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.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Marathi Rubaai

Just like that, on a whim, I was struck with following Rubaai in my mind. It's my first Marathi Rubaai. I have never dabbled in Marathi poetry much before. I can count those instances with fingers of my hand, maybe fingers of one hand. But this sounded nice, and here it is.

#रुबाई #काहीतरी #उगाचच

नजर मंदावली, वेळही टळली, वाट तरीही बघतो आहे 
अंधार जरी, दाट भोवताली, दिवा एक हृदयी तेवतो आहे
उमजेल तुला, पटेल तुला, आणि कदाचित जमेलही तुला
आशा अजूनही, धृढ अशी ही, पण धीर तरीही सुटतो आहे

Some friends asked for translation. Which also came easily, and fits the meaning surprisingly well.

थक गयी नज़र, शाम गयी गुज़र, इंतज़ार फिर भी हो रहा है
है बाहर फैला घोर अँधेरा, चिराग़ एक दिल में जला रक्खा है
तुम मान जाओगे, समझ जाओगे और शायद आ भी जाओगे
है उम्मीद तो यह, अब तक कायम, सब्र कुछ मगर टूट रहा है

Saturday, December 3, 2016


Marathi Kavita has a special place in its heart for Baalkavi. He is peerless when it comes to describing nature, both in terms of quality and quantity. Of all his poems, Audumbar is not only the cutest, but also the most mystical of all. Many interpretations abound, but no song has been made to my knowledge. Hence with great excitement and infinite respect for this celebrated poem, I present to you, the collective interpretation of everyone involved in making this song.

Many thanks to Anagha Bhide for her melodious vocals, as well as numerous subtle suggestions. Aniket Damle has beautifully arranged the accompanying music and patiently helped a newbie like me. The credit of adding cinematic effect fully goes to him. Rhythm is masterfully handled by Amey Thakurdesai, who also played the tabla for my previous song, Ik Pal Bhi. The superb flute ornamentation is thanks to Mohit Shastri.

Big thank you to my college mate Arati Phadke who generously provided her wonderful paintings for creating a matching visual background in the video.

I have kept the melody in line with Bhairav, a perfect raag to capture the mood of this interpretation. To me, Audumbar is a journey of spiritual maturity. From lively innocence to contemplative satisfaction. I hope we have succeeded in conveying this essence.

If you like the song, please support it by sharing and forwarding!

Credits :
Poet: Baalkavi
Singer: Anagha Bhide-Bendkhale
Composer: Abhay Avachat
Music Arrangement and Mixing: Aniket Damale
Tabla and Rhythm: Amey Thakurdesai
Flute : Mohit Shastri
Visual Art: Arati Phadke
Video Editing: Abhay Avachat
Special Thanks: Aparna Nimkar

ऐल तटावर, पैल तटावर हिरवाळी घेऊन
निळा सावंळा झरा वाहतो बेटाबेटांतुन

चार घरांचे  गाव चिमुकले पैल टेकडीकडे
शेत मळ्यांची दाट लागली हिरवी गर्दी पुढे

पायवाट पांढरी तयांतुनि अडवी तिडवी पडे
हिरव्या कुरणांमधुन चालली काळ्या डोहाकडे

झाकळुनि जळ गोड काळिमा पसरी लाटांवर
पाय टाकुनी जळात बसला असला औदुंबर

Sunday, November 20, 2016


Movie Review : Ventilator
Language : Marathi
Director : Rajesh Mapuskar
Genre : Comedy/Drama
Starring : Ashutosh Gowarikar, Jitendra Joshi, Sukanya Kulkarni, Satish Alekar, Viju Khote, Priyanka Chopra, Boman Irani and many many others
Release : November 2016
My Rating : 7 out of 10

Marathi movies are getting successful at generating good buzz to entice us for a trip to the theaters. Just in last couple of years, movies like Elizabeth Ekadashi , Katyar Kaljat Ghusli, Natsamrat generated enough interest in me to go watch them in the theater. All the trips have been very worthwhile.

The buzz around Ventilator came from the association of big names with the movie. Director Rajesh Mapuskar (part of Rajkumar Hirani’s team), Ashutosh Gowarikar (Oscar nominated Director), Priyanka Chopra, Boman Irani and so on. The promos were hilarious. The Marathi song sung by Priyanka Chopra was being shared on social networks. I had to go and watch the movie in the theater.

The script revolves around events of only a few hours and still has a very large ensemble to deal with. Prasanna (Jitendra Joshi) is a novice politician. His father, known to the extended family as Gaji Kaka, is admitted to the hospital just before Ganesh Chaturthi, and is kept on a ventilator. As patriarch of a very large family, Gaji Kaka was going to announce the distribution of the ancestral property during the festival. His illness has put that and the festivities in jeopardy. 

The fallout is presented in two acts. At the start of the first act, Raja (Ashutosh Gowarikar) gets a phone call about this while he is arranging a preview of his upcoming film. Then one by one, all relatives, from Konkan to Kolhapur, get the news, and start pouring in. Their reactions, their motivations, their real and petty grievances, their relationships with each other - these all simultaneously are at the core of the movie in the first act, and the movie is firmly in the comedy genre. The second act shifts more into the drama genre with the father-son relationship at its heart. 

Both the acts have their strengths and weaknesses. The comedy is based on acute observation and is just spot on. I can bet, you have met all these characters in real life, just with different names. It will make you chuckle, make you laugh and make you nod your head, going, “Yeah, I can relate to that”. It is a bit repetitive though in places where everyone wants to treat Raja Kaka differently because of his fame. Minor issue. It’s a very enjoyable first act. Second act manages to touch you a bit more deeply. It has its melodrama, which is both effective and cliched. It’s definitely not a manipulative tear-jerker.

It’s an amazing feat to develop so many characters, admittedly a caricature but still, the sheer number makes me applaud the effort. This would not have been possible without the exceptional cast. There is no way to overstate this. Everyone, every single one, is perfect. 

The writing is exemplary. It’s no easy task to mix humor and a serious situation without showing disrespect. It succeeds because it uses comedy that is more of a commentary on human nature than any silliness.

The teamwork of actors and writers make this a very good movie, although it could have been a bit shorter. It’s also family friendly. I definitely recommend it.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The ugly, the bad, and the (maybe) good

Four years ago I wrote about why President Obama's reelection made me happy. I hoped the Republican Party learnt a lesson from that defeat, and focuses more on issues than on hatred. I was hopeful. But exactly opposite happened. Hatred was very much alive in this election.

A lot has been written on why Trump has won, and many excellent articles are worth reading. Michael Moore wrote a prophetic article.  A fantastic blog post that went viral explained a lot. Now Matt Taibbi has written something very similar. 

I had read those first two links before election and I was still shell shocked at the result. I still am very sad about it. It’s not the sadness of the loss. Hillary Clinton was never really “my” candidate. It was Donald Trump who made me passionately wish for Hillary’s win. The sadness is from someone like Donald Trump actually winning it.

Elections are not just political events. They are social events too. In a way, they are the best survey of what the society really is. It’s very easy for me to accept that the majority did not agree with my political views. It’s a small tiny little price to pay for the privilege of living in a democracy. What is hard for me to accept is that half the society chose to elect a candidate that I think is morally unfit to be our President. His statements against minorities, immigrants, Muslims, women - everything has disgusted me. His crazy conspiracy theories, his Tweets, his campaigning style against the Republican candidates made me dislike him to the core. There is simply nothing about him that I find as a redeeming quality. Never had I despised a candidate so much.

I find this as the ugly side of this election result. As a society we chose to overlook some serious flaws in a person while handing over tremendous power to him. Not voting for Hillary is understandable, but voting for Trump is immoral. This is not a political statement. Disliking Trump is not same as liking Hillary. You can denounce both of them, but supporting Trump is self defeating. There has to be a minimum standard of decency a person has to clear before becoming the President. There has to be something that’s a deal-breaker. Not finding a single deal-breaker in Trump, when there were plenty, is the ugly ugly side of this election. This has given an insight into the society as no other single event has. I am saddened by the message we have given to ourselves, our kids and the entire world that - We simply have lost our moral compass. 

The danger is this ugly side surfacing itself in public behavior. Trump is not dumb. He might go back on anything and everything he has said, now that he has won. But his win is likely to embolden the dark side of human nature in our society.

Now the real bad side. The social damage this can do, potentially, is scary. The legislative and executive branch is in the control of one single party who will use that now to push a social agenda that’s not progressive. The supreme court will be nominated with judges who will very likely undo the work done so far. A section of population will rejoice, another section will weep.

Trump has promised to “drain the swamp”. If his ego-maniacal nature results into overlooking competent people in the Republican party and surrounding himself with novice sycophants and crackpots like Ben Carson, we will have a huge problem on hand. Will racial profiling come back? What happens to health and environmental regulations?

The other type of bad can happen even with right intentions. Repealing Obama Care is a done deal. But there are parts that are almost universally loved, for example, not denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions. It will be a tricky balance but may be achievable. Other promises are not at all easy to keep. The jobs that have been lost due to technological automation and globalization are not coming back. Putting tariffs will be counter-productive. Even with incentives for businesses, it’s hard to see how they can be competitive in a global marketplace. If these promises are broken, the whole negative voting cycle will repeat. 

It’s not all bleak. And it’s more than just the silver lining on the cloud.

First, I do not agree with the interpretation of the election, as some silent majority has spoken. The Trump supporters were not silent. Second, the majority did NOT vote for Trump. The majority voted for Hillary. Trump’s victory is anti-establishment, but the congress was still won by the establishment. Nothing much changed there.

Next, I do not think this was a victory of racism or xenophobia or misogyny or hatred. Yes the person elected has all those bad qualities, but the electorate doesn’t. Yes, some may have voted for those reasons. Just like in previous elections, some may have voted for Obama because he is black, and some against him because he is black. Both are wrong reasons. But it’s a small section for sure. The red states have always been red, the blue states have always been blue. The surprise came from MI, WI and PA. The rural white counties in these states voted for Trump this time, but had voted for Obama in previous elections. That’s not racism. They voted out of their economic frustration. I think they made a mistake, and Trump will make their bad situation worse. But they want to give him a chance, and it’s their choice to make, and it’s their democratic right. They voted for him, in spite of his bigotry, not because of it.

This vote for Trump, in my opinion, is more of a vote against Hillary. The democrats and liberals have to accept this fact, that their candidate was deeply flawed. Hillary knew for at least ten years that she was going to run for President. She should have made every effort to be above suspicion. She made bad decisions about her emails and her foundation. She paid the price. I do think she was a better candidate than Trump, but there is no reason to be blind to her flaws.

The real hope is the way next generation voted. I often feel that when it comes to social policy, the future generation is way better than my generation. They are far more inclusive. That’s the hope for progressive minded people. There is going to be another election in four years. Start the work. Find a better candidate. I know I am going to be far more politically aware of what’s going on from now. This election result has energized me, not made me feel hopeless. Hopefully those who didn’t vote are kicking themselves, and will participate next time.

And now for some good, maybe good. Trump is not going to make only bad decisions. There will be some policy changes that I am going to agree with. If the tax loopholes are actually closed, I will support that. If the trade deals are really negotiated more favorably to US, I will support that. If US stops getting involved militarily in Europe and elsewhere, I will support him, in spite of my deep disgust for him. Trump is neither a Democrat, nor a Republican. He hasn’t taken money from lobbyists. It’s possible that his decisions are done without any regard for the military-industrial complex, wall street, big pharma etc. Who knows what he will do, but it’s within the realm of possibility that some decisions would be very good for the common people.

And it could have been worse. It could have been Ted Cruz, who is a typical warmonger, in control of lobbyists and a champion of stone age thinking.

It’s still going to be bad, but it’s not the end of the world. If you are a progressive minded person, start working right now. Be prepared to oppose the regressive policies. Be prepared to protest. Be prepared to let your voice be heard by your representatives. It's our democracy too.

The four year clock has started.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


Billions : Showtime Series
Aired on : Showtime (2016 - )
My Rating : 7 out of 10

Showtime, along with HBO, has become a channel to depend on for watching superb drama series. Whenever there is a new series on these channels, I am more than willing to invest my time watching it. Billions is their latest 2016 offering.

The main plot point of Billions is the clash between two ambitious male personalities. On one side is a billionaire hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis). On the other side is a New York State Attorney, Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti). Both are ambitious, egoistic and each has his own chip on his shoulder. Bobby has become rich from humble beginnings. He hasn’t forgotten his past, and who treated him well and who didn’t. He uses his money to make his point. Chuck is from a privileged background, and has a passionate hatred for rich who think they are above the law. He uses his legal authority to make his point.

Axelrod’s financial success has a troubling connection to 9/11. He is a ruthless manager. Supportive as well as manipulative, and vindictive towards those who betray him. He bends the laws, but is loyal to wife, and fiercely protective of his family. Chuck has the right ideas of bringing justice to financial criminals, but neither his motives not his means are all that pure. Both have egos bordering on petty. Their flaws and strengths, and their similarities and contrasts make the clash fascinating, otherwise it would turn into an uncomplicated good guy versus bad guy story.

Just to make sure that this is more than two alpha males fighting it out against each other, the story has two strong female characters, although not exactly in the lead roles. Bobby’s wife Lara (Malin Akerman) is a perfect cohort, tough and supportive. Chuck’s wife Wendy (Maggie Siff) is a very successful psychiatrist who makes a handsome salary because - get this - she works for Bobby Axelrod.

This is where the series pushes the envelope too far. Her motivational sessions with the employees are not that convincing. But the whole situation is unbelievable. The New York State Attorney who is eyeing for a public office in future has a wife that works for the same hedge fund billionaire who he trying to bring down. This kind of conflict of interest is unrealistic. The series tries to explain it away by informing us that, she was working there before Chuck’s rise. You decide, if you want to buy that as enough of a reason.

This is not a documentary, so some unrealisticness is not a problem, and the series does take such liberties. But this by far was the biggest one, which I think is a flaw. On the plus side, it does not take away the enjoyment, and in fact it allows the writers to add some interesting situations.

Overall. it’s not easy to relate to any of the characters, which I think is by design. It never gets intense as we are never emotionally vested into any character. We just watch with amusement and enjoy the fight.

A big part of that enjoyment is due to the strength of the performances, which are superb across the board. Not one bad acting performance. The pacing is fine, and the side stories of other characters don’t feel extraneous. The dialogues, on the other hand, feel overwritten on some occasions, and chuckle worthy on other occasions. 

This is an interesting series. I am looking forward to the second season. I don’t think this will win a Golden Globe or an Emmy, but if you watch it just for entertainment, I don’t think you will be disappointed. It’s correctly rated TV-MA and is not for children.

UPDATE : Season 2 review has been posted.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Ik Pal Bhi - My second song

It's been long two years since my first song. Now, I am very happy to share my second song with you.

It's almost the same team as the first song. I wrote the lyrics, then composed a melody by borrowing some basic ideas of Baageshree.

Once again, I was very fortunate to have someone as experienced and talented as Kamalesh Bhadkamkar help me out in all aspects of arrangement and programming. Without his help, this song wouldn't be what it is now.

Just like last time, Ketan Patwardhan has done a fantastic job of singing it with his extremely pleasant voice. Big thanks to both of them.

This time, the perfect accompaniment of instruments is provided by Varad Kathapurkar for flute, and Amey Thakurdesai for tabla.

The first song was very sad, hope this one puts a smile on your face. Listen with your headphones on, and if you like the song, please support it and share it. Thanks!

Full Lyrics :

इक पल भी नज़रों से दूर कहीं, जाना तेरा मंज़ूर नहीं
छा जाती हैं दिल पे मायूसियां, तेरे बिन कोई नूर नहीं

दिल को मैं बहलाऊँ, कितना भी समझाऊँ, सुनता है कब किस की
यह लम्हे फ़ुर्क़त के, हो चाहे छोटे से, मुरझाता है फिर भी
कब तक सहूँगा यह परेशानी,
इस की कर लो तुम ही निगेहबानी
क़ैद में रखना, रिहा ना करना, कम्बख़्त है ... बेक़सूर नहीं

जैसे मेरे दिल की, बेहद सी बेताबी, तड़पाती है मुझ को
शायद कुछ वैसी ही, हालत है तेरी भी, लगता है ना तुझ को
ना है ज़रूरी कहना होठों से
राज़ यह खुलते हैं निगाहों से
ना करना ग़ुस्सा, देखो नाज़ुक सा, है एक यक़ीं ... ग़ुरूर नहीं

Previous song

Sunday, August 28, 2016


Movie Review : Rustom
Director : Dharmendra Suresh Desai 
Genre : Crime, Mystery
Language : Hindi
Released : 2016
Starring : Akshay Kumar, Ileana, Pawan Malhotra, Sachin Khedekar
My Rating : 6 out of 10

In late 1950, a naval officer, Kawas Nanavati, returned from his duty to find out that his wife has been having an affair with his best friend. He checked out a gun from the naval armory, killed his friend and surrendered himself to the police. That incident, and the resulting court case has now become well known. A Marathi stage drama, “Aparadh meech kela” was based on it. In Hindi, Gulzar directed “Achanak” starring Vinod Khanna, which I remember watching as a kid, when it was later shown on TV. That movie only borrowed the affair and the murder part, but eschewed the court case and took a different route. It was quite a good movie back then.

The Akshay Kumar starrer, ‘Rustom’, has chosen to stay quite close to the real life story. Some minor details have been changed, like the names of the people involved. The plot is wider than the extramarital affair and revenge. At the same time, many important details, such as a tabloid trying to manipulate public perception, the battle lines drawn along communal lines - Parsi v/s Sindhi - are kept intact.

It’s a story that can make us think hard. Although a murder was committed, the reason is easily understood and something many would empathize with. A soldier risking his life, going away from his family for long duration, and getting betrayed by his wife and his friend. His revenge is a crime according to the law, but still feels justified to some extent. That was indeed the public perception at that time. His pain, his wife’s guilty conscious, the moral ambiguity of his actions, the difference in what the law says vs what people feel is justifiable - these are the right kind of raw ingredients to construct a story that touches us deep inside. The manipulation of public perception, and the communal elements should add to the tension and intrigue.

Unfortunately, Rustom, fails use these ingredients effectively. The movies focuses more on the courtroom drama and widening the plot to include a conspiracy. Which may not have been a problem. But it’s not a riveting court drama, rather it’s full of lame arguments infused with silly humor. The conspiracy that was supposed to shock us also turns out to be something that’s very shallow to start with and it can be easily guessed anyways. In all this, the pain of the betrayal and complex emotional issues surrounding it are subjugated to play a secondary role in the story. I had more expectations because of the association of Neeraj Pandey with the movie. His previous works, Wednesday and Special 26, were quite good.

The focus of the presentation has issues, but the rest of the effort is on the par. Acting is on the mark by almost everyone. Akshay Kumar has evolved into a dependable actor for such serious roles. No one else has comparable screen time, but they all do well with their roles. The setting of the movie is from late 50s, early 60s, and it’s done well. The camerawork is splendid, and the warm hues added to the print make it visually interesting.

As a chess buff, I have to mention this. The chess game played between Rustom and the police inspector is accurate. In chess world, the move sequence is famously known as 'Legal's Mate', and is often taught to the beginners. Kudos to the film makers for getting it right.

I only have a lukewarm recommendation for this movie. It’s definitely a decent attempt to make a movie that’s different from most commercial Bollywood movies, and I appreciate that. In my opinion, it should have been more serious, more emotional.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Kill List

Book Review : The Kill List
Author : Frederick Forsyth
My Rating : 3 out of 5

Frederick Forsyth is my most favorite author for the genre “Thriller”, and by a wide margin. I have enjoyed books by many other authors in the same genre, but no one comes close. Who else does this level of thorough research and goes into such painstaking details? No one else could weave such intricate but realistic plots, smartly packed with surprises. Smart, being the operative word.

His first novel “The Day Of The Jackal” became a well deserved huge international bestseller. Many superb novels followed, many made into movies. I have read all, but after “The Fourth Protocol” I didn’t enjoy his next novels as much. Except “The Fist Of God”, which was as outstanding as his previous works. That’s natural, every artist eventually peaks, and Forsyth is now in late seventies.

The Kill List” is set in present times. The name of the book is based on the idea that there is a list of people deemed as serious enough enemy of the USA that the President has authorized them to be killed. Prominent on the list is a man simply referred as “The Preacher”. Inspired by his fundamentalist preaching over the internet, more than a few Muslims have conducted “lone wolf” style Jihadist attacks in US and UK. The best headhunter, known as “The Tracker” is assigned to find the identity of “The Preacher” and to eliminate him. The story then follows the investigation into discovering who the terrorist really is, and then the details of the operation to take the suspect out.

Forsyth has maintained his wry and dry writing style. His books often read like non-fiction. There is the typical jargon and unemotional description of even the most heinous events. His favorite Mossad and special forces play important roles. When required, he goes into absolute details to make us feel that we are there. There are parallel story-lines, that eventually meet.

So yes, there are many Forsyth elements in there, but not quite enough. Sadly the plot is not at all intricate. Hence the manhunt is interesting, but not the on-the-edge-of-your-seat kind. It’s also very linear, with almost no set backs. A lot of things need to go right, and they all do. In the end it seems all too easy. That means, there are also very few surprises. I am trying hard to point out the shortcomings without giving any spoilers.

It’s a decent read, but I don’t want to recommend it. If you have read and liked any of the celebrated books by Forsyth, then this book will most likely be a disappointment to you. If you haven’t read any of his books, then this is definitely not a good way to start. Read, “The Day Of The Jackal”, or “The Devil’s Alternative”, or “The Odessa File”, or “The Fist Of God”. Any of them, all of them. Skip this one.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Diary Of A Multi-Color Rose

Finally, this year rain has shown some kindness towards California. That has immensely helped the plants in the backyard. Like so many others, I had also reduced the sprinkler duration to conserve water. Even if I hadn't, the sprinklers can never substitute the natural benefit rain water has for soil and consequently for the plants.

These photos are from the current spring season. This is a rose plant that I can literally spend hours marveling at. The photos barely do a justice to the incredible color transformation process each rose goes through, but hopefully they give some idea.

Note : You can click on any photo to start a slideshow.

The buds start with a deep pink color, with yellow at the bottom.

As the bud opens up, it gives some hint of the what's inside.

The inside petals are bright yellow, and the outside still keeps some pink.

As it opens more, it gives the impression that it is going to settle on the same yellow color.

When it opens up completely, the yellow starts to fade away, as if the flower is losing the color.

Then the flower changes its mind, and decides to slowly become pink again.

Even in the last stage, it still keep some yellow at the bottom of the petals.

Other flowers on the same plant, and even on the same branch, do not follow the same trajectory of color change, and end up in different states. Here are last 2 stages of another flower.

And much different stages for a third one.

The flowers on the same branch follow different timelines, so they have different colors at any given time.

And while this is happening, the entire plant has flowers that are at the various different stages of the blossom, resulting in a complete riot of colors.

I have no idea what's the name (scientific or otherwise) of this rose plant. Most likely this is a result of some hybrid experiment, and not because of some natural mutation. Whatever the cause, it's a delight, and the whole transformation is captivating. 

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