Sunday, October 28, 2012

Movie Recommendation: Manorama Six Feet Under

Note: I love mystery thrillers! Of late, very few movies in Bollywood are of this genre. The latest I have liked was Kahaani. So imagine my surprise when I bump into one of those lesser known, offbeat thrillers in Bollywood. What a treat!

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller

Firstly, I would like to say, if you are expecting too much action, big star cast and some Bollywood style melodrama and production values, you might as well stay clear of this movie. Although I do consider Abhay Deol as not only a big star but a seal of approval for offbeat movies (going by his track record of Dev D, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Ek Chaalis ki Last Local...). So if you are willing to consider an offbeat, suspense movie in a rustic setting, look no more. This is one of those niche movies.

The movie takes place in a sleepy town of Lakhot, Rajasthan. Abhay Deol plays Satyaveer, a bored middle class resident who works at the local municipality as a Junior Engineer. His wife Nimmi (played by Gul Panag), plays a nagging housewife who loves her TV serials and taunts his husband for the middle class lifestyle. Satyaveer's passion is writing but unfortunately his first book "Manorama" (a detective novel) reminds him of his failure as a writer (the book sells only 200 copies). He is so disappointed by its failure, that he does not own even a single copy of his own book. One day, he is approached by a minister's wife, also called Manorama (played by Sarika) who is suspicious that her husband is having an extra marital affair. She pays him to investigate as a private detective and take pictures of his affair, so she can gather evidence about his adultery. 

What follows is an intriguing plot where Satyaveer gets implicated in a double homicide, suicide of Manorama and a missing girl child from a local orphanage. The rest of the plot is how he connects the dots and solves the mystery.

Abhay Deol, is definitely one of the most underrated actors in Indian film industry. He gives life to the character of Satyaveer - both as a passionate detective and as a disappointed writer and husband. The rural setting of the Rajasthan town works well for the story and gives an authentic feel. The movie is slow at times, but picks up pace in the second half. The movie has plenty of good old fashioned detective thrills to it and also at the same time keeps you guessing - very unpredictable storyline. The movie runs on the stellar performances from Abhay Deol, Gul Panag and the supporting cast. I was surprised to see Nawazuddin Siddiqui in an insignificant role as a local goon - but I guess he got more popular only after Kahaani and Gangs of Wasseypur. He is definitely an actor to watch out for.

This movie is not fast paced so it is not a stylish action thriller and nor is it a modern one at that. It is a simple story with the right amount of creepiness and mystery that will keep you hooked if you are ok with its slackish pace in the first half. But I also think that is one of the reasons that make a mystery movie worth a watch - the slow unfolding of characters and sub-stories that add to the plot make it intriguing and suspenseful. Plus, this movie is set in a small town and going by that it has to be slow and uneventful. As a middle class Indian, I could really connect with some social issues that stand out in the movie - the way your neighbors pry on your privacy, small town corruption, greed and the rich poor inequality.

The movie, it seems is inspired by Roman Polanski's Chinatown (I haven't seen that movie yet), but I really don't care because the storytelling has been adapted perfectly for an Indian setting. This movie is a must-watch for mystery buffs! 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Is literacy rate the answer to everything?

Not long ago, there was a discussion at work about the direct co-relation of literacy rate with sex ratio in India. The premise being that higher literacy rate meant higher sex ratio (because the literate did not discriminate against female child). This is not true always. In fact, it is opposite in some cases.

For eg: Haryana has been in news for a higher crime rate against women and the declining female sex ratio. The literacy rate in Haryana (76.64%) is higher than my home state of Andhra Pradesh (67.66%) and yet the sex ratio in Haryana (877 females for every 1000 males) is much lesser than Andhra Pradesh's (992 females for every 1000 males).

This data is picked up from India's Census Website and represents the year 2011.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Movie Recommendation: 500 Days of Summer

Note: You know how when someone asks you during lunch table conversation - "What's your favorite movie?" and you are taken aback. Because you know you have seen so many damn good movies, but cant seem to remember even one, at the time! Well, this one counts as one of my favorite movies...and will remember to mark it so in my memory :)

IMDB Entry: 500 Days of Summer
Genre: Romantic Comedy

This movie is pretty much summed up by its opening lines:
"This is a story of boy meets girl. But you should know up front, this is not a love story."

I will be honest, the first time I saw this movie I didn't think much of it. But the second time I saw, I realized it was cleverly made for a rom-com movie. I have been a rom-com movie fan for a long time. Specially the Nora Ephron kinds. (You know, The Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail types?) The type that leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling. Of late, I have lost interest in this genre. Because every movie in this genre is a rehash of known rom-com hits. So if you are a man and reading this right now, don't stop reading. Because this movie is nothing like a usual rom-com that focusses only on girls and their fairy tale stories. Yes, it has the "cute" moments, but equal parts of the movie are also focussed on the guy. And here it is the guy who believes in true love, marriage and happy ever after.

Joseph-Gordon Levitt plays Tom, your average guy next door, passing away his time in a greeting card company where he devices corny captions for cards. Although he is an aspiring architect, he is quite comfortable leading his life this way. He strongly believes he will meet his true love someday. The new copier girl, Zooey Deschanel as Summer, arrives and Tom believes she's the one for him. The two start dating.

The movie also follows a very non-linear narrative,  journaling 500 days of their relationship - which I thought was a refreshing way of narrating a story. Because really in life and relationships, all things bittersweet are non-linear. You go through highs and lows, laughs and fights and they are never really coherent. The movie is sprinkled with songs (yes! kinda like Bollywood movies) that gives it a "Glee" like look in parts. But they aren't disruptive and flow well with the narrative. In fact, some of the songs (I never heard of before), became my favorites from this movie.

There are a few elements that work in this movie -  its "close to reality" portrayal of a relationship that starts from the blossoming of love to periods of confusion and fights due to the pair's diametrically opposite views on love. This movie will relate with guys who have gotten their hearts broken and eventually went after their dreams and moved on.

The lead actors share a great chemistry - so believable that at some point in the movie, you really want their relationship to work out. The cinematography is brilliant and well thought out. For example, in one of the songs the color coordination is blue to match Zooey's blue eyes.

All said, in every movie I look for a story and the storytelling. And I think this movie was a good attempt in telling the usual love story in a clever way - heartbreaking and hopeful, just like life. This movie definitely grows on you - I have liked it more the second or the third time I watched. 

And no, I don't think Summer is a b****. What did you think?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

iTerm2 + Tmux Integration

I often "ssh" to remote servers from my Macbook and have found tmux (terminal multiplexer) to be invaluable. This saves me a lot of anxiety about disconnected remote sessions. 

However, I use iTerm2 (replacement for OS X Terminal) and have always wanted for tmux to work within iTerm2. You can read all about the iTerm2 and tmux integration and why this integration helps.

Here are notes on how you can install tmux to work with iTerm2. Assumption is that you have iTerm2 already setup on Mac:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Movie Recommendation: Little Miss Sunshine

Note: So I ate too much food tonight (read "fried food") and I am still awake and this germ of an idea comes to mind. Why not blog about movies I have seen and liked? You know, like the lesser known ones. So this is my first entry - let's see how far I keep this act going :)

IMDB entry: Little Miss Sunshine
Genre: Drama, Comedy

Image Courtesy: Fan art from

Once in a while I come across movies that I know nothing about and yet the title makes me all judgmental about it. I mean, Little Miss Sunshine. What do you expect? Some sappy, teenage romance or children book adaptation? You will be glad to know this isn't anything like that.

This takes an unexpected theme and weaves an intimate story around a dysfunctional family that comes together for their little daughter 'Olive' who has qualified for a beauty pageant called "Little Miss Sunshine". The family takes a road trip from Albuquerque to California (the venue for the pageant) in a beat-up van, so they can get Olive in time for the finals.

A grandfather addicted to crack and adult magazines, who cusses every time he speaks, an homosexual uncle who has attempted suicide, a father obsessed with an idea for a book on "winning", an overworked mother and a brother who has pledged silence and only communicates in the written word with the family - It cant get more dysfunctional than this. There is a scene in the movie where the van gets pulled over by the cops and the father says - "Everybody pretend to be normal" 

Through the trip, they face many troubles, live through each other's eccentricities; but quickly learn to rely on each other's support to get to the pageant. Olive and family, survive setbacks but are caught unawares when it becomes apparent that a beauty pageant for little girls can be as pretentious as the ones for adults. Will the plain and chubby looking Olive make it in the finals of the beauty contest?

The climax was one of the most unexpected yet delightful endings I could have envisioned for a movie like this. The casting is impeccable. At first look, the characters appear weird, but you start to feel one with them as the movie progresses. To a great extent, the movie signifies how people judge others by their appearance, their tastes, likes and dislikes. Perhaps, that is the reason, the movie mixes in eccentricity in the characters. You might not identify with the characters, but you know each of them has a purpose in the story.

My favorite character in the movie was the brother - Dwayne. He doesn't speak as he has taken a vow of silence until he gets into the Air Force. Towards the end of the movie, he shares a private moment with his uncle and vents out his frustration at the pageant venue -  

You know what? Fuck beauty contests. Life is one fucking beauty contest after another. School, then college, then work... Fuck that. And fuck the Air Force Academy. If I want to fly, I'll find a way to fly. You do what you love, and fuck the rest. 

Make no mistake - this not your usual cross country road trip sort of a movie. Nor is it all artsy and unrealistic. It might not even grab your eyeballs in the beginning. You will need to give it time to grow on you. But once you catch the pulse of the movie, it leaves you with a profound feeling on topics so diverse - family, death, dreams, setbacks - you will be craving to see what happens next. 

And no matter what, please don't miss the climax! :)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The No-Regrets Policy

Sometimes (ok, most of the times) I get up in the morning and jump right into the morning rush. No prayers, no thank you's, no good mornings, no nothing. I am snoozing till the last nano second and then I am jumping out of the bed, right into the shower.

Not good.

The whole concept of a morning ritual struck me odd, for a really long time. My inner voice kept saying - "Really, look at that. All the fools going through an elaborate time in the morning doing stuff, when they could actually catch some precious snooze time." You know inner voice, you were wrong, all the way. The essence behind morning rituals is to look at yourself, reflect and set the pace for the day. I ask you, how many times has it happened that a bad start to the day resulted in a productive rest of the day? Zero, I can bet. Because you didn't set the tone for your day. You didn't speak to your mind and tell "Hey mind, I have done good so far. I am healthy, happy and wise so I thank God and family and friends for all the good things. Today is going to be rocking, as usual."

And then there is this whole "looking back" business. You know, looking back is always a tricky thing. You focus so much on the negatives, the wrong stuff that has happened. If only, that certain something, event or incident didn't happen.

Let me tell you something today. "If only" are the two most dangerous words. Ever.

Because you are looking at yourself in the mirror and saying things like -

"If only, my skin didn't break into pimples all the time."

"If only, I was not fat like this."

"If only, I hadn't splurged like that on food or shopping or whatever last night."

"If only, I had performed good enough to get that promotion at work."

"If only, I knew I was such an idiot then."

"If only, I didn't get into this relationship."

You get the drift. 

The problem with regretting is it continues in an infinite loop. Never ending self-inflicting physical and mental pain, becomes a habit. There are probably a thousand times when I said - "No I am not going to regret and feel self-pity." But you give up fighting and jump right into the regret loop. Because your mind is tuned to that.

Now, how the hell am I supposed to break this loop you ask?

I think, the answer (like everything else), lies in the way we form habits. By habits, I simply mean small changes. Instead of telling "I am not going to regret, why not form some habits that are going to change the regret filled regret behavior?"And that is why this whole brouhaha about morning rituals. Because really the people who are getting up in the morning a little early, and praying and spending time with family and kids or just meditating aren't fools. They are performing, right there, the ritual that breaks the regret loop (perhaps even unintentionally). 

The problem with rushing through your morning is you really give no time for your mind to find and hook onto something that will help you through a possibly nasty day. Then you are jumping from one task to another. You are getting sucked into the vortex of emotions that will make or break your day, without your permission (unbelievable how something else controls your life!). Is that how you want your life to be? Give it up, for some unknown entity to drive it. And then do self-bashing about things you could have achieved. If only?

Of course, looking back itself is not a one stop solution to regret. In fact it can morph into the problem itself. Because either you could look back and tell "Hey, I had a crappy X no. of years so far. What did I achieve?" or tell "Hey, I had the most beautiful X years so far. Beautiful and nasty experiences that have shaped my personality and I am ready for all the challenges"

So looking back is good, only to take you forward. The answer then, lies in habits - like the morning ritual. It sets the tone for your day. Even if it means 5 minutes of waking up early and counting your blessings, do it. Do it every single day. Don't break that chain. Slowly see that turn into a habit - like brushing your teeth or tying your shoe laces. It becomes mechanical and becomes a part of you. If need be, get someone to be your support system - friend, spouse, family, colleague, whoever. Someone who reminds you to get back in line. To keep your regret-free conditioning intact.

Regret is the single most evil thing that has happened to humans. It just gets worser and worser if ignored. I am a victim and I am stage three (no this is not even funny). I am ready to fight this, head on. 

It is astonishing how this whole "escape from stress and regret" thing is a multi billion dollar business. 
No amount of indefinite vacation or a 5 day yoga retreat is going to change your habit of regret. The only change that will make a dent in this is change - slow, consistent and sustainable change. 

You need to say to yourself - "Today is the most important day of my life. And I wont let it pass in regret for something that is already gone by. For some bullshit that you wouldn't even remember a few days from now."

If only I never used the two words - If only. (See I did that again! Regretting like that)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What Japanese anime can teach us

My first introduction to Japanese anime happened when I visited a friend's place in Monterey. The place was breathtaking and homely at the same time (unlike the parts of California that people usually visit like San Francisco or Los Angeles). During this time, we spent most of our time doing fun little things - taking a stroll by the beach, cooking authentic Mexican dishes, eating Korean seafood rolls, discussing Steinbeck (who was a Monterey resident) and when night came, watching Japanese animation movies on VHS. Yes, VHS! It was very unlikely of me to choose animated movies as an evening watch, leave alone Japanese anime. 

Since I was not too keen, my friend had to trick me into liking anime. I had heard of Naruto and other Manga characters and the cult following it had in the States. But I was never inclined to give it a shot.

She was finding it difficult to choose between Princess Mononoke and Grave of the Fireflies. And then she chose the latter. Although she did warn me that Grave of the Fireflies is unlike most of the other Japanese anime (live action figures, magic castles, witches and spells and such). I, on the other hand, didn't bother since they all felt same to me at that time. And I gave in since her whole family was getting excited to watch the movie that night (apparently they watched it dozens of times already)

Grave of the Fireflies
Now, let me tell you how surprised and moved I was by the end of the movie. Grave of the Fireflies is about a brother and his little sister struggling to live in a World War II struck Japan. It was easily one of the most heartbreaking stories I ever watched. It is not easy to pour in words the kind of feelings it left me with. It took me a week to shake it off (and I am not even exaggerating). I have seen a lot of war movies and blood and gore, but this kind of storytelling was leagues ahead of them all.  Because it gets personal and leaves a deep influence on how you view the world around you. Most of the Hollywood movies, you blink and forget. Don't get me wrong I love Pixar movies, they are brilliant, but Japanese anime elevates stories to a personal level - the amount of soul, depth, authenticity and honesty, that is missing even in Pixar animations.

Since it left on me such a deep impression, my friend (a big fan of Hayao Miyazaki) insisted that I watch rest of his movies after I go back home. She lent me half a dozen DVDs of his movies and I was hooked for life. 

Now, this is the thing about Japanese anime (and in particular Miyazaki's) - it engages you so much through its simple storytelling that you feel one with it. I was pleasantly surprised by how every script subtlely weaves the importance of family and values with the theme of the story. They touch so many diverse topics - about growing up, respecting elders, being polite (even to strangers), not being judgmental, keeping faith, working hard, pursuing your dreams and cherishing life, no matter what.

Nowhere in the story I felt that they were making an effort to teach such important lessons. It just magically left me inspired on so many levels. Sometimes, I wonder if these movies left such an impact on me, then they most definitely should be made mandatory. Specially for children and teenagers who are at such an impressionable age.

Whisper of the Heart

When I watched Whisper of the Heart, for the first time ever, I was left inspired after watching a movie on teen romance! I mean who would have thought that could happen? Teen romance and inspiration - that is possible only in a Miyazaki tale.

Every scene, every moment depicted true to life - the emotions of first day at school to developing a crush on a boy, of friendships and trivial fights, studying for exams, the way the sky looks (and the rainbow) after it has rained, the smell of earth, the sound of crickets on a warm summer night, the way we nurture innocent dreams for our future, the infinite expectations your parents have of you, your journey of self discovery. A million such emotions in a 120 min length feature film is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Seriously how much of that do you see in Hollywood or Bollywood movies? It is either mindless charade of popularity contests or excessive bullying or fancy product and brand placements and very little emphasis on how kids are sorting through their dreams, their everyday experiences and family relationships. What is with the culture of wannabes and trying to make premature adults out of kids, instead of letting them bloom in their creativity?

Apart from the story, the accompanying artwork and animation leaves me amazed  - it can't get more beautiful than this. Moments so stirring and wonderful, that they leave a lump in my throat. It makes me think why didn't anyone introduce me to these movies, a little earlier in my life? And for that, I am forever indebted to my friend.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Ugly Truth

It reminds me of the scene from A Few Good Men where Jack Nicholson is in a court-martial and is asked to tell the truth. And he goes "You can't handle the truth". And continues to deliver a monologue telling why exactly sometimes you have to live with the truth so ugly, that perhaps you are better off living without knowing it.

Last night, I was at a local clinic. The kind you find on a busy Indian street, neatly lined in a row of beauty parlors, neon-lit tiffin centres, medical stores, ATM outlets and the like. The clinic itself was a tiny establishment, with an assistant who was perhaps 70 year old guy himself, skinny to the bone seated on an old bamboo chair that seemed only as strong as the guy. He looked at me bleakly as I enquired, seated on my bike - "Is there a doctor?"

He looked sideways from me and opened his mouth so to speak. He was squinted. He coughed for a good 10 seconds. I fidgeted impatiently on my bike seat. Then he just nodded in reply.

In India you don't take people's word at first go. You always confirm - that's the rule of thumb. So my next impulse was to go inside the clinic and find for myself, if the doctor was around. He was. 

I ask him, without as much as a statutory greeting - "So are you going to be here? Till what time?"

He points at the clock on the cracked wall, a lizard sneaking in from behind. "9:30" he tells me, loudly,  in three languages - English, Hindi, Telugu. As I nod in return and get back to my bike I notice a few men giving me furtive glances. I am dressed in old jeans and a bright turquoise colored T-shirt with a golden print that said "Peace". You almost always get glances like that. Pretty or not, adequately clothed or not. So long as you are a woman, you will be stared at. And you almost always are immune to it.

I just continue to my bike and ride away to appear after a good 30 minutes. This time to see a long line of people in waiting. For a moment, I am infuriated. A third class, "hole in the wall" clinic with a doctor who doesn't even have a pen and pad to write prescriptions, is suddenly in demand. But statistics defy everything here. India's population density will assure every doctor an unending supply of patients looking for treatments from the common cold to body fractures.

I wait indefinitely in the line. Men still staring, but I give them a hard look and they feign looking towards the sky. I look the other way, and can see from the corner of my eye, their stares returning back to me. I mutter a curse or two, under my breath. Just a bit longer and I can go, I assure myself.

And finally, it is my turn. The doctor is now writing prescriptions on post-it notes. In between he gets up and disappears behind an old, strange smelling, floral printed curtain with a patient on the other side who has some kind of bowel problems, lying on the bed and grunting in pain. He comes back to write some antibiotics on the post-it notes. He asks me if I am married. I don't answer and almost open my mouth to say it is none of its business but just nod to say no. I want to just get out of this shit hole, I say to myself again.

He explains in three languages again about the medicines he is writing me. I look at my watch and get restless - I have a remote meeting to attend in an hour and I am not even listening to him at this point. I quickly try to grab the prescription (now a total of 4 post-its) but he looks at me questioningly and says -  "Where is the money, madam?"

I give him a 50 rupee note and head out. After scouting for medicines at 3 drug stores, I grow impatient and give up. Of all the fever antibiotics, he had to write me the least accessible ones, I think to myself.

Medical care is a big business here, like anywhere else in the world. A drug store doesn't just try to sell you drugs. They try to sell you only "certain brand" of drugs made by a "certain" pharmaceutical. So they are often trying to con you to take substitutes from pharma companies that pay them kickbacks for promoting their brand over others. But with all things India, you fight your way through it. Lets just say I had a bad day and wasn't open to any more drama for the day.

Failing to find the drugs, I am even more agitated this time. I rush back to the doctor, with the post-its in my hand, waving them furiously at the doctor's face and question him, grinding my teeth  - "No one carries half the prescriptions you have given me."

The doctor is mid-flight, half of his body behind the curtain and half out. He doesn't appear shocked, while standing firmly in front of a young guy, whose chest is in a pool of blood. That's when I look down and realized I am standing in what seemed to me like someone just spit out red paan on the floor.

That was instead a stream of human blood following the guy on the bed now. I turn now to see two of the young men (the ones who were giving me the stares about half an hour ago), one panicking and talking on the phone to hail an ambulance, while the other trembling, his hands drenched in blood.

My mouth turns dry. The doctor says to me - "One minute madam"

I step out for air, trying to take in what just happened. The 70 year old assistant looks at me quizzingly - "Did you try Vijayalakshmi (drug store)?" I am almost dazed and manage to say "No". He is squinted and tries his best to give me store directions.  I am confused and do my best to follow his gaze.

I turn back and I see "facebook" written on the back of the T-shirt of one of the men - a guy who is barefoot, doesn't carry a phone and doesn't even have enough money to give to the doctor. I hear the doctor console the guy - "Don't worry. Your friend will be OK. I know the doctor at this hospital, he will fix your friend for cheap."

I find my drugs at Vijayalakshmi. I return home with the medicines, check my emails and finish the remote call. And then get back to surfing the Internet.

The incident is now a faint memory. Life goes on. And that my friends is the ugly truth.