St Vincent, of relationships thinly disguised

st-vincentBill Murray is a brilliant actor. We know this because many of us have seen movies like Lost in Translation, Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters. Now, the actor has put in a scintillating performance as Vincent MacKenna in St Vincent, a little gem of a movie, which is in parts sentimental and feel-good, but also equally heartfelt and brilliant.

I discovered St Vincent while browsing on YouTube tonight. They have this paid section for movies and I chose the movie, trusting Murray and the four-star rating from Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie is mostly a comedy though it has some pretty intense dramatic sequences. Murray is really funny is his own laid back, mild kind of way. Melissa McCarthy, who also has a gift for comedy, lands a plum role as Vincent’s neighbour, Maggie Bronstein.

Maggie has a young adopted son, Oliver, played by newcomer Jaeden Lieberher and is going through a divorce. Oliver and Vincent strike an unlikely friendship and Lieberher’s role is a cohesive one, bringing together most of the major characters of the movie.

Naomi Watts plays a strip dancer, who is pregnant. Vincent is one of her regular customers.

The movie revolves around the life of Vincent, who underneath his sarcastic, mean and grouchy exterior has a heart of gold, which Oliver is quick to sense.

The dialogues are of standout quality. They are sharply written and Oliver’s monologue at the end is incisive. Lieberher is superb as Oliver and plays him as a charming, intelligent and lovable kid. It is a give and take relationship between Oliver and Vincent, who despite odds help each other pull along.

The cinematography and background score are non-intrusive and sublime. Some well-known rock songs also dot the movie’s soundtrack, especially Bob Dylan’s Shelter from the Storm, which booms as the end credits roll. Murray quite delightfully mumbles along the words.

The movie is a snapshot of modern America. The prostitute who is pregnant, the woman who can’t conceive, the Vietnam War veteran, the boy with inner dignity are all people who are part and parcel of the country. St Vincent is a not too bad an attempt in asking us to invest our emotions in these characters, who in turn restore our faith in humanity.

In recent days

Since moving to Ooty last year, I have written a few articles for various websites. The attempt here is to present a slice of them. Please click through to read.

Before the release of Kabali, when expectations had reached fever pitch, I wrote this article for Scroll.

I wrote a column titled Flicks That Clicked for a friend who was then running a website. Only four columns appeared. Some of my political stories in Tamil Nadu have appeared here.

A fan’s viewpoint on rock artist Bob Dylan winning the Nobel was published here. Also, a list of his most famous songs was also published in Outlook’s website.

An article on Tamil movies completing 25 years was published on Outlook as well. Please take a look. 

I have always loved Maharajapuram Santhanam. BLink gave me an opportunity to write this article about him.

This article on Ilaiyaraja appeared on The News Minute.

This was an early article I wrote for TNM. Was quite pleased when they published it.

 

The timeless appeal of Hank Williams, a little botched

I picked up a DVD of I Saw The Light a couple of weeks ago. It is about the rise to fame of country singer Hank Williams, who was an inspiration for Bob Dylan, probably my favourite artiste. The movie, which runs for just two hours, starts with the marriage of Williams to Audrey Sheppard. It was released to negative reviews, perhaps unfairly so.

Hiddleston, more famous for playing Loki in the superhero film Thor, plays Williams. I remember watching I Walk The Line based on the life of Johnny Cash and Ray based on Ray Charles. This doesn’t come close to either movie, but cannot be dismissed either.

Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Sheppard, put in great performances and the movie is caught up with the women in Williams’ life. His music, sometimes, takes a back seat. Hiddleston, however, sang all the songs himself. The title of the film is from a famous gospel song by Williams.

The film makes no mention of Hank’s father or the street musician he learned the trade from — Rufus Payne. This seems inexplicable, especially since Payne is the only one credited as his teacher by Williams.

Hank Williams has an appeal that has cut across generations and an easy yet insightful writing style. This has not been captured by the pic, despite the talented Hiddleston’s scorching performance.

Directed by Marc Abraham, the film doesn’t get anywhere close to get near the Hank Williams legend or what makes the singer tick. A number of scenes show him drinking, which is later revealed to be because of a condition known as spina bifina occulta, which means that the songwriter-singer’s vertebra were not closed. He was born with the condition.

Sheppard is shown as not caring for him when he falls ill, leading to their divorce during which husband and wife trade absurd charges against each other.

Williams began recording at 23 and died of heart damage at 29, while being driven to a performance. He has sold 11 million albums.

Hindi films as I saw them

bobby

Some of the earliest Hindi movies I saw were Bobby, Shehanshah and Aradhana. I saw Shehanshah on video in the house of our family friend in Mumbai. The tape was available in a provision shop and, along with essentials, it was rented out for a few bucks. I was very impressed with Amitabh Bachchan in that movie, and to my memory it is the first movie of his that I watched. The shallow heroics stunned my young mind. I had just turned 11.

In those days, original sound tracks of Hindi movies were not available in Nagercoil, my hometown. So my dad used our own National Panasonic two-in-one to record the songs of Bobby when it was telecast on DD, which itself was a new channel then. He put the device in front of the TV and taped the songs. He had already seen the movie many years ago and knew when the songs would come on. I listened to those noisy recordings for months together and in love with the songs, and the movie as well. The lead pair were cute, don’t you think?

Aradhana also received the same treatment. Then I saw Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Hum. Both left an impression on me. The passion between the protagonists — Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla — is still etched in my mind. And, you simply got to watch the scene with the cockroach in Hum. Amitabh is at his comic best in it.  Hum was adapted as Badsha in Tamil later on.

I also distinctly remember watching on VHS Maine Pyar Kiya for the first time. I fell in love with the movie and its songs. I was enamoured by Bhagyashree too, just like Salman in the movie. Looking back, I am ashamed of how poor my taste was. It is too mushy and corny now. In my teens, it was something to die for.

I don’t know if Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge will stand up to scrutiny now. But the picturisation of ‘Didi Tera Dewar Diwana’ really attracted me to Madhuri Dixit. Besides, this was not the TV anymore. It was the big screen in Nagercoil’s best theatre. There was that sensual underlying to the whole business that even Rajshree Pictures is unable to capture again.

So, where do I fit in Sholay? Or Dil To Pagal Hai? I am only aware I can’t name them in the same breath. But these are films I saw around the same time.  I don’t think I can say anything about Sholay  which hasn’t been said. I never had the chance to watch Sholay in the theatre, something I regret. And, at least according to me, DTPH is quite forgettable.

I remember dragging my dad to watch the national award-winning Bandit Queen. The film was heavily edited and the print that landed up in Nagercoil wouldn’t have been exhibited in a good theatre. But despite this, I loved the film’s cinematography by Ashok Mehta.

Khamoshi was another mature movie I saw. It was exhilarating. I saw it in the theatre. The songs were damn good. The story was off beat and I developed a crush on Manisha Koirala. It broke my heart when she did Baba after all those years. But I don’t think even Khamoshi belongs in anyone list of all time great flicks in Hindi. And I haven’t seen the all-time greats as Mother India. I have to get around to doing that someday. But Khamoshi was classic Bansali and was a soul-satisfying watch.

1942: A Love Story was another movie that I saw in the theatre and simply loved. It was a movie that began my courting of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s films. I loved the songs and listen to them till this day. I also thought the movie’s climax was mounted on a massive scale. I vividly remember walking out of the movie with my cousins, all of us slightly giddy with joy for some strange, unknown reason.

Then I remember watching Kareeb and Di Se in Thiruvanathapuram, while staying there to spend time with dad. I saw both movies multiple times since I had nothing better to do. Kareeb’s love affair between two innocent people captured my imagination, though the lead pair never matured into major actors.

I have always been a Manirathnam fan. So I didn’t mind long queues to watch Dil Se. The film ran only for a couple of weeks, but the initial crowd was maddening. A R Rahman’s rendition of ‘Dil Se Re’ is still among my favourites of the music composer.

I saw Pukar in Chennai while studying at the Madras Christian College. My friend had seen it and rubbished it. I nevertheless saw it and thought it was better than the average song and dance movie. Moreover, it had a score by AR Rahman. What’s not to like. But that was one of the few Hindi movies I watched that year. My friend and I always preferred the latest Hollywood blockbuster to the Hindi movie.

Other movies I remember watching are Dil Chahte Hai, which won an unexpected national award. I also saw Black, which I found to be a little pretentious. I didn’t like Devadas outright. I didn’t think Bansali showed feel for the material. There are probably many more movies which I have seen and liked. But this blog will go on and on if I write about all of them.

I will just end this with short notes on two movies I saw recently. One was Tamasha. I liked the movie quite a bit, despite the mixed reviews. I am happy that it had at least this much of depth, which is not often noticed in mainstream fare.

I will end with a note on Bajirao Mastani. The dialogues were complex and I had to struggle to keep up. But with the movie being such a massive hit, it is clear that there will always be people in the Hindi film industry wanting to be alag and people ready to embrace their fare. And that is a happy thought.

The all-seeing eye and challenges in the modern era

This was done in April. Attempts to locally publish it in Ooty came to naught. So here’s it.

I notice that Dr D Krishnamurthy is preoccupied and to the point of being fidgety during the course of my interview with him. He has hundreds of things to do and yet he accommodates me gracefully after a couple of hours of waiting. The man is all charm as he lends a keen ear to my questions.
The most common of eye problems, the good doctor tell me, is of refractive index, which forces 30% of all Indian children to wear glasses. With the life expectancy increasing, diseases like Glaucoma are also on the rise. Age-Related Macular Degeneration, ARMD, is also common these days.
I take a quick survey of the patients at the Eye Foundation in Coimbatore. Most of them are middle aged. Nurses are reverential and efficient. There is a system put in place. My own examinations lasted about 15 minutes, and I came out happy that a thorough job had been done. The foundation has its own pharmacy, critical in a town like Ooty, and also dispenses eye glasses. I was asked if I wanted to go for a non-invasive laser surgery. “Do you want contact glasses?” Again, a no. I politely declined.
I asked if glaucoma had become an epidemic. “Not really. Cases are common but the procedure is safe. But it is better if the condition is caught early,” says Ramamurthy. The Eye Foundation has several clinics strewn across western Tamil Nadu. “All of them have cutting edge technology,” he says.
“His day is divided between administrative tasks. But we always have patients who need to see him. He divides his time equally between centres. However, he is based in Coimbatore at the Eye Foundation there,” says Girish Reddy GC.
Retinitis Pigmentosa, otherwise known as night blindness, is the scrounge among eye disorders. “We have hundreds of patients who come with us seeking a cure for their problem. Though the issue can be alleviated, it cannot be cured, which is unfortunate,” says Ramamurthy.

Strong and shaping me

A few years ago, I met a girl in my office. She was interning and I was heading the desk. She was smart, good with language, had a terrific sense of humour, and was pretty. She was in her early twenties. Because she was proficient and had a degree in journalism, my boss asked her to join the desk as a trainee. I used to talk to her a lot and not always about work.

Soon, I learned that she had a boyfriend. When I teased her about that, she would say that they were “on a break” like in the series, Friends, in which Ross and Rachel go on a break from their romantic relationship to preserve their friendship.

In the months that followed, we kept in touch and I would often ask her about her boyfriend. I realised it was an on-again-off again relationship that my friend didn’t want to take forward even though they had been intimate.

During the time she was there, she even started an affair with a married man not knowing he was married. Somehow, the winds had shifted around her foundation.

Why do I tell you this story? This is the template on which women often base their relationships. They may not marry men with whom they once were in love with . Or were intimate with. The modern woman craves for more.

Parents have little choice other than marrying their daughter to the man of her choice. My friend married a guy of her choice in a way they wanted to. The parents had no other option other than to bless the couple.

The latest trend is that women look all things their parents traditionally looked in a prospective groom and much more. My friend chose a guy who was close to her in age, dark and handsome, and was attuned to her temperament. Like the movie, O Kadhal Kanmani, my friend moved in with her boyfriend much before marriage. That she was bold enough to do that is a testimonial to her courage and others like her. She also waited, like many others like her, for her to be mature enough to live with her partner forever. But she made the choice to tie the knot mostly on her own.

The modern woman especially in cities doesn’t vote lest the government take over her duties..

There are 497 million women in India, which is 48% of the total population, according to the latest Census data. At least a few million must be calling the shots despite making bad decisions. This only makes them stronger.

My friend married and was divorced within a few months, much to my shock and dismay. From being an example to girls her age, she had, in a way, become a fallen angel.

I had a close friend in college while doing my bachelor’s degree in Nagercoil. She was romantically interested in me and I was not particularly keen. My friends used to tease me about her for hours together even as I tried to keep a straight face. I think I did underestimate her quite a bit. Recently, I saw her on social media and she was in the US happily married. She had made it in life in way I never would have imagined. She was sweet the same way she was in college. We were polite with each other and moved on.

Again, that is an example of a woman putting the pedal down on what she wanted. Even while coming from an ordinary family in Nagercoil, my friend had landed a life she most craved for. Well, time to say, congrats.

Nowadays, I shamelessly watch Romedy Now. I can’t say I hate all the movies. Some are particularly good and soul satisfying. I wish they served more of that fare.

I think of these friends while watching TV or taking a bath. They creep into my thoughts unbidden and stay there for an uncomfortable time. As much as I admire their roller-coaster of lives, it feels unseemly to be thinking about them, now that I am a husband and father. I mean for this post to be a tribute for all the strong women I have met in my life.

My mother was one. Soon after the birth of my brother, my mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease difficult to diagnose and nearly impossible to cure. My mom didn’t have much to hang on to. Her relationship with my dad, especially in the last few years of her life, was hard on her and him. Yet, she remained tough till her last breath. She died when she was 39. I don’t want to end this post without a mention of her. She was probably the strongest woman I know. She made sure that my brother and I turned out alright. My early childhood is strewn with happy incidents, which she stage managed. I do wish she was still around. She would have guided me in all my relationships with women, who were just like her. RIP, mom.

Forbidden love

We were not in love
You called it infatuation
I thought it was just sex

When you left I was lonely
I realised I had loved you
more than what you had thought

You are now married, I am too
we haven’t forgotten the past
we still love each other

You love your husband and son
I love my wife and daughter
and life seems all right