Saturday, 28 March 2015

Movie review: Cinderella (2015)

Okay, this one I watched because of my daughter.  The exams were over, and we were out in the mall.  There was a 10 O'clock show in the multiplex - we made an impulsive decision to see the film.  And we were not disappointed.  Going with a low expectation - the same old story; been there done that kind of a feeling - might have helped, because we came out thoroughly entertained.  My daughter, of course, was riveted.

Actor/director, Kenneth Branagh does a sterling job of making this story an interesting one, with a few clever deviations from the original.  In this story, Cinderella - or Ella as she is first called - sees her mother die after giving her a message; have courage and show kindness.  Her father remarries and subsequently dies during one of his travels, leaving Ella with the evil stepmother and her two daughters.  

The gradual deterioration of Ella's status in her own house is well depicted, and we learn that it is actually her stepsisters who come up with the name Cinderella, after they see Ella's face blackened with cinder from all the cooking that she does.  Her attic friends are all mice, and the birds only come towards the end.  

Unlike the original, Cinderella meets the prince during a horse riding session, although she does not know his identity.  The king dies before the prince marries Cinderella, and the prince himself unravels the plot hatched by the stepmother and the grand duke to prevent him from seeing Cinderella again.  The stepmother smashes the glass shoe on the wall, instead of tripping the footman carrying the shoe.  However these deviations - apart from the fast pace of the narrative - add charm to the story and keep one glued to it.

Although she lacks the classical Cinderella look, Lily James displays the affected yet restrained look of the character very well.  Richard Madden is charming as the prince, as is his father the king, played by Derek Jacobi.  Cate Blanchett, a seasoned actress that she is, brings a level of sophistication and controlled cruelty to her role as the stepmother.  The bungling sisters, Drizella and Anastasia are hilarious, while Stellan Skarsgard is suitably villainous as the grand duke.  Ben Chaplin plays Cinderella's father, and Nonso Anozie is the good captain.   

Helena Bonham Carter continues her streak of playing oddball characters with her role of an atypical fairy godmother - or 'hairy godfather' as she puts it.  The setting up of the carriage and its subsequent disintegration into a pumpkin, mice, lizards and a goose, is a treat to watch.

Overall, a highly enjoyable fare.  Watch it with the whole family.

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Cricket, unstable minds and hatred


Okay we lost badly.  Perhaps we did not put up a fight in the semi-finals.  

But that does not mean that we riot, break TV sets or burn effigies.

It does not mean that we should cut our tongues, or jump from a building, as two cricket fanatics with unstable minds did after the loss.

Actually if anybody had suggested before the start of the world cup that India would be playing in the semis, we would have laughed uproariously.  

But they did make it to the big stage, and that in itself is a considerable achievement.

Leave aside our post-loss lamentations for a moment.  

Somebody else would be extremely happy about our exit from the world cup: the Bangladeshis.

Ever since the quarter-finals, they have been baying for our blood as they believe that we won the match by bribing ICC officials and umpires!

Everybody from the average fan, to the current ICC President (who happens to be a Bangladeshi), to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, sincerely believe that the officials were hand in glove with us in fixing decisions - all this in spite of several evidences to the contrary!

In the picture above, the Bangladeshi bowler would have probably assaulted Kohli had he not been restrained by his colleagues.

All these are symptomatic of the underlying hatred that they harbour towards India. 

This appears to be a feature of many smaller nations surrounding India - Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka being the others, apart from Bangladesh. 

Insurgency, illegal immigration, terrorism, border disputes and shooting fishermen, among other things, are the issues/tactics that these 'friendly' neighbours throw at us.

Is it because of our country's large size?  
Is it because of our economic progress?  
Is it because of our flourishing film industry, that people of these countries are so fond of following?
Is the reason for their hatred envy?  
Who knows?

Anyway, it is alright.  We still love them.  Peace and happiness to the people of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Coming back to the Men in Blue, they had a terrific run in the world cup, but came up against the familiar and seemingly insurmountable foe, Australia.  

If you leave out the last edition, we have never been able to break the Aussie jinx in world cup matches.

Probably it is to do with mindset - intense pressure gets to our players, and fear and lack of confidence set in.

How else can you explain winning 7 matches on the trot and then thoroughly under-performing against one team?   

So it is actually not surprising that they lost - Anushka or no Anushka.    

Yet, we still love our cricket team.  Better luck next time guys.  Think of what usually goes wrong with Australia, and work on improving it.

Now we can move on to IPL.  At least India can't lose in this tournament!  

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Thursday, 26 March 2015

Where is our beloved sparrow?

Where is the sparrow?

This is the question most of us who have been brought up in Bangalore are asking ourselves.  These lovely, harmless, brown-white birds are nowhere to be seen.

I have some personal relevance in this matter of the missing sparrows.  When I was a child, we had two little holes in a wall on the terrace, complete with a little curved ledges on the outside for birds to perch on.  Both the holes - which rather looked like large 'commas' from far - were occupied by our winged tenants.  It also helped that the terrace was canopied by the spreading branches of a large tree from across the road.  Several types of birds - crows, mynahs, sparrows - would sit on the branches, chirp their raucous symphony, and swoop down on the terrace if there were any sandige (homemade crisps) spread out for drying.  

Because the holes were too small for a larger bird, they were exclusively occupied by sparrows.  I have spent many a childhood hour watching the parent sparrows descend on to the ledge with food in their little beaks and feed the hungry chicks in the hole cushioned with straw and leaves.  I would put a stool to climb up to the level of the hole and peek inside to catch a glimpse of the delicate pink chicks.  Sometimes, a few adventurous chicks would attempt to come out of the hole and fall down, only to be swooped up by a bigger bird or a cat.  Whenever we found one outside, we would try to put it back in the hole, but they were often so delicate that they would not survive.  

Several reasons have been proposed for the disappearance of the sparrows from our urban landscape.  The most obvious reason would have to be the rapid and unchecked urbanisation that has taken place in Bangalore over the last two decades.  There are apartments everywhere, rising into the sky, with hardly any breathing space between two buildings.  Trees in residential areas have dwindled as every inch of the available space has been used up in building concrete homes. 

We don't find bird holes in the wall such as those in my childhood home any more.  That house, in which we stayed as tenants for several years, has sadly been demolished since.  In its place, commercial establishments have sprung up - shops selling food and tyres.   

Increasing pollution levels may be another reason for the diminishing sparrow population.  Some believe that the staple of the sparrows; certain larvae and grains have also disappeared from our houses making it difficult for sparrows to sustain themselves. 

It is in this context that the heart warming news of somebody taking up the cause of restoring sparrows to their habitat appeared recently in the paper.  A group called Green Army in Dharwad has been conducting the Citizen Sparrow project in which homes are encouraged to put up artificial nests for sparrows to inhabit.

More such initiatives are needed to restore the presence of sparrows in our midst.  Or else, the sparrow might just go the dodo way, and we will be left with another species that we would have to introduce to our children through pictures only.


Friday, 13 March 2015

Book review: Baby Makers

Baby Makers: A Story of Indian Surrogacy
Gita Aravamudan
Harper Collins Publishers India 2014

As infertility levels rise in India, fertility centres are mushrooming all over the country.  Franchises of hi-tech fertility centres, equipped with the best of technologies, and skilled manpower dot the urban landscape.  Cash laden professionals make a beeline for these centres, as no expense is spared in getting their coveted bundle of joy.  Those that are not contented with having a girl child, even opt to go out of the country, or resort to shady deals just to get a male baby, as sex selection is illegal in India.  

If the couple remain issue-less even after expensive IVF and related procedures, the last resort options come into the picture.  These include egg harvesting from an unknown woman, and surrogacy - commissioning gestation in a hired woman.  In all this, the option of adopting one of the millions of orphans living in care homes is almost never considered, as nothing less than having one's own flesh and blood in the little one would suffice. 

But what is known about surrogacy?  Is it simply a case of 'commissioning' babies?  As easy as renting a room for nine months?  What happens to the woman who agrees to be a surrogate?  Who are the agents who would arrange surrogacy for you?  How much does it cost?  What are the legal tangles that one could get into in the process?  Ever wondered what ART, GIFT, IUI, ICSI, TESA and ZIFT stand for in the fertility parlance?

These are just a few of the questions that Aravamudan addresses in her book, through touching real life stories of people involved in the surrogacy industry.  Apart from the strong subject of the book - one about which very little information is available - the other winner in this book is the format and the way it is edited.

Aravamudan presents six stories simultaneously; of people from different places across the world - New Jersey, Bangalore, Kathmandu, Mumbai, Anand, and Chennai.  They all have one thing in common: the Indian surrogacy industry.  These are stories of couples commissioning babies, women entering the field to become first time egg donors or surrogates, their managers and recruiters, their families, and their travails. 

The stories are presented in five clusters with five interludes in between.  The interludes look at unconnected real life scenarios of surrogacy gone wrong, questions about legality of the process, differences in international laws, issues of non-biological motherhood, and artificial reproduction without the requirement of the male gamete.  

This structuring of narrative non-fiction with interludes of interesting case scenarios and essays enlivens the narrative, and keeps one hooked on to the book till the very end.  Each of the five stories is presented simply, without going into the unnecessary details of the characters' experiences.  Yet each story is highly engaging, and you can't help getting involved in the characters' affairs and hoping that each one of them goes on to have a happy outcome.

Surrogacy is here to stay and it is high time that clear-cut guidelines and laws are created to reduce the ambiguity, and the air of illegality that surrounds it.  The fact that there are so many foreign nationals coming to India to employ surrogates - despite the lacunae in the guidelines and laws - shows that regularisation and preserving the interests of those involved in the industry is the need of the hour.  

Aravamudan highlights these issues effortlessly in her revealing and charming account.

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Thursday, 12 March 2015

Film review: Oggy and the Cockroaches: The Movie

Okay, enough of the serious stuff that I have been writing on in the last few posts.  Let's talk about our animated heroes and their antics.

My daughter, who is well informed about these issues, thanks to her hours of dedicated TV gazing, informed me that the Oggy film was being premièred on TV!  Apparently the film, originally called Oggy et les Cafards, Le Film, was released in 2013.  Having discovered the joys of watching Oggy and his friends over the years, I decided to join my daughter, as Oggy, Jack, Bob and the cockroaches took us through four short stories in their movie début.  

The first story is set in the pre-historic days, when Oggy and the roaches evolved through single celled organisms.  The battle between good and evil; between black and white - although sometimes it is just between grey and grey - begins very early, even when our heroes are in a single celled state!  Oggy's uncle, the fireman, orders Oggy to go to the volcano to fetch a pail of... well, fire.

Jack goes along with him, and so do the roaches, just to trouble him and steal his fire.  However, they end up falling inside the volcano, and find that there is another world there.  The hostile region is ruled by that troubled dog, Bob.  His henchmen try to capture the cat brothers to eat them, but they are helped by Olivia, who also teaches them to make fire by rubbing stones.  It is a happy ending when the fire bearing brothers make it back to their domain with Olivia.

The second story is about Oggy trying to rescue the princess Olivia from a castle where she is held captive by the roaches.  But, our blue French feline is a bit of a sissy this time!  He is into embroidery, much to the utter disdain of his father, the king, who wants him to be a brave warrior!  Nevertheless, helped by the animals who are with Olivia - just as they were with Cinderella and Snow White - and his brother, Jack, Oggy manages to rescue the princess.

We move ahead by several eras now.  The third tale is set in London, where the queen is celebrating the birth of a new century.  Jack, this time is Sherlock Holmes, and Oggy, Dr Watson!  Olivia, the troubled damsel, visits them at Baker Street (shouldn't that be Meow Street?), and asks them to retrieve the missing key and bomb.  Once again, the roaches are the culprits, and after much fighting inside the Big Ben, the feline detectives prevail.  But they cannot stop the clock from falling on the queen, who strangely selects the spot directly below the Big Ben for her party!  She should have known better!

In the final story, we are in the future.  This means it is Star Wars time, and Bob, who has an ambition of world domination, deploys the roaches to wreak havoc.  Our French jedi draw out their neon laser swords, while Oggy goes for the... what else, the laser roach swatter!  

Once again, like the TV series, our viewing experience is enhanced by the Indian treatment given to the French goings on.  The voices of SRK, Sunny Deol, Nana Patekar, Prem Chopra and Shakti Kapoor further animate the characters!  The hilarious dumb ass looks of the characters, superb animation by the French creators, and the inspired Hindi film voice makeovers work like magic together.

It is great fun to watch and listen to Oggy's 'nahin chodoonga...!', Jack's 'Oi Oggy, mere bhai...', the voice over's 'achcha hai...', or, my favourite, Bob's 'thakk thikk...'.

Highly enjoyable movie.  Go for it with the full family.

Thakk thikk... sorry, just felt like saying that again!


Oggy and the Cockroaches: The Movie, Director: Olivier Jean-Marie, Xilam & France 3 Cinema 2013

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Thursday, 5 March 2015

Why are we so full of 'bhaya'?

Mountains out of molehills.  We are very good at creating them.  

The whole Nirbhaya documentary issue has snowballed into something that should never have taken up valuable Parliament time.  All thanks to a few in the echelons of power who knees jerk violently at the slightest of taps.  

For everything which is remotely controversial, the one-stop solution seems to be to BAN it!  Brush it under the carpet and act as though everything is hunky-dory until the media finds something juicer to cry itself hoarse on.

The fact that it would have been a lot more mature to constitute a committee with interested parties and stakeholders to view the documentary and report on it, is of course, totally lost in the midst of impulsive decisions and a mutual mudslinging frenzy.

If at all the government should be investigating anything, it is if the director of the film - who had agreed to the clause that the film was to be used for 'social' purpose only - made it commercially available to BBC.  If so, didn't those who gave the permission in the first place, know that the film might be aired publicly in the future?  

Also, why is it that a foreign director/channel should always get full and exclusive access to the criminals?  Why do we have to wait till somebody from outside sheds light on our issues?  Are we saying that none of the umpteen television news channels in India ever thought of making a similar documentary on this or related issues?

Apparently the ban on the film has been enforced because India's image would be tarnished due to the views of a rapist.  Tourism would be affected you see.  Well, in that case... 
  • Wasn't India's image tarnished when a Japanese tourist was raped by a tour guide in Jaipur recently?
  • Wasn't it tarnished when the French diplomat who abused his daughter was allowed to get away due to a manipulation of his forensic report?
  • Isn't the image tarnished because a popular film actor has managed to evade justice even after 9 years of killing an endangered species of deer?
  • Isn't it utterly shameful that the leader of a prominent political party of the country says that rapes occur because 'boys will be boys...they commit mistakes'?  Isn't he as culpable as the rapist?
  • Aren't we left red-faced when self-created holy men who promise nirvana to their foreign clients, instead indulge in sexual romps and cheap tricks?
  • Why don't we also consider violating traffic rules, abusing fellow road users, spitting and urinating on roads as being detrimental to the country's image?
Why are we so insecure about what a rapist and his lawyers' have to say?  Instead of analysing the contents of the film, we have allowed the whole issue to degrade into an ego battle between the government and the BBC, which has made full use of the opportunity to cook a snook at the government.

And here's the thing.  Nirbhaya's parents themselves have willingly participated in the making of the film.  And her father has said that everybody should watch the film.

So, I say let the film roll.  Learn about the rapists' and their defenders' mindsets.  And then hang them.

Or at least, castrate them.

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