Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Taare Zameen Par

Aamir Khan's first directorial venture is a languidly paced story about a dyslexic child struggling to come to grips with the expectations at home and away. Its a film with a message, and as with all such films, there is the danger of the story losing itself in the search for the moral high ground.

But Aamir manages to steer away from the dangers by concentrating his camera on the beauty and the little pleasures of childhood. His focus is constantly on the child, Ishaan Awasthi, than on the child's saviour. He brings to life the little moments in Ishaan's life which appear incongruous when seen from adult eyes - his pleasure in the tiny fishes captured from the gutter and given a place of pride in his fishbowl, in playing with the flea-ridden mongrels waiting for him to return from school, his wonder at seeing a man climbing up a scaffolding to paint the sides of a building. Seen through Ishaan's eyes, these everyday moments appear magical. So what if capturing the little fishes means getting your hair and hands soaked with gutter water? So what if those street dogs tear apart the exam papers sent by the teachers to be viewed and signed by your parents? So what if you have to bunk out of school to see the man dare to climb up that magnificent scaffolding? So what if you have to beg your elder brother to write an absent letter so mom doesnt find out about your bunking classes? As Ishaan puts it, "Bindaas!"

And so what if your scores in every subject are in the low single digits? If the teachers at school, and parents at home, do not understand that Ishaan has a problem with reading and writing, why should the 8-yr old point it out as a problem - he would much rather just say he doesnt want to learn! That ensures his "Bindaas" reputation after all. But when Ishaan is packed off to boarding school by his father, furious with his non-performance at school and concerned about his future, Ishaan finds himself alone in a world where studying by rote is mistaken as academic excellence. His one passion, the one thing which he is truly brilliant at, painting is also suppressed under the pressure of catching up with his fellow students.

Aamir Khan's achievement is multi-fold - his visualization of the childs internal world is wonderfully vivid. Borrowing a page out of Calvin & Hobbes to show Ishaan working out a math question, and later showing his angst and anguish at being considered a 'duffer' - Aamir shows a brilliant aptitude for taking us into the child's mind. He avoids taking up a preaching tone at any time and his criticism of parental pressure is pointed, but discreet. And when you see Ishaan standing at the edge of a precipice, staring blank eyed into the depths, you want to reach out and pull him back, explain to him that its all going to be alright soon. Somehow, you feel that this must be how so many kids become suicidal.

There are many sequences in the movie which stay in the mind. Ishaan's wanderings through the streets of Mumbai; his first day at the boarding school, with the haunting "Meri Maa" song in the background; Aamir's visit to Ishaan's home to investigate why this little kid is so quiet and inward; and of course the uplifting finale with a painting competition which makes you feel like buying an easel and some paint and whip out a few canvasses of your own.

The music fits in very well with the film, and songs like "Jame Raho", "Meri Maa" and "Kholo Kholo Darwaaze" are quite hummable. The lyrics by Prasoon Joshi are some of the best in recent years - very cohesive with the story and emphasising the child's inner turmoil. And then there is the artwork - wonderful paintings, clay sculptures etc which add together to make this movie a visual treat too.

Overall, its a great debut from Aamir the director. Its a great continuation to Aamir the actor's career - saying that he is excellent in his role is almost redundant. You really have to dig deep to find the roles where Aamir has been less than excellent. And its also the debut of a wonderful new child actor, Darsheel Safary, as Ishaan he lives the role. He is brilliant. So is the movie, definitely one of the best of 2007.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The 'Values' of the ICC

The crux of the issue which caused the Indian team to take a stand and put the tour on hold has truly got swept under all the rhetoric which has been pouring out from every news channel and any two-bit columnist with half a keyboard.

Its not like this is the first time that India (or a sub-continent team) has faced awful umpiring. Its happened before and we have always taken it on the chin and gone on. How many times have Indian fans not groaned when the Indian captain remarks after another lost test match that 'these things happen in cricket', and maybe we should have done better inspite of poor decisions. But this is definitely the first time that the Indian team has taken such a strong stand against it. The key issue here is the fact that the Indian team has not asked for the second test to be annulled. They have asked that the umpires responsible for this embarassment of a result, should not be allowed to stand in the remaining matches.

The other main issue is that the Indian team believes there is no case against Harbhajan, and there should not have been any ban imposed on him consequently. Its clearly a scenario where a group of people feel hard done by, and are demanding justice. The fact that this group of people happens to be the Indian cricket team, the so-called most powerful cricket team in terms of financial clout, is immaterial. If this situation had happened with Zimbabwe playing against Kenya, the issue would still have been as important.

There are so many organisational faults with the ICC that its just a mystery how this body manages to keep a hold on world cricket. The very fact that even the CEO of this organisation, Malcolm Speed, is incapable of sifting through the mounds of crap and addressing the real issue, is astounding. The last thing this issue needed was for Speed to call a press conference and tell the world that the ICC will not allow a different set of rules for India. We have not asked for different rules, Mr Speed, we have asked that a different set of rules currently favouring Australia be not allowed. We have asked you for justice, Mr Speed. Does that sound like a familiar word?

I would really like to know what the responsibilities or objectives of the ICC are. Have they been written down somewhere? Do the employees of the International Cricket Council know what is involved in being a cog in the wheel that runs the global game?

In fact, they have been put up on their website. Hmm.. The ICC Mission! Values!

The ICC Mission
As the international governing body for cricket, the
International Cricket Council will lead by:

  • Promoting and protecting the game, and its unique spirit
  • Delivering outstanding, memorable events
  • Providing excellent service to Members and stakeholders
  • Optimising its commercial rights and properties for the benefit of its
How do you protect the game, Mr Speed? Why has there never been any protection to Asian teams against the boorish Aussies? Do I even need to give examples here? Why didnt the ICC step in during the tens of occasions of boorish behaviour from the Australian team - the one team that has consistently claimed to be a proponent of 'hard cricket'. But they could never take it themselves, could they? So when the Indians appeal strenuously for a catch which they believe was taken, Sehwag is suspended. But here we have two cases - Ponting's awful 'cheat of the worst kind' appeal, and the equally awful 'Fifth umpire' ruling of Clarke's catch. Where is the protection, Mr Speed? Who are you protecting, Malcolm? Sehwag and the Indian team has no integrity? Whereas Ponting does?

Excellent service to members?? Clearly, Mike Procter has a different idea about providing service to the member countries of the ICC. How can you, Malcolm, overlook the fact that Mike Procter doled out a three match ban without a shred of evidence, except for hearsay from the Aussies? How do you provide for the selective acceptance of evidence from the Aussies, without considering that there was one other voice in the room which claims that the racist remark was not made? The person who that voice belonged to, was one of two people who were withing hearing distance during the incident, but he must have been lying, right? He isnt an Aussie after all. Why is it that your countrymen are considered to have more integrity than two veterans of the game, both with flawless records of having played the game with dignity and integrity? Is the ICC racist, Mr Speed?

'Openness, honesty and integrity' - these are some of the values espoused by your organisation. There is 'Accountability and responsibility', 'Respect for our diversity' and finally - 'Fairness and equity'. Please point out some instances of any of these values being upheld during and after the Sydney test, Mr Speed.

And with your comments equally distorting the real issues involved here, maybe its time to drop the hypocrisy and note down the real 'Values' you uphold, Mr Speed.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Just not cricket...

The horrendous decision making by the umpires in the second test is completely ridiculous. At the time of writing this, Sunil Gavaskar is coming close to letting his rage become dangerously visible while commenting on India's continuing attempt to save the match. The problem is that the Indian team is not up against a team of 11 Aussies, but also against one West Indian, one Englishman and one South African. And you could probably add a bunch of others in the ICC to that list.

No other test match comes to mind when the poor (and i really mean pathetically, abysmally, match-fixer-allegationally poor) decision making by the umpires has contributed so much to the possible result of the test match.

Andrew Symonds, that proud protector of his race's pride and dignity, that hard-done-by accuser of racial insults being hurled his way by Harbhajjan Singh who himself had gone through a couple of hours of sledging being hurled his way constantly by 5 or 6 aussie players - that Symonds, maybe an Aussie symbol of sportsmanship, stayed his ground with a wonderful display of opportunism while the myopic Steve Bucknor spent about fifteen minutes in deciding that a clear caught-behind was actually not out. Then when the bowler, young Ishant Sharma, stood pulling his hair out in large chunks, that same deaf and dumb umpire thought it to be an act of great dissent, worthy of a reference in his report. Then later, even the third umpire got into the fun and decided to rule a clear stumping as not out. Symonds went on to score a large hundred and 'rescued' Australia from a bad situation.

Follow that up with the awful decisions against the Indian players, which has been written enought about in the media. The latest ones were Dravid being given out caught behind when he didnt touch the ball, and Ganguly being given caught in the slips by Mark Benson, who seems to believe that Ricky Ponting is the third umpire. He didnt feel the need to check whether the catch was clearly taken through the third umpire, relying on Ponting's immensely unbiased opinion. To add salt, haldi and Everest ka Tikhalal mirchi to the wounds, Ganguly's questions to the buffoon getting his paycheck under the heading 'Umpire' will probably be seen as dissent as well.

Adding to the awful umpiring, has been the opportunistic appealing and ugly unsporting behaviour shown by the Australian team. Lead by the one captain in international cricket who has no claims to playing anything called the 'gentleman's game', the Aussies have shown that a talented team can still be so ugly on the field that they earn nothing but disrespect.

I think its pretty unlikely, but in case any Australian fans pass through this blog someday, THE AUSTRALIAN CRICKET TEAM IS FULL OF CHEATS!!! And the biggest is Ricky Ponting, who is also a liar. Gleeful about the awful umpiring which has consistently been biased against the Indian team, he has lead his team to appeal on anything and everything, whether it be an authentic chance or not. They have obviously gone with the plan of piling pressure on the chumpires and push them further towards making their dreadful decisions. Every time the ball hits the pads, they all go up in appeal. Every time the ball goes past the bat, they go up in appeal.

And they do this in the safe knowledge, that this team of ugly over-achievers have always been sheltered by the incompetent idiots who head the 'ICC'. The kings of on-field sledging have never faced any inquiries against them (except the pathetic time when Warne had the balls to go on air and apologize for having fixed a match, and was let go relatively easily), but their opponents have consistently been brought to book for various acts including dissent whenever they let out a groan of despair when their hard-work comes to nothing. I may not have all the stats, but I cannot remember the last time when any Australian players were brought to book for their aggression on the field.

At the time of writing this post, there are 11 more overs to go for India to avoid defeat. Dhoni and Kumble are standing tall at the crease and trying to hold the fort. But it is so much more difficult knowing that you dont really have to make a mistake to be given out. It may just depend on the awful umpires imaginations fuelled further by the fact that Ricky 'The Cheat' Ponting and his boys seem pretty confident about having got their man.

:( Damn! Damnnn! DAMN!!!!

I hope this serves as a lesson to the bloody dimwits in the BCCI and wakes them up to taking some action against each and every umpire involved in this game. If either of Steve Bucknor or Mark Benson are ever seen officiating another cricket match, it will be a shame for everyone involved in this damn game!!! My condolences to Anil Kumble and his boys.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Year That Was... in Books

So 2007 has come and gone. This is my attempt to summarize the year that was and what the flow of time brought to me.

My reading year was filled with a need to re-read and a desire to accumulate. I have found that the need to collect - books, comics - has driven me this year. My work schedule has not allowed me more reading time than maybe an hour a day. After work is the time I get to spend with my wonderful wife and the little bundle of energy we have created together. But I collect - and in the process have accumulated a pretty large number of books and comics, both the bound-and-published format and the slightly guilty pleasure of the downloaded, pirated version.

Some of the best read's for me this year -

1) Watchmen by Alan Moore - Read this graphic novel for the first time this year when I picked it up from the Glendale Library. Read it again later in the year still filled with disbelief at Moore's writing ability, his vision of looking past the hype and hoopla of super-heroes and his ability to grab and expose the humanity under it. In all its grime covered glory. The series has been criticized for its art work, which is very much like a regular superhero comic. But Dave Gibbons's artwork is ultra-innovative and works in Moore's layer-upon-layer storyline spectacularly. See the image here for one small example, then imagine a similarly startling image every few pages.

Anyone who hasnt read this book yet should do so before the movie comes around and spoils it for all of us.

2) Sandman Volumes 1 to 5 by Neil Gaiman - Perhaps the one comics writer who can challenge Alan Moore for the brilliance of his work. And even if Moore pips him to the post as the best writer for comics, Neil Gaiman would still qualify for me as the most literary writer in comics. His seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of myth and mythology shows in the brilliant storylines of the Sandman series. There are 10 volumes in the full series, plus a few tangential works. I have only read the first five, but these comics go way beyond entertainment. These are works of art, as well as awe-inspiring drama. The characterisation of The Endless is brilliant, and the stories are the results of fever dreams.

3) V For Vendetta and From Hell both by Alan Moore again - Two more brilliant works from Moore. VforV is a futuristic story about a Britain ruled by a Fascist group and an anarchic hero who stands up against it. The famous London fog seems to have filtered into the very heart of the people in this story, as the government clamps down its laws of morality and all kinds of arts are banned. The hero, identified only as 'V' and seen in a Guy Fawkes mask, believes that anarchy is a better option than living in such a society. If you have seen the movie, its like missing the fire for the smoke.

The same applies to From Hell, a 550+ page graphic novel presenting Moore's own hypothesis about the identity of Jack the Ripper. This novel is complex, sometimes vulgar and always hard to read. But its a tour de force in the reconstruction of the strange times which allowed a murderer of the monstrosity of Jack the Ripper. From Hell is how he addressed the letters he sent to the newspapers and police. Moore has studied every conspiracy theory on the Ripper's identity and built a history of that torrid time. The bleak black and white art work can sometimes engender a feeling of nausea and claustrophobia as it draws you uncomfortably close to the monster's mind. The movie cuts out such large parts of the story that it does not deserve to call itself an adaptation of the comic. I have actually lost some of the respect I had for Tim Burton as a filmmaker after I realised what he has done to the comic.

4) Blankets by Craig Thompson - What can I say, the best books I read this year were all graphic novels! I think this one has been listed as the longest graphic novel yet. Its a simple story - a love story between two less-than-cool teenagers with somewhat dysfunctional families - but told in simple art work (also by Thompson) which elevates the story to the level of a fairy tale. Its heart-warmingly real love story apart, it is also a coming of age tale. So, thats a two line summary, how do you spread it across 600 pages? By filling it with love for each of your characters, and giving them room to grow - just grow.

5) My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk - Constantly changing narrators, intrigue in the world of Turkish miniaturists, a dead man talking from the grave, a world of repressed and sometimes extinguished desires, a culture steeped in its own history and its legendary artists, a time when originality in art is blasphemy, and also a betrayal of all those who are unoriginal - yet a world filled with beauty, desire, and the lust for power. Orhan Pamuk works all these threads in his off-beat murder mystery which only serves as an excuse for a discourse on the art of painting. Captivating stuff.

6) Lisey's Story by Stephen King - King has for a long time been one of my favourite writers. Although sometimes he can be blamed for writing sub-standard stuff, many of his books are brilliantly entertaining and gripping. Books like It (which i am re-reading currently), The Dead Zone, Dolores Claiborne, The Shining, The Green Mile etc transcend beyond just horror stories to a genre all his own - a truly satisfying story, well told. Lisey's Story is probably his first book which tries to be literary too, besides being a rip-roaringly good yarn. And he succeeds. Lisey is a well rounded character and her story definitely is a very satisfying one.

As a bynote on King here, 'It' has always been the one book by King which has had its spell on me since I first read it - close to 15 years ago. Though I never read it again since then, the story of a town haunted by a being which is more than just a ghost, something similar to a Cthulhu-like evil, stayed with me for a long time. But King has never been satisfied with just a good monster - he has to raise the monsters in your mind too.

7) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Rounding off the list for this year, the Potter saga finally ends. Though many readers found the book to be anti-climactic, due to the fact that a lot of the clues placed by Rowling in the storyline being correctly interpreted by fans, I thought this was a very satisfying denouement to the series. Miss Rowling though seems to be missing Harry more than she had thought she would, she has already hinted that she will be working on another HP book. That could perhaps be the beginning of a completely new series of Potter books. And all I can say is, bring 'em on!

Well, those are my favourites from what I have read this year. So ok, I probably missed out on a large chunk of stuff worth reading. Maybe some of you guys out there can drop a few suggestions for me?

Some of the other books which nearly made the list were -

Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman - Art retells the story of the holocaust through his father's voice and add's a different kind of menace to it by representing the Jews as mice and the Germans as cats. The human-like animal representations freaked me out - adding a deadly satire to the already horrendous acts which were done. Maybe he has hit the nail on its head there - humans could not have done those things to other humans.

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem - A mystery with a detective who suffers from Tourette's syndrome. Thats a plot device which just blows my mind. A Tourette ridden person has no control on what he says, so he blurts out whats on his mind at all the worst times. So what we have here, is a detective trying to hide his presence from various dangerous types while he goes snooping - but his condition never gives him the anonymity he needs! He scream's out his favourite tic - 'Eat me, Bailey' - at the most inopportune moments. There is humor in this book, but also a great deal of pathos.

And of course, I re-read the first two books of George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series again this year. What can I say, I'm a fan.

In fact, I've done so much re-reading this year, its probably cut down on new books I have read. But all round, not a bad year at all.

And 2nd Jan is also the birthday of the kingslayer's room! Yippee yayy!! This page is now officially ONE year old and can go out and buy itself a beer now! Yes, ONE is the official drinking age for blogs! ;)