Monthly Archives: January 2008

A pay hike

I got my biggest pay hike ever earlier this month. Pretty fat, if you exclude the circumstances. I was thrilled. Then because I crashed my bike, I spent about 800 bucks travelling in autos to office all this week. Drove me nuts. The money part. First you get a pay hike and then you spent a good portion of it on autos. Freak. Am so pissed off with myself.

A Mighty Heart

jolie1.jpg

For years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Hollywood hesitated to make a movie based on the dramatic and tragic events of that day. Such a movie, it was feared, would hurt the sentiments of the families of the victims as well as fail at the box office. Only five years after the attacks, did Oliver Stone release his World Trade Centre and Paul Greengrass make the superior United 93, the story of the one plane that didn’t hit its target after passengers overpowered the hijackers. The connection between 9/11 and A Mighty Heart, is more elliptical than the aforementioned two movies. The movie is based on the memoirs of the same name by Marianne Pearl, the wife of Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and beheaded by militants in Afghanistan in 2002. The movie, bankrolled by Paramount, will undoubtedly be seen by some as the ability of a country to make money out of one of its worst tragedies.

Pearl, who is called Danny by everyone in the movie, is the South Asia bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal and is based in Mumbai. He arrives in Karachi, a day after 9/11, and stays back to investigate the hidden links between the Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. The bustling port of Karachi, the “frontier against the war on terror”, as Marianne describes it in one media interview shown in the movie, is one of the protagonists of movie.

Director Michael Winterbottom (an unfortunate name, really) plunges his camera into the densely populated streets of the Pakistani port, recording its sounds and turning its atmosphere into an inevitable part of the movie.

Angelina Jolie, one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood, stars as Marianne Pearl. Her husband, actor Brad Pitt, is one of the movie’s producers. It’s ironic that serious reportage of current world events like say, the Iraq war, often take backstage because of the coverage of Brangelina, a fact that many in the audience will not miss.

Jolie plays Marianne as a white woman even though in reality the latter was a French-speaking African American. The murder of Daniel Pearl was one of the biggest media stories post 9/11 and served to illustrate the dangers journalists faced while covering terror. The kidnappers use of the Internet to make their demands, show photos of Daniel on his knees a gun cocked to his head, and even allege that he was a CIA spy was probably the first time that the cyberspace was tainted in such a fashion.

Daniel is not kidnapped because the militants fear that his stories might bring them harm. According to the film, he is kidnapped just because he is an American. As Marianne mentions in her memoir, 230 other journalists were killed during the Iraq war, which followed the toppling of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. This is partly because of their risky work and partly because they are targeted by terrorists.

The movie, which is tightly edited and shot in pseudo-documentary style, plunges into the narrative right from shot one. After a few file shots of the offensive against the Taliban, the film shows Marianne and Daniel Pearl, adequately played by Dan Futterman, covering the events after the war.

While showing the day of the kidnapping, Winterbottom cuts between the two main characters, Daniel and his wife. The sequence when the couple is travelling in two separate cars to different destinations is an example of how to take a perfectly ordinary scene and cut it in such a fashion that it creates maximum tension.

Even though Jolie is one of the biggest pin-up stars in the world, her acting skills aren’t far behind her looks. Ironically, it’s the good looks that stand in the way of her performance as Marianne Pearl from becoming truly outstanding. Winterbottom uses close-ups sparingly and even in those it’s impossible not to detect the actress beneath her façade. She plays Marianne as being a levelheaded wife who does her best to improve her husband’s chances of being freed. “Totally silly,” she chides herself after bursting into tears upon hearing that the militants are alleging that her husband is a CIA agent. Though the movie plays out with like a thrilling police procedural, it works best when it’s a politically charged drama. It’s also in many ways a love story. The movie shows Daniel deeply in love with his wife and ending every phone call to her with the words, ‘I love you’.

Unlike the earlier 9/11 movies, this one comes with the acknowledgment that terror is often linked to poverty. The elevation of the Daniel Pearl story into a tragedy is a testimonial to Winterbottom’s abilities.

There is no shortage of Indian actors in the movie. Irrfan Khan plays the head of the Pakistan counterintelligence unit; Archie Punjabi is another Wall Street Journal reporter, whose house virtually becomes the war room in the search for Daniel; and Aly Khan plays Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the man responsible for the kidnapping and beheading. The latter two have it easy. It’s Irrfan, in the plum role of the character called Captain, who stands out. His acting is a true delight to watch.

Much of the violence is not shown in the movie. Daniel’s beheading and the way his body was cut into10 pieces is not shown. We only get to see the shocked reactions of the persons watching the videotape of the beheading. In fact, after his kidnapping Daniel is never shown as if he has gone into another dimension, never to return.

They say journalism is about facts and art is about truth. A Mighty Heart tries to go beyond the facts and access the truth.

Zen Habits

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain

Link via Zen Habits, the site that has actually changed my life. Made me feel more responsible like.

Some Tamil movies and why I liked them

Kaadhal

In my mind the first big Tamil film of the millennium.  I am pretty sure that good Tamil movies were made since 2000, but some Kaadhal was so different that I thought “oh, wow. We have arrived.” I haven’t seen Kaloori, but I doubt if the two are comparable. I am using the term with hesitation, but I think Kaadhal had a neo-realistic touch. The way that paati or (is it aachi) sits on the front room floor and curses everyone walking by. Sandhya’s father’s character. That montage during the song sequence. All of that was awesome.

Paruthiveeran

Quite innovative. Cut from a knife going up the ass to a coconut coming down on another. awesome. Can Saravanan act? Like this? Phew! Never knew. And what a debut from Karthi. Pretty damn good. Even that girl Priyamani was good.

Mozhi

Liked it a whole lot less than the above two, but still a very good movie.

Chennai -28.

Have seen only in bits and parts, but extremely good.

Starting from 2000, do you have any Tamil movies to add?

I would like to make a top 10 list of Tamil movies since the 2000. Make your suggestions that will go into a new post.

Sea in my bedroom

I hate Gospel music. I wouldn’t if I didn’t know it had something to do with god. But I do know that.

Cohen is by no means a gospel singer though a lot of his imagery is from the bible. But you should, must, do whatever it takes, to listen to some of this album.  

It is like waves gently lapping over the tip of your toes on a moony night. (Hey, I don’t write like that!)

Dreams of writing

I haven’t always wanted to become a writer. I don’t quite recall when I did. But J.J. Sila Kurippugal certainly had something to do with it. I must have been about 20 when I read it.

My first short story, the one that I half wrote and then tore up in a fit of impotent rage, was about the suicide of a 20-year-old, who resorts to the extreme step after his sister , who really loves him, half-conspires with her newly-married husband to cheat him out of his property. I wrote three pages and when I read it six months later my own handwriting was not legible to me. I could not make head or tail of my own plot and so I tore that one up.

Next one was about a kid who sees his father for the first time when that latter returns from war. Turned out to be a dud too. Deleted that file from my comp.

Then years later, I wrote this one.

You might presume I that would be happy to finish that story. Far from it. I don’t think that it’s very good.

I keep dreaming even if do nothing about it. I rather enjoy the dream these days. It is quite dangerous to wallow in your dream if you don’t do anything about them. Dangerous. I better remember that. If I ever want to write, that I is.

Pirivom Sandippom

Here’s the review.

Ok, that was my review written in the space of a hour after the movie got over. I drove so hard from the theatre to the net cafe that I crashed into a bike. Pretty stupid of me. It’s hard when you got to make sure that the story gets uploaded before the day is over. Wish I had more time to write the damn thing. Forgot to put in the part about Jayaram and how he is the director’s conscience-keeper in the movie. And about how irritating the movie gets with the Tamil culture part. Directors really got to think ‘what’s new in what I am saying’ before they shoot a screenplay. Otherwise, PS was actually a pretty sincere, genuine effort.

Wish getting tickets and reviewing was easier. Crib crib. Now my enthusiasm for it is waning. The whole thing seems rather pointless.