Sunday, January 31, 2016

MovieNotes: Airlift

Title: Airlift (IMDB)
*ing: Akshay Kumar, Nimrat Kaur, Purab Kohli
Language: Hindi with mix of Arabic
Director: Raja Menon
Genre: History, Drama

Basic Premise
Airlift tells the story of the evacuation of nearly 170,000 Indian nationals from Kuwait after the country had been invaded by Iraq in August 1990.

What Works
The movie never goes over-the-top in its patriotism. The protagonists aren't shown doing "heroic" things (except for one climatic shot). They are just trying to make sense of the sudden change in their environment while attempting to survive this unexpected ordeal. Also we get to see varied reactions from different people all trying to make the some sense of this sudden trauma.

Akhsay Kumar as the lead protagonist Ranjit Katyal. He is simultaneously understated and the reluctant leader of the Indian community. His slow transformation from a self-centred "Kuwaiti" to an "Indian" who is concerned about the whole community is beautifully depicted. As is Mrs. Katyal's slightly slower acceptance of the situation.

The movie shows the tensions of the situation without going into the details of the prevailing politics.

The time period of 1990 is also referenced nicely. We get to see an upcoming Sachin Tendulkar giving an interview, late-80s Bollywood music playing in the background, people fiddling with audio cassettes.

What Doesn't
Not showing the real extent of the work done by the Indian government in the background. The movie gives the Indian bureacratic machinery far less credit for the rescue than it deserves.

The sheer scale of 170,000 stranded people somehow never shows up on screen. It just seems to be number thrown up without any logistical back-up.

Rating - 8/10. Overall a good film, with heart.

Previously on MovieNotes - The Motorcycle Diaries

Monday, January 18, 2016

MovieNotes: The Motorcycle Diaries

Title: The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta) (IMDB)
*ing: Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna
Language: Spanish
Director: Walter Salles
Genre: Biography, Journey

Basic Premise
It narrates the journey made by Ernesto "Che" Guevara when he was a medical student alongwith his friend Alberto and how the journey shaped his life.

"This isn't a tale of heroic feats. It's about two lives running parallel for a while, with common aspirations and similar dreams"

Thus begins the tale of an epic journey. A journey which sowed the seeds of a revolution into the mind of a medical student. A student who would go on to become one of the most famous revolutionaries of the modern times. 

The move begins on a light-hearted vein with Alberto and Ernesto commencing their trip across the length of South America. They say their farewells and have their little funny adventures on their motorcycle "The Mighty One". However as the journey progresses, the mood of the film changes from fun to seriousness. Their encounters with the different folks awakens them to hardships of the world. The fun-seeking youth who are travelling for the sake of travelling run into people suffering all kinds of hardships and being exploited by those around. The economic inequalities and the sufferings he witnesses makes Ernesto believe that only a revolution (and an armed one) can truly bring about justice.

The movie is a brilliant depiction of the journey and not just in the physical sense. It is more a  story of the transformation within the minds. The sale of the motorcycle half-way through the tale provides an inflexion point in the story from where the movie adopts a more serious tone with the focus shifting from the tale of Alberto and Ernesto to the sufferings of the people they meet. The movie does not tell of any heroic feats but gives an inkling of the the revolution about to come. 

It is one those rare movies which make you think about the injustices around you. 

Rating - 9/10. A tale which begins on a light-hearted note but progresses into something far more serious without losing pace and grip.

Previously on MovieNotes - 12 Years A Slave

Saturday, January 09, 2016

The Big Oil Drop: Free fall continues...

Almost a year back, I had written about the falling crude prices. Since then the free-fall has continued with oil trading in the low to mid 30s. Alarm bells are ringing across the industry. The time for trying to figure out the reasons for the slide is long gone, though everyone has their own. The sharp slide is already having its impact. Projects worth nearly $35 Billion have been shelved; 200,000 jobs have been cut, the M&A market is warming up for the bloodbath. And the situation is likely to worsen. 

The US Congress has agreed to allow sale of crude outside US lifting a 40-year ban. The Shale boom made US less dependent on external producers. Which was one of the main reasons for bringing the prices down. However with prices down, the producers are in for a hard time, some having shut shop, most cutting activity levels to the bare minimum. Thus the US Congress decision is an attempt to ease the producers as their domestic market is already having a glut. This move might stabilize the US market but is unlikely to lift the prices.

The lifting of sanctions on Iran is likely to bring more cheap oil in the global market this year. Thus putting more pressure on the oil producers. Supply increases further with demand staying same or even worsening given the global economic slowdown.

The sharp drop has resulted in Saudi Arabia having a huge deficit in its budget. The Saudis, who are the only ones with swing capacity, have steadfastly refused to cut production to boost the price. Instead they have taken an interesting decision to publicly list Saudi Aramco.The listing of the world's biggest company could be the biggest financial event of the century, making up quite a bit of the Saudi deficit. Although it would also open their economy to more scrutiny, something which is against their secretive ways. But then tough times do call for drastic measures.

The emergence of Australia as a source of LNG would shift the direction of the global LNG trade away from Qatar. However the low prices have resulted in delays in some of the projects. Thus enabling Qatar to retain its hegemony for a while longer. Meanwhile, Qatar has been doing its bit to retain its market renegotiating supply contracts with the likes of China and India.

Then, the Paris agreement on Climate Change. If every country keeps their end of the promises, their would be shift from hydrocarbons to alternate energy sources. However, the low crude prices have made the alternate energy sources less attractive. We are reaching a stage where the oil is unlikely to run out but environmental concerns would reduce its consumption.

However, the tensions in the Middle East over Syria and the Saudi Arabia-Iran stand-offs might spike the prices up. Throw in further uncertainties like the possibility of Saudis acquiring a nuclear deterrent from North Korea or Pakistan, further escalation in the so called fight against Islamic State (which has captured a big chunk of the oil trade) or the migrant situation blowing up in Europe  But hoping for a war to jack up prices is certainly not good karma. 

Low prices are welcome news (for now) for an energy-importing country like India. The export bill reduces and with it the foreign exchange outflow. However, it comes at the cost of its domestic production which needs a much higher price to be commercially viable.

Times certainly are tough for the people in the oil sector.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Resolutions Time

A new year has dawned upon us and ‘tis time when resolutions are made. Most of which broken by this time of the year. So instead of making resolution for a year, me decided to make some resolutions for the future (no time frame). And helping me in framing the words is a famous playwright from some centuries back. 

Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion'd thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous, chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man. 

These were the words of wisdom imparted by Polonius onto his son Laertes as he is leaving for France to attend university, covering a whole gamut of subjects from friendships to fighting to finances (Hamlet Act I, Scene III). Though written over four centuries ago, the words still hold good, although some of the contexts may have changed. So on the lines of Shakespeare, here are my resolutions. 
  1. Listen to varied opinions but do not put anything on any social media without verifying it through other sources. And certainly not indulge in hate-mongering. 
  2. Be financially prudent. Not be a miser nor a spendthrift. Save first and then spend. Invest after due research and not just a hunch or a tip. Do not get swayed by any get-rich-quick-schemes nor panic on every news event. Keep track of the finances. 
  3. Do not procrastinate. But on the other hand, do look before you leap. Many things sort themselves out with time but many go worse as well.
  4. Spend time with those who really matter. Take more holidays. 
  5. Do my bit to save the environment.
  6. Keep Learning.
  7. And finally “to thine own self be true”. The most important one. After all everything else falls in line after this.
Cheers to a new year and new resolutions