Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Italian Sojourn

Bon Giorno

After a few days in Italy, these words automatically get added into the daily dictionary.

Italy - how do I describe it. The entire country seems to be a living history lesson - there are churches, museums, fountains, canals, archaeological sites – all linked with the glorious history of the land. The place is meant to be walked through and don’t fear getting lost. You take a wrong turn and you discover something unexpected. All of them quite fascinating, but none so much as the experiences.

Italians love football. After all they are four-time World Champions of the most popular sport in the world. UEFA Champions League Final happened to coincide with our stay. Watching the Final alongside a bunch of Juventus supporters at a restaurant was quite an experience. They cheered for everything - a goal scored, a goal conceded, a foul, a good save and sang throughout. Unfortunately Juventus lost that day, but they have got new supporters. And chants of “Juve, Juve, Merda” still resonate.

Just how big a phenomenon was Roman Holiday. Some sixty odd years after it's release, it is now a cultural icon of Italy. Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck and their Vespa are still visible all around. 

A lone cellist playing in the square in front of a basilica. The music was hauntingly beautiful and soothing. Just sit down on the steps, close your eyes and be mesmerized. And you are recharged for the walk to the next spot in the itinerary. Only, you don’t feel like leaving the place at all.

The Roman Empire may have disappeared, but here and there were some “gladiators” challenging you for a duel. Rather asking you to get a photograph taken in exchange of money. But, still it was funny to see a man all dressed in gladiatorial costume taking a sip of water from a plastic bottle.

Beware of sea-gulls. They may seem gentle but if you have food in hand they can be quite deadly. Some launch direct attacks. Others can do stealth attack as well. Witnessed one such sneaky attack where the bird was once thwarted off but it sneaked up from behind to snatch a pizza slice right out of the hands of its hapless victim.

Which brings me to the food. After all Italy is the home of pizza and gelato. Hours of walking around trying to soak up all the history around can leave you very hungry. So, you enter a pizzeria, ask for a margherita (pizza) and the shop-owner says – “But I am John”. Italians do have a charming sense of humour!

But one can’t have pizza for all meals. So imagine the happiness which the sight of a “genuine” Indian restaurant brings. (And not a Bangladeshi one masquerading as an Indian). The owner greets you warmly with “और कैसे हो ” while Humma humma (the new one) plays in the background. Apart from the great food, they also had a quite updated Bollywood playlist.

We did stand out as Indians in a foreign country. Even the border police at airports greeted us with a Namaste. And that’s what made an elderly couple strike a conversation with us while taking a little breather from the sightseeing. They were from Sweden, spoke English and had adopted a child from India. Over the next few minutes learnt about their little town in Sweden whose entire population could easily fit into one of the average size building complexes in Mumbai. The conversation may have been initially hesitant (from our end) but certainly was an enriching one. 

Back to the churches and the music now. After a long day of sightseeing, sitting in a piazza listening to some live music and I see a colleague from work. The world certainly is a small place.

And I found a church with a personal connect. In Rome, near to the Pantheon was the Chiesa San Ignacia de Loyola. A church dedicated to St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesuits, which runs my alma mater.

And many more such memories to be cherished forever.

Grazie & Ciao

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

BookMarks #25 - Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Title: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Author: Yuval Noah Harari
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Published: 2011 (in Hebrew), 2014 (in English)

Summary
As the title suggests, the book is a tale of the history of humankind from the time when there were multiple homo species existing simultaneously on the planet, to the modern times when a single Homo Sapiens species rules above all. The book looks at the key events which have shaped the evolution of the Sapiens to its current state. Harari identifies evolving imagination, the agriculture revolution, rise of empires and scientific revolution as the key events which molded history into its current shape. The book ends with an imaginary glimpse into what the future could hold.

BookMarks
As you read, the book makes you feel guilty for being a member of the homo sapiens species. In the initial chapters, Harari lists out (in a very dramatic way), how the homo sapiens conquered the other homo species and also dramatically impacted the life of all other species on this planet (mostly for bad). How the basic balance of a world changed once the sapiens entered that realm. Also, bringing us to Darwin’s Theory of the survival of the fittest. Thus most large animals have become extinct and only the smaller members of each species survives.

Another key message which comes out, is the collective imagination of the human kind. The world runs on the figment of our collective imagination. All the religious beliefs, the big (and small) companies, the governance setup, they all exist only in our collective imagination and are not some act of nature. A concept which is a bit difficult to digest, but once you mull over it, easy to get around to. 

Also, some of our revolutions may have actually had an adverse impact on the future. Harari cites the case of agricultural revolution, which he says actually created more trouble in the long run, by tying up people to a single place. And making them do more work for securing a food supply.

Another theory which Harari presents is that while the current humankind has more collective knowledge than their predecessors, the common sapiens member of the earlier time had probably more knowledge with them than the current sapiens member. They certainly had less needs and had all the basic knowledge for survival.

As Harari says - imagination and story-telling, concept of money, the written script, a uniform concept of time, an increased belief in science – all these are the key factors which have shaped the world as we know today. The book presents history of humankind in a way different than the political one which we generally read. There are many conjectures based around Harari’s own theories. But he does present them in an engaging manner.

Previously on BookMarks – Life After War

Monday, May 15, 2017

MovieNotes: Bahubali 2 The Conclusion

Title: Bahubali 2: The Conclusion (IMDB)
*ing: Prabhas, Rana Dagubatti, Ramya Krishnan, Anushka Shetty, Sathyaraj
Director: SS Rajamouli
Language: Telugu (seen in Hindi)
Genre: Epic Fantasy

Preamble
Why did Katappa kill Bahubali? A question which has vexed everyone since the release of the first movie. And after a wait of nearly two years, we get the answer.

Basic Premise
Katappa continues his tale of Amarendra Bahubali’s life and ultimate demise and Devasena’s imprisonment. Mahendra Bahubali decides to take his revenge for his father’s killing and take back his rightful kingdom.

MovieNotes
The movie continues the grand scale and opulence of its predecessor. The VFX quality has also improved. However, the grandness doesn’t stand out as much second time around, probably because we have seen it all before.

If it is a battle for the crown (or a game of thrones, as is now said), there has to be plots and sub-plots mixed with kitchen politics, loyalties won and lost, and all this accompanied by bloated sense of ego – all of which make the movie a perfect pot-boiler. However, there are too many sudden appearances of characters from nowhere, which is a bit difficult to absorb at times.

Last time it was a rampaging bull, this time it is a rampaging elephant which has to be taken care off. Also we see newer innovations in the battle-field – multiple arrows fired at once, bulls with flaming horns, soldiers being catapulted into a fortress.

While Mahismati maybe fictional, there is a reference to Pataliputra. (me liked that)

Harry Potter has owls, Westeros has ravens, and Mahismati uses kites (cheel). Whatever happened to the good, old pigeon message delivery system?

Is Bahubali 3 on cards? The voice-over in the end-credits does keep the possibility open.

And finally to answer the question, which the nation wanted to know – “Katappa was following orders”. In the end a very anti-climatic and simple solution to the question which had vexed the nation and had generated thousands of memes over the last two years.

Rating: 9/10. An entertaining watch.

Previously on MovieNotes: The Fate of the Furious

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Parrot's Breakfast

It was a regular weekday morning. The getting-to-office rush mode was on. Which usually means a hurried breakfast. Suddenly a movement outside the open window caught the eye. A yellow flower was falling down gently. First thought was it must have dropped off by itself. And then another yellow flower floated down. And then another, and another. So me got up to the window to investigate. The flowers still kept falling at regular intervals. Looking up at the tree managed to find to locate our mysterious flower-picker.

The parrot picking the flowers
There it was a small parrot, hopping from branch to branch, nipping out one flower after another, taking a bite at its base before moving on to the next one. It was a thoroughly mesmerizing scene as all the office rush was forgotten (albeit momentarily!) while watching the parrot move from one flower to the next. And the ground below was soon littered with discarded flower petals.

The wonders of nature! In all our rushed existence, very seldom do we get a chance to sit back and admire Nature's handiwork. This was one of those moments!

P.S. Managed to get a couple of clicks of this parrot (not too great though).

The yellow flower lined ground
P.P.S. Second flower related post in quick succession now after पुष्प की अभिलाषा 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

MovieNotes: The Fate of the Furious

Title: The Fate of the Furious (a.k.a. Fast & Furious 8) (2017) (IMDB)
*ing: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Kurt Russel, Nathalie Emmanuel, Scott Eastwood
Director: F. Gary Gray
Language: English
Genre: Action

Preamble
Another Movie from the Fast & Furious stable vrooms in. Even though the makers keep saying, they have had their "one last ride".

Basic Premise
Dominic Toretto is blackmailed into turning his back onto his "family" by a cyber-terrorist Cipher. His team tries to figure out a way to get Toretto back as well spoil Cipher's plans. To their aid, comes a former adversary, who has his own axe to grind with Cipher.

MovieNotes
16 years ago, there came a movie about a cop investigating a bunch of drag racers who were involved in stealing electronic items from truckers. And now over eight movies, they are stealing nuclear codes and EMPs and chasing down submarines and fighting cyber-terrorism. Now thats, what you call growth.

Living true to its name, the movie has a lot of furious characters, moving up across continents at a frenetic pace. Action keeps shifting from one location to another. Add a plane which never seems to land anywhere! The fast paced action also ensures that plot-holes are just jumped across. And too many characters from the previous films just manage to conveniently appear at just the right time.

A sequel certainly seems to be in the offing, with the way the lead villain conveniently disappears. Wonder what they will chase next. Maybe a satellite?

With Paul Walker gone, all the talk of family, seems quite forced now. The crew cracking jokes just after close shaves with death just doesn't gel.

Best Performer - Baby Toretto! It takes in a lot of guts to do such intense scenes while ever smiling. And easily outshining the co-stars sharing screen space with them.

Most Outrageous Scene - The Rock pushing away a torpedo with his bare hands while sliding along a car!!!

Best Scene - The Haka performed by the "Red Dragons"

The Quote - "It doesn't matter what is under the hood. It matters who is behind the wheel" - says Dominic Toretto. I guess the likes of Fernando Alonso will certainly disagree !!!

Rating: 7/10. Paisa vasool. But a a bit of a letdown after the emotional ending of Fast & Furious 7. Where the series should have ended. But guess we will go back for Fast & Furious 9!

Previously on MovieNotes - The Boss Baby

Monday, April 10, 2017

MovieNotes: The Boss Baby

Title: The Boss Baby (2017) (IMDB)
*ing: Alec Baldwin, Miles Bakshi
Director: Tom McGrath
Language: English
Genre: Animation, Comedy

Basic Premise
Tim finds out that his younger brother is much more than just an infant. But is actually an undercover agent from BabyCorp who has come to find out the latest product from PuppyCorp, so that they ensure that puppies do not take up all the love from babies.

MovieNotes
The animated movie is based on a weird premise of an ongoing battle between puppies and babies who are tussling it out for their share of human love. And babies are manufactured in a factory with some of them assigned "management" roles. 

The highlight of the movie is Alec Baldwin's corporate speak (pie charts, promotions. memos) while having the physical appearance of a baby. Add Tim's imagination which sets up the brotherly ride. 

We have lots of adult references for a cartoon movie. Elvis, Gandalf et al - aren't they too far remove from the target audience. Tim's room has a Gandalf alarm clock. Isn't seven too young for Lord of the Rings?

Finally, the most important question. Tim is shown to have a hyper-active imagination. So, did the entire story play out in his head? A point which could have been elaborated further.

And why does the villain have Trump like hair?

Rating: 7/10. Jokes are funny. Only if they could have fleshed out Tim's imagination a bit more.

Previously on MovieNotes: Logan

Thursday, April 06, 2017

BookMarks #24: Life After War

Title: Life After War
Author: Angela White
Genre: Fiction, Apocalyse, Dystopia
Setting: Modern USA
Published: 2010

BookMarks
This was a box set of the first 3 books of the "Life After War" series, namely

  1. The Survivors
  2. On the Road
  3. Safe Haven
The book begins with America being subject to retaliatory nuclear weapons attack from across the world owing to the actions of a past President. Most of the cities are destroyed and the few left are fighting for their survival. Another cause for fear is the presence of slaver gangs from across the borders. Meanwhile the survivors bundle together under a single leader, who is constantly on the move looking for more survivors to gather in order to rebuild the country.

The story has too many elements mixed up - nuclear attacks and witchcraft both make their presence felt in equal measure. Its an end of world tale with survivors trying their best to live, but it has its plot-lines all mixed up. The picture painted of the post-apocalyptic world is quite grim but let down terribly by the story development. And its easy to mix up many characters who just keep on jumping from nowhere. 

Kept reading the e-book just to get through the story, without developing any real interest in its characters! Certainly not looking forward to reading any of the remaining parts.


Previously on BookMarks: A Clash of Kings

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

BookMarks #23: A Clash of Kings

Title: A Clash of Kings
Author: George RR Martin
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Setting: Fictional Continent of Westeros, in medieval times
Published: 1998

Summary

Post the events in "A Game of Thrones", the Stark family has been scattered far and wide. Meanwhile King Robert Baratheon's death has given rise to multiple claimants for the crown. Alliances are being forged and re-forged as the games continue. Treachery and dark magic are as fair in this game as bravery on the battle-field. All this while mysterious forces are awakening beyond the Wall.

Joffery Baratheon is the king in King's Landing. However, his brutality makes him unpopular with the populace. His rule is supported by his mother, Cersei, the Queen Regent,and his uncle Tyrion, the King's Hand, both of whom are frequently at odds with each other, carrying out their own plots.

The late king Robert's brothers Stannis and Renly have both staked their claims for King's Landing due to Joffery being Cersei's son from her relations with her brother Jaime Lannister, who is being held captive by Robb Stark's forces. Robb has been declared the King in the North. While we hardly see him in action, throughout the book comes stories of his victories against the Lannister forces. Renly is killed by a mysterious shadow, the product of the red woman Melisandre's dark magic for Stannis. Stannis proceeds to attack Winterfell. However his plans are thwarted by the use of wildfire by Tyrion and the timely arrival of Lord Tywin Lannister along with the forces of Lords Tyrell. Lord Tyrell's daughter Margery, who was previously married to Renly is offered as bride to Joffery. Joffery accepts the offer, ending his betrothal with Sansa Stark who is kept as hostage in King's Landing. Meanwhile, Tyrion is badly injured in the battle at the hands of his own forces.

Arya Stark continues her journey with towards Winterfell, in the company of Yoren, Gendry, Hot Pie and others headed towards the Wall. However their party is attacked by Lannister forces who are out in hunt for Gendry. Yoren is killed and Arya is taken captive to Harrenhal. However, she manages to free the mysterious Jaqen H'gar and his two companions. In return, Jaqen gives her three lifes. However Arya manages to convince Jaqen to help free Harrenhal. Before leaving Jaqen gives her a small iron coin. Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie plan to escape from their new ruler, Roose Bolton.

Balon Greyjoy declares himself the King of Iron Islands. His son, Theon, in an effort to prove his worth in his father's esteem captures Winterfell with a small force, where he had lived most of his life as Ned Stark's ward. He pretends to kill off the remaining Stark boys Bran and Rickon. His reign is short-lived as Roose Bolton's bastard son Ramsay brutally takes over Winterfell, killing Theon's forces.

Bran Stark alongwith his companions the Reed siblings Jojen and Meera leave Winterfell in search for answers to his mysterious dreams. While sending his younger brother Rickon off with Osha to the a safe location.

Across the Wall, the Night's Watch is hunting for Mance Rayder, a former member of the Watch and now the self-styled King-Beyond-the-Wall who has been gathering wildlings under his command. While they are captured, Jon Snow kills Qhorin Halfhand (at Qhorin's instructions) in a bid to join up with the Wildling forces and find out more about Mance's plans.

Catelyn Stark seeks out Renly for an alliance with Robb. But is witness to Renly's murder alongwith Brienne. Brienne swears herself to Catelyn's command as they both reach Riverrun. There they get the news of the fall of Winterfell and the false news of the deaths of her sons Bran and Rickon. Adding to her grief is her father Hoster Tully being on death-bed. Catelyn sets up a meeting with the captive Jaime.

Meanwhile across the seas, Daenerys and her group reaches the city of Qarth, where her dragons are a major source of attention. Daenerys keeps up her efforts to build an army to take on her rightful Iron Throne aided by Ser Jorah Mormont and her Dothraki followers.

BookMarks
The second book in the series " A Song of Ice and Fire". It carries forward the events of "A Game of Thrones". While it forms the basis for the second season of the TV series, many events have started showing divergence from the show.

The plots and sub-plots of treachery continue unabated as the battles for the Iron Throne hots up. Its a no-holds barred approach from all parties. Saner counsel is shrugged off and hotter heads prevails. Each player plays their own games carefully building alliances, buying loyalties but never sure when someone would turn their back onto them. It is an intriguing tale.

Previously on BookMarks - My Brewing Romance with Cricket

Monday, March 27, 2017

पुष्प की अभिलाषा

आज सुबह की बात है। घर से निकले ऑफिस की तरफ। और जैसा की अक्सर होता है हमारी महानगरी मुम्बई में , आधे रास्ते में फँस गए ट्रैफिक में। वैसे तो यहां की बड़ी और  चौड़ी सडकों को एक्सप्रेस-वे और फ्री-वे बोला जाता है, पर ऑफिस के समय ज्यादातर गाड़ियां रेंगती हुयी ही नज़र आती हैं।  गाड़ी से बाहर झाँका तो नज़र पड़ी डिवाइडर पर। छोटे-छोटे पौधे लगे हुए थे। और फिर ध्यान गया उन पर खिले हुए फूलों पर। बस फिर कहीं दिमाग के कोने से निकल आयी वो कविता जो बचपन में पढ़ी थी - श्री माखनलाल चतुर्वेदी की रचना "पुष्प की अभिलाषा"

चाह नहीं मैं सुरबाला के गहनों में गुंथा जाऊं,
चाह नहीं प्रेमी-माला में बिंध प्यारी को ललचाऊँ।
चाह नहीं सम्राटों के शव पर, हे हरी ,डाला जाऊं,
चाह नहीं देवों  के शीष चढूं, भाग्य पर इठलाऊँ। 
मुझे तोड़ लेना वनमाली , उस पथ  पर देना तुम फ़ेंक,
मातृभूमि पर शीष चढ़ाने, जिस पथ जाएँ वीर अनेक। 

कई साल हो गए, इस कविता को पढ़े हुए। स्कूल के पाठ्यक्रम का हिस्सा था। मुझे याद है टीवी पर भी अक्सर आया करता था। और शायद इसी कारण दिमाग में अच्छे से बस गयी थी ये कविता।  और आज सुबह जैसे ही सड़क के डिवाइडर पर खिले हुए फूलों पर नज़र गयी, सारे शब्द खुद-ब-खुद याद आ गए। 

मनुष्य का जटिल दिमाग - कभी तो अभी पढ़ी हुयी चीज़ याद नहीं आती और कभी अकस्मात् सालों पुरानी भूली हुयी यादें प्रकट हो जाती हैं। 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

MovieNotes: Logan

Title: Logan (2017) (IMDB)
*ing: Hgh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen
Director: James Mangold
Language: English
Genre: Superhero, ComicBooks

Basic Premise
In the year 2029, the mutants are on verge of extinction with only an ageing Wolverine (Logan) taking care of Professor X, whose powers are no longer under his control. Meanwhile, a new set of mutant children have been created to be taken for military operations. However, as they are difficult to control, they are being exterminated. Logan is assigned the task of taking a young mutant kid, Laura, to safety.

MovieNotes
The first X-Men movie is generally credited for being the pioneer for the current superhero universes. Logan seems to be the culmination of that journey. Yes, there will be spin-offs and other superheroes in the different cinematic universes, but Logan completes the journey of the very first ones, Professor Charles Xavier's X-Men and Wolverine. It is poignant that the one mutant who stays with Professor X till the very end is Wolverine, the one who refused to be recruited by him.

The X-Men may have created the superhero genre but Logan does not feel like it belongs. Although Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart reprise their roles, Logan is quite different. We do not see them as invincible superheroes but as two world-weary men who have weathered many storms and are now coming to the end of their journeys. Even superheroes need to hang up their boots.

There is no big saving-the-world theme. The opponents are just ordinary men. All they seek is to protect the child who has been unwillingly placed in their custody and take her to safety. Although Logan has his own doubts.

Meta-theme: The mutant kids reading X-Men comics! Comic-books shown in the movie showing the path ahead for a story which is based out of comic-book characters!

The all-round acting provides the real high of the movie. Add the poignant ending, and it seems like a perfect culmination to a 17-year journey.

Not to be missed - The Deadpool trailer at the beginning. That's another superhero movie trying to redefine the genre.

Rating - 9/10. The Superb acting and for being a different superhero film!

Previously on MovieNotes - Schindler's List