quite true, and signs of this are to be found in all cultures. The anicent Indian civilization has brought this idea into their cultural routine by greeting one another with joined palms and uttering "Namaste." Namaste comes from "Namostute," which implies, I recognize the divine in you and bow to it. Please wish me that I may realize this divinity in my heart. If we explore other cultures, we will find similar routines.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bad Film Critic (with data)

I watched a nice film - Yahaan. And I couldn't resist checking what Taran Adarsh had to say about it. Of course, he trashed it. Then, I found this site called, that had reviews from different sources - pretty cool. I put together a little graph showing the negative correlation between my taste and Taran's taste.

I was quite surprised to see an almost perfect correlation. I had to try this out - so I checked the rating for Kabul Express. It got a 2.5, with Adarsh stating that the "aam junta" would not be able to appreciate it. Now I was convinced I'd like this movie. And it was awesome. I strongly recommend this film - can't believe it was made in India (felt that way about Iqbal and Dor too).

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

India: Little Stories, Big Dreams

Here is the presentation I gave on Aug 15. This presentation has a copyleft licence, which means you can use it as you like and distribute your own version with modifications. A link to the licence is on the first slide, which I expect you to preserve when you distribute your modified presentations.

Download the presentation

We had a video screening of Infinite Vision on the life of Dr. Venkataswamy. Lots of people were interested in this - if you felt inspired by it, I recommend that you buy the DVD and keep it for days when you feel you need to be uplifted, or take it with you to India and screen it at your alumnus institution.

We distributed Indian Ethos cards at the end for everyone. If you got inspired, please fill it up and get it laminated. Fedex-Kinkos will do it for you on campus. You will be surprised at your power of prophecy. Feel free to pass this on to your friends.

The class we spoke about at Stanford University was Brainstorming India. The first version of the class was taught by Piya Sorcar, Abhishek Bapna, Ashwini Doshi and myself. The second version will be taught next fall. The team will be greatly expanded and Namita Gupta (namita at stanford dot edu) is currently the lead co-ordinator. We will have several non-teaching members in the team to help with the research and organization. Please contact her to find out how you can help.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Bad Film Critic

I have been toying with the idea of writing this piece ever since I read the leading reviews of Swades. I finally had to after I saw the review for Krrish and asked my friends about it.

Indian media seems to be swayed by one film critic, Taran Adarsh, who also writes for a site called I find Mr. Adarsh's reviews rather peculiar. They seem to focus almost entirely on whether a film will draw the masses and make lots of money. That's not a reviewer's job - a good reviewer is like a wine connoisseur who helps us find and appreciate great wine. Imagine a wine connoisseur writing about wines that will draw the common masses and rejecting all the best ones as common folks won't have the good sense to appreciate it! That's the whole point of having an expert reviewer.

One may argue that people have different tastes, but so do no consumers of wine. And the wine connoisseur is supposed to have the most eclectic tastes of all. On the other hand, Mr. Adarsh's reviews look like they could have been written by someone who has not gone beyond the sophistication of a junior college student, the poor English notwithstanding.

Let's look at his latest review of Krrish on Y! India Movies. Taran seems to have a propensity towards the phrase, "xxx movie works!" or "xxx movie just doesn't work!" He writes about Krrish, "The film works, and works big time." Three of the first four paragraphs focus on the pedigree of the film and much less about the film itself. Before even beginning with the story, we're told, "In a nutshell, KRRISH is a terrifically exciting and compelling experience. Move over SUPERMAN, BATMAN and SPIDERMAN. KRRISH, the Indian superhero, has arrived!

Krishna [Hrithik Roshan] is born with magical powers -- a legacy from his father, Rohit Mehra.

Free as a bird, he runs like the wind...

Like an eagle, he soars across rivers and mountain tops...

As a lion, he conquers rugged rocks without fear..."

I find this highly immature language for a serious reviewer. Upon asking my friends what they thought, I've been told it's a terrible movie - perhaps only good for children viewers. It may do great business - that has not much to do with it's quality. Great films often don't do great business.

Now, let's see what Mr. Adarsh had to say about three films I consider as hallmarks of mature Indian cinema.

From the review of Swades, he starts as usual with the pedigree and in the third paragraph, states his opinion as follows, "Unfortunately, SWADES disappoints big time. The story of SWADES would've been ideal for a documentary, but for a feature film with a running time of 3 hour plus and starring the country's biggest star, it just doesn't work." He gets cynical throughout the review and very grudgingly acknowledges some "sequences" which he then claims aren't enough to save the film.

This kind of logic is incredible coming from a leading reviewer. He seems to be entirely focused on the money-making ability of a film. What is sad is that many people might actually be influenced by his low-quality reviews and hence write off really great films. I am yet to meet someone who did not like Swades outside India - and out here, we rarely read Adarsh's reviews - we mostly go by what our friends tell us.

Let's see what he had to write about Raincoat. Here's how he begins his first paragraph, "Certain films are targeted at the festival circuit and also to win critical acclaim. The story and the execution are so abstract that you actually wonder whether an avid cinegoer of today would be able to comprehend it.

RAINCOAT is one of those films. An offbeat film on all counts, there's nothing in the film that you actually carry home once the screening has concluded. All you do is sit in the auditorium and watch two people indulge in non-stop meaningless chatter in one dingy dark room of a dilapidated house. And the conversation is so dull, drab and boring that you actually wonder what writer-director Rituparno Ghosh was trying to convey through this film.

RAINCOAT has nothing to offer: No story, no drama, not even great performances… As for entertainment, forget it!"

Anyone who makes this comment about Raincoat should really stick to watching Superman! This guy does not seem to understand good cinema at all. He does not even make a mention of O'Henry's story "The Gift of the Magi" on which it is based. I wonder if he has even read it.

Finally, with Black, he had this to say, "Fine art - an abstract one at least - might be appreciated by those who understand it. But for the common man, who does not comprehend or decipher it, it's an exercise in futility.

That's the problem with BLACK."

This is a rather specious piece of logic, one that is not only obnoxious but also highly presumptious of the audience. He even writes authoritatively, "It's definitely NOT the type that would find patronage with the vast majority of Indian audiences."

Well, it turns out that BLACK had a pretty successful run though it was slow in picking up (I wonder if his reviews contributed to it). It is quite shocking that anyone writing serious movie reviews would use CAPS - that is so immature.

To conclude, I find Adarsh's reviews not just distasteful but also in poor form. However, they do have one value - I have of late found that movies he says "won't work" are actually quite good, and those that he says are great turn out to be crappy. So, negating his statement can actually give us valuable information about the film's true quality.

Hmm.. maybe his reviews are not so useless after all.