The Outlook 3

As Acham Enbathu Madamaiyada was released, I did a story on Gautham Menon. When I grew tired of superhero movies, I did this article for Outlookindia.com. My take on everybody’s favourite dragon story was published here.

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MAMI festival: The First Post reviews

Mumbai is a lovely city. It hit me again when I visited the city recently. This is my third visit to the business hub of India. My first time was with my dad when I was 11. I visited again for the marriage of my friends; one friend was marrying another, and we all joined in for the festivities.

This time, I was in the city to attend the film festival organised by the Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image (MAMI). I was there between October 11 and 19. Most of the time was spent in theatres, including the charming Regal Theatre at Colaba.

I stayed at my friend Abhiney’s house in Chembur East. On most days, I had breakfast and dinner there. It was good Bengali food and I hogged like anything.

Onto the serious business now. I am listing out the reviews of the movies that I did for firstpost.com

The Hungry

A Fantastic Woman

Chavela

I Am Not A Witch

Wajib

Please do leave your comments.

My continuing stint with TNM: From Ilaiyaraaja to Mumbai film festival

filmOn Tuesday, October 24, 2017, IV Sasi died. The obit I wrote for the Malayalam cinema’s box-office king was published in The News Minute (TNM).

I attended the film festival organised by Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image. My article, with short summaries of all the films I saw, is here.  

Most of the articles I wrote for TNM are here. Click through to read them. As many as 12 articles were published between July 7, 2015 and October 25. 2017.

2016 Delhi trip, with students of McGans

 

It was a few minutes past midnight on Christmas day of 2016 that 77 students, all of them third-years at McGans Ooty School of Architecture, took off to the Coimbatore railway station in five minibuses. The temperature was freezing, under 10 degree Celsius. The students were warmly dressed, but still, could not keep their hands off their mobiles. The students were led by four staff — Senthil Maruthavanan, Arun Davis, Sarika Agarwal and my wife, Dhenuka. I was on the first bus.

The idea was to take the students on a study tour of Agra, Delhi and Chandigarh and expose them to the places of architectural importance in these cities and supplement what they had learned in theory. Hopefully, this would fire up their imaginations and shape them along the way to becoming better architects. I was to tag along and record the trip for the college.

Soon enough, we were winding our way to Kothagiri en route to Coimbatore. Luckily, the fog cover was light. The driver was playing gentle music and soon enough the whoops, whistles and catcalls gave way to the steady sounds of breathing made by sleeping students.

We were well ahead of time at the Coimbatore railway station. Thilakar alias Kutty, the representative from Metro Travels, the agency hired by McGans, shepherded us on to the right platform. He was always closeby through the entire trip and his experience was invaluable to the group during many an occasion.

The compartment on Inter-City Express we had booked was a chair car. We seated ourselves comfortably. Once we were out of Coimbatore, we had plenty to treat our eyes to, as green fields and trees rushed by. A shocker came when Thilakar got a text from Railways saying that Grand Trunk Express, which was to take us to Agra, was late by over 12 hours. We were in Chennai mid-day mentally prepared for the wait.

However, when we reached Chennai, we realised that most students were not for using the waiting rooms in the Central station, but wanted to visit their own homes in the city. Finally, a deal was struck, and after a written undertaking, everyone was let off. They were to return an hour before the train was to depart to Agra.

Much to the relief of the staff, the students were on time the next morning. The train, though late,  was seeming to be making good time once we left Chennai behind. The wintery chill gave away to a more warmer climate. Food was bad but edible. We also helped ourselves to biscuits and snacks. The students too seem to be energetic after a good night’s rest.

We reached Agra Cantonment. on the afternoon of December 28, too tired to do any touring. The winter was not intolerable as some of us had feared. Staff and students were able to engage in a bit of shopping.

But we were up early the next morning and visited the Agra Fort. A guide was engaged to enlighten the students. The walled city, built almost entirely of red stone, is a World Heritage Site and was home to the Mughals until the 17th century. It was ensured that the students had more than enough time to tour the Fort and absorb its finer details.

But touring the Taj Mahal was an entirely different story for the sheer splendour of the monument. The first thing noticed was how the crowds gathered at the foot of the structure were dwarfed by its enormity. Despite the huge crowd, a few students were not satisfied by walking around the structure. They snuck inside and took time to come out, obviously awestruck by the inner beauty of the Taj.

We then went to Fatehpur-Sikri, a city founded by Akbar in 1569. It is one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture and has been impeccably preserved. It consists of grand palaces, courtyards, mosques and harems. It was noticed that the local guide spent considerable time explaining Akbar’s relationships with various queens. Many students also took time out to pray at the mosque. Since it was winter, the city was not crowded and we had ample time to take it in the surroundings.

We then hit the National Capital. It was early in the morning when we reached Delhi and had a catch a few winks before heading out. The famous Qutub Minar, one of the tallest minarets in the world, was first on our list. It was maintained well as it is a World Heritage monument.

The Sanskriti Kendra, an extremely well-kept centre, is a tribute to nature with its lotus ponds, ancient trees and shrubs. This was our next stop. The natural surroundings are gently worked into the architecture of the main building, which includes museums and a multi-purpose hall.

TERI University famous for its architecture, which is friendly towards sustainable development, was next on our itinerary. The students were given a tour of the beautiful and green campus and were briefed about its fascinating structure during a session. The varsity located in Vasant Kunj area of New Delhi is recognised globally for its work in energy, environment and sustainable development.

After a productive day, we went back to our hotel to retire for the night. We went to Chandigarh the next morning and reached there in the evening. The students were happy to visit Sector 17 to do a spot of shopping and came back with many souvenirs.

Our first visit the next morning was to Capitol Complex, which was designed by the famous Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. After a tour of the premises, we were ushered into the assembly rooms, where the Punjab and Haryana Houses meet. During the entire tour, we had informed commentary about the campus from a guide.

The Corbusier Museum, which was our next stop, was a fascinating tribute to the genius architect. The intimate relationship he enjoyed with former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was on display in many black and white photographs taken during the time.

The Nek Chand’s Rock Garden was our next stop. It is easy to get lost in this garden and time was too short to take in all its splendour. It is a tribute to the unusual skills and creativity of Nek Chand and the sculpture garden took the master a lifetime to complete.

We returned to the National Capital, where we visited the grand Indian Habitat Centre, and took time to take in a photography exhibition, which was on. The IHC is a premier cultural centre and hosts many superb events happening in the city.

Delhi Haat with its arts and crafts shops and food stalls from all the states in India was our next and last stop for the day. The food was the main attraction as students helped themselves to momos and pani pooris. They were instructed to observe how the various shops were arranged in the limited space in the heart of Delhi.

We reached our hotel as night fell. After a refreshing night’s sleep, we took off to Humayun’s tomb, which is a tribute to the famous Mughal king. The tomb along with its splendorous garden is an early example of Mughal architecture, which reached its zenith with Taj Mahal.

Our next stop was the Lotus Temple, which attracts hundreds of visitors to it every day. People are fascinated by its architecture and the Baha’i faith, which propagates the oneness of God, religions and mankind. Built in 1988, it has been on the must-visit list of tourists to Delhi ever since.  

The next visit was Rashtrapati Bhavan, the seat of the President of India. Located at the western end of Rajpath, the 340-room building is the largest residence of a head of state in the world. It was formerly known as Viceroy’s House.

After a spot of shopping, we rushed to the railway station, only to find that the train was delayed again. Coming back was the most arduous part of the trip as the train took more than 48 hours before chugging into Chennai.

We booked two private buses that brought us back safely to Ooty. It was a deeply satisfying and fulfilling trip for students and staff.

VIP2: Where pray is that magic of the original?

I remember walking into the theatre showing Velai Illa Pattadhari with little expectation and leaving with some kind of inner craving satiated.

They were cute things to relish in the movie — Amla Paul, the moped owned by Raghuvaran (Dhanush), the relationship between the two brothers, their parents played by Samuthirakani and Saranya Ponvannan and, not the least, the kuthupattu on the house terrace.

vip.jpgEven though VIP2 reprises much of this cuteness, it rings hollow and untrue this time around.

I hoped the movie will be enjoyable, especially because Soundarya Rajinikanth was directing it. But the film had none of the verve and flair of the first part. The climax, especially, was a letdown. It seems as if the director wanted to hitch her bandwagon to a successful franchise only to criminally deprive it of her own touch.

The story and the dialogues, for the most part, do not work and blame must be laid at Dhanush’s door for this. The job of the hero is central to the movie’s theme and the actor does little to deal with its intricacies. There is no layering in the script, and this would be all right if only the commercial elements really kicked in. When neither happens, part two becomes an empty shell of its original self.

As an actor, Dhanush keeps playing to the gallery and this is ingratiating, especially when he mimics his real-life father-in-law Rajinikanth. It’s like they retreaded the popular features of the first part without adding anything of much significance other than Kajol’s character.

Kajol seems to know enough to keep her villainy subtle and this is a relief even as the sequences around her fall apart. The actress isn’t helped much by the fact that her character is reduced into a caricature, leaving her with no scope to breathe life into it. The sequences in which Vasundhara clashes with Raghuvaran, which are pivotal for the success of the movie, don’t really work. He is an angel without wings and she is too egoistic for her own good. On this canvas, there seem to be no grey areas.

The parts that do work are the throwaway sequences in the first half when Samuthirakani’s character comes up with cliched ideas for his son Raghuvaran to floor his wife (Amla Paul). All of them backfire leading to some hilarity. Comedian Vivek does justice to his screen time, but the ‘Thangapushpam angle’ is not really reworked and spread too thin.

Amla Paul, Samuthirakani and Saranya Ponvannan do credible jobs. But their characters, as written by Velraj, were more interesting. Soundarya is unable to rescue any of them from becoming stereotypes.

The Chennai floods, which is a part of the climax, fails to make any impact. Not much screentime is devoted to it, save for a dialogue from Raghuvaran pointing to the obvious fact that it was great leveller. The drama of the floods, which many witnessed first hand, could not have been more diluted.

The movie seems to be cynically targeted at unemployed engineers in the state. Their sentiments are shamelessly exploited and they may very well end up as the mob cheering from the front seat. Mind you, I have nothing against engineers; only that they could spent their time productively elsewhere.

20 on 40

40

I turned 40 on April 17. It’s customary for people to look back on their lives when they reach this milestone. To this end, I will contribute my two bits.

1. I have a paunch. I have had it for a couple of years, but turning 40 has made me relaxed about it. I can rid of it in a month with an exercise schedule suggested by Pinterest that doesn’t even require you to leave the house. So what if I am hefty, I can become lean again, can’t I?

2. My wardrobe is better. Looking back at my 20s, I realise that I used to dress flamboyantly and often made wrong choices in picking up clothes. Today, I am soberer and I know how to impress. I have become better at deciding what to wear when. So what if finding a store that stocks my sizes is becoming increasingly difficult? I am better turned out for a little extra effort. And, what’s more, I have nice shoes and am good at picking out the right socks.

3. I have a daughter. This one was a nightmare as I was determined to have a child before reaching 40. My daughter is five already. That’s five more than the age difference between my dad and I, but I happy about this aspect of my life. There are so many responsibilities that come with being a father and I think I have not fared so badly till now.

4. I think things through before I act. I am not as impulsive as I was in my teens. That may seem obvious, but taking the spur of the moment decisions and going along with the flow are qualities that I no longer have. I am a lot calmer and sit and decide on pros and cons of an issue before going ahead. I may be more of a disrupter and thinker than I ever was.

5. I get less angry. During my early 20s, I went through a phase when I was angry at everyone and everything. I rarely get angry with anyone, including my wife, these days. That helpless rage doesn’t attack me as often as it used to.

6. I am normal on social media. About a decade ago, when I first opened my account on Facebook, I was so over-enthusiastic about it, that I often made comments that embarrassed my friends. I even got into a fight my ex-girlfriend over a comment I left on her wall. Now, I am much, much more circumspect.

7. I am more sociable. I now know how to do small talk. I can flirt without offending the fairer sex. I can ask good questions and am adept at listening and responding warmly. I didn’t have all these qualities before but having had many years to become good at it, I can finally say these skills are now part of my repository.

8. I am careful about what I eat. I just don’t hog anything is that is available. I don’t risk eating in roadside shops that look like an invitation to cholera. I am not that broke anymore.

9. I drink less. Back in college, I used to imbibe on a regular basis. Now, drinking is for special and social occasions. I don’t ever wake up with a hangover anymore. And, I remember everything that happened the previous night.

10. I am saving money. I have a lot more to achieve, but I am slowly getting there. Getting a house of my own seems a more achievable thing than it ever was. I have learnt from making bad financial decisions in the past and am not likely to repeat them in the future.

11. My birthday is not a big deal anymore. I celebrated turning 40 by having a quiet dinner with my wife and sharing sweets with people I knew. I don’t think I want to blow candles anymore and that is alright by me. I am now used to wishing my daughter for her birthday. It is still a big deal for her.

12. Many in the earlier generations are dying. Just a month ago, my wife lost her grandmother. We are now in a phase where we are attending as many funerals as weddings. The funerals are almost a social gathering of the people who died have led full lives.

13. I have cholesterol. A regular check-up showed that my cholesterol was off the charts. But happily, I can now have fish, something I have always craved for. Given that my friends are going through many health problems, serious ones, I am grateful my issues are limited.

14. I know many divorcees. Many friends of mine have divorced, with a few of them even going on to remarry. I sincerely hope they have, at least now, found everlasting happiness in their partners. I guess I married late, but it sure looks like I am in a steady boat.

15. A bald head is forecast. I have already lost much hair. My forehead line is inching upwards surely and slowly. But that is just a ‘different’ look these days. I no longer worry about it. I know some people even find this attractive.

16. I am better informed. I am a journalist and that dreadful feeling you get when you have woken up late to a serious issue is not there as often as it used to be. I get most of my news on the go as do a lot of people. I can also talk about most issues in an informed way.

17. I have to acknowledge that I really can’t learn any new skills. Chances of that happening are slim. While I can play chess (I learned young), my ambition to be good at crosswords and quizzes will probably remain unfulfilled. So I have learned to be happy even if my learning curve has plateaued.

18. I don’t have to act wisely anymore. It can be reasonably assumed that I have acquired some wisdom and when young people look up to you, they may not be entirely wrong all the time.

19. Turning 40 need not bring about a midlife crisis. There is also a slim chance you might have already passed it. On the contrary, it may be years before you get one. Don’t get depressed thinking that 40 is a bad number for you.

20. There are limits to which you can push your body. For instance, I have had a neck ache for the last one week as I am sitting in front of the comp for far too long. I realise I should have had enough rest and you should be sure you do.

‘Personal shopper’: Of grief and ghosts

The movie is a shocker in so many ways. This is a horror movie trying to get at deeper things. Kristen Stewart, with smeared eyeliner et al, engages us in a performance that is impossible to ignore. The cinematography by Yorick Le Saux, especially as Maureen drives through drenched streets of Paris on her scooter, is beautiful. There are very few scenes that are self-indulgent. Somehow, in the end it all ties up neatly together. And, to boot, there is a perverse sex scene thrown in.

Maureen, played by Kristen, is not just a personal shopper for a rich model. She is also a spiritualist. After her twin brother dies, she is desperate to get a sign from him. The movie avoids all the cliches of the usual horror fare and goes for something much more philosophical. But this doesn’t mean that the movie doesn’t have its chilling moments. The breaking of a glass cup in broad daylight is perhaps, one of the most spooky moments, in the film.

The pic was screened in the competition section of the 2016 Cannes Festival. Olivier Assayas was chosen as one of the two best directors. I would love for you to see the movie.