Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Improbability Principle



Book Review : The Improbability Principle
Author : David Hand
My Rating : 5 out of 5 stars

The complete title of the book is “The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day”.

Who hasn’t experienced minor coincidences? Of course, everyone has. Even when it comes to rare events, most of us would say that we have experienced at least one such event. Are these just purely random occurrences? Many believe that they are not, and in their view, some divine power is at work. Some believe in miracles. Perhaps many more believe in supernatural abilities of certain individuals - whether it’s telepathy or seeing future or something similar. Can there be a rational explanation for all this, without invoking any argument about some divinity?

In this book published by Scientific American, the renowned statistician David Hand has provided a lucid explanation based on probability theory. He has given the theme a very catchy name, “The Improbability Principle”. With it, he asserts the paradoxical statement, “Rare events happen every day”. Wait a minute. If it’s rare, then it cannot happen every day, right?

Well, what’s rare from one individual’s point of view, is not really all that rare in a very large sample size. That’s the crux of the matter. There are other interesting aspects, and the author introduces much more rigor in his argument. The improbability principle, as per his definition, has many strands. He names them, “the law of inevitability”, “the law of truly large numbers”, “the law of selection”, “the law of the probability lever” and “the law of near enough”. Many readers would be intuitively familiar with the first two strands. I was. The formalization of other three strands was very interesting to me. Especially, “the law of near enough” which says that events that are sufficiently similar may be regarded as identical, and that can give rise to many apparent coincidences. 

All these strands are neatly arranged into individual chapters and explained using real life situations. This makes the book an easy read. There is as little mathematics as possible, and the author tries hard to make sure even those who are not mathematically inclined understand the argument well. The downside of this is, some material feels repetitive. 

The examples range a wide spectrum of topics, from gambling, accidents, psychics, science,  evolution and religion. The last two topics were most interesting to me and I wish those chapters were more extensive. In his argument, which I completely agree with, human intuition evolved to help us survive, and for that very reason it understands certainty better than uncertainty. That makes us want to believe in religion, and divine intervention.

That also raises an interesting question in my mind. Will anyone ever change their opinion by reading such books? I guess not. I was already in agreement with most of what the author is arguing, so it’s very easy for me to appreciate the strength of his arguments. If someone is already convinced that miracles do happen, I doubt this book will reverse that opinion. Because the desire to believe is so strong, that no rational argument has any chance to work.

That aside, I highly recommend this fantastic book. It’s extremely easy to read and all readers will find it insightful, regardless of their inclinations.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Billions : Season 2

TV Series Review : Billions (Season 2)
Aired on : Showtime 2017
My Rating : 7 out of 10

This is the review of the second season. If you haven't watched the first season, I recommend you read the review of the first season, as there may be some spoilers here for you.

If you liked the season 1 of Billions, chances are you will like season 2. Season 1 made a small effort at character building, while focusing more on the entertainment aspect. Season 2, makes no pretense. It's pure entertainment. Sometimes it's contrived, sometimes far-fetched, and sometimes it's decidedly in the category - "only happens in Hollywood". Still, it’s all very enjoyable.

This season starts where the previous one left off. Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), the New York State Attorney General, and his wife Wendy (Maggie Siff) are separated, but are trying to work out the problems in their marriage. Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) has restored his office building and started out strong. The foundation of the story is still the same - the egoistic rivalry between Chuck Rhoades and Bobby Axelrod and their constant efforts to bring each other down.

In the first season, there were hints that Chuck is interested in a run for the public office. That possibility is realized in this season. A major focus is on his efforts to run for the office of the Governor. Bobby wants to expand his power and legacy beyond hedge funds. For example, he wants to buy a sports team. Although these other parts of the story are important, and interesting, their rivalry eclipses everything else in this season. This time, they engage in far riskier behavior, have even less concern for the legalities of their approaches and their plotting is really insidious. This is  presented in a style that relies on gimmicks - forcing twists and surprises. Since these are the main plot points, anything I mention about these would be spoilers.

The characters are as unrelatable and unlikeable as before. The main reasons to watch this show are the mental duel, the behind-the-door deals ad the manipulations. All that is perfectly enjoyable, even with the financial mumbo-jumbo. The pacing helps. It's fast and doesn't let you have too much time to think. Acting is as good as before, and another reason why this season works.

Almost every series adds new characters and new storylines in a new season. This season is no exception. What I liked was, these additions were interesting and did not take up too much time. The focus never shifted to these characters, they were perfect auxiliary. There are some interesting cameos, and references to some real life billionaires. These were really superfluous, but thankfully these were kept as mere sideshows. 

I definitely recommend this series and this season. Watch it with the right expectations, and you will not be disappointed. It's correctly rated TV-MA and is not for kids.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Rubaai 8

रुबाई क्रमांक ८

थोरवी न कुठचीही, ना गाठले शिखर यशांचे
नसतात कधी शत्रू आम्हा साध्या माणसांचे
हे रक्तबंबाळ हृदय, ह्या चिघळणाऱ्या जखमा
हे  तर उपकार सारे माझ्या आप्तस्वकियांचे

उर्दू अनुवाद :
न यक्ता न दान:, न पाए मुक़ाम सितारोंके
होते नहीं दुश्मन कोई, मुझ जैसे इंसानोंके
यह दिल-ए-बिस्मिल, यह नासूर बेशुमार  

बस एहसान है, यह तो सारे, मेरे अपनोंके


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Song Number 7 : Geet gangechya tataawar

Presenting our latest song based on a fantastic poem by the great poet Suresh Bhat. He is lamenting being neglected and is pleading to be showered with affection - but by whom? In my interpretation, he is referring to poetic inspiration, and interestingly doing so in a wonderfully worded poem.

I am so glad to have Dhananjay Mhaskar as the singer for this song. His voice and singing is perfect for these words and the mood we wanted to capture via music.

Once again, cannot thank Aniket enough for another novel and impactful musical arrangement. On flute is Mohit Shastry and on the pakhawaj is Hanumant Rawade.

For the visuals, Arati Phadke graciously provided her amazing paintings to match the poem.

The poem itself suggests Malkans, and hence we have used this raag to base our song on. Hope you enjoy this new song. Please support it by sharing it with your friends. Thank you!



Thursday, March 8, 2018

Chess and Trash Talking :-)

Trash Talking is common in all sports, except Chess. Yes, it's a sport :-). Trash talking is simply not possible in Chess, as players are not allowed to talk. They have to figure out subtler ways to intimidate their opponent.

Of course, trash talking can happen once the games are over. Seems like Twitter is where this kind of action is. In the following tweets, read the responses to the tweets too.

Even if you do not know much about Chess, you may have heard that the Norwegian prodigy, Magnus Carlsen is the number 1 player and also the current world Champion. He will defend his title against a challenger, whoever will be the winner of the Candidates tournament. Kramnik  a previous Workd Champion, is one of the candidates. He is being helped by Anish Giri, another Chess prodigy. Anish is known to make tweets like these.



Naturally, this was going to get a reaction. As the news came that Anish will help Kramnik, the back and forth started.


But seems like Magnus is not giving up commenting on Kramnik. There was a routine tweet ...



Magnus for some reason responded



And the trash talk began immediately.












That's the state for now, but I don't think this is the end. I am enjoying it :-)


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Rubaai 7

रुबाई क्रमांक ७

वाटली कधी न स्वप्नात शक्यता
जाणवेल भेट होताच खिन्नता
पण खरंच काळजाला चिरत गेली
चौकशीतली तुझी औपचारिकता



Saturday, February 24, 2018

Thoughts And Prayers

Sadly, these are the times of “Thoughts and Prayers”. The following are my hopes, thoughts and prayers.

When it comes to gun violence in USA, I am very pessimistic of any real change - in my lifetime. I think my pessimism is realistic and not emotional. The reasons for my pessimism have little to do with the NRA or the impotent and corrupt Congress. It’s the people. The completely brainwashed population. Just like a person suffering from a mental disorder who is unable to realize the disorder, the majority of the voting population doesn’t even know how twisted, irrational their thought process is. They will never realize. It’s an incurable disease. 

The debate has been distorted. It’s too late to even argue about who distorted this debate, and why. There is no way to settle this via rational debate. Nothing will be changed by pointing out the absurdities in pro-gun arguments. We have been having these debates forever. The Twitter memes have been going on forever. Nothing changed after Sandy Hook. Nothing meaningful will change now. Hence I think my pessimism is realistic.

But my pessimism is only for this generation. I am pessimistic to see a change in my lifetime. I do think eventually USA will become almost free of guns. I may not see it, but my prayer is, my great grandchildren will live in a safe country, where guns are simply not available. Where only military and police have access to guns. Just like most of the countries on this planet. Eventually, USA will emotionally be a mature country on the topic of guns. Eventually.

This requires a social evolution, which is a slow process. Social evolutions do not happen because people change their opinions. Most people never change their opinions. Social evolution happens simply because Time replaces existing people with new people. The cycle of death and birth, the foundation of biological evolution, is also the foundation of social evolution. Not the sole mechanism, but the foundation.

Every generation is more tolerant, more liberal than the previous one. On an average basis. The definition of Left and Right is subjective and changes in each generation. There will always be Left and Right, Liberal and Conservative, but the center point keeps shifting to left with every generation. I am talking about social policy, not fiscal policy. When it comes to racism, or the acceptance of gays, overall compassion, open mindedness and so on, the newer generation is simply better than its previous generation. Our kids are better human beings than us.

The same will be true for guns. The newer generation will not accept the current interpretation of the Second Amendment. They will make it relevant to their day and age. They will confiscate military assault weapons. They will make their society safer. We might add a minor new law, or tweak existing laws, but they will make drastic changes. That’s my prayer.

I pray that the newer generation realizes that the time for debate is over. It’s time to vote. Vote with their ballots, vote with their money. They are marching, giving passionate speeches, engaging the opposite side. That’s today. Tomorrow they will vote, and society will change, slowly, but surely, one vote at a time.

Friday, February 2, 2018

White Working Class



Book Review : White Working Class
Author : Joan C. Williams
My Rating : 3 out of 5

The complete title of the book is “White Working Class : Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America”.

After the financial crisis of 2008, there was a slew of books explaining what happened, why it happened and how a repeat can be prevented. It was exhausting to even look at the number of books on the same topic. A similar thing is happening after the 2016 election. Everyone is trying to explain the Trump victory which has been a crisis for most progressives. I was shocked myself, and wrote a blog post expressing my dismay.

Honestly I am getting tired of these explanations. They are getting very repetitive. It’s always the same theme - “how the liberal elitist globalists smugly ignored the middle class Americans devastated by changing economics who voted with their middle finger”. Not that it is wrong, it isn’t. But that’s not the complete picture, more about that in a minute.

So why did I pick up this book? The appeal was in the organization. One short chapter each for every important question. Author Williams does not shy away from asking direct questions. After explaining why we should talk about class, she first defines who is WWC (white working class). Then there are chapters on “Is the working class just racist”, “Why doesn’t the working class go to college” and so on. 

All the chapters are short. The author comes to the point quickly, directly and bluntly. It’s a very refreshing approach, irrespective of how much you agree with. These are tricky, controversial and often emotional issues. A complete agreement is nearly impossible. I agreed with most of the analysis, and I think most readers will. 

In spite of the agreements, I still have major objections to the approach. I know the author is trying to simplify, but dividing entire population in two groups, elites v/s working class, is completely lacking in nuances of the real world. Yes, a lot of people do fall in those two sets, but I don’t fall in either category, and I suspect many won’t. 

Another problem is putting all the blame on liberal elites. Of course there is blame, but this working class has made mistakes too. Many areas are deep red Republican, and have been for a very long time. Voting for the same candidate or the same party over and over again and getting angry about economic problems, indicates emotional voting patterns. The issue of police brutality is real. Not properly sympathizing with the angst represented by “Black Lives Matter” is unfair and results in more divide. We can disagree about the solution, but the refusal to admit Global Warming is laughable. So don’t blame the divide just on liberals.

At the same time, some real mistakes by liberals are simply ignored. The extreme liberal stance on immigration, which includes “sanctuary cities” is simply unpalatable to most Americans, myself included, and even to some liberals. The liberal hypocrisy, which routinely criticizes Christianity but fails to criticize far darker sides of Islam, is visible to everyone except the far left. Finally, the topic of guns gets no mention at all. Such omissions make an otherwise excellent explanation, incomplete.  

Relating this to 2016 election should have been done with other observations as well. Apart from the class divide there was another problem - namely Hillary Clinton - a candidate with a lot of baggage. It’s all speculation, but it’s possible to imagine Bernie Sanders winning against Trump, or even Governor Kasich winning against Hillary. I would have voted for Kasich. So not mentioning Hillary’s failure to stay out of suspicion is a flaw. Then praising Bill Clinton as someone who connected with the WWC, but not mentioning the role his legacy played in the election is a serious omission. Of course the class divide is real, but that wasn’t the only factor.

That’s what I meant above. Most such explanations focus only on the class divide, and fail to appreciate the chronic irrationality on both sides and severity of the flaws of the Democratic candidate. 

In the final chapters the author offers her thoughts on how the gap can be bridged. It’s all well intentioned, sometimes accurate but honestly, very weak in places. She is correct in pointing out that “higher minimum wage” is not what will solve economic plight of WWC. But saying that changing the slogan from “Pro-choice” to “Pro-child, pro-choice and pro-family” will have any impact, is just naive. 

It’s still a readable book. Don’t think of it as a complete analysis. Whatever has been analyzed, is insightful. That should be enough, as it’s small, feels just like a very long editorial and can be finished in one seating. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Big Little Lies

Series Review : Big Little Lies
Aired on : HBO (2017)
My Rating : 7 out of 10

Three years ago, a similar thing happened. I had finished writing a review of the series Affair  on Showtime. Although I liked it, I was a bit surprised to see it win the Golden Globe. This time, it’s the HBO series, “Big Little Lies”. As I was finishing this review, the series won the Golden Globe, and I was a tiny bit surprised.

HBO was heavily promoting this series. After seeing the ads, I decided to read the book first, and then watch the series. So my review is written from the point of view of someone who has read the book

The plot is very similar to that of the book. The main characters are three women, Jane (Shailene Woodley), Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) and Celeste (Nicole Kidman). Part of the story is about their friendship, their marriages, their past and their daily lives. The other part is a double mystery, we are told right in the beginning that someone died. We don’t know who, and we don’t know who did it. How it happened, is told in a flashback, interspersed with police interviews that are happening now. The combination of sub-plots of multiple families, and a murder mystery keeps your interest level very high. 

A very common observation is, books are better than their screen adaptations. That is true in this case as well. The longer series format is better suited to allow development of characters and smaller subplots, and it’s done very well done here. The problems stem from the changes made to the novel. 

Some changes are immaterial to the story, and may even be necessary. The location has changed from Australia, to California. Such minor changes are totally fine. What I didn’t like was the changes made to the definition of the character. Madeline’s character gets a backstory that wasn’t in the book, and in my opinion, this was a bad call. Jane’s character also takes a decision that didn’t fit the image the book had painted in my mind. Such differences change the basic character development, and I am not sure why these changes were needed. Finally the amount of explicit scenes shown is simply too much. Maybe HBO has a new rule on how much sex has to be shown at the minimum. The plot needs this element, but so many scenes just take the time needed by other scenes to make the story more complex.

Considering the star cast, it should hardly be a surprise that the acting is of high calibre. The casting, for the female leads, is just perfect. I am a fan of Reese Witherspoon the actress. I was very impressed with Shailene Woodley in Descendants and she has done a fantastic job here as well. Nicole Kidman also delivers in a very challenging role, and deserves all the praise she is getting for it. I cannot imagine a different trio that would have been better.

The production quality, direction and most other aspects are top notch, as you should expect from an HBO series. It seems that there will be a second season. I am not too excited about that, as the story reached a proper conclusion in the book, and the series. Given the cast, it's possible that they can pull off a compelling season, but it will be a different story altogether.

With only 7 episodes, this is more of a mini-series, and that’s just fine. If you haven’t read the book then some of my objections won’t matter to you. For those of you who have read the book, now you know you will notice some important changes. In any case, this series is worth watching. It’s correctly rated TV-MA and is not for kids.


Friday, December 29, 2017

Pleasanton Rose Show

Every year, generally around May, Pleasanton organizes a Rose Show. This year, 2017, was the 77th annual show! Here are some of the photos. Yes, these photos are from May, and we are at the end of December, but hey, at least I am posting it in the same calendar year :-)

Enjoy!

First, some solo performers presented in a water bowl.





Now, other solo performers on their stems.


Simple elegance!


Very unusual color.


Candy!


What a beautiful marbling!


Simple stunner!


Another marbling


Unassuming beauty.


This deserves staring at it for a long time!


Now some group performers.







One of my favorite colors for roses


This was so delicate, even taking a photo might have hurt it :-)





Magical marbling!





Just white!


Too delicate


Another candy!


Riot of colors








The next ones, if I remember correctly, were some of the final winners.






Hope you enjoyed it.

Friday, December 22, 2017

My thoughts on : Tax Cuts And Jobs Act Of 2017

This is not a review of the new tax law (See full PDF) signed by President Trump today. This is just what I feel about the things that matter to me, and things that I feel are important.

Full disclosure on political views. I am neither a Republican, nor a Democrat and one of the “Never Trumper” guys. I had to vote for Hillary Clinton because of Trump’s candidacy. My views can generally be categorized as “social liberal, fiscal conservative”, but that’s not very accurate either. For example, I strongly oppose “Sanctuary Cities”, and I do want near-free college education for all. So there you go. Whatever prevalent label you attach me, will likely be wrong.

Full disclosure on fiscal views. 

Taxes are necessary. Duh, yes. The point is, “some” taxes are necessary. I do not know what the ideal tax rate should be, and that's not the point of this post.

Simple is good. Duh again, but important to list. Not just because of tax filing headaches, but also for cost of enforcement.

Deductions are unfair. Yes, including, mortgage interest deductions, and even 401K deferred taxes. Due to tax brackets, higher income people get more out of these deductions that lower income people. Most deductions and credits are not universal, they favor one group over another.

Double taxation is unfair. Yes, even when it happens to rich people. 



Now about the things that directly affect  me.

Mortgage interest deduction. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where housing prices are, and have always been in the stratosphere. Now mortgage interest only up to 750K can be deducted. It most likely will slow down the increases in home prices. That’s good. My house value may not go up as much, but it’s good for future home buyers. Affordable homes are good for the society. Primary residence is not an investment, or a lottery ticket to retire rich. I support this. 

Changes to AMT. I wish they had repealed AMT. But at least the new law takes a large section of the population out of AMT. My problem with AMT is not the actual taxes paid, but it makes taxes complicated. If higher taxes is what’s needed, increase the tax rate. Don’t complicate the tax code. Again, even if my effective taxes hadn’t changed, I would still support repealing AMT. Well, that didn’t happen, but this is still a big positive.

Changes to SALT deductions. The new law significantly limits how much state and local taxes can be deducted. This one hurts me. It’s very possible that due to AMT changes, tax rate reductions I might come out even. Regardless of the impact on me, I support this. Federal taxes are paid for services received from federal government. Why should state taxes be deductible any ways? Now this will get Californians angry. But I do think California taxes are too high, the state government is too big and there is a huge waste of taxpayers money. Maybe now, people will get more conscious about the taxes paid to their state government and demand lower rates, and more efficiency. It might make California less socialistic, and that would be a good thing. This kick in the gut was needed, and my only complaint is it does not go far enough.

Rolling back of tax rates. The tax rate reductions for individuals is not permanent. If deficit was an issue, then why cut taxes on high income earners? Why not make the tax rate cut permanent for lower income people? Maybe it’s political game of kicking the can down the road, and future congress may make the rate cuts permanent. With the current wealth gap, and a booming economy for the wealthy, the rate cuts should have been done only for the lower income people. I view this as a big negative in this tax law. 




Now for changes that do not directly affect me.

Corporate tax rate cut. Lowering corporate taxes is a good thing. I wish it was tied to job creation, or increased pay for lower salary grades. Especially considering the trillion dollar deficit that’s being added by this law. As it stands, companies most likely will return cash to shareholders via dividends, buybacks etc. That’s perfectly fine from shareholders’ point of view. The issue is these shareholders are mostly in the wealthier section of population. So the country as a whole gets a trillion dollar increase to the already high deficit, and the majority of the population gets nothing much to show for it. That’s my current feeling. If it does spur job growth, pay growth, well, that’s what the Republican congressmen and Trump’s team are promising. Only time will tell. So I am neutral on this right now.

Estate Tax. I will never be impacted by this, but just repeal that thing. If you need higher taxes, just increase tax rates. Do not double tax. The new law does not repeal it, but at least increases the threshold. It's not enough, but still a positive.

Questionable deals. There is a nice provision for pass through businesses, which may be needed. But the way it was added, raised lot of conerns. There is lot of information available on the CorkerKickbacks. Similarly there is a nice concession for private jet owners. That’s what politics has become today. People who write laws, make sure they get benefits out of it.

There is lot more in the tax code, but these are the points on which I have an opinion.

Summary. There is lot to like about this law. Whether the expected economic expansion happens and if it justifies the deficit or not, only time will tell. I am optimistic at this time.

What would be the political implications? This is definitely a great legislative victory for President Trump, and he has delivered on a big campaign promise. It’s also an accomplishment for both Rep Paul Ryan and Senator Mitch McConnell. It would very likely help the Republicans in 2018 midterm elections, because there will be a short term boost to the economy. The deficit concerns are much longer term concerns. The Republicans have taken a calculated risk, or a gamble if you will. I hope they are right and the benefits of this are reaped by lower income people as well. If not, there are always elections where we can vote for candidates that will undo these policies. Just like what the current administration is doing.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Bosch : Season 1

Review : Bosch Season 1
Aired on : Amazon (2015-)
My Rating : 7 out of 10

How many more police dramas do we need? Based on the success of the shows in past, and currently going on, I guess a lot more. There is a lot of appetite for this genre. And how many of those should be focused on serial killers? If you combine all the serial killers that have appeared so far in all the books, TV shows and movies, together their victim count perhaps exceeds a quarter of US population. But the books keep coming, and the Movies and TV shows keep exploiting the same genre over and over again. As long as it makes money, this will go on.

Once in a while, some output in this steady pipeline is worth writing about. Amazon Prime’s Bosch is one of them. If I had to write a single sentence review, then I would have chosen the phrase “Cliched, but solid”. With that summary, let’s look at the details.

Bosch, the series, is based on a few novels by Michael Connelly, in which Detective Harry Bosch is the central character. I haven’t read many novels by Connelly. On my book reviews, there is a review of his one novel, Brass Verdict,  but that features his other creation, Lincoln Lawyer. Connelly is a very successful writer, and a good writer. He is deeply involved in the TV production as well.

The series begins with Bosch being investigated, and eventually cleared for fatally shooting a suspect. Then the main story begins with the discovery of bones in a remote wooded area. The death, of a young boy, appears to be a murder happened more than a decade ago. While Bosch (Titus Welliver) starts to work on a cold case, a person named Reynard Waits (Jason Gedrick) gets picked up by police when they discover a dead body in his van. By all indications, Waits seems to have a lot of past secrets, and lot of darkness. These two threads, the murder investigation and Waits get linked via Bosch. While this is happening, Bosch gets romantically involved with a subordinate, a rookie officer Julia Brasher (Annie Wersching, from 24). Bosch has an ex-wife and a daughter, who also feature in the story. Incidentally, Bosch’s ex-wife Eleanor is played by Sarah Clarke, another 24 alumni. All these plot lines around Bosch make the cliches far more interesting than the run of the mill police shows. His past is explained well, and was essential to completing his character, and is very relevant to the story.

Not to forget, there is department politics, and interesting alliance between the police chief and a politician who wants to be the next mayor. As interesting as that is, the word that will come to a viewer’s mind, is “filler”. Those scenes are orthogonal to the story and if not for a lengthy TV series, would have been completely eliminated.

I am of course not going to divulge any more details about how the investigation proceeds. But I will say this. It’s a combination of mostly good and a bit of bad, things that mostly make sense and occasional things that don’t. Some coincidences and stupidity from characters was needed to advance the plot. Fortunately, this is a minor flaw, and overall the story doesn’t have many flaws.

As a mystery it works really well. Keeps you guessing for most part. All the lead characters have acted well. Titus Welliver of course gets the most screen time in the title role. His portrayal is very believable. This Harry also does not entirely play by the books, but is much more realistic than Dirty Harry. I enjoyed the Clint Eastwood movies as well, this is just a comparative statement on the style.

It’s a very good series to watch, not great. Since it’s available on streaming as 10 episodes of 45 mins each, it’s quite binge-able. It’s not for kids and is correctly rated TV-MA.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Marathi Rubaai - 6


Marathi


भगिरथच मी जणु, अशी अस्मिता
घेईन ओढुन तव प्रीती सरिता
आहे मी पण एक कवी सक्षम
असशील तू जरी रूपगर्विता

Hindi translation


न हारूंगा मानिंद-ए-कोहकन, है यह ग़ुरूर
उतारूंगा जू-ए-इश्क़ तेरे दिल में ज़रूर
आज़मालो, के हूँ मैं भी एक शाइर काबिल
चाहे हो कितनी भी तुम कोई हसीं मग़रूर

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Secret Superstar

Movie Review : Secret Superstar
Released : 2017
Language : Hindi
Director : Advait Chandan
Genre : Drama
Starring :  Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij, Tirth Sharma, Aamir Khan, Raj Arjun
My Rating : 7 out of 10

Amir Khan, as a producer, definitely thinks outside the formula. I have made it a point to watch his movies in a theater, even when I have lost almost all interest in Bollywood movies. His latest production, “Secret Superstar” is another feather in his producer cap.

The story is as straight-forward as it gets. Insia (Zaira Wasim) is a 14 year old living in Vadodara. She has no interest in studies and dreams of being a superstar singer. Her father Farookh (Raj Arjun) has no appreciation of her talents and aspirations, and only offers apathy at best, and downright mean opposition at worst. Without her ever supportive mother Najma (Meher Vij), she stands no chance of ever achieving her dreams. Her mother risks a lot, suffers a lot, including physical violence, as Farookh is an angry abusive husband. Insia is old enough to understand and wants her mother to file for divorce, but there is really no practical way out for them. In order to pursue her dream without being recognized and stopped, she records her songs wearing burqa and releases them on YouTube. The songs go viral, and even though it’s anonymous Insia gets an opportunity to sing for a fallen-from-grace music director Shakti Kumar (Aamir Khan). She has dual hopes from this, one to become a star and second to help her mother get free. There is no suspense here, and no spoilers. This is a feel good movie. The emotional impact is from incidents of daily life, and I have not disclosed any  of those details, on purpose.

As you can see, the movie is tackling two themes. The family story, focuses on domestic abuse and mother-daughter bond. The other just glosses over the meteoric rise of an anonymous singer. This inconsistent handling of two important elements of the storyline is a major shortcoming of the movie that stops it from being a great movie like what “Dangal” was.

Dangal was fantastic as a both an achievement story, as well as family bonding story. Secret Superstar is fabulous as a mother-daughter bonding story. Many of the emotional scenes are potent without being melodramatic. This part manages to effectively comment on surprisingly many social issues. Domestic abuse, discrimination against girl child, women empowerment and neglecting non-traditional aspirations amongst others. The mother-daughter friendship is beautiful and touching. But there’s much more. The support Insia receives from her much younger brother is innocent and heartwarming. And the adolescent love story is amusingly cute, and doesn’t distract from the main theme of mother-daughter relationship. This all is high class movie making, and Advait Chandan must be complemented for both direction and script.

As an achievement story, it falls flat on its face. There are some elements of the Disney show, “Hanna Montana”. But the lack of any real excitement in the trajectory of Insia’s super stardom is just painfully bland. One song upload and she is famous. Worse, we get to hear maybe two songs of her supposedly superstar talents. Fame, opportunity and success just arrive at her doorstep, like an online pizza order.  The talk about her songs on TV, and the reaction of characters to it feel completely fake. Even the character of Shakti Kumar, and his antiques, although humorous are still just superfluous. The complete blame of this failure falls on the shoulders of the script and the direction, meaning Advait Chandan. Because the actors are just phenomenal.

Zaira Wasim and Meher Vij are in the focus of the camera for the most part, and their fantastic performances will keep you glued to your seats, and be emotionally invested in them. The cast is mostly unknown but capable actors. Raj Arjun does justice to the unenviable role of the abusive husband. Tirth Sharma as Insia’s true friend Chintan is adorable. Aamir Khan tries best with whatever material is offered to him, but cannot hide the fact that he is playing with an obviously inferior hand. Again, this is Zaira’s movie and Meher’s movie, everyone else is secondary. Fortunately their acting is exemplary.  

My recommendation is that, the family story alone makes it a “must watch” movie. But tone down your expectations for the movie as a whole. It’s very safe for kids, and enjoyable for the whole family.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Evolution Underground

Book Review : The Evolution Underground
Author : Anthony J. Martin
My Rating : 4 out of 5 stars

The complete title of the book is “The Evolution Underground : Burrows, bunkers, and the marvelous subterranean world beneath our feet”.

I was instantly attracted to the curious title. Of all the popular science books that I have read so far, none had discussed anything about animals that choose to spend most of their time underground. This book guaranteed new information, so I had to read it.

I am quite ignorant of the field, but it clearly seems that the author has impressive achievements, one of them being a co-discoverer of the first known burrowing dinosaur. He has a passion for the field, and it shines through.

The book covers a very wide variety of burrowing creatures. From turtles, alligators, dinosaurs, birds, many mammals, insects, sea animals and so on. The author argues, and demonstrates that the burrowing had a distinct evolutionary advantage. Especially when it came to mass extinction events. It’s recurring theme throughout the book. Consider for example, the mass extinction caused by the hellish conditions resulting from by a meteor strike. This event killed almost every living thing on the surface. Some creatures survived these unimaginable conditions, because they could hibernate and/or live comfortably underground. The explanation by author is very lucid, and understandable to a layman like me.

There is more to the story of creatures living underground. The author also explains very successfully, the impact these creatures have on the entire ecosystem. All this information is fascinating, and kind of an eye opener.

It seems to me that that author is writing for two types of audiences, for both laymen and the scientific community. This didn’t quite work for me. At times, the witty narration made me chuckle at multiple place. The speculative stories explained a lot to me and held my interest. But at other times, the information overload was simply too much to handle. I cannot even pronounce the names of most of these species, and digesting this amount of scientific detail is beyond me. It’s meticulous, detailed with 100+ pages of references, but I am afraid, other readers may feel lost like me.

With that caveat, I will recommend the book. It’s an interesting topic. You will end up being amazed by the knowledge about how life can survive, and how vital the underground world is for our ecosystem. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Song number 6 : Haakewari Aahe Gaav

With great excitement, on behalf of the entire team, I present to you our latest song. This has been a superb team effort. 

For me, the song always starts with the words, and this is a great poem by a very prominent Marathi poet, Indira Sant. In my interpretation, it describes the restlessness one might feel in the evening stages of life. It’s not sad, but solemn.

That’s the mood we have tried to convey. Most of the team is repeat names. The fantastic music arrangement is thanks to Aniket Damale. For the melody, it fits perfectly like a glove. Rhythm is arranged by Amey Thakurdesai and Hanumant Rawade. Flute accompaniment is by Pranav Haridas.

To top it all, the singing by Neha Kale is just perfectly on the mark. Her voice and emotive singing has taken this song to an even higher level.

The stunning sketches for the video have been provided by my multi-talented friend, Anita Limaye.

Considering the words, I thought Pooriya Dhanashree would be the perfect raag to carry the emotions and hence I have used it for the melody.

I hope you enjoy the song as much as we all enjoyed making it. Please listen and share! 




हाकेवरी आहे गाव, ह्याच आशेने चालले
गेले दिवस महिने, वाटे युगचि संपले

दूर दूर तेवणारा दिवा कसा तो दिसेना
डोंगराच्या पायथ्याशी रेघ धुराची वोळेना

ऐकू येईना पावरी आणि घुंगुरांचा नाद
राउळींच्या घंटेचाहि उमटेना पडसाद

कुठे असेल ते गाव, जिथे आहे पोचायाचे
कुठे असेल ते घर, जिथे आहे थांबायाचे

कुठे असेल तो स्वामी त्याही वास्तूचा महान
ज्याच्या पायापाशी आहे टाकायाचे तनमन


-- इंदिरा संत

Following translation is courtesy Archana Gupta

इस उम्मीद में चलती जाऊँ बस अब दूर नहीं वो गाँव
कितने सालों, नहीं युगों से, मेरे थमे नहीं हैं पाँव

दूर तलक रौशनी का कोई ज़र्रा भी क्यूँ अयाँ नहीं
क्यूँ दूर वादियों से उठता घुंधला सा भी धुआँ नहीं

घुंघरुओं की आवाज़ कहाँ है, बोल कहाँ हैं बंसियों के
साफ़ सुनाई दें न कहीं भी शब्द मठों की घंटियों के

है किस सिम्त वो गाँव जहाँ जा अपना धर्म निभाना है
कौन सा है वो घर जो मेरा अंतिम एक ठिकाना है

कौन महात्मा मालिक घर का किस का ताना बाना है
तन मन कर के अर्पण जिस के दर पर सीस नवाना है

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Manjha

Movie Review : Manjha
Language : Marathi
Director : Jatin Wagle
Genre : Thriller
Starring : Ashwini Bhave, Sumedh Mudgalkar, Rohit Phalke
Released : July 2017
My Rating : 5 out of 10

Sometimes it’s about expectations. I was happy that a Marathi movie is venturing into a relatively uncharted territory of the thriller genre. The trailer was promising. I really hoped to like it, but in the end I came out disappointed.

Samidha (Ashwini Bhave) moves to Lonavala with her son, Jaideep (Rohit Phalke) to escape from her abusive husband. Jaideep is an introvert, understandably, and is emotionally traumatized. Samidha as a mother is modern, understanding and determined to rise out of the situation. She starts working at a friend’s resort. At school, Jaideep is befriended by Vicky (Sumedh Mudgalkar) who is what Jaideep is not - flamboyant, confident and charming. Vicky’s friendship starts transforming Jaideep, but soon he starts sensing a sinister side of Vicky. The rest of the movie deals with who Vicky really is, and how Samidha and Jaideep face the challenge, and counter Vicky’s plans.

As you can see, this is not a very novel idea. That’s OK. Lack of novelty is not the main drawback of this movie. I think it is the lack of genuine suspense. The movie does not keep you guessing. Even the surprise at the end, can be seen coming from a mile across. There are so many hints, right from the beginning, as to what Vicky is really after that only a very novice movie-goer would fail to anticipate it. 

That’s a serious drawback for a movie aiming to be a gritty thriller. There are other positives and negatives as well. Without any doubt, the biggest positive is the acting, of both Sumedh Mudgalkar, and Rohit Phalke. They get the most screen time, and really shine. Sumedh especially, considering that this is his first major role. He seems like a seasoned confident actor, and is able to display many different shades. The script gives him very little to work with, and he still manages to bring creepiness and fear to the screen.

Sumedh succeeds quite brilliantly, till the final scene, where the movie just deflates. This is not the fault of the actors, but mostly of the director and the scriptwriter. I suspect, the intentions were good, to not cross the boundaries of decency. I get that. But for a theme that’s trying to push the envelope, the ending was exact opposite of a crescendo of tension. The movie is never “on the edge of the seat” thriller in the first place. It’s slow, overly talkative, and has very little action. As a result, even at two hours, it feels long. Whatever tension it manages to generate, evaporates in the end.

I want to applaud, encourage and support the team for trying to be bold and different than the pack. But I can only give a lukewarm recommendation for this movie. In my opinion, it’s not for kids.



Thursday, August 10, 2017

Marathi Rubaai - 5

Rubaai number 5. With a rough translation.

एक रुबाई श्रावणी
मेघ दुःखांचे गर्जती, विजा वेदनेच्या झळकती
सिंचित नित मनाची माती, अश्रुधारा वर्षवर्षती
हवामान हे कुंद बघुनी, अंदाज सोप्पा अगदी 
भरपूर पीक ह्या वर्षी, येणार कवितांचे नक्की
It's hard to translate this. Here is a very rough translation. 
Clouds of sorrow are roaring, lightening of pain keeps striking
Tears keep raining down, irrigating the soil of imagination
Considering the gloomy weather, it's an easy forecast to make
That this year, there will definitely be a bumper crop of poems
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