Monday, April 30, 2007

First order of Business

Did the whole nine yards at Odyssey. I didn't do a hair-cut for graduation and saved it all for Odyssey :-) Annachi, the owner, welcomed me with a sort of paternal love that is hard to find these days. I almost saw a tear in his eye.
Sathyanarayana temple is undergoing huge renovations in preparation for Brahmotsavam next month. All the Bhattars welcomed me back to the fold much the same way annachi did. Got 4x prasadams than (sarkarai-pongal + curd rice) normal. There is something unexplainable about being back in Madras. I try not to get senti but something like this escapes inevitably.

Two Words

Singaara Chennai

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On Commencement Speeches

I remember that the commence address at the time of my graduation from The Ohio State University, a couple of presidencies ago, was delivered by G.W.Bush (the son). When he gave the speech, he had just won the election but hadn't been sworn in as president. It was during that crucial gap that he came and told us the art of winning by close margins. This time around Bill Clinton is driving through Michigan and oh-by-the-way giving a commencement address. I'd expect him to talk about the perils of cigar/cigarette smoking. But that's just me. Usually commencement speeches are extremely boring and the ceremony agonizingly long. I'd give them a miss and just start my vacation a little bit early. I am not big about putting on the gown and walking up to receive the a diploma. If it looks good on my resume that's usually enough for me. This time around I have decided to make an exception and attend just the business school commencement.
This all seems diminished when a friend pointed me to Conan O'Brien's commence address to the Harvard Class of 2000. Read the entire speech - it made me laugh so much.

So, I was 28 and, once again, I had no job. I had good writing credits in New York, but I was filled with disappointment and didn't know what to do next. I started smelling suede on my fingertips. And that's when The Simpsons saved me. I got a job there and started writing episodes about Springfield getting a Monorail and Homer going to College. I was finally putting my Harvard education to good use, writing dialogue for a man who's so stupid that in one episode he forgot to make his own heart beat. Life was good.

And then, an insane, inexplicable opportunity came my way . A chance to audition for host of the new Late Night Show. I took the opportunity seriously but, at the same time, I had the relaxed confidence of someone who knew he had no real shot. I couldn't fear losing a great job I had never had. And, I think that attitude made the difference. I'll never forget being in the Simpson's recording basement that morning when the phone rang. It was for me. My car was blocking a fire lane. But a week later I got another call: I got the job.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

No Kapil! Please Believe me! You wanted some Rest

The recent selection, and the associated 'resting' comment brings to memory the Sharjah tour in 1993-94. The darn Kapil Dev wouldn't call it quits. He was bowling slower than Kumble and finally with a lot of effort in Jan/Feb 1994 series against Lanka, he got to that 431 mark. Kapil had already adorned the front of my 'Natraj' geometry box for close to a decade and rust had begun to accumulate on his face and the photo of him holding aloft the 1983 cup. The board thought that Kapil would have the decency to know that he was a spent force and would quit both tests and ODIs after he got to 431. Srinath was already waiting in the wings with 'swing' bowler Manoj Prabhakar taking on the mantle of senior bowler. Kapil, I think, quit test cricket and people were unsure about his ODI plans.
However, Kapil decided to go on improving his ODI record and finances without quitting. For a month after we had returned from the NZ tour, there was heavy speculation that he might be humiliatingly dropped for this Australasia cup in Sharjah. The D-day came and our clever selectors walked into the media room. Surprise Surprise! They announced that Kapil wanted to be 'rested' for the Sharjah tour. They gave this as an excuse for not picking him. The news came as a "surprise" to Kapil Dev, who promptly claimed that he didn't want to be rested at all. The media-based battle began with selectors actually insisting that Kapil wanted to be rested and Kapil refuting the claim. I mean, at that point I felt 'dropping' him would have been a less humiliating option. 'Resting' a person like Kapil, who didn't understand a subtle 'please get out' message was plain stupidity. A stupidity which only our selectors were capable of doing. So they included him for the WI tour to India and he eventually retired after that tour. This over-stay is accentuated further by the early retirement of Javagal Srinath. he retired early not once but twice. His main reason for retiring so early was Kapil Dev. He explicitly said that he didnt want to inflict the pain - that Kapil inflicted on him - to youngsters waiting in line. A telling comment on superstardom that dominates Indian cricket. We still haven't got a replacement for Srinath.
P.S: Whats up with this Laxmipathi Balaji? Where is he? Its funny that this is happening 3-in-a-row. S. Ramesh, M.Karthik and L.Balaji were all performing really well in the last series they played for India. They were in fact among the top two performers in the side. Then an injury break comes. And then they are nowhere to be found in National/Domestic/Club/Road-sides. Meanwhile Ajit Agarkar stands a good chance of making his seven thousandth come-back for the England tour. There has got to be a name for this kind of thing.
P.s2: Still haven't begun my accounting exam. :-(

Friday, April 20, 2007

Final Final Exam

This is a phase in my life when motivation to do anything (near the comp) is at its lowest. People have spaced-out, zone-out and checked-out from the MBA program already. The funny thing about this final exam is the lowness of its priority. It comes after party, tennis, gym, packing, and dinners. I am all but done with the MBA thing. I just have this accounting take-home final exam due on Monday noon. It was given out last Monday and I still haven't really seen what the question paper looks like. I don't see me going near the question paper today. On top of it I still don't know what this subject is all about. So, it will really boil down to a B.E University exam kind of a deal where I have to finish a subject - One which I have no clue about, a class which I never attended - in 1.5 days. With all the other courses done by last Wednesday, the motivation to go for one more exam is so low. One second after the guys called me out to cricket, I ran out of the house to the ground for some good ol' Tennis ball kirikaet. The way I lied and fought to my protesting bhariya about it - reminded me of 7th standard days.
There is a final Indian Student Association bash before graduation tomorrow. So pretty much Sunday night is ambael . If I don't finish of this exam by tomorrow afternoon, something would happen on Monday, which my ex-roomie Suri would describe, with hands twisted either ways and nasty expression on his mug, as 'Vaaaangikichu'

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Saroja! Saaman Nikalo

I have been subscribing to this Vijay TV channel for close to 8 months. After draining close to 100$ and barely catching a few programmes, yesterday was the first day I actually sat down and watched it. I suddenly learned that my grandma has become extremely popular and for some reason people were calling out to her. But then later found out its some new song. I have to say this is the best Thamizh channel among the nonsense that's out there. There are of course some 'pazha pona' serials that are shown but overall its better. Vijay TV seems to be pioneering some good series like Lollu Sabha, Comedy Show (which is now in Sun TV) etc.

Junior Singer Champion: This is such a good program. Its crap like American idol/Indian Idol (I sincerely hope Sanjaya is voted out) but its much better. And it is for kids. Initially I thought 'kids program, must be full of rettai kural, adhiga prasangi crap'. However, the program turned out to be really interesting. The part that I liked was the instant rejection and a firm no. Usually Thamizh culture (or Doordarshan) dictates the prevalence of 'compensation prize' crap and every kid returns home a winner of sorts. Probably because of our silly adherence to this thing called 'gandhian principles'. Here they actually say 'you suck', which is really a good thing. There was one kid who didn't know any of the new songs and was singing 'pazhani malai murugaiyya'. Seriously, I don't know which fruit factory produced this fellow. But this guy had a good strong voice. The person who most impressed me was the Oviya of the Oviya/Kavya sister duo. I thought Oviya was a sure-shot shoo-in. She had such an awesome voice, poise and confidence. however, she wasn't a straight select and was put on a wait list before being sent in later. There was another Gajini character, who kept on insiting that he be selected. He should have been rejected with much more rudeness than what the judges showed him. I am more than impressed with judge Tippu. There was a specific singer, who seemed to be singing all right but wasn't really firing on all cylinders. Tippu quickly found the song that would showcase the singer's voice to the max potential (Ilamai ennum Poongatru). The singer, though didn't know the lyrics very well, sang it so beautifully. Super Program.

However, I wasn't impressed with the April 14 programs.

Vivek'ungo: Half-a-day was spent with Vivek on TV. Didn't like most of it. Poor quality comedy. Especially the 'Jillunu Oru Jodi' and 'Valluvarungo' part.

Interviews with Bala, Vikram: On one hand, 20 years ago, Doordarshan, with Military disciple showed manai matchi, Thyaga Chudar, Vayalum Vaazhvum, with amazing precision (7:03 PM) and never bothered to cater to the audience demand. On the other hand, Network TV wants to milk money out of every single person who has a TV. Every emotion is out for sale, I suppose. Your small crushes, your love for your mother, you thoughts on a the goat poop next to your almamater, everything can be recorded, shown on TV for profit. Just because there is some audience for it. This whole thing of bringing an actor's personal circle into TV and making his school principal, doctor, friends exchange gifts with him - is extremely silly. But some TV director out there is thinking "If you are an actor and have an emotion, I can sell it for you". All this wet pant talks about childhood friendship, hospital friendships sounded a little whorish to me. Kamal Hasan and Rajinikanth are seriously awesome compared to these young stars. One actually has strong and good opinions to offer, the other shuts up because he has none to offer. These pip-squeaks come and shag on TV with their stupid ninny stories.

Neeya Naana: This has got to be the worst show on TV. Ever. It should already be common knowledge that most Indians (in this case Thamilians) who appear on TV talk shows are extremely immature idiots. People who resort to ad hominim every 3rd nanosecond aren't showing some outlier behavior. This program brings that specific immaturity to the fore. This is the second 'Neeya Naana' I got to watch. The first one was the " Is IT spoiling our culture" crap and this one was on "Last bench students Vs First Benchers". The amount of generalizations, stereo typing (" she is corrupt, urupdaama poravan"), and ad hominim (" her face looks like a bajari", "she dresses badly") made me wonder why I wish Veerappan wasn't dead. If I were Veerappan, I'd just round-up all these people back stage and kill them, very slowly and with a lot of cruelty.

Koffee with Anu: this is a decent program. I saw the Chennai-28 team get interviewed. The people were so relaxed and kept cracking so many jokes. Very real and enjoyable. I learned that the 'Saroja' song is from this movie. Funny

Friday, April 13, 2007

Review: Mozhi (Language) - Bale!!

This is such a wonderful movie. Seriously, this is a very good movie. I really think humor is the 'mozhi' here. This movie just tip-toes between so-many potential pot-holes and never falls into any of them. A milli-meter this way or that way and this movie could have ended up as over-sympathetic, condescending, goofy, slap-stick, overly-righteous, sad, sentimental, drawing-mileage-out-of-easy-target, badly acted kind of a movie. Instead every possible 'eeewww' ends up being a 'awww'. It does a fantastic tight rope walk and keeps things very dignified. I heard so much about this movie but somehow I missed it in the theaters for 'Pachai Kili'.

The maturity with which this has been conceptualized and presented is simply awesome. I can't believe this is someone's debut movie. There are some moments, which take you to another level. One - the fact that this is a person who does re-recording and gives 'voice' to the movie when the movie is still in its silent stage, but can't give voice to a person is one of those cute little ironies. Made even more special because its not explicitly dealt with but just subtly suggested. Second - the 3-4 minute silent sequence where he walks on the road with his ear plugged. The pin-drop silence - when so much is happening and makes you wonder if you have lost audio - was simply superb. This is a kind of a movie which doesn't even need a climax to deliver the payload. From the first minute it is a crescendo that keeps delivering payload every now and then. What amazed me was the dignity with which the movie was handled. That is why I liked it so much. If at all this movie missed somethings, I would say it missed Ilayaraja's magic. Two main actors who dont speak tamil fluently/without an accent was a mildly noticeable but forgiven.

The professor whose mind is frozen in time, in 1984, completely disturbed me. Seriously, thats a raw-nerve-touching role. And so well-acted out. If this director is so good that he can think of such a role and present it so wonderfully, then there is more to come from where this movie came from.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Losers Convention does a PIL

What do you do when a person goes to court and puts up a Public Interest Litigation against sun rising in the east (bad: because I have to get up), birds chirping (too noisy), people breathing ( too much CO2 emitted) etc. Here is a person in Madras, who has put a PIL because schools are using X Std performance to do a merit based selection of Std XI class.

"She further said provisional admissions based on the half-yearly examinations had been given to select students, causing severe emotional and mental stress to other students and parents."

"students getting lower than the cut-off mark are told to find admission elsewhere for Standard XI."

Oh my god! How horrible can this world get, discriminating students based on their exam performance. Somebody ought to litigate against universities and private companies for discriminating students based on exam performance. This ridiculous system has to stop.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Parties

School life is coming towards an end. People are either worrying about their involuntary participation in the H1-B lottery or attending some party, dinner or xyz event - where alcohol is served. Rest assured nobody is studying or even remotely concerned about the upcoming final exam week. Since weekend (which btw is now Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun) doesn't seem to be enough, we are getting together on weekdays. School life provides you nonsense forums to have inane and completely ridiculous discussions. These are the kind of get-togethers that you miss afterwards. The 8 hour long over-night discussion that my roommates in Columbus had - on which part/parts of the body a person would sacrifice - to sleep with the 'then' hot actress/model/girl-on-the-road comes to mind. Yesterday, I happened to be in one such party, where 'unity in diversity' desi'ess seemed to be at the fore. Each guy present was from a different state - Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Punjab, UP.

Sometimes parties are fun and some parties are hilarious. You meet and learn about different people, who can narrate weirdest of stories from their sordid past. Since one guy in the group was guitarist and was taking viewers requests and some sang along. The night progressed in a hippie-style-weed-spaced-out fashion. Arguments happened. Strong opinions were expressed. Before you know it - the clock ticket 2:00 AM and the major portions of the argument was yet to come. Someone was a captain of a university basket ball team, the marathi dude was a TV/advertisement actor. The guy from Madhya Pradesh, claimed he played for the MP Ranji team in the 1997 season. I don't know much about MP cricket, but he claimed that seniors systematically pushed down juniors if they felt that the junior threatened their places. This happens even in the national team, it seems. Plausible, but allows for argument. Then late late into the night, someone got into the mood and we s-video'd (to the TV) and cheered some famous (but extremely ridiculous) cat-fights that happened in 80s bollywood movies (from youtube). The arguments are the best part of a party. It ranges from professors, bottom of the pyramid, fair and lovely, switching-cost of having an affair, tendulkar, yahoo's strategy, gossip, H1B visas to tightness of some actress thighs. Next day morning you get up and you don't even remember the argument, except for the fact the some homework is due in 1 hour and you have no clue what that home work is. Everybody who knows that information is sleeping. But you still feel that the night was time well spent. College life has its own charm. I leave you with some of those famous cat fights.

(someone here is Tabu's sister)


(Sridevi)


(I dont even know what crap this is)


(well...)

Monday, April 09, 2007

Tendulkar: Will he get dropped?

It is certainly futile to write a blog post about cricket, especially about Sachin Tendulkar. But that is a defining characteristic of a stupid Indian cricket fan. Everybody is not born a stupid Indian cricket fan. Such a fan is made. Our Indian ethnicity starts the process by giving us a few privileges, besides a poop hole. Chief among that is a definitive opinion on things cricket. As we grow up we come to believe that every other stupid Indian cricket fan is wrong and before you know it - a stupid indian cricket fan is made. By writing blog posts on cricket, I will get more than my usual dose of abuse. I could have easily avoided it by not writing about cricket at all, which I managed to do successfully for the first two years of my blog life. But then I am not a stupid Indian cricket fan for nothing. I want death threats. A kind of threat, which will make me act all righteous, like a famous western-hemisphere blogger, and call for a campaign to stop anonymous commenters from using the privilege I gave them to post anonymous comments.

Anywho moving on to things cricket. Of all the years of watching the man, this is the closest Sachin Tendulkar has come to getting dropped. He is so close to getting dropped that I'd be surprised if he isn't. A part of me thinks that the BCCI is playing things smartly. Clearly the stupid Indian fan is (a) disgruntled, (b) wants some heads chopped off, and (c) thinks people who beat 1:10000000 odds to be part of a leading share holder in a billion dollar industry, are overpaid. The BCCI needs to appease the least common denominator. Any head of this organization who has a 2-digit IQ will put on a show of castigating a few senior players only to include them laater and then slowly shepherd them to a graceful retirement. BCCI, although regarded as a very stupid organization, isn't nearly as stupid as the PCB. PCB changes captains after every world cup defeat. After our 83 victory, Kapil Dev has been the only Indian captain to be be sacked immediately after a WC exit. Azhar miraculously survived 3 WC exits, 2 of them were quite ignominious. But after every defeat, the team was shuffled big time. Krish Srikkanth, Ravi Shastri, Kapil Dev, Kiran More, were dropped after 92WC to make way for growing youngsters like Sachin, Kambli, Manjrekar, Mongia, Kumble, Srinath. After the 96 exit Sidhu, Kambli, Manjrekar, Prabhakar, Raju, were dropped for new talent such as Ganguly, Dravid, Agarkar, Venky Prasad, Jadeja, Robin Singh, S Ramesh. The 1999 exit saw Jadeja, Robin Singh, (later) Azhar, Prasad, Kumble, Ramesh make way for Yuvraj, Kaif, Zaheer, Harbajan, Sehwag. However 2003 to 2007 was exempt from big time changes. Less number of changes than even what the 1983WC - 1987 WC transition underwent.

The only significant change in team composition between the 2003 World Cup and now was the stupid inclusion of this Uthappa fellow instead of wobbly Kaif. We did not change the team in a big way. Was it because we had an awesome team in 2003? I didn't think so. I wish Tendulkar hadn't fired the way he did in the 2003 world cup. It hid a lot of errors in the team a la' 1996. If the readers remember the 96 WC, except for the Pakistan game, Tendulkar had pretty much decided the fate of all the other victories (and defeats). Even the games we lost (against SL & Aus), we were moderately competing by virtue of his 90s or hundreds. In the semi-finals, if he had carried on beyond 60s (until the freak run-out by Kaluwitharana, he didn't seem like getting out at all), we would not have lost so dramatically and might've gone through to the final. If that had happened, the Kamblis, Manjrekars and Sidhus of the world might have survived and people like Ganguly/Dravid might not have crept into the team. The 2003 World cup was the best (or worst) case scenario of 1996 WC. It was clearly another Tendulkar Show Part II. The biggest difference between the two was we won, instead of losing, against Sri Lanka. Was that difference big enough to retain the entire team? For example Ganguly and Sehwag barely scored against test nations. They played badly. Really Really badly. Harbajan didnt really set anything on fire. But the stupid Indian cricket fan, who saw the final game, forgave the bowlers who gave 359 runs in the finals and blamed Tendulkar for getting out in the first over. According to this fan, we did not lose the game in the first over we bowled nor in the first half of the game. But the stupid fan says we lost it when Sachin (not ganguly, sehwag, dravid, yuvraj or kaif but just Sachin) failed to get us past 359 in a world cup final against a bowling attack like Australia. It is the same stupid fan that the BCCI must appease now.

While I believe in Mark Twain's logic that popularity of an opinion has a strong correlation with stupidity of that opinion, I think this time around we have hit an exception to that rule. I believe that there is cricketing merit for Sachin to be dropped from both forms of the game. In fact I am rooting for him to get axed. My reasons for this may be slightly different and irrelevant compared to the logically solid reasons given by the stupid indian cricket fan boy, such as "he was over paid, choked, selfish etc". Usually in the past regardless of what this stupid indian cricket fan thought, Sachin Tendulkar had cricketing merit to stay in the team. If you disregarded nonsense criticisms like "selfish, personal record player" etc and simply did a statsguru, on his last 10-20 games, you would find that he had a decent average at a good strike rate. You couldn't drop him on cricketing logic. But now he's got 32 odd aversge in his last 20 ODIs and 25 odd average in his last 10 tests. Regardless of where you come from these are bad numbers. Those who argue that statistics aren't everything will be surprised when the 2007 World Cup winner is decided based on numbers. Whether Greg Chappell did or did not do anything substantial as a coach, he could at least be proud of one thing. His biggest achievement as a coach was to facilitate, in some way, the sacking of Ganguly. Rightly so, because Ganguly wasn't scoring at all for close to two-three years. Greg can now be potentially be proud of one more thing. He probably has done the same posthumously to Sachin. To put it simply Sachin can't put money where his mouth his. If I were Raju Bharathan, I would say, its the empty Tendulkar vessel that made a lot of noise in Times of India. The only other line of argument that has any sort of validity is - if BCCI let Azhar, Kapil and Ganguly stay in the team based on past achievements, why shouldn't Tendulkar stay? That is a valid argument that points out a consistency issue and not a merit issue. Time will give an answer to that. If I were to argue for Sachin, I'd clearly say that relegating him to the middle order was a bad idea. Mainly because it never worked. Greg Chappell claims that Sachin will milk the bowlers during middle overs. The only thing he looked like milking was caribbean cattle. It is a stupid logic with absolutely no cricketing merit (unless you consider something as mundane as 'do it for the team' - as cricketing merit). There is no statistic, real cricketing logic, or evidence to support that (a) Tendulkar will do well in middle order and (b) someone like Uthappa will do better than Tendulkar as an opener. What Greg Chappell's stupid logic has done is (a) deprive us of a excellent opener (b) given us a mediocre opener (c) given us a mediocre middle order batsman in Tendulkar. So we have moved from "good opener but no middle order batsman" to "no opener and no middle order batsman". There is no way anybody can contest that there is a better ODI opener than Tendulkar for India. Even the most stubborn Ganguly backed off from that kind of inistence during the previous world cup. Greg Chappell's misplaced confidence in Tendulkar as a middle order player has embarrassed not only Tendulkar but India as a whole. To say that opening is an "easy" job when India didn't have any sort of opening partnership going at all is either complete ignorance or total stupidity or both.

To conclude, while it is easy to make an argument that Tendulkar be dropped, it is not so easy to request for youngsters. We have no real youngsters who can a immediately replace these seniors. During every other world cup the 'youngsters' had already established themselves in the team and facilitated the seniors to be axed without severely distorting the results. If we went ahead and dropped Sachin, Ganguly, Sehwag, Harbhajan and Dhoni - I am not sure if the people replacing these blokes will really improve our fate. We might lose the test series against Bangladesh. On Tendulkar - I wish he gets dropped. It was horrible to see him bat during the 3rd test in South Africa. It suggests that he has deteriorated beyond imagination. If a shock treatment does him good (and I suspect that it will) - then good for him and India. On his part he can do a Laxman (Laxman refused to be considered as an opener for tests and won his middle order place on merit) and clearly say that he is in contention for the openers spot and not anything else. It will end a lot of nonsense that has been going around in the name of 'team spirit'. India will then start searching for a real middle order player instead of 'managing' and shuffling players up and down. Mean while here is a YouTube video spoofing Sachin. Reminds me of what dravid said on fringe players - "If you put yourself in a position where there is doubt, you deserve to be axed. You should make sure that there is no doubt". Tendulkar, right now, deserves to be among the laughing stock of Indian cricket.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Movie Review: Rashomon

Great movies mean different things to different people. Of all the classics, if there can be a movie that has maximum variance in reviews, it is Rashomon. Why do I like this movie so much? I like Rashomon because it explores my favorite discussion topic. A topic that I debate often with my friends. I have this tendency to remember arbitrary details about locations, things, and events way back in the past. Later, when I visited those places (or) saw them in video after a month, a year or a decade, things weren't exactly how I remembered them to be. It happens to many people. People got all the basic details and facts correct but the subtle things that made the event special/horrible, were not always accurate. This error was more pronounced if I witnessed the events just once. Among the readers of this blog, those who know me personally, will recollect the strong bets I place on certain cricketing shots, past events and locations and (sometimes, not always) be awfully wrong about it. The perception was that I exaggerated and embellished the incident deliberately. However, to me, the epiphany was a complete surprise. I would be so sure and then I would be so surprised. My theory is that our brain approximates things and stores events in memory incorrectly. The error factor increases over time (possible memory corruption). While you might believe that you were honestly recollecting things, you might be inadvertently lying. Things become horrible when you subconscious cheats you to remember an incident the way you like to remember it and not the way it played out. If this is taken in the context of perjury things become very interesting. Rashomon, explores this very concept. As Robert Altman, so eloquently put it, books allow you the latitude to imagine the events narrated in the book. Two people who read the same book, may not necessarily imagine the characters and events the same way. But in a movie these things are concrete. Movies usually cast the events and characters in stone. It is an art form, which presents events as facts and there is no interpretation possible in this space (for example if it shows a guy taking a wallet - you can't come out and argue that the guy never took the wallet). Rashomon breaks this paradigm. This is its greatest achievement. After you have seen this movie, you are not sure what was shown to you is indeed a fact. Two people might have completely two different inferences about the facts of this movie. To me, it laughs mockingly at the system of using human testimony as evidence in a court. It is experimental movie making at its peak and it is incredible that such a movie could be made in 1950s, when movies as an art form was quite nascent.

Rashomon is a story where several people narrate an incident, as part of a testimony, in a court house. The 15-20 minute incident is quite simple, a husband and wife are travelling across the woods. A bandit has sex with the wife and then kills the husband. This is pretty much the only thing you can say for certain. These are the facts of the case. Everything else is open to interpretation. To begin with the aesthetics, rain is used very effectively in this movie. It sets the mood of the movie. And its not just a drizzle. When the movie opens, rain pours in torrents as we are shown two people (a wood cutter and a priest) who are sitting and staring at the rain. They are confused and shocked beyond belief. We want to know why and there is a character introduced on behalf of us, to speak and interpret for us to ask them why. The movie then moves on to a splendid sequence of the wood cutter walking through the woods. There are many firsts in this scene. For the first time in cinema history, the camera focuses directly on the sun. Another first, and this happens throughtout the movie, is the use of mirrors to reflect sun-light on an actors face so that it becomes visble in the darker part of the woods. As the cinematographer later explains, this scene of the wood cutter walking was taken in a single long shot. The trail of the camera is like a S-shaped rail. The wood cutter walks in a straight line from the top-right-most point of the letter 'S' to the bottom left most point. The camera moves along the 'S' shaped trail while continuously focusing on the woodcutter. The beauty is you don't even realize this until somebody explains it to you. This wood cutter, who provides the first testimony, claims that as he was walking, he saw (a) the hat of a woman, (b) a rope - and upon walking a few more yards - (c) the dead body of the husband. A priest is called upon to provide the second testimony. This priest adds nothing more except for the fact that he saw the husband and wife (on a horse top) walk by him.

The movie picks up speed, when the bandit, who is captured, narrates his part of this story. This is the first time you are told what happened in those woods that day. You are told why and exactly how the sex and the murder took place. After the bandit, himself, confesses to this gory crime and owns responsibility for both crimes. You are left wondering, what else remains. He is guilty. And then the wife shows up for her testimony. The way her story contradicts the bandit's story is intriguing and very interesting. However, at the end of her narration, I was left wondering if she would have said what she said, if she had heard the bandit's testimony. In any case after her narration, you know that both the bandit and this lady might probably be lying. But there were just 3 people who saw the incident. The wife and the bandit have already the narrated their versions and the husband is dead. So how do you know for sure what really happened. Kurosawa, the rascal that he is, springs a surprise by letting the dead spirit of the husband narrate the story through a sorcerer. This is an unexpected and a very interesting narration. Of course it contradicts both the bandit's and the wife's story. It contradicts those stories in a way that leaves you suspicious of both the bandit and the wife. So much so that I as a reiewer cant confidently use the word 'rape' and instead choose to replace it with 'sex'. However, at this point you don't really doubt the version of the dead man. After all what does a dead man have to gain by lying? This version has to be the truth.
But as the movie moves towards its end and as we become ready to formulate our analysis on what really happened, we suddenly find out that the wood cutter has more to share than what he initially did. He did not arrive at the scene after the fact but arrived while the sex/murder was happening. His narration of the same event ( the rape and murder enacted and shown for the fourth time) tells you for the first time, which you sort of knew before. That each narrator had their own motives. Even the dead guy had his motives for lying. You aren't sure they lied. But they could have. They could have subconsciously remembered those events, they way they wanted to remember it. But this only covers the parts where they honestly lie. Then they could have further adulterated those events to show themselves in a good light. While this is obvious, when expanded to a larger scale you can conclude that no testimony could be free of factual bias. You need a God's point of view to know what really happened. But would God, a bird, or in this case a neutral observer such as the wood cutter give you the real deal? Maybe not. This is re-enforced further when you get to know that even the allegedly 'neutral' wood cutter has something to hide. At that point you don't trust anybody. Not the bandit, wife, husband, wood cutter, priest or even yourself. I just loved that moment, where everything is unreal. For a movie to achieve this, can only be credited to the genius of Kurosawa.
Note: Tamil viewers would really be able to appreciate the brilliance of Kamal Hasan's Virumandi after seeing this movie. It is easy to be a fan and get inspired by Kurosawa. But if a genius like Kamal Hasan becomes the fan, how does he replicate Rashomon and still justify his intelligence? In Rashomon the four full narrations of the single event has been separately shot. The actors have re-enacted the scene four different times. Kurosawa actually makes four different, disjoint, separate scenes on a single event. Their positions, emotions, dialogs are different, every time they show the event. In Virumaandi, when a dissonance between narrators is introduced the scene does not change completely. In fact it does not change at all. It appears that the scenes havent been re-shot. The perspective of the camera shifts. For example during narration1, if a scene is shown from the right-hand side of a person in the second narration it is shown from the left. The resulting new detail explains the difference in perception of that event by the narrators. This opens up a possibility of setting up cameras on both sides of the actors and the possibility of narrating two different stories even if the actors play out the sequence just once. Just brilliant. Mouth-wateringly brilliant. Thats Kamal Hasan.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Subbudu

If at all the proverb "Vashishtar Vaayal Brahma Rishi" (Translated as Sage Vashishta bestowing the title of 'Brahma Rishi' to some junior rishi. Sage Vashishta was a strict sage and very parsimonious in giving appreciation. If he calls someone 'Brahma Rishi', it is a huge honor) had an analogy in today's setting - it was an artist getting some sort of appreciation from Subbudu. P.V.Subramanyam ('affectionately' called 'subbudu'), one of the most popular music critics passed away recently in New Delhi. Subbudu is known for his piercing, vitriolic and sarcastic comments on musicians. He is a man who knows no fear (he would even criticise Saint Thyaragaraja) and a stickler to purity of music. The important distinction between Subbudu and critic-joe was his sense of humor. He used humor with telling effect and this increased the 'punch' of his review. Regardless of the iconic status of the artist under question, Subbudu will tear apart a performance if he feels it doesn't adhere to grammar. The 'subbudu is in the concert hall' scare was so popular that dancers and music artists from Delhi to Madras shivered in front him. Even the normally calm K.J Yesudas, who was criticised by Subbudu for merely showing up in concerts without adequate preparation, refuses to sing in Subbudu's presence out of sheer hatred. According to my father, he even took on the revered, brilliant and 'eccentric' M.Balamurali Krishna (my uncle calls him 'mental' because MBK during a music season performance, apparently, just did alapaana for the entire duration of the performance because someone in the audience made some kind of disturbing noise). It seems that the MBK Vs Subbudu fight led to MBK's refusal to perform in Madras Music Academy for some time.
While a majority of Subbudu's criticisms pertained to carnautic/hindustani classical music and dance performances, he also occasionally critiqued film music. In the world of film music - my memory of subbudu at his insulting best was the pithy review of Rahman's 'ennavale' song in Kadhalan. The song was suspected to be based on 'Kedaram' raagam by some (while some accused it of having traces of sankarabharanam). Subbudu is his own imitable style called the song as "kedarathukku Sedaram" (damage to Raag Kedar). Subbudu was also often called upon by various print media to determine if Ilayaraja was the best Music Director ever. Subbudu, while occasionally appreciating Raja, was also his biggest critic. While, he appreciated 'mottai' for the incredible achievement of 'aroham' (ascending order of notes sa ri ga ) only song in "Kalaivaaniye", he also resorted to saying "Deva'ku ivan paraava-illai" when mottai made bad music. After A.R.Rahman's entry, and during the peak of Ilayaraja Vs ARRahman wars, Kumudham regularly tried to tempt Subbudu to commit on who was the best among the two. Finally sometime in 1995/96, Subbudu got pissed off with both and said Deva was the best music director he had ever seen.

The Subbudu phenomena started when he sent a review of Sathur Subramaniam's rendition of "Ni irunga enil" (in Atana). Subbudu first tore into the singer's lack of respect for lyrics and his failure to bring out the emotional essense of the song. He said something like "He sings as if he is threatening a person sitting on tree-top to come down". Subbudu added "come down or I'll break your leg - is how the tone of the song goes". Kalki, while calling him adhigaprasangi, encouraged his sense of humor. While it all started in humor, Subbudu was actually beaten up in Thiruvaiyaar, and was even sued for his severe criticism. Not that Subbudu didn't ask for it. He was bold enough to criticise works of many eminent singers right from Muthusami Dikshithar to Madurai Mani Iyer. Nobody was sacred to him. Not only did he make fun of MD Ramanathan's gimmicks and funny gestures while singing, but he was also one of the initial people to point out the eroticism in certain "devotional songs" and made fun of people who sang them for religious purposes. I can't imagine how his blunt comments like "suttralavai kuraithal ulagam sutralam" (he asks a dancer to slim down a lot) might've affected an artist. But however, harsh he has been, one cannot fault him for being incorrect (except for the popular instance where he apologized for misinterpreting Dikshithar's Gamanashrama raaga as nishagam). My father ( a big Subbudu hater and my chief source of Subbudu knowledge) disliked subbudu for destroying the career of many young and upcoming artists. His criticisms were so sharp that it destroyed the confidence of young artists. But at the same time he had a keen eye on talent and if he saw talent in young artists he encouraged them no end. I like subbudu. I think India needs a person like him. He gives character and definition for one end of the spectrum. The closest he has come to "apologizing" for his profession was when he said "Kaaram irunthaalam Krodham illai".

In an era where carnatic music was either Sanskrit or Telugu, Subbudu supported Kalki's call for more Tamil based songs. He thought Jugalbandhis were nonsense. He was particularly unimpressed when second-rate musicians from the North were being honored unnecessarily just because they sang Hindustani music. While he bluntly criticised those musicians for their mediocrity in the columns he wrote in Delhi papers, he had this to say about Hindustani Vs Carnatic Music - " I am also listening Hindustani music from my birth. I am also commenting upon them in Delhi papers. I am writing without being afraid of any one. In fact, there is nothing great in Hindustani music apart from the purity of the shruti. It is because of the lack of purity of shruti that South Indian music is not perhaps appreciated in the North. Further in Hindustani music, every artist specializes in specific aspect – khayal, dhrupad, thapa, thumri etc. So far as rhythm (tala) is concerned, they are still at an elementary level.".
One of the reasons why I liked Subbudu was the way he strived to help artists like M.L.Vasanthakumari, lyricists Papanasam Sivan earn recognition in a larger setting. The way he appreciates Sudha Ragunathan here (appreciation such as this is quite rare from Subbudu), is indicative of his respect for MLV. I suspect that there will be no replacement for Subbudu although there will be a lot of wannabes. It is quite sad that such a 'character' would be lost forever in the Indian arts scene.
Disclaimer: I have limited to zero knowledge of carnatic music. All I have is some moderate level of interest in knowing more.