Wednesday, April 11, 2018

BookMarks #39: In The Name of God

Title: In the Name of God 
Author: Ravi Subramanian 
Genre: Fiction, Mystery 
Setting: Present Day India 
Published: 2017 

Mysterious deaths occur, when a team is sent to audit the wealth in a temple. And a CBI officer tries to establish the link between different occurrences across the country. 

Why did I read the book? One of the central characters of the book is named “Nirav Choksi” and he is a diamantaire by profession. Recently we had the frauds detected at Punjab National Bank (PNB), where the key accused are diamantaires Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi. Guess that was enough to pique the interest and get a copy of the book! 

A disclaimer upfront. There is no connection to the story of the PNB fraud and this book. While the real-life case is a story of fraudulent banking practices and creative accounting, the book has more drama involving, Gods, heists, antique thefts and smuggling, murders and love triangles! 

There is too much going on in the story. A heist at a Dubai mall, leading to a search for idols, smuggling of antiques, rivalry between diamond merchants, audit of a centuries old temple, family feuds, bomb blasts! Too many characters moving around and getting bumped off. Building up tales and not following on with them. And just too many coincidences! Story could have been better if the plot had been simplified and characters more fleshed out. Although I liked how real life happenings and people have a role to play in the story as well.

Previously on BookMarks: The Gondola Maker 

Monday, April 09, 2018

MovieNotes: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Title: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (IMDB
*ing: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
Directed By: Martin McDonagh
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Crime

Basic Premise
A mother puts up billboards to try to force the authorities to solve her daughter’s murder.

(Spoilers Ahead)

The movie has interesting character sketches, all in varying shades of grey. Some of them who don’t even let death get in the way of throwing a few punches at their adversaries. And people can and do change with circumstances.

The open ending and its unresolved issues. The movie ends, while the story does not. And we, the audience, still do not know who the culprit(s) is (are). While the characters will figure out their path forward on the ride, we are left hanging and not taken on their journey!

The movie has its underlying themes of racism, class divide and homophobia. Is it a political comment on Trump's voter base?

It is difficult to set the time period of the movie – characters communicate via landlines or in person, news is disseminated through radio and television broadcasts. Although we do see a cellphone at the end! Internet is certainly not visible. So could be 80s or 90s!

Peter Dinklage seems to be playing a modernized version of Tyrion Lannister again. Getting typecast here!

Real life impact – protests in USA have taken up the format of using three signs to deliver personalized messages to the targeted politicians.

Rating: 9/10. Brilliant acting and a good storyline.

Previously on MovieNotes: Fukrey Returns 

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

MovieNotes: Fukrey Returns

Title: Fukrey Returns (IMDB)
*ing: Pulkit Samrat, Varun Sharma, Ali Fazal, Manjot Singh, Richa Chadda, Pankaj Tripathi
Director: Mrighdeep Singh Lamba
Languange: Hindi
Genre: Comedy

Sequel to the surprise hit Fukrey. And made while retaining the entire cast and crew.

Basic Premise
Story picks up one year after the adventures of the first part. Bholi Punjaban is out of jail and seeking revenge. Matters get complicated as politicians get involved. Meanwhile Chucha’s lottery dreams have been replaced by premonitions.

Fukrey was better. Fukrey Returns tries hard, but doesn’t quite live up to its prequel.

The story is more disjointed and outlandish this time. Why the CM would be involved in carrying out a raid himself? How is a zoo closed for renovation have so much easy access? Many plot-holes abound. Yet, Choocha manages to salvage the movie from being a total disaster and bringing a sense of “deja chu” to the proceedings.

And they should stop thinking of making any more sequels.

Rating - 6/10. Funny in bits, but doesn’t match Fukrey.

Previously on MovieNotes: Black Panther 

Monday, April 02, 2018

LearnNBlog #13: Few or A Few

“The More I Learn, the More I realize, that like Jon Snow, I know nothing”. 

This LnB will be a short Grammar lesson. Difference between “Few” and “A Few” 
  • “Few” refers to zero or close to zero (reminds me of Limits in my Calculus class).
  • “A Few” refers to some i.e. not a very large number! 
A subtle difference but could be a big grammar trap, and a potential playground for lawyers as well!

That was a Short & Sweet Learning Nugget! 

Previously on LearnNBlog: The Shortest Chess Game

Friday, March 30, 2018

BookMarks #38: The Gondola Maker

Title: The Gondola Maker 
Author: Laura Morelli 
Genre: Fiction 
Setting: 16th Century Venice 
Published: 2014 

Luca Vianello, son of Venice’s most prominent gondola maker, tells his story. He has a difficult relationship with his father, accidentally burns down his family’s gondola business, runs away, becomes a boatman for a prominent Venetian artist, falls in love, repairs an old gondola and lands in different troubles, ending in a prison time. The tale ends with Luca’s life on the mend with his troubles sorted out. 

A confession first up. The book was available for free on the Google Play Store, so that’s how I managed to get hold of it, and used my travel time to read it. Given some past experiences with the 
“free books”, had my doubts in the beginning, but this turned out to be an interesting read. 

The book also presents a richly detailed picture of 16th century Venice – its politics, social life, the boatmen, art commissioning, the business of gondola making and associated trades. It helps that the author is herself an art historian! 

The book has its share of themes – it is a tale of choices, relationships between individuals, rash actions and their consequences, the rich-poor divide. All of this inter-woven in the plot. Where the book does suffer a bit is its abrupt ending. The conclusion is not satisafactory, as the reader is left wanting for more! 

Previously on BookMarks: The Audacity of Hope 

Monday, March 26, 2018

MovieNotes: Black Panther

Title: Black Panther (IMDB
*ing: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Freeman, Danai Gurira
Director: Ryan Coogler
Language: English, mixed with some Wakandian
Genre: Comic Books, Fantasy, Marvel Cinematic Universe

Basic Premise
Wakanda - a tiny nation, in the heart of Africa, masquerading as a poor third world country, but in reality a vibranium-powered technologically advanced civilization. Wakanda, faces leadership challenges and questions its own place in the world.

Another good origins story from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel producers do know how to bring in new characters, bringing fresh air to the increasingly bloated Marvel Universe, while simultaneously linking it to the main chain of events. 

A good storyline, with a dash of humor, a worthy antagonist, a setting which is a visual delight (even though it’s all CGI), slickly shot action pieces (who wouldn’t love a battle scene featuring charging rhinos) and all of it backed by good acting. All the ingredients in the right proportions making for a fun ride for the viewers. If the story has a larger message playing out in the real world context, even better. And, this is where Black Panther succeeds.

First, about our villain. If told from Killmonger’s perspective, it would make an even better story (with minor changes). Young boy, grows up far away from his home, seeks vengeance for his father’s murder at his uncle’s hands, returns and takes over the throne and then puts out the kingdom’s hidden technology to greater use for benefiting the cause of all African origin people across the globe! That would make for a hell of a story! But, unfortunately, he shows lots of villainous tendencies, so Prince T’Challa is our righteous hero.

Which also brings us the key question? Who is the real villain in the story? In my opinion, that’s King T’Chaka. Kills his brother (partially justified) and abandons his nephew (not justified), trying to keep all of Wakanda’s vibranium fuelled technology to themselves (very questionable) and not taking in refugees (that’s a contemporary thorny issue). Certainly the real villain of the story.

Probably, the reason why no one in Wakanda seems to be grieving his sudden demise! Except for his son, and that too very briefly. Otherwise, all of Wakanda seems to be very excited about crowning of a new king!

Which brings to the crowning. When taken at face value, it seems a very democratic process. After the passing away of the previous king, his son is anointed the new king. However, there is an open-to-all invite for any interested candidate to challenge for the crown in a winner-takes-all one-on-one combat. However, the challenger has a major handicap, the crown prince receives a booster vibranium dose just before the battle while the challenger does not! And our friend Killmonger, overcame this handicap as well. Again, why is he not the hero of the story?

In today’s times, cinema has become more than just a visual story-telling medium. And here lies Black Panther’s biggest success. It is a politically charged film, talks about slavery and Black Power, the refugee crisis, world with less borders, inclusion in sharing technology and resources, while painting a vision of a brighter future for the whole world! All this without going into a preaching mode and ensuring that it stays a comic book film at its core. The reason why #WakandaForever is fast becoming a rallying cry across the world. 

Overall, there are very few links to main cinematic universe, although end-credits suggest that the action will now shift to Wakanda. Now eagerly waiting for Infinity Wars to hit the screens.

Rating – 9/10: A fun ride and a visual delight.

Previously on MovieNotes: Thor: Ragnarok 

Monday, March 12, 2018

BookMarks #37: The Audacity of Hope

Title: The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
Author: Barack Obama
Genre: Non-Fiction, Autobiography, Politics
Published: 2006

“The Audacity of Hope” was written by Barack Obama when he was a Senator in USA. 

The book is partly autobiographical and partly a political manifesto. We learn about Obama’s family, his childhood, his education, his political beliefs, his election battles, the society around him as he grew up. But they are not presented in a chronological manner. What we get instead is a discourse about Obama’s beliefs and ideas. And interspersed in these sections are glimpses of the future president’s past. 

The book does read like an election manifesto. And why not, just three months after the publication, he announced his candidacy for US President which he went on to win. The book gives us a glimpse of Obama’s philosophy and outlook towards America and the rest of the world. 

A Quote I liked - “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts”. Something the perpetrators of fake news and convoluted history forwards should keep in mind.

Let’s say it was a welcome change to read about somebody talking about bringing a change to the world in a positive way. Especially after having recently read Fire & Fury – about another American President.

Previously on BookMarks: Innovate or Evaporate 

Monday, March 05, 2018

BookMarks #36: Innovate or Evaporate

Title: Innovate or Evaporate 
Author: Sunil Gupta 
Genre: Non-fiction, Self-Help, Management 
Published: 2008 

“Innovate or Evaporate” is an example of the “self-help” books which generally end up being “shelf-help” type! However, it is a light read and I managed to finish the volume in a couple of sessions. The way little nuggets of knowledge have been interspersed throughout the book make it a fun read. 

Following are my takeaways from reading this book are: 
  • “Sin is geographical”. A simple statement, yet carrying a lot of weight. The world is not homogeneous, acceptability varies with situation and location. Something to always keep in mind. That’s why the old adage, “When in Rome...”. 
  • Expanding onto the same point, we do not see the world as it is but we see it as we are, as a reflection of our own selves. That is why perspective matters. 
  • Having a scientific temper is the key to acquiring knowledge. As the author says, Knowledge is created by the learner, not given by the teacher. It goes onto quote Kipling, “I keep six honest serving men. They taught me all I knew. Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.” Having a temperament to question everything – an essential necessity in this age of of WhatsApp forwards. 
On the subject of Creative Thinking and Ideation 
  • Ideas can come from anywhere. We do need to keep an open mind to all types of possibilities. As the wise Rafiki said “look beyond what you see”. Great examples of keeping a mind open to ideas – the shape of the benzene molecule coming from Friedrich Kekule having a dream of a serpent eating its own tail. 
  • Any thought which has been “thunk” needs to be noted down and then modified and expanded into a proper shape. Breaking down thoughts without losing focus of the bigger picture is the key to getting a proper idea. Asking the right questions and correctly framing the problem statement is the first step. After all, as saying goes, Well begun is half done! 
  • But always keep your mind open to options. As the author says nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one we have. 
  • And most importantly to mature an idea follow the Nike principle – Just DO IT - Define Open Identify Transform! (Me had to end with the acronym, given how they are in vogue in the nation’s political speeches). 
Previously on BookMarks – Predictions 2018

Saturday, March 03, 2018

BookMarks #35: Predictions 2018

Title: Predictions 2018: Froth and Frustration 
Published By: Thomson Reuters
Genre: Current Affairs
Published: 2018

Making predictions about world affairs in these increasingly crazy and uncertain times is not easy. We are living in world of rapid Global Warming while parts of Europe are freezing! But its human nature to attempt to predict and anticipate the future - reason why every newspaper has the astrology section!

Predictions 2018 is a compilation made by Thomson Reuters on likely scenarios affecting the world in this year. However they are more generic in nature and just give likelihood of events which could shape the world. But in my humble opinion, the events which can be predicted have only a minor effect, it is the Black Swan events which really alter our world.

The predictions covered are more economic and technology focused rather than the political ones. Which is a more accurate reflection of the current times and an increasingly inter-connected world. After all technology boosts changes faster aided by the right economics while politics mostly tries to maintain status quo! The predictions cover a variety of subjects - Cryptocurrencies, commodity prices, economic policies of Trump & Xi, the next steps for the tech giants, trade wars and potential impacts and potential regime changes. However, the book only describes potential scenarios but doesn't detail out their possible impacts. Actually a smart move!

Its a short and succinct read on the subjects which could shape our future.

Previously on BookMarks: Fire and Fury

P.S. 2017 edition of Predictions.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

BookMarks #34: Fire And Fury

Title: Fire And Fury: Inside the Trump White House
Author: Michael Wolff
Genre: Non-Fiction, Politics, Contemporary History
Setting: White House, Washington D.C, USA in the year 2017

Presenting the “inside” story of the events at the White House post the election of Donald Trump as the President of United States.

The byline of the book is misleading as the book is less about Trump and more about his ex-Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. The narration is from Bannon’s perspective, from his taking control of the Trump campaign, his rivals in the President’s inner circle and ultimately his departure/firing. The book ends with what seems like an announcement for Steve Bannon’s own presidential campaign for 2020.

Lots of gossip is presented about the inner circle of the White House and the many comings and goings in the President's staff. It also portrays quite an unflattering picture of Trump and his family. Well, that's to be expected, given that it is based on interviews conducted with a fired employee.

If the book is to be believed, Trump and his team did not expect to win the election and thus had no preparation for its aftermath! And now they are bumbling along while as Trump tries to become “presidential” while those around him try to figure what is going on in his head and how to make him focus on the important work!

“It is going to be as wild as shit” – an apt closing line of the book which is presented as a mix of gossip and facts. Or what president Trump would call “Fake News”.

Previously on BookMarks – Nikola Tesla