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

Friday, August 4, 2017

Better Call Saul : Season 2 and 3

Review : Better Call Saul (Season 2 and 3)
Aired on : AMC (2015 - )
My Rating : 8 out of 10

Please note : This is a review of Season 2 and 3, and may contain spoilers if you have not watched Season 1. Please click here for season 1 review.

I completely loved the first season of “Better Call Saul”. The second and third seasons are as wonderful as the first season, almost. Almost.

Season 2 picks up the story right where season 1 ends, and the arc continues through Season 3. This time, Saul/Jimmy McGill doesn’t have to go through so much professional struggles. He is moderately successful, ends up having his own practice and even manages to have a stable relationship. The story this time is less about his struggles to be a lawyer, and more about his relationship with the person he loves and respects, his brother Chuck. It is an interesting, complex, multi-dimensional and realistic relationship.

At the beginning of the Season 2, Jimmy takes the job with the law firm in Santa Fe. This is the continuation of the thread about the class action suit against Sandpiper that began at the end of Season 1. This thread continues to run through the end of the Season 3. Jimmy is very uncomfortable in this job. His employers are even more uncomfortable about the legality or lack thereof, of Jimmy’s methods. Eventually Jimmy starts his own practice in partnership with Kim. Kim’s efforts to help secure the Mesa Verde contract, and Jim’s way of helping her, forms a major plot element throughout the second and third season. 

Along the same lines, the story threads involving Mike, Nacho and related characters span both Season 2 and 3. Most of the threads get proper closure, if not all. End of Season 3 indeed feels like the end of a book in a longer series.

That brings me to the “almost” part. As captivating the storytelling is, as fantastic the character portrayal is, the pace of the story is slower than what was in Season 1. These 2 seasons could have been combined into one season. A lot less details would have seen the light of the day, but I think that would have been fine. This is one complaint I have against most series. The desire to extend episodes often wins over compactness of narration. 

In spite of that complaint I still give very high rating to both these seasons. Because they are full of artistic brilliance. Acting, directing, script writing, character development, dialogues, editing, everything is top notch. Even the camera angles are worth admiring. To me, this is how television should be. Series like this is why I hardly watch any movies and allocate most of my non-sport TV time to long series. The investment of time in Better Call Saul is absolutely worth it.

I expect a lot more nominations, and frankly it’s high time Bob Odenkirk wins the Best Actor category, at the Emmy’s or the Golden Globe. Other wins are certainly possible too. There is a lot diverse talent packed in this series.

I cannot recommend this series enough. It’s perfectly fine for older teenagers. The complex characters and their complex interactions, presented in a slower quirky manner would be a welcome change from most of the two dimensional stuff out there. As a final note, it’s worth stressing how un-formulaic the series is. There is no action, no edge of your seat suspense, no gory violence, no unnecessary twists, no profanity, no nudity, no sex, no romance, no crude humor, no in your face controversy and no shocks of any kind. In spite of that, it’s gripping and addictive. Watch it.



Monday, July 24, 2017

Chi Va Chi Sau Ka

Movie Review : Chi Va Chi Sau Ka
Language : Marathi
Director : Paresh Mokashi
Genre : Romantic Comedy
Starring : Lalit Prabhakar, Mrinmayee Godbole, Bharat Ganeshpure, Sharmishtha Raut, Supriya Pathare, Pradeep Joshi, Sunil Abhyankar, Purnima Talwalkar
Released : May 2017
My Rating : 8 out of 10

Marathi movies have a long relationship with successful comedy. From Raja Gosavi, to Dada Kondake, to Laxmikant Berde to movies produced by Sachin. It’s a long list. I am sure there are more number of utter failures than the successful ones. But the point is, there are comedy movies that will be remembered, recommended, discussed and watched more than once. To that list, add the latest movie by the very capable director Paresh Mokashi.

It’s near impossible to give you a synopsis of the movie without revealing a major plot element, which occurs very early in the movie. I watched the movie without knowing much about it. That’s how I prefer to watch. In that same spirit, I will reveal as little as possible in this review. This is not a suspense movie, but still it matters. You will understand why I am saying this, when you watch it.

The two main characters are Satya (Lalit Prabhakar) and Savitri (Mrinmayee Godbole). Satya is an engineer, and is passionate about saving water and energy. Savitri is a veterinarian doctor, and her passion is animals. Their passions are of course most of us would agree with, although in the movie these are deliberately portrayed to extremes for the comedic effects. I must stress it here, these passions are absolutely not the real subject of the movie. In fact, Paresh Mokashi steers clear of propaganda or any dogma.

The real focus of the movie is somewhere else. It is on how human relationships are evolving with changing times. It’s tackled in a masterful way - with high class comedy, that makes social commentary while generating chuckles and laughs. 

So comedy is the vehicle here by which a message is delivered. I will admit, I was a bit worried about the quality of the comedy when the movie began, with the introduction of the characters and the loudness that accompanied it. Fortunately, that mellowed down fairly quickly. Nevertheless, the movie remains over the top for most of the time. Subtlety makes only rare appearances. That’s a perfectly fine approach for a comedy, as long as it’s not overdone. There were a few places where I felt it was overdone, but in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter much.

The other minor quibble I have is about recycled jokes. It’s done only a couple of times, but I felt it was unnecessary when everything else is so much original content. Again, didn’t matter much.

The strength of the comedy resides in the dialogues, and the timing and delivery by actors. The movie is extremely strong in those aspects. The dialogues are funny, and the actors give you countless moments for laughing out loud. Another big strength of the movie is the crisp screenplay. Scenes generally don’t linger around, and multiple characters participate in most scenes to keep it moving briskly. Works very effectively. There are also a few unusual and superb camera angles along the way that are worth admiring.

This is a very enjoyable movie which I highly recommend. There are some scenes and dialogues that I will remember for a very long time. Just like other Marathi comedy movies that are now considered classics. It’s quite safe for kids. The current generation of teens and twenty somethings will perhaps like it more.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Song Number 5 : Tere Dil Ki Nigaahein

Presenting song number 5!

On behalf of all the artists involved, I am very happy to share this new song with you.

For many, Urdu poetry is synonymous with the image of a lover who is dejected, lost and heart-broken. This doesn’t have to be the case. This song is written from the point of view of a very confident lover. I hope you all like this attitude :-) This was actually the very first song I wrote, but it took a while to realize it fully. I have kept the melody in Raag Bhoop, which is the first raag everyone learns.

As always, I received tremendous support from many talented musicians. Most of the team is repeat names!

Just like my previous two songs, this song is also sung by Ketan Patwardhan in his pleasant mature voice. Rhythm is masterfully provided by Ameya Thakurdesai and Hanumant Rawade. Amogh Dandekar played the guitar perfectly.

The arrangement by Aniket Damale is just wonderful, deliberately reminiscent of the previous era of bollywood music. Thanks to him and everyone else for their support.

Hope you enjoy the song. Please support it by sharing with your friends.



तेरे दिल की निगाहें, ढूंढे जिसे, हूँ मैं वहीं, और कोई ग़ैर नहीं
तुम मानो या ना मानो, मुझे देखो या ना देखो, मुझे फिर भी है यकीं  


कर लो, चाहे जितनी भी,
मुझ से, यूँही बे-रुख़ी,
चाहत कम ना होगी मेरी


कोई शिक़वा, ना गिला,
मुन्तज़िर जो रहूँ सदा,
तेरी दिलनवाज़ी का


की है मुहब्बत, जैसे इबादत
हो जाओगे मेरे ख़ुदा, मेहरबाँ


फ़र्माती है रूह की निदा
रहूँ तेरा आशिक़-ए-जाविदाँ                            

तेरे मेरे दरमियाँ,
छोटा सा है फासला,
मीठे से एहसास का


मिट जाएगी जो यह दूरी,
मेरी सारी बेक़रारी,
हो जाएगी तुम्हारी


फिर गूंजेगा, मेरे ही दिल का
पुरसोज़ तरन्नुम, सीने में तेरे


ग़ाफ़िल इन जज़्बों से हो अभी
होगा तुम्हे भी आज़ार-ए-आशिक़ी

Meanings of words


बे-रुख़ी = indifference
शिक़वा, गिला = complaint
मुन्तज़िर = one who waits
दिलनवाज़ी = kindness
इबादत = worhsip
निदा = calling
आशिक़-ए-जाविदाँ = eternal lover
एहसास = feeling, experiecne
बेक़रारी = restlessness
पुरसोज़ = full of burning
तरन्नुम = song
ग़ाफ़िल = unaware
जज़्बा = feeling

आज़ार-ए-आशिक़ी = illness of love


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

No ifs, no nulls

I have always been a strong proponent of clean code that's written with maintainability in mind. It's my firm opinion that performance should be addressed with proper architecture. In most applications, code trickery contributes very little to overall performance. What exactly causes code to be less or more maintainable? Simplicity and clear semantics are two main important things that contribute to this aspect.

What makes the code simpler to understand? Code with many execution branches is harder to understand and to test. Personally, I dislike deep nested if-then-else conditions. Even having overly complicated boolean expressions as part of if conditions, makes the code harder to understand. Straight-line code without explicit branches and loops would be ideal. But can non-trivial code be written like this? It's quite possible.

Keeping the semantics completely unambiguous requires some thinking. In last few years, I have also developed an acute case of "null-phobia". In Java (and many other languages), usage of "null" can be problematic. Especially while describing semantics. What does a return value of null mean? Is something not present, or is present and empty, or did something go wrong? There are ways to deal with this dilemma. Documentation, exceptions are part of the solution. Now Java 8 has borrowed the Optional from other languages that makes it very easy to deal with this.

In this post, I want to explain one simple measure that can be employed to eliminate some branching and null-checks.

Consider a common service layer pattern. The service layer needs to provide an API to read the business objects from the database. The database layer provides a similar API to return the record from the database associated with the id given.



In the above only the code relevant to this discussion is shown.

Even with this simple structure, it is clear that the usage of null is problematic. Each layer needs to check nulls, and forgetting to do that and passing the result around would generate a NullPointerException in some other part of the code. The programmer must read the documentation in order to understand that null values might be returned, there is no help from the compiler. These are some of the reasons for potential bugs in future.

It's very easy to replace this with the new Optional and remove any ambiguity, and provide a very clear semantics.


That's much better than using nulls as a return value. With the Optional as a return value, it provides a clear signal to the users of the method that they have to check for the existence of the actual result. The compiler enforces the usage of an explicit get() call, and most likely your IDE will warn you if use the get() without the isPresent() method. Now it takes willful ignorance to cause a NullPointerException. That's a win.

Of course the code as written, is nothing but a glorified null-check. The Java 8 Optional allows you to refine the code even further by using the streamlike fluent API. The Optional has much more than just isPresent() and get().

The Optional::map() method is smart. It can be used to convert Optional of one type to another. The isPresent() check is handled for you. It accepts a lambda which will be executed only if the Optional is not empty.

Of course, with a simple lambda like that it can be even further simplified using the new method references.

This is not code trickery at all. This is the correct usage of Optional. The unfamiliarity of the lambdas and the new Java 8 APIs will eventually go away.

This was a small snippet to convey the idea. I strongly argue that such concise straight line code is much easier to understand. It's also extremely easy to maintain due to lack of branching, and lack of the need to keep performing null-checks. To be precise, the branching and null checks have not disappeared, but they have been moved from our code to the JDK library code. That's still a huge win for maintainability.

I am also aware that lambdas, if not used in such concise manner, suffer from the same issues of anonymous classes. My rule of thumb is, lambdas should be simple one-liners, just a method call with descriptive name. Nothing more.

There are many such simple measures that can be employed to write code that has minimal branching, and clear semantics. More in future posts.



Friday, May 12, 2017

Song number 4 : Gaate Kon Manaat

Presenting song number 4

On behalf of the entire team, I am very happy to present the latest song. It's an old poem, written by late Vaa. Raa. Kaant. I liked it because it's simple, lyrical and at the same time meaningful. I am sure all artists have felt this poem in their heart, and the question it asks. Who is really driving the inspirations? The poem doesn't answer that question. Instead it reminds the artists, that they are not really creating the art, rather it's the other way around. It's the art that's shaping them. I believe this is true for all art forms.

I am very fortunate to have received support from very talented artists to shape this song :-)

Aparna Nimkar lent her sweet, melodious voice and sung this beautifully. After composing, I knew I wanted her to sing this song, and I am so glad that it materialized. Her voice gives a nice, pleasant and calming effect to this song.

The rhythm is excellently handled by the duo, Amey Thakur-Desai and Hanumant Rawade. This is the third time, Ameya has helped me with the rhythm.

The superb flute interludes are thanks to Pranav Haridas and guitar is played by Amogh Dandekar.

Finally, the music arrangement, mixing and mastering is done by Aniket Damale. His perfect arrangement is soothing and blends seamlessly with the main melody. Without his enthusiastic support, the song wouldn’t be this good.

I have kept the melody in the contours of Raag Jaunpuri. Hope you enjoy the song as much as we all enjoyed making it. If you like it, please support it by sharing. Thank you!


गाते कोण मनात, कळेना, गाते कोण मनात ?

जरी शतावधि कविता लिहिल्या
शंभरदा वाचिल्या गायिल्या
शब्द कुणाचा, सूर कुणाचा, अजुनि मला अज्ञात

पुशिले त्याचे नाव फुलाला,
गाव तयाचे उषे निशेला
मिचकावुनि कुणि डोळा जातो, काळ्याभोर जळात

अभिमानाने कधी दाटता
“रचिले मी हे गाणे” म्हणता
“गीतच रचिते नित्य तुला रे” फुटे शब्द ह्रदयात

My feeble attempt at translation ...


कौन गाता है मेरे मन में, पता नहीं, कौन गाता है मेरे मन में

सैकड़ों कविताऐं लिखी, सौ बार गायी, पढ़ी
है शब्द किसके, सुर किसके - हूँ इससे अबतक अंजान मैं

पूछा उसका नाम फूलोंसे, पता सबा से, रात से
मटका कर आँखे बस चला जाता है कोई काले गहरे पानी में

अभिमान से कभी कहुँ, “गीत लिखा यह मैंने”
“गीत ही लिखते है नित तुम्हे”, उठता है जवाब, अंदर दिल में


Saturday, March 4, 2017

Marathi Rubaai - 3

Rubaai number 3. With Hindi translation.

#रुबाई #काहीतरी #उगाचच

Marathi
होते कधी साजिरे, चित्र झाले जुने
गडद गडद रंग विरले, पृष्ठ फाटले
उरली फक्त माझी पुसटशी छबी
आजूबाजूचे सारे, सारे सारे मिटले

Hindi
थी कभी रंगीन, हाँ, थी कभी सुहानी
मिट गए रंग, हो गयी तस्वीर पुरानी
रह गयी सिर्फ मेरी धुंधलीसी छवि
न बची और कोई, कोई भी निशानी

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Westworld

Review : Westworld
Aired On : HBO (2016-)
My Rating : 7 out of 10

Just like it happened with Boardwalk Empire, the promos of Westworld ensured that I was going to watch the series. The reason in both cases being the association of big names. When you see Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris in the promo, it’s bound to generate interest.

Westworld is based on Michael Crichton’s 1973 Sci-Fi movie of the same name which I have not watched. This is a very hi-tech theme park of sorts. There are no rides, there are stories. Stories in which lifelike robots with very advanced AI play the same role, every day. The visitors (or guests) in the park play the role of super humans - as in - they can do whatever they want with these robots. Whatever, as you can expect, happens to be nothing but mayhem, sex, and some darker fantasies they may have. The robots are programmed to be unable to hurt. Their weapons have no effect on humans, but humans can kill them at ease. The premise being, these are robots without feelings, emotions or even life. After every “death”, they are repaired in the night, to be put in the same cruel loop all over again.

At least that’s how it was set up, till the creator, founder and the almost-God of the park, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) decides to tweak the algorithm to make the robots even more human like. The results are less deterministic, and the robots (or hosts, as they are called in the series) start acting differently than what was planned. Some of them start to retain memories, and things get interesting.

In the first half of the season, the series focuses almost exclusively on the mayhem part. We get to see how the park works to some extent, some corporate politics, some operational aspects. It is slow, a bit confusing and definitely repetitive. What held my interest to keep me going was the visual aspect. It’s stunningly beautiful - both the world inhabited by robots, as well as the inside where humans recide. We don’t get to see anything beyond these boundaries. It’s set in some future, but no hint is given as to how far. And yes, there is standard hollywood tech mumbo jumbo that shouldn’t be paid much attention to.

Fortunately, the series takes interesting turns in the later half. Then it starts to become a puzzle that seems worth solving. Actually, a multi-layered, multi-dimensional puzzle. It can get even more confusing, but it’s also gripping. You keep wanting to know more. Eventually by the end you will know more. And I think you will be surprised. And satisfied. That’s the important part. The answers to the puzzles are surprising and satisfying. 

In addition to being a Sci-Fi mystery, the series also tries to set up some deeper philosophical questions. I wouldn’t take them too seriously. Most Sci-Fi requires some leaps of faith to believe that the technology shown can actually come to exist. That’s fine. But here, since there are robots, and they are human like and they are developing memory - the question of consciousness and how it begins, serves as the device that the series uses to stand out. It works to keep things interesting, but I doubt if this season would ever spawn the pseudo- philosophical discussion like The Matrix trilogy did. That’s OK. 

As you can imagine, this is not a character driven drama. You will know precious little about the human characters. The robots are more interesting, but they are also stuck in a loop. HBO is not expecting us to watch it for intricate relationships. It’s a Sci-Fi mystery, no other pretensions. The stellar cast helps tremendously. Apart from their acting, there is nothing to firmly root the characters. Every one is brilliant. Not a surprise considering who they are.

It’s a great combination. Perfect acting, unusual concept, interesting plot surprises, stunning visuals, capable direction and dash of philosophy. The script was a bit confusing to me, but most of the confusion was cleared up by the end.

This is not a great series, but a very good series. It’s also different and gripping in the second half, hence totally watchable. I definitely recommend it. It’a correctly rated TV-MA and is not for kids.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Big Little Lies



Book Review : Big Little Lies
Author : Liane Moriarty
My Rating : 4 out of 5 stars

I will be honest about this. This is not a book that I would have read at all. I didn’t even expect to like it. This book is simply not my type. HBO has been advertising about a series based on this book that stars Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley. With that kind of cast, I know I am going to watch it. In my opinion a book should be read before watching the screen adaptation. So I read it, and I was surprised to find myself liking it.

The story has three main characters, all women, living in a beach town in Australia and who have kids going to the same kindergarten class. In the very beginning of the book, the reader is told that a death happened during a function organized by the school, and most likely it was a murder. Who died and how is not told till the very end. The story starts a few months before the event. Jane, a single mother movies to the small beach town. On the very first day, she meets Madeline, who also was a single mother once. Madeline, and her friend Celeste, become Jane’s support system. She needs one, as the Kindergarten Mom Politics is quite strong in that town. As the story progresses, we learn a lot of details about these three characters and a bit about men in their lives. Eventually, the fateful night arrives and all the threads and sub-plots converge.

The double mystery, who dies and who did it, is smartly handled. We don’t even know who dies till the very end. That keeps the reader guessing, at least till the half-point. It’s a bit easy to narrow-down the options of who might die, but how remains a nice mystery. But this is not just a mystery book. The characters are developed nicely, and they are not single dimensional. The dialogues are smart, and the pacing is smooth.

The book also touches on many other aspects - domestic abuse, self-esteem, petty politics. It is also a satire on current parenting style. The school politics is completely far-fetched. I just don’t buy it. That’s one big negative. There are other small defects, like one character using Google to discover a simple fact, while the character which is most affected doesn’t. Not very believable. But if that character had used Google, the whole story wouldn’t have been possible. At the end of each chapter, there are dialogues from secondary characters about the investigation, that are cliched to the extreme. Finally, the male characters are only mentioned in passing, most of the time, and strictly from a woman’s point of view.

Leaving the defects aside, the book does a fantastic job of achieving the right balance between all the elements it uses. The character portrayal, shining light on domestic abuse, satire on modern parenting and of course the mystery. This is really the strength of the book. This balance is what keeps the book interesting, and makes us invest our time in it.

It’s a good read, not literary, but nice for relaxing lazy times. I am giving my recommendation, but I will admit again. It’s not a book that I would have read, even after reading a review like this, my own review. Because, I rarely feel satisfied after reading fiction, and on top of that, this is absolutely female centric. It still kept me glued and made me turn pages. Now, I look forward to the HBO series. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Marathi Rubaai - 2

Rubaai number 2. This time with translations in Hindi as well as English.

#रुबाई #काहीतरी #उगाचच

Marathi
खिन्न लाटा, खिन्न किनारा
मावळतीचा खिन्न पसारा
त्यासमोर हा एकटाच मी
छेडित बसलो तुटल्या तारा

Hindi 
मायूस लहरें, मायूस किनारें
मायूस शाम के मंज़र सारे
बैठ के तन्हा छेड़ रहा हूँ
साज़ पुराना, टूटी तारें

English
gloomy ocean, gloomy shore,
as the sun sets, gloom galore
sitting alone, I keep strumming
broken chords, songs of yore

Previously
Rubaai 1

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Dangal

Movie Review : Dangal
Released : 2016
Language : Hindi
Director : Nitesh Tiwari
Genre : Biography
Starring :  Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra, Aparshakti Khurana, Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar
My Rating : 9 out of 10

Movies about Sports pose interesting challenges. They have to do a balancing act between focusing on the sport and focusing on the characters. The actors have to take on intensive efforts to appear believable. The drama around the sporting scenes has to be exciting, but should not feel far fetched. Last but not the least, if the ending is predictable, the movie has to ensure that the viewers stay engaged till the end.

Dangal wrestles these challenges (pun intended) and scores a gold medal. It walks the sport movie tightrope without ever losing its balance. Its focus on wrestling is unwavering, but it also manages to pack a social message. While taking us along on a near straight-line journey of Geeta Phogat towards the Gold Medal, it still manages to make us visit the special bonds between all the characters. It ignites nationalism without being melodramatic. Most importantly, it keeps us on the edge of our seat even when there is no real villain and we know how it’s going to end. Yes, it fabricates an exaggerated fictionalized ending for the cinematic effect, but doesn’t push it beyond the borders of believability.

This success is a result of the entire team. The director Nilesh Tiwari never lets the movie go out of his control. The actors, all of them, from Aamir Khan to the kid actors, have put in phenomenal efforts in their roles as wrestlers. The music sticks to taking on a just a supportive role. The picturization of the wrestling scenes is undoubtedly the highlight of the movie. They can be described with one word - electrifying. That’s because of efforts of actors, wrestling consultants, director - and the camera crew and the editors. In presenting such high octane sports scenes, so much depends on camera angles and skillful editing. Hats off to the technical crew.

As must be obvious, I really enjoyed this latest Aamir Khan movie. He is one of the rare Bollywood stars whose movies I look forward too. I have been very happy with hist last few movies, such as PK, or 3 Idiots. Only Dhoom 3 was a huge disappointment for me.

Dangal is another feather in the cap for Amir Khan. I still remember watching him sing “Papa kehte hai”. This journey from a chocolate hero to a super serious dedicated actor has been a delight to witness. Here he plays the middle aged humorless father perfectly. A lot has been and will be talked about his physical transformation. I was equally impressed by his acting effort. The way he talks, the way he sits on the scooter, the way he runs at the end of the movie. Everything is perfect. This is perhaps his best performance. 

He presents the real life story of wrestling champion Mahavir Singh Phogat and his efforts to earn a gold medal for India via his daughters. This is a fairly recent story, with both the daughters still active as athletes. It’s a story of dedication, hard work and courage to fight against the social norms.

It’s impossible to talk about this movie without talking about the acting performance of the two child actresses. They are adorable, and admirable for the amount of effort they put in. Both  Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra have done justice to their roles as elder Geeta and Babita. Even the unenviable role of the cousin is played superbly by Aparshakti Khurana.

I absolutely recommend this movie. It’s fast, does not extend longer than needed and safe for kids. Actually, it’s a great family movie. Do not miss this one.



Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Musical Upbringing - Part 2

Continued from part 1 ...

My father had a natural intuitive understanding of music. He may not have had the technical know-how, but he knew what was good, and more importantly, what was better. He had a lot of friends who were experts. I owe a lot to them as well. 

One my father's close friends, Vijay Gondhalekar was our go to person for any questions. I remember, perhaps in 5th grade, we had Music as a subject. As typical it was of Indian School System at that time, we were fed a lot of details and jargon without generating any real understanding. We were taught लक्षण गीत (Characteristic Song) of Bhoop which has lines like "म नि वर्जित ओडव सब गायत" (literally meaning, the notes 'ma' and 'ni' are not used in this raag). I didn't understand any of it. I remember Gondhalekar Kaka explaining it to me. True to his witty nature, I remember him making a joke in process, "Remember, that Bhoop doesn't have 'money'!". 

But it was another incident that has had a real impact on me. I took a very long route to liking classical music. I was (and still am) more fond of 'natya sangeet’ which is more accessible. I was lamenting my lack of understanding to Gondhalekar Kaka once. He told me to not worry at all. Keep listening to 'natya sangeet', was his advice. It's a journey, he said. Just like a spiritual journey, "सगुणा कडुन निर्गुणा कडे" (rough translation, "from concrete form to abstract divinity"). That thought has always stayed with me. Only after many years, I understood what he meant, how perfectly he captured the essence of "Shastriya Sangeet". I am deliberately using that phrase. It was he who told me, that the English term, "Indian Classical Music" is a misnomer. The correct description according to him, "Systematic rule based music", and he explained me why. It's discussions like these, and the positive encouragement that make a fundamental difference in your life.

When I did get really interested in Shastriya Sangeet, I started to accompany my father to music concerts. Once we attended a small mehfil of Pandit Jasraj. I don't even remember what raag he sang that day, but I remember feeling ecstatic. After 11:00 pm, Panditji really got into the mood. I was hypnotized. We knew the bus service and train service would be closed, but we stayed till the end, and took a taxi home. That magical experience made me a lifelong fan of Pandit Jasraj.

Later, Music Today (of India Today group) came out a with a big set of cassettes "Raagas from dawn to midnight". We used to listen to those together. Every cassette had one 30 minute khayal of a raag on one side and two 15 minutes of two other raag on reverse side. The Marwa was presented by Pandit Jasraj. It was perhaps the first time I heard a proper Marwa, and I was profoundly affected.

I remember excitedly mentioning about this to another close friend of my father, Mr Mone. He to me, was and is, the definition of the word connoisseur. His vast knowledge, his musical network and his personality commanded respect from everyone. He was happy that I finally discovered Marwa. But he looked at me with a disapproval on his face, and with his hand gesturing dismissal, he said, "No, that's not real Marwa. Only three singers have sung the real Marwa, Pandit Abhisheki, Pandit Vasantrao Deshpande and finally, Ustad Amir Khan. Go listen to them and then we will have a discussion". It was another, expanding horizon moment for me. He was telling me to go beyond vocal abilities, and towards a more sublime experience. It was not easy to find recordings in those days. I didn't get a chance to hear any of the recordings he mentioned till I came to US. With internet, it became easy. Now, all of these are available on YouTube. I never got the chance to tell him that I have listened to what he had recommended. I still won't be able to tell you which Marwa is better, I am not there yet, and perhaps never will be. But Mone Kaka had the authority to pass such judgements and it paid to listen to what he had to say.

The biggest such moment happened in one of the discussions with Mone kaka related to "babul mora", the most well known bandish of all times. I had recently heard a version from Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, the Tansen of our generation. The clear consensus was, the best rendition is by K.L. Saigal, for a movie song! Better than Bhimsen? For a movie song? That was a shock I clearly remember. Again, I won't be able to say which one is better, but I am glad I listened.

Now, my father always loved Saigal. As I said, he intuitively understood what's good music. But I never paid too much attention to those songs till this discussion. When I started listening to Saigal with more attention, I realized what I had been missing. Honestly, the tunes of those days are not what I can connect to. In 1930s, neither there was good recording technology, nor was there any expensive orchestration. So crossing these hurdles was not easy for me. But I am glad I did. Now, I can say this about Saigal - "main kyaa jaanu, kyaa jaadu hai". I get goosebumps listening to him sing it.



Later, Lata Mangeshkar released a cassette set, Shraddhanjali, a tribute to all the singers. She has sung this song. I remember buying this cassette, and me and my father listening to it for the first time. When this song started, within a few seconds, I remember, we both groaned. Oh no, Lata didn’t even come close to recreating the Saigal magic. 

They say, it takes a village to raise a kid. True for me. I wasn't born with a natural appreciation for Indian Classical music. It was this environment that cultivated my interest.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My Musical Upbringing - Part 1

Everything we know is because someone taught that to us. One of the greatest joys of my life is to listen to music. This listening is a skill that has been nurtured. I was blessed to have people around me who taught me, directly and indirectly, how to listen to music, and how to notice, feel, appreciate and realize. I want to recount some incidences that I think contributed to quantum jumps in my listening abilities.

Almost all of this can be traced back to my father. Literature and music were core to his personality. He himself had a melodious voice, but never had any training. He used to sing, but rarely. I wish he had sung more often and it was all recorded. I have been told that my paternal grandfather was a good singer too.

When he came to Mumbai for work, my father stayed with his cousins in an iconic Dadar building called “Vasant Bhuvan”. While living there, he had many opportunities to meet the genius music director Vasant Prabhu, who used to live in a nearby building. My father was even fortunate enough to hear Vasant Prabhu's composition sessions. One of my father’s cousins, Baal Chavare, who considers Vasant Prabhu as his guru, also later became an established music director for movies and radio. My father and everyone from his friend circle there worshiped Vasant Prabhu’s musical creativity.

I remember one of my father’s friend, once dissing Naushad’s songs in comparison as “जात्यावर दळण दळताना म्हणायची गाणी”, a phrase hard to translate. Literally it means songs sung by housewives to keep themselves entertained when they do repetitive chores, repetitive being the operative word. Figuratively, it was a criticism of “लय” (tempo and /rhythm) or lack thereof in Naushad’s songs. My father was a fan of Naushad too, and so am I. One of the songs being criticized was none other than “मन तरपत हरी दर्शन को आज”. I was taken aback.

This incident made me listen to Vasant Prabhu’s songs more attentively. All his songs were recorded before I was born. The more I listened, the more I understood what a master he was of “लय”. Today, I consider Vasant Prabhu as perhaps the best music director ever for मराठी सुगम संगीत (light Marathi songs). Very pleasing melody, perfectly timed phrases and exemplary tempo. He is peerless in Marathi music. In Hindi, I prefer C. Ramchandra over others for similar reasons.

At home we had a vinyl disc record of two songs composed by Vasant Prabhu. On one side was “जन  पळभर म्हणतील हाय हाय”, and on the other side was “मधु मागशी माझ्या सख्या परि”. Both deeply meaningful poems written by भा. रा. तांबे. Both the songs were my father’s favorite, and now mine too. I even remember him explaining the meaning to me. Anyone who grows up listening to these poems, these songs and discussions about them is bound to grow up loving poetry and music.

It’s a shame, and a tragedy, that Vasant Prabhu is not so well known outside Maharashtra. His songs are pure 24 carat gold. I keep going back to them to understand, analyze and learn from them. Every time I hear these songs, I keep saying, “This, THIS, is how music should be composed”.

To those, who may not have heard his songs, here are a couple of songs to illustrate his mastery on all aspects of music direction. Pay special attention to timing, pauses and overall tempo aspects.

The first is from a movie “शिकलेली बायको”, and was a superhit. A song from the same movie “प्रेमा काय देऊ तुला” is mentioned by Lata as one her favorite songs.


The next is a poem by poet नारायण मुरलिधर गुप्‍ते who wrote with pen name कवि ’बी’. It’s a difficult poem to understand and extremely difficult to compose a tune for. Vasant Prabhu created a fantastic song out of it, that’s catchy and can be hummed by anyone. It’s one of his most well known songs



I still like Naushad’s songs. Nothing changed there. But because of people around me who understood many aspects of music, not only did I develop a special appreciation for Vasant Prabhu's songs, but I can also now better appreciate the “लय” or tempo/rhythm aspect of music.




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