Friday, August 29, 2014


Book Review : Ignorance
Author : Stuart Firestein
My Rating : 4 out of 5

The complete title of the book is “Ignorance : How it drives Science”.

I don’t get too many chances to label a book as “nice little” in my reviews. This book gives me that chance. It is really a nice little book.

According to author Stuart Firestein, there is a widespread misconception that science works using a deliberate “scientific method”. Start with a hypothesis, make an experiment, collect data, prove a new fact etc. He disagrees and says, discovering is more like trying to find a black cat in a dark room, and when more than often, there is no cat to begin with. He also wants to stress that it’s the ignorance that drives science, not the knowledge.

He clarifies what he means by ignorance. There is bad ignorance, which is wilful denial of facts and logic. Then there is good ignorance, the lack of knowledge and hence the desire to acquire it. He explains this in detail in a bit lengthy preamble before he starts the main discourse.

First he explains how there might be limits to what we can know. It’s not that we are limited by our senses, but by our imagination and our intellect. The universe may consist of things that we simply will never find out or understand. That’s an interesting idea, but not new. What I found really novel was his take on two of the most shocking and discomforting discoveries of the last century - Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and Godel's Incompleteness Theorem. They both put a limit on what can be known, or specified. That did not discourage the scientific community, but quite to the contrary, helped drive even more discoveries. This kind of ignorance actually drove more discoveries. I had never thought about it this way before.

Then he explains, how the good discoveries actually increase our ignorance by generating even more questions. Firestein stresses that this is real progress. The rest of the book expands on this idea in many different ways. He makes many good points. The esense is always similar. The real challenge facing science is always about how to choose the dark room to start their search, from a seemingly infinite choice of dark rooms. So our focus as  a society should be on preparing ourselves for managing this ignorance. The real excitement is in understanding what new questions need to be answered, not in accumulating answers of already solved questions. This is a very fresh perspective.

This is really a fun book to read. Quotes and humor are sprinkled throughout the book. The engaging writing style and small size makes it an easy read. Still I hesitate to give this a full five star rating. As much as I like the perspective, I think his thesis is thin even if fresh and correct. Perfect for a nice main article, but not for a full book. So the book doesn’t feel well organized, and similar arguments are repeated. With that minor complaint, I definitely recommend this book.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sau Shashi Deodhar

Movie Review : Sau Shashi Deodhar
Language : Marathi
Director : Amol Shetge
Genre : Suspense / Thriller
Actors : Sai Tamhankar, Ajinkya Deo, Tushar Dalvi,Avinash Kharshikar, Aniket Kelkar
Released : 2014
My Rating : 7 out of 10

This is my only second review of a Marathi movie, the first being “Mani Mangalsutra”. I don’t get to watch many Marathi movies till they are available on TV channels, or DVD. Thanks to MMBA, who organized a screening, I got to watch this movie in a real theater.

Dr Ajinkya Vartak (Ajinkya Deo) is a middle aged successful psychiatrist. At the beginning of the movie, his car accidentally hits a woman (Sai Tamhankar) standing in the middle of the road on a rainy night. Fortunately she doesn’t suffer major injuries, but loses consciousness. When she wakes up, she gives her name as Shubhada, and her husband’s name as Shashi Deodhar, hence the title of the movie. Dr Vartak accompanies the police as she is taken to her home. But when they reach there, they find out that the house belongs to someone else. They go to the art gallery where her husband is supposed to be organizing an exhibition, but some other artist (cameo by Ranjit, the producer) is holding an exhibition there and her husband is nowhere to be found.

Since none of the information given by the lady can be verified, the police give an ad in local newspapers. The plot thickens when a man named Aniket Kelkar comes claiming that Shubhada is his wife, and her real name is Nilima. He has photos from their marriage to prove his case, but Shubhada refuses to even recognize him. Sensing something amiss, Dr Vartak decides to use his training as a psychiatrist to understand the truth.

This is a potent idea for a story, and it can take many possible routes from here. This will keep you guessing and completely engaged. It’s possible that an alert experienced viewer will be able to guess some of secrets of the story. Still I am sure the impact is no less disturbing due to darkness of the events that eventually get exposed. The credit completely goes to writer/director Amol Shetge who ably maintains the tension without diluting the seriousness of the theme. The movie never loses its focus, a very admirable quality.

There are very few characters in the story, and all actors without exception have done a wonderful job. Sai Tamhankar has played a much different role than what I have seen her in Duniyadari, and Balak Palak. As the central character, she has successfully delivered what was needed. Ajinkya Deo is perfectly cast for his role.

It’s not a perfect movie. Although it is only 100 minutes, it’s still a slow paced movie and not all scenes are convincing. Making a suspense movie is a bold decision, especially for Marathi movies, as the nature of the story makes it very hard for getting repeat viewers. The production, by which I mean the limited number of sets, grandness (or lack of it) makes it feel more like a stage production or TV series, than a movie. I guess you can attribute that to the budgetary constraints of the business of producing Marathi movies. I must add that, it does not take away anything from the movie being a satisfactory experience. This is a maiden production of actress turned producer Shilpa Shirodkar and her husband Ranjit. I applaud their sincere effort and wish them best for future productions.

What I watched had subtitles, and while my Marathi is excellent, this is good for wider audience. I definitely recommend this movie. The theme is uncomfortable for watching with kids, and the movie is correctly rated U/A in India, which I guess is equivalent to something like TV-14 in US.

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