The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta)

US Presidential hopefuls take RVs, Che went on a motorcycle. The point is you need to go on a road trip to become a successful leader of the people

Ee Adutha Kalathu (Recently)

Strange and familiar make an appearance together for the first time in Malayalam cinema and the pair is a hit

Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl

Four feisty ladies, upbeat music and a handsome conman. Anushka gets Ranveer. Bollywood gets Parineeti

Das Boot (The Boat)

Best WWII film ever, in fact the best war film ever. In true German fashion, restraint is applied by shooting the entire movie inside a U-boat

Neelathamara (Blue Lotus)

Blue lotus shares the same stature of blue moon in Malayalam, so do good remakes. This one bucks the trend.

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Jan 5, 2019

Rehashing old blog posts: My favorite poet, once upon a time when I used to read poetry - Rod McKuen

This is rehashed blog post, (not much of a rehash other than changing tenses to match the changed lives and times,) first posted fourteen years ago in my now deleted LiveJournal.

The only readers of poetry are angsty teens, wannabe poets or desperate lovers sniffing around to make off with a verse or two. In the early nineties I gained entry into the first category and started to write...poems! Thereby getting admitted to the second category as well.

I must have just crossed in to my teens. I could be often seen thumping through the pages of yellow moth eaten slim volumes of contemporary poetry, before deciding which one to take home, at our city's public library. Some of these were as recently published as in the summer of '69, which more or less marked the end of the period called contemporary at this historic place of books and learning. That was as current as I could get in 1990s without straining my pocket.

And then I met him….. in a lonesome city, listening to the warm – Rod McKuen. Here was a man after my own heart. A poet singing of love, loneliness, angst and all things in between. Reading McKuen was the closest I came to reading paperback romances, but it does not undermine the value of his works nor do I regret reading them, I enjoyed every secret bite I took of his poems. He was my first girlish crush in the world of words and had a permanent seat in my altar before T.S.Eliot unseated him some years later.

This former rodeo cowboy, lumberjack, cookie cutter, railroad worker, surveyor and US Army infantryman in Korea (wonder whether they still make such renaissance men?) had sold 75 million copies of his books, translated into 28 languages world-wide. A poetic mouthpiece of the sixties flower children, McKuen had recorded 215 albums of original music, 67 went platinum and 115 gold. McKuen’s songs have been recorded by hundreds of artists from Frank Sinatra to Madonna and from Barbra Streisand and the Boston Pops to The Kingston Trio.(Thanks, Wikipedia)
Rod McKuen at Stanyan St., SFO.  Photo by Ralph Crane

Critics said he had no rhyme or rhythm, it was prose faking as poetry, cheap kitsch for the unrefined masses. Who cared, back then I enjoyed it. I hate the maze of metaphors, or in the present day, the overuse of thesaurus. Poetry should be simple, understandable and from the heart. If someone blamed McKuen of being self centered, for pimping his life, I pity him/her – isn’t a person an agglomeration of his experiences and some scattered leaves of memory in someone else’s scrapbook when s/he is dead?

Looking back, most of the McKuen stuff I had once liked with their recurring love-loneliness-sex themes seems cheesy for my now evolved, refined senses(ROFL, who am I kidding), but once upon a time they served my girly teen spirit just right.

Turned out that the first city which became my home in the US was also a favorite muse of McKuen and his place of birth (Oakland technically.)

Here’s a McKuen poem about a familiar street (to me,) at the corner of the hippydom’s Mecca in San Francisco's Haight - Ashbury dist., there’s Stanyan Street and other sorrows….

And now unable to sleep
because the day is finally coming home
because your sleep has locked me out
I watch you and wonder at you.

I know your face by touch when it’s dark
I know the profile of your sleeping face
the sound of you sleeping.
… I have total recall of you
and Stanyan Street
because I know it will be important later.
It’s quiet now.
Only the clock
moving toward rejection tomorrow
breaks the stillness.

-Rod McKuen, from Stanyan Street and other Sorrows 

Not earth shattering, not even poetry by many people’s standards, but somehow those lines got me started on writing and have led to this day that you’ve to endure my blog.

McKuen was still hale and hearty when I had made the original post in 2006. I had assumed he was still alive. Today while checking upon him on the internet after ages, I found that he had passed away four years ago, this month at the age of 81.

Rest in peace, my dear poet and thank you for your songs.

Dec 31, 2018

Memorable Books I read in 2018 - My best books of 2018

I was of two minds. I do need to do at least one "best of 2018" list like the rest of the populace, that is a given, and I will do a non-fiction books list (and a movie list if I get time in the next 2-3 hours before 2018 ends in my time zone.) But should I do a list of the best books of 2018 or the best books I read in 2018 which could have been published in the years prior?

My book buying habits are almost non-existent. Unless I really like the author and want to contribute to their welfare, I do not buy books, which means I am dependent on libraries (digital and analog) and the choices they offer - that made the decision for me. I will go with the best books I read in 2018, even if some of them could have been published 100 years ago. No, that's a stretch, I can't digest ancient scrolls. Anything more than a couple of decades old usually bores me to death. I am a child of times, an instant gratification seeking speed-reader blessed with an attention span that has not yet graduated kindergarten.

Here's my list of memorable reads from 2018, in no particular order. Some of them were published during the 2012-2018 period, I just happened to read them in 2018, so they find a place in this list.

How to change your mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (2018) by Michael Pollan
Anything big government bans is worth some research. Michael Pollan researches on your behalf so that you don't have to order magic mushrooms on the dark web. This is also the first Pollan book I finished. Omnivore's Dilemma, here I come (again.) A great companion TV series for Pollan's book is Hamilton's Pharmacopeia - an excellent series for the curious lifelong learners.


Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel: Questions, Answers, and Reflections (2013) by Patrick Smith
If you travel by air or intend to, this is a first-rate insider's perspective from a blog turned book written by a commercial pilot. Something along the lines of - a thousand things a commercial airline employee would not tell you, but you should know.

Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation (2017) Edited by John Freeman
Oh the divided nation....how much longer are you going to survive? Stories from the front lines of a discordant nation as told by the bards of the hour, edited and put together by John Freeman.

Life in Code: a personal history of Technology (2017) by Ellen Ullman
As an incidental coder, my inquisitiveness about women who code led me to this book. Ellen Ullman didn't disappoint.

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy (2016) by Sue Klebold
A force majeure. I wish Sue Klebold didn't have to suffer the tragedy she did, nor the people who died and/or suffered by the actions of her son had to undergo the devastation of their lives at Columbine, for the readers to be able to get this book. But as a mother, as a lover of words Ms.Klebold's work is quite tectonic.

The True American : Murder and Mercy in Texas (2014) by Anand Giridhardas
An interesting true story of an Asian American immigrant who became a victim of hate crime in Texas, pitting him and his transformation against a white supremacist who caused the tragedy.

Kannur : Inside India's Bloodiest Revenge Politics (2018) by Ullekh N.P
How many people get to read a book titled with the name of their birth place? It would have been disrespectful not to read it. I was lucky I got a copy the month after it came out. You think you know everything about the place you are from, I was wrong. My review here.

2018 was my initiation year into the true-crime genre.The next three are brilliant works of investigative journalism bolstered by first-rate research by the authors, these are the ones that got me hooked.

I'll be gone in the dark: One Woman's obsessive search for the Golden State Killer (2018) by Michelle McNamara
I feel so bad/sad that Ms.McNamara died before she could taste the fruits of her labor.It is a brilliantly researched, well put-together work about a serial killer who terrorized California in the seventies and eighties, who was finally caught in 2010s, thanks to DNA evidence. McNamara made her life's mission trying to track down this low life, but she died in 2016 before the killer was finally caught. The last section of the book was put together by a couple of friends of hers after she died. My review here.

Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial (2016) by Rabia Chaudry
The stigma of being a Muslim in post 9/11 America is what stands out in Adnan's story. Although the crime and the punishment occurred before before Sep 2001, the discrimination and the lapses of Baltimore PD are hard to ignore. I hope Adnan gets justice real soon. My review here.

Lost Girls : An Unsolved American Mystery (2013) by Robert Kolker
A killer yet uncaught, disposing off 'escorts' in a world where prostitution has moved into the virtual realms like Craigslist. It is structured in sections where each victim and their life is highlighted, might get too detailed and confusing to follow, still an engrossing read if you are willing to spend some time to lose your self in their hopeless stories.

Dec 29, 2018

Varathan

Varathan is a liberal Keralite couple's POV and experiences in a part of Kerala, which suspiciously feels more Bihar than Kerala (IMHO.) More on the Bihar situation later. In addition to having two stylish lead actors - Fahadh Faazil and Aishwarya Lakshmi, style has been injected into the track by the liberal use of slow motion. It is wonderful to watch Aiswarya Lakshmi evolve as an actress, although this movie is essentially a Fahadh vehicle where he headlines in and as the film title (character.) The easy going chemistry between the lead pair contributes much to the smoothness of the narrative.

Costumes, casting, BGM, sound track and production design are excellent. The frames are beautifully metaphorical. The cockroach-killing metaphor is an overkill, if you ask me, but then again you have to appeal to all sorts of audience.

The only unconvincing part of the story is the BIMARUfication of Kerala. The high range town/village where the movie takes place is shown populated with lecherous males with pent-up sexual frustration and out-dated ideas about women's place in society in the age of Whatsapp (which is Tinder, Snapchat, FaceTime - all combined for the Kerala populace.)

Dec 26, 2018

I'll be Gone in the Dark - A review of Michelle McNamara's book about the Golden State Killer

Cleaning up my drafts folder before the New Year, here are some posts I typed out but didn't post.

&&&&


I have been binging on true crime reading when I was not binging on streaming TV series. Between both types of binging, R&R was pretty much taken care of.

Michelle McNamara's "I Will Be Gone in The Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer" is an un-put-down-able book. She died trying to get a handle on her obsession before the book could be finished and published. It was later finished by two of her journalist-investigator friends. The difference between the earlier chapters of the book written by McNamara and the later ones cobbled together by 'non-writers' can be clearly felt.

Golden State Killer, a name given by McNamara to the serial rapist and killer who the law enforcement authorities had nicknamed EAR (East Area Rapist) was a notorious serial rapist/killer/vandal who terrorized Bay Area and Sacramento in the late 70s. Like some of the police officers and investigators involved in these case, McNamara spent years of her time investigating, analyzing, compiling and putting together an arresting narrative which brought public attention back to the case.

But she would be gone (died in April 2016 of an accidental prescription drug overdose couple with an un-diagnosed heart condition), before police would catch the Golden State Killer, almost three decades after his crime spree had ended - in April 2018.

Michelle McNamara's magnum opus truly deserves the best non-fiction nominations and awards it has garnered in 2018.

Nov 13, 2018

Theevandi

Theevandi has an old-timey charm. It brings to mind the un-pretentious story lines about the common man that was symbolic of mid to late eighties Malayalam cinema. In an age of omnipresent cellphones, missed calls, Whatsapp groups and Facebook posts it is quite an achievement for the story and the script writer to create a realistic blend of digital and analog worlds we seamlessly inhabit.

Tovino Thomas is Bineesh Damodaran, a chain smoking, unemployed young man who dabbles in politics as a hobby in a North Kerala village, somewhere near Kozhikode, would be my guess. The movie tracks his progress from his induction to smoking as a high school-er to the event that leads him to quit it years later, with several comedy gold instances that keep the audience entertained.

Vini Viswalal’s story and script directed by T.P Fellini has in addition to Tovino, Suraj Venjaramoottil, Surabhi Lakshmi, Saiju Kurup, Samyukta Menon, Sudheesh and a bunch of other talented actors. The music by debutante music director Kailas Menon is a perfect fit for the simple yet meaningful lyrics penned by B.K.Harinarayan.

Mayanadhi, Maradona, Theevandi – 2018 has been a rewarding year for Tovino, his smart choice of scripts and directors is paying off pretty well.

Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial


True Crime is a burgeoning genre, with it early beginnings in literature (Truman Capote's In Cold Blood comes to mind) and moving on to television with America's Most Wanted and similar shows.If the culprits were caught and justice had prevailed every a time a crime was committed this genre would have never existed.

We can thank our much flawed criminal justice system and the government for keeping the true-crime genre alive and thriving. The cases taken up by The Innocence Project, the cases like West Memphis Three , Central Park Five and Fairbanks Four are some of the instances that showcase the monumental failure of United State's criminal justice system. Thousands of wrongly convicted innocents languish within the confines of the U.S's biggest money making machine - the America's prison industrial complex (PIC).

PIC thrives on the constant injection of minority blood. Minority young men and women (and also poor white youth) are wrongly convicted or slapped with atrocious prison terms that are no match to their minor crimes. They are brought in young, grow old and die chained to the PIC conveyor belt.

I was introduced to one of it typical victims - 17 year old American from Baltimore, MD - Adnan Sayed, wrongly convicted and incarcerated in 1999, through his friend, neighbor and lawyer Rabia Chaudry's book called Adnan's Story: The Search For Truth And Justice After Serial. More on Serial below. Adnan was a perfect candidate for PIC to devour, as a representative of minority two times over - brown and Muslim. It hardly counts that he was American, born and bred.

Adnan's story might not have seen the light of the day had not Rabia Chaudry become the torch bearer of the crusade to bring justice for Adnan and find the real killers of his friend Hae Min Lee. Rabia brought Adnan's story to the attention of This American Life's Sarah Koenig who made into a podcast called Serial in 2014. Serial became the most downloaded podcast in the history of podcasts bringing national and international attention to this monumental botch-up which destroyed a promising young man's life and messed up an entire community.

Rabia's meticulous deconstruction of Adnan's case, as a friend, a lawyer and a brilliant narrator, picks up the thread from where Serial left off. This gripping real life account adds and fills in the gaps Serial did not bring to light. There is also a newer podcast, Undisclosed, bringing in data and evidence, not presented in Serial. Undisclosed also has a huge fan following as it explores and presents evidence against (wrongful) convictions handed out by the U.S criminal justice system.

On July 22, 2016, right on heels of Serial's success and a couple weeks before Adnan's Story was published, a Baltimore circuit court judge Martin P. Welch overturned Adnan Syed's conviction for the 1999 murder of his friend Hae Min Lee. But as we all know the states do not accept their guilt or wrongdoing as easily and quickly as they handout guilty verdicts to the innocent citizens. The State of Maryland has succeeded in keeping Adnan's fate in limbo for another year.

The latest status (Sep 2018) of Adnan's case as per the law firm representing him is as follows,
"To recap, we won a new trial for Adnan more than two years ago(2016). Since that time the State of Maryland has been appealing the ruling granting the new trial. First the State appealed to the Court of Special Appeals (and lost). Now they are appealing to the Court of Appeals, which is the highest court in Maryland. The State, as the Appellant, filed the first brief a month ago. Today’s filing is our response. You can read the filing HERE."

Reading up on Adnan led me to revisit Damien Echols book - Life After Death and I watched the HBO documentary series Paradise Lost 1,2,3 in a couple of sittings. Maybe I will get around to write a review soon. After being immersed in such accounts of injustice it seems incredulous that we continue trusting our lives to these fallible human institutions like courts and governments. They are supposedly designed to serve and protect us, citizens, but many times they end up doing just the opposite.

'96 - a tamil movie review

96 is a very topical movie. The only question was who would make the topic (more on the topic right after this) into a watch-able movie. Like many ground breaking moves they make (discovery of A.R.Rahman for one), Tollywood claims the story and victory.


Chat apps like Whatsapp, WeChat, Line or Telegram didn’t make any significant inroads in the U.S because the U.S already had free SMS and free calls with most cell phone bundle plans. But for the rest of the world and emerging markets like BRIC, these chatting apps are huge players with about 70-80% market penetration. This gave rise to school and university alumni Whatsapp groups, a la  Snapchat for adults with privacy and secure territoriality packed into an instant message environment.


There was only a matter of time before someone made a movie out of this ubiquitous social networking phenomenon. High school and college Whatasapp groups provide ample material for sentimental, nostalgic stories. There is always ‘the one that got away’ and the ‘could-have-beens’, but ’96 directed by C.Prem Kumar, starring Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha Krishnan does not dissolve into a syrupy emotional mess, it could have become with a different script and a different director.


Tamil movies rarely operate at the pace of real life, but ’96 takes the slow lane. Although it was dragging at places, it can be excused for keepin’ it real.

Nov 2, 2018

Ranam: Detroit Crossing , A Review

Close-ups framed by somber voice-overs in down and out desperado jargon paints a picture of a big specter in the offing - a fight for the dangerous under belly of Detroit. This is where Ranam (transl: the battle) happens - at Detroit Crossing. And guess who is trying to lay claim to the ruins of America's original motor city - some South Indians and a few Poles! I don't know what the Black Mafia or the Flatheads will have to say about that, but I am guessing the film maker will pull up his creative license card if questioned.

The director, Nirmal Sahadev, teases the audience with the prospect of an ever-present menace in the motor city, employs tightly framed shots so that none of its mundaneness leaks in. To up the danger quotient and maybe also as a nod to his inspiration (the 2014 movie, Drive), there are plenty of red lighted scenes, red pills, blood, guns, germs and steel. The last two were thrown in by me for the Jared Diamond effect, they do not feature in this movie to any significant degree.

The people who feature in Ranam are Malayalam's own answer to Hollywood - Prithviraj and Isha Talvar who is miscast as usual. Giju John as the lead detective is impressive in his debut while Rahman with his remarkable on screen presence is a great pick for the mob boss, Damodar Ratnam. He reunites with his co-star from the Tamil noir movie Dhruvangal Pathinaru - Ashwin Kumar, who plays his side-kick Selvan. Jakes Bejoy has scored the music for the movie, which includes a decent mixed-rap title track.

Ranam comes off as a forced chronicle. Prithviraj's rigidity, even if his role calls for some of it, does not help the case. The dialog sounds lame, especially the cynical, street smart musings in English delivered in half-baked scenes. The most unconvincing part of the story is the entirety of the Tamil gang trying to control Detroit is comprised of all of two people - Damodar Ratnam and Selvan. One Prithviraj with a hammer, which he brings to all his gun fights, is more than enough for these two people - I cannot even begin to understand why he wasted two hours doing it.

Oct 18, 2018

Karwaan


Road trip movies seem to be the route of choice for Mollywood actors for their Bollywood debut. If it is a Bollywood road movie, it invariably has Irrfan as the laid back, philosopher of life who nurses a can of worms of his own – not too lethal, just enough to cause some minor hiccups to spice up the story line (Piku, Qarib Qarib Singlle, Karwaan)

We had Parvathy making her Bollywood debut with Irrfan in an Indian take on eat-pray-love called Qarib Qarib Singlle. Now we have Dulqar Salman taking the south Indian scenic route with Irrfan in Karwaan.

In addition to the gorgeous Nilgiris and Kerala lagoons, the other key elements in this movie are an indian youtube sensation – Mithila Palkar, a couple of dead bodies and Hindi – the lingua franca of southern India, if we are to believe Karwaan.

The story is by ad-man turned director Bejoy Nambiar and directed by Akarsh Khurana. The dialogs are natural, photography showcases the best of South India and the actors have tried – but the story lacks juice and feels forced in most places – I made full use of the fast forward button.

Dulqar’s acting was the most believable and Irrfan plays Irrfan – a slightly off the rocker, lovable eccentric. This could be a short film for Kerala (and Tamil nadu) tourism, starring a Mollywood celebrity and a Bollywood celebrity – if we can edit this down to about 15 min.

Oct 17, 2018

Paperback Reviews

Six Seconds by Rick Mofina : Fiction, of the throwaway paperback kind that you can comfortably leave in an airline seat pocket or the departure lounge once you've finished it. It's been ages since I read something of this category. It was ok, an extremely fast read, mostly because I was skipping the obvious. The beginning was good, that was why after reading a few sample pages I decided to check it out. I would not get into the science behind the story or implausibility of certain events, all in all it was a quick engrossing read with chapters which can be skimmed in a few minutes.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: An emotional book about unhinged people. Not sure how it became a huge hit. I guess it just goes on to prove that the reading population has very different tastes than me. Meh.

Oct 7, 2018

Kannur : Inside India's Bloodiest Revenge Politics by Ullekh NP and a companion movie Eeda

Red - Kannur breathes and radiates red. From the laterite hills to the communist party flags and from its blood killing fields to its iconic Theyyams, red is the go-to color of this west coast city at the northern tip of the southern Indian state, Kerala.

With my personal connection to the place, it would have taken some significant amount of restraint to stay away from the red-jacketed book titled Kannur : Inside India's Bloodiest Revenge Politics by Ullekh N.P. The author is a native of Kannur and a journalist with Open Magazine.

The book tracks the history of violence and blood-letting that has become synonymous with the Kannur as the political killing capital of Kerala. Many faces and names of people appearing in these pages reminded me of people we might have ran into at an afternoon political discussion, at a panchayath function or at the neighborhood AKG vayanshala, all those years ago in the eighties.

My impression of the eighties Kannur, where Congress party and CPI(M) as the de-facto rivals contradicts the murders painted by numbers in this book. It is true that post-1990s, after the Babri Masjid demolition, religious fundamentalist organizations like RSS made considerable inroads into Kerala, one of the last bastions of the liberal left in India and thus replacing Congress as the main enemy for CPI(M) in Kannur. The passing of the mantle of the main CPI(M) enemy from Congress to RSS (BJP) is not evident from the narrative. At present almost all (if not all) the political killing victims are either Marxists or Hindu nationalists, Congress party members are nowhere in the picture.

The book also explores the question, why? Why did Kannur become the hot-bed,by exploring some unusual theories about the social, historical, genetic and geographic composition of the district and its inhabitants. From Chekavars to Assyrians to Portuguese it is fascinating to see various interpretations of history in an investigation to make sense of the mess.

...........

Eeda (translated as Here)is an excellent fictional companion piece for Ullekh N.P's book. It is a contemporary look at the political rivalries of Kannur through a Romeo-Juliet angle. Communists and Hindu nationalists stand in for Montagues and Capulets, while a young couple tries to escape the tentacles of their inherited political legacies.

Shane Nigam (Kismath) and Nimisha Sajayan (Thondimuthalum Drikthasakshiyum), the protagonists come from similar families in Kannur except their political affiliations - one with strong Marxist connections and other with Hindu nationalist leaning, which is the other side of the tracks as far as the other is concerned.

It is a smooth,natural flowing movie, the directorial debut of editor turned director B.Ajithkumar and Collective Phase One. Although other than the lead couple's accent, most of the other characters do not sound like locals, it is not because they didn't try. There is an impressive lineup of supporting characters essayed by Alencier Ley Lopez, Surabhi Lakshmi, Manikandan Achari, Sudhi Koppa and others.

Oct 6, 2018

Kannur, an old post : A prelude



Kannur is close to my heart, for undisclosed reasons. I have spent many childhood summers tearing across its red laterite hilltops and endless cashew groves with the local kid brigade. I had written a few lines in my old blog about this piece of heaven I was fortunate to spend a few weeks every summer, cut-pasting it below..... (I am running short of writing fuel that I have to resort to rehashing my old stuff.) I was planning to post a movie and a book review, both set in Kannur. But from the length of it, the reviews will have to wait, here's the prelude first.

Kannur is one of the northern districts in the southern Indian state of Kerala, on the west coast of India. Here's Kannur's Wikipedia page.


a post from Oct 17, 2009
Paradise in those days of bruised scabby knees and wild hair was set in red laterite country. It had grandmothers who moved around in an ether of Ayurvedic oils handing out admonitions and sweat-meats with equal ease. The main citizens of this nation were a mob of tanned and rowdy cousins who would crawl out of the woodwork the minute we city-dwellers landed. Within the next few weeks we’d map every nook and cranny of the wild farmlands to the last earthworm and the last dragonfly (Dragonflies were particularly useful as these when tied with a string on their tails could be used as backhoes for picking up stones.) Our feet would tear fields and playgrounds to shreds as a determined sun watched on while vaporizing an occasional itinerant cloud.



…..and what you see above is a piece of that paradise. If it was a human this photo will be eligible to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages by this year. It doesn’t know what it is missing. But you know. You are looking for 72 virgins, swaying palms and cool emerald water that are notable by their absence in my dated version of paradise. Instead what you see on either side of the mud road are rice fields getting roasted in ample solar radiation typical of April in South India. A river which could’ve salvaged the otherwise dry and dusty frame hides a couple of hundred meters behind me, the photographer.

I took the picture with my trusted Yashica. A few of my cousins and my sister are in the photo. The two men in lungi are passersby. The photo has been tickled a bit by my funny photoshop bone. I couldn’t help but contribute to the mutilation of the photo already warped by time, weather, scanning conditions and a 13 year old amateur camera aficionado. The only person untouched in the picture is the man wearing thoppikuda (thoppi= hat, kuda = umbrella.) It is my homage to an extinct age when thoppikudas could travel inconspicuously in public without eliciting puzzled glances and when I was at an age, like the one perfectly summed up in this song,

It was always summer and the future called
We were ready for adventures and we wanted them all
And there was so much left to dream
And so much time to make it real

Earlier in the day this song (or rather the refrain, I do not know any song beyond their chorus) was making rounds in my brain. Sung by the beefy bard of modern rock ballads a line from it was adopted by automakers world wide and affixed on many rear-view mirrors. The automakers might claim it was the other way around. But I wouldn’t doubt the ingenuity of bards of any kind, from anywhere, whether from New World or Old Country.

I’ve unstuck a line from the lyrics and have pasted it on the photo. The rest of it is here.

..There are times I think I see him peeling out of the dark
I think he’s right behind me now and he’s gaining ground

But it was long ago and it was far away, oh God it seems so very far
And if life is just a highway, then the soul is just a car
And objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are
And objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are

Like Kenny in the song this photo has a cousin of mine who is with us no more (you can only see his brown legs, not his face) and there are times I think I see him peeling out of the dark…..I am thirteen again and it is summer blazing up in the lost paddy fields in far-off Malabar.



Jul 2, 2018

Reviews of books that I gave up half way


The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown : At this late age one thing has been decided for me, after attempting to read The Boys in the Boat. I will not be taking up rowing as a recreational sport anytime soon. 

The main character's back story was interesting from a historical perspective - how living in Pacific North West in the depression era was like for ordinary Americans. Apart from that I couldn't garner any interest in rowing competitions, the techniques required or the in the lives of people involved, as I plowed through to reach midway point of this book. 

I could also not figure out what is historic about this 1936 rowing gold medal, when 8 years ago University of Berkeley team won gold in the same competition in Amsterdam Olympics in 1928. It could be Daniel James Brown likes to pay homage to his adopted state, Washington, as is evident from the list of books he has authored. 

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs : If you have to break into the literary scene, one of the places you should check for material is your college dorm. You are in luck if you had interesting room mates with exotic background and arresting histories.

Jeff Hobbs got Robert Peace - an inner city African American kid with cliched background (absent incarcerated father, hard-working single mother) who got straight As, won a scholarship to Yale, studied molecular biophysics and after successfully completing his undergrad was shot to death at thirty - probably in a drug deal gone bad. The story sounds absolutely worth checking out, but I couldn't get past the half-way mark with Jeff Hobb's book, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace.

My reasons for giving up half way are - too lengthy, couldn't muster up much affection for the protagonist, or maybe because I already knew the ending was going to be tragic but the writer seemed to be in no hurry to get there?

Coming up, hopefully I will manage to finish some books and jot down a few thoughts about them :-)

Jul 1, 2018

Pari : Movie Review

Pari almost succeeded in capturing the hair tingling feel of the horror-paranormal genre but somewhere in its germination from a nascent story to big screen it got bitten by Bollywood reality bug. If it had to sell in the Hindi heartland or even in India's metros where wearing hearts on sleeves is the norm, it had to take into account the non-negotiable ingredient of 99.9% mainstream Hindi movies - Pyaar! (Love) And down the chute goes the twilight scented, monsoon washed, Bengali story about Islamic werewolves.

I like movies produced by the brother-sister duo Anushka and Karnesh Sharma. I felt Pari was indeed better than the much touted recent paranormal outing in Malayalam - Ezra.

The screenplay and the story could have used some all purpose glue, seems all over the place by trying to sound more complex and cryptic that it actually is. Rajat Kapoor had to bear the burden of playing the all-knowing modern day fakir / exorcist who was only equipped with some incomprehensible and mysterious Arabic phrases to exorcise the jinns.

Yet technically - screen design, costumes or the overall production design of Pari is above par. Freckled, white as a ghost Anushka looked out of place among the dark skinned Bangladeshi or Bengali peasants. But it was not the ill-suited heroine, who to her credit, showed amazing acting chops, who led to the ultimate failing of the movie - it was pyaar (love), the much needed element in Hindi films, totally out of place in this film, that brought it down in my eyes.

Jun 1, 2018

Basil Joseph's Godha

Basil Joseph deserves a special pat on the back for reigning in the irresistible urge to recruit Mallu Singhs to play Sardarjis in Godha. Half of the movie is set in Punjab, a place teeming with Sardars, a generous world full of possibilities for Malayalis to release their inner Santa-Banta by wearing turbans and beard-nets. The temptation could have been enormous. But Basil didn’t budge, authenticity being one of the admirable qualities of this movie. So much so that he even recruited a real Punjabi kudi, not from Gurgaon or Goregaon but from the Punjabi metropolis designed by a French man (read classy), Chandigarh (balle~ balle~)

Godha is a light-hearted tale of wrestling families – one from Kerala and the other from Punjab. In 2010s wrestling or contact martial arts theme have been the new favorite of Indian movie makers for sports inspired movies. Dangal, being the most well-known of the lot. Sultan, Mary Kom, Irudhi Suttru (Tamil) / Saala Khadoos in Hindi are some others in this category. Most of them also had stories focused on female athletes.

In Godha, we have the Wamiqa Gabi playing the Punjabi wrestler Aditi Singh counter balanced by Tovino Thomas’s reluctant wrestler/aspiring cricketer as the beautiful idiot, Anjaneya Das B.Tech. The casting is superb, from Aditi’s Punjabi clansmen to Anjaneya’s Tamilian classmate – Pandi and beyond.

Renji Panicker is an indispensable element for all Malayalam sports movies these days. It could be because we really have a dearth of modern day fayalwans (pehalwan – Hindi, body builder -English) in Malayalam movie industry. Panicker’s seniority means his role will be that of a coach or a mentor, while appearing more buff than the main character who plays the hero/sports star. We can’t blame Renji Panicker if the younger heroes have no respect for six packs. Parvathy as the mother of the hero is another example of great casting.

Godha is like the perfect beef curry (this recipe is described in the movie – a meme-worthy scene, one that will be often quoted and re-quoted in the years to come), simple with few essential ingredients in  right quantities, blended in, to create the final product. It recognizes cricket – a game synonymous with sports (of any kind) in India and creates humor contrasting it with the not-so glamorous wrestling. Then it injects wrestling talk into communist party-office sermons, another common entertainment activity prevalent in central and North Kerala. There is also the guy meets girl track, their quests for glory and all of these playing out to the uplifting tunes by Shan Rahman. Light, natural and entertaining.

May 31, 2018

Adam Joan : Movie Review


Once in a while Prithviraj is taken hostage by the ghost of an affluent white guy. Kerala, which dips to a bone chilling 32 deg Celsius and 100% humidity in the cold depths of December is not really the most agreeable place to be wearing tailored woolen suits or slick leather jackets desired by such affluent Caucasian 'ethereals'. This leaves Prithvi no other option but to ask the director to shoot his next film in the Scottish glens or London town or in case these locales are not available, in some down and out US city like Detroit - where the weather is more chillax and these garments more appropriate

A few years ago, this ghostly possession culminated in the making of a movie called London Bridge. In 2017, it resulted in Adam Joan. Joan? Why Joan, which is traditionally a female name in most of the English speaking world? Why not John or at the most exotic - Jon? Joan reminds me of a crafts store frequented by old grandmas in search of knitting yarn. But no, someone had to add another candidate to the list of atrociously spelt ordinary names. (Naiphthan, Danyyl and Klowee say 'Hi')

Adam Joan is a heir-apparent of some major real estate fortune. We see Adam traipsing with his new bride (a Bengali export, an actress named Mishti) in verdant tea plantations and house-boat filled, church lined lagoons of Kerala. If laying claim to some of the most touristy Kerala real estate is not enough, we see that Adam seems to have inherited a few bed and breakfasts in Scotland as well, where he and his family are seen stationed when they are not singing songs or doing mega-weddings in Kerala.

Ezra, an earlier movie of Prithviraj's, presented Jewish mythology packaged with exorcism and ghosts to the Malayali audience. Here in Adam Joan we are introduced to satanic cults reigning over the quiet valleys of Scotland. Scots, you lucky buggers, you got chosen by Prithvi and his team to play host to satanic cults.Not fair. All the Caribbean shamans are going to be offended that Prithvi didn't chose Jamaica.

Through Prithvi's movies like Ezra, London Bridge, Adam Joan and upcoming Ranam/Detroit Crossing Malayalees are learning a lot about different world cultures and the horrors each of them harbors. Quite unlike the tolerant Kerala backwaters where Jewish girls sing in church choirs without the fear of their progeny abducted by Satan worshipers.

Mar 14, 2018

Brad's Status

It faintly felt like a male version of Eat Pray Love. Instead of traipsing all over the globe to find meaning, thoughts and prayers, we have greying-at-the-temples Ben Stiller staring his mid-life crisis in the face, in puritan Boston. The male version is a lot less shallow and lot more relate-able (even for women like me.)

Unlike the stereotypical male crises that happen at this age there are no red sports cars or barely-twenty-year-old blondes involved. The hero (Brad, played by Stiller) is seen by his son's side while the high-schooler navigates his Ivy League college interviews. The kid seems chill and extremely well-behaved whereas the Dad is broody and mulling over his self-worth. Together they make a quiet pair in a quiet movie which does not offer or proffer to offer the viewer any instantaneous self-help solutions at the end.

In order to counter-balance the fifty year old's self indulgent voice-overs questioning his self-esteem, the narrative introduces a virtuous young millennial - Ananya, with roots in the third world. Of course I know these third-worlders (I live inside the head of one), the kind who have never really encountered poverty or discrimination, but could blurt out statistics like how an entire family of fellow third worlders in Delhi survive on a dollar a day budget or how their grand-father walked 26.2 miles to school each day. So we have Ananya, a high school friend of Brad's son deployed to put Brad in his place by reminding him that even at his age he still thinks the world is made for him. How very childish of him. The film-makers understand a lot of Brad's worries are trivial and frivolous. Through Ananya they let us know that they acknowledge and have duly noted it. But a fifty year old with low self esteem behaves in a certain way, there is no helping it, nor are there any answers to it.

This movie can be appreciated if you are over a certain age. The way I look at it, I am cresting that hill or 'am over that hill by now (depending on the camera angle) - so I could understand what the movie is trying to tell. Not many reviewers could. I would blame it on their later arrival on terra-firma, but be patient, you will get there too.

Feb 26, 2018

A Ghost Story

There is the cycle of life as Mafusa had revealed in his hard knocks school sermon to his son in the famed Disney entertainer, The Lion King and then there is the cycle of after-life, a rather long and lonely affair as revealed in the film A Ghost Story written and directed by David Lowery.
It is a slow gliding film, almost a eulogy to ghosts whose physical form in the movie is appropriated from the home-made cheese cloth and ping pong ball figures hung on trees on Halloween. Several times while watching the movie, despite being a fan of eulogies and poetry in general, I fell prey to the convenience of the fast forward button.

No, don’t misunderstand, it is a good movie, worth watching and well made on a shoe-string budget. Writing, editing and direction have stepped in to make up for the dollar deficit. All that lack of action and lifelessness you can only expect from Casey Affleck has been realized in the lead role which puts these specific traits of Affleck to good use. Rooney Mara has an exceptionally powerful scene with a vegan chocolate pie. There are no other actors worth mentioning other than a couple of bed sheets.

It is a haunting movie in a literal as well as in a figurative sense. I couldn’t fall asleep after finishing the movie. Not because I started hallucinating imaginary shapes in the dark of my bedroom or kept getting startled by creaky settling noises our floor boards love making after midnight (in other news English is a funny language 😉) but because the movie essentially gave me the message, “You think life sucks, eh? Wait till you get a dose of after-life.” Such a downer. I have been an ardent researcher and reader of Sam Parnia, the Scole Experiment, Raymond Moody and the like. David Lowery has single-handedly snuffed out the romance of after-life from my mind.

As an easterner (from eastern hemisphere) by birth, the cycle of after-life is not an alien concept to me. What kept me awake at night after ‘A Ghost Story” is the absence of an escape door, which all the Eastern philosophies comfortingly provide us – whether it is moksha in Hinduism or nirvana in Buddhism. That one phone call to your lawyer in the sky, where is it David Lowery?

Dec 10, 2017

TV Series Reviews : Better Call Saul, Big Little Lies, Fargo Season 3, The Untold History of the United States, The Night Of

This is the golden age of TV series. With the cult of cord-cutting claiming its followers across generational groups it is time we all bowed down to the power of streaming. When Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and HBO provide some amazing content and bring the best actors of our era to the TV, how can we not binge watch, right?

I've jotted down a few series I watched this year and the last, although there are many more that I liked like Stranger Things, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Orphan Black and re-watching Twin Peaks and Twilight Zone that I find too lazy to write about. So let me go ahead with my random picks.

Nothing has yet toppled Breaking Bad from my pantheon of the best TV series ever, but Better Call Saul - the TV series that Vince Gilligan and his team spun off from Breaking Bad is a close contender. Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill (aka Saul Goodman) is phenomenal. The same goes for the supporting cast - incredible acting and the story with its layered metaphors is as engrossing as Breaking Bad.

Big Little Lies brings big name Hollywood stars like Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon to a wealthy Monterrey neighborhood. It is a female oriented series centered around the lives and predicament of mothers whose children go to the same Monterrey elementary school. It is the closest in my list to a traditional TV series,

Oliver Stone's The Untold History of the United States is a ten part series I hope more Americans watched, as the untold in the title stands for untold to the Americans, but known as truth to the rest of the world. A great series for a history buff like me.

To me Fargo is all about its ambience, its colors and light and its all pervading 'winter-ness', which makes it a perfect series for dark and / or snowy nights. Although Season 3 won't be my favorite season, it is still a crime drama set somewhere where icy roads and grey sky are the norm - reminds  me of some place where I had spent a long time.

The Night Of , the mini series from HBO is the one I cannot leave without making a mention. This hard hitting series starring British actor Riz Ahmed was supposedly a pet project of James Gandolfini before he passed away.It is indeed one of the best series that came out in the last few years. John Turtorro plays the role Gandolfini was supposed to play. Ahmed won an Emmy for his role, where he thanked and touted James Gandolfini as the man who single-handedly changed television. Yes, the world was different before The Sopranos.

Nov 9, 2017

Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum

Dileesh Pothan is creating a new genre in Malayalam cinema with his unique story telling style. His main narrative builds up towards a simple event or two, establishing protagonists and their relationships. Nothing special there. What set Pothan apart are the nuggets of micro stories, mined observing the human condition in all its informal familiarity and strung together to aid the natural progression of the narrative. Every scene is like a gem of flash fiction. It almost seems super human that the writer/director could link and insert these vignettes cohesively into an engaging cinematic account.

Pothan's maiden outing as a director, Maheshinte Prathikaram, introduced us to his distinctive technique. In Thondimuthalum Druksakshiyum he hones it further. This film is raw, plucked right off the tree of life, seconds ago. Even the minute traces of glaze in packaging which would have been a prerequisite to hit the box-office bulls-eye for a first-timer have been stripped away in this second movie.


His casting, which has included Fahadh Fazil as his chameleonic cornerstone, has brought some unconventional and promising faces to Malayalam cinema. Aparna Balamurali in Maheshinte Prathikaram is followed by Nimisha Sajayan in Thondimuthalum Druksakshiyum - both offbeat and talented leading ladies perfectly fitting the film's territory.

Suraj Venjaramoottil and Fahadh Fazil have let go of themselves like clay, impeccably molded just as the characters should be at the hands of the director. There is no question that this is exactly how we would find them in real life, had these people really existed. The entire crew at the police station, where most of the action takes place, has given outstanding performance especially considering all of them are not professional actors but real officers of the law (except for Alencier Ley Lopez.)


The treatment of the film is very gritty, like an episode of reality TV if reality TV was not scripted the way it is. LOL. The director also displays a certain trust in the audience's comprehension abilities. There is an absolute lack of spin or manipulation in the depiction of events. The viewer is left with the task of deriving meaning and closure although there is no sense of incompleteness. Life goes on - in real and in reel.

Nov 2, 2017

Phillauri



Second venture of the sister-brother producer duo Anushka and Karnesh Sharma, starring Anushka Sharma, Diljit Dosanjh and Suraj Sharma (Pi in the Life of Pi) is a perfect desi Halloween movie for our Hindustani brethren in Umrika if they are searching for one.



Anushka is a nebulous white ghost stuck in a tree, accidentally freed by Suraj and currently stalking him, pestering him for answers. The bumbling, aspiring Canadian rapper that he is, Suraj is unnerved and thrown into a loop by the presence of this floating apparition whom no one else is able to see. Diljit Dosanjh stops by as Punjabi folk singer/ Anushka's love interest in her real life, in the early 1900s Punjab.


Phillauri is a perfect example of how ghost stories look like when they are delivered via the dream pike at Bollywood. There is the quintessential over the top Punjabi wedding and there is a horizontally floating ghost swishing around in a sparkly ghaghra whose ghostliness quotient has been bolstered up by the masterly use of CGI and changing the operating angle to 180 degrees. Add to this, we have not one but two love stories - set a century apart for to meet the enchantment needs of different generations.

Nov 1, 2017

Viswasapoorvam Mansoor

A disjointed film that tries to take on many issues, falls short of most and remains unconvincing from beginning to the end.

Roshan Matthew, a new comer introduced in the movie Aanandam, embarks on his first solo venture as Mansoor the title character of this film. Although Roshan seems to have tried his best, the character of Mansoor is half-baked, leaving the audience wavering in placing their bets on him.

Some of the issues that film tried to address like inter-religious marriages, conservatism in liberal circles and branding the followers of certain religion as bona-fide terrorists are left hanging without any closure. Inter-religion marriage has relapsed further in the film when the real world has actually moved forward on this subject.

The love that blooms between Mansoor and Mumtaz (Prayaga Martin) seems more like case of infatuation and lust. Mansoor's former girl-friend (Leona Lishoy) and her place in the narrative reflects the befuddlement of the director, P.T.Kunju Mohammad. The director does not seem to be sure about which among the myriad causes the film vacillates between, is worth pursuing.

The accents of the actors is another jarring aspect of the film for me. The film takes place in Thalassery - none of the actors have succeeded in capturing the right accent for the region. Then there is the life-time Mumbaikar Mumtaz who speaks Hindi with a thick Malayali accent. Whoever dubbed for Zarina Wahab(as Mumtaz's mother Zaira Banu) has a better grip on Hindi than Prayaga Martin.

Oct 26, 2017

Bareilly Ki Barfi

Kriti Sanon is the leggy model who by some quirk of fate or by the malfunctioning magic wand of the casting director got deposited as a utility clerk, Bitti Mishra, in a musty sarkari (government) office in Bareilly, UP. Ayushmann Khurana is a writer so reclusive or ashamed of his writing skills or both  that he does not even want to be known as the author of his own novel. These are our two leads of Bareilly ki Barfi.

In real life, considering the rebellious, tomboyish nature of Bitti I would have expected her to have done a Kangana Ranaut and left her small town roots in the dust long ago and to reign over modeling world or Bollywood by now. Ayushmann Khurana as a writer is probably better than casting Varun Dhawan as one - that's surely a solid excuse for having Ayushmann as Chirag Dubey - printing press owner by the day and moonlighting novelist by night.

The perfect casting is Rajkummar Rao as Pritam Vidrohi - every bully's favorite person to pick on, the neighborhood punching bag - played to perfection by the national award winning actor.

Bareilly ki Barfi rides on the power of its script, direction and convincing portrayal of their roles by all the actors, not just the leads. It also plays safe by stringing together two of Bollywood's favorite subjects -1) love story ending in 2)wedding prep. It stays clear of moralizing and there are no villains in the story except for the hero.  A bubbly movie for a light-hearted hour or two.

Sep 30, 2017

Tiyaan

What the heck is Tiyaan? 

Murali Gopy must have started off with an honorable intention of exposing fake religious gurus and their charades in the name of religion. To that end, he even played the evil mastermind god man and wrote the story placing a mirror on the 1990s infamous Babri Masjid demolition.

The intended result after watching Tiyaan should have been an audience aroused from their complacent slumber. All of us movie-goers should have come out of that movie hall spitting and fuming at the religious charlatans who had been deceiving us for so long and the worst-hit (by the message of the movie) among us should have turned into resolute atheists, right away.

We came out spitting and fuming alright, but not for the reason intended by the script, the story or the director - Jiyen Krishnakumar. The lofty ambition of the film has been marred by glaring mis-steps and outlandish lead characters incongruously propped up like towering, flimsy flex posters.

The dialog gives off the feel of an exaggerated play of shadow puppetry enacted by ginormous cut-outs of actors with  stupendous names (e.g: Pattabhirama Giri, Aslan Mohammad, Mahashay Bhagwan) getting preachy in arcane tongues. So we the audience came out infuriated, searching for words. What the heck did we just watch? What was Murali Gopy thinking? Left, right, left, then straight down the garbage chute?

Tiyaan wants to make us socially aware and rally against pretenders of all kinds - religious, political, commercial or the one next door- your double crosser of a neighbor. But these messages are mutilated on delivery coming out of the mouths of characters with unconvincing back stories.

The film lost me at the moment Pattabhirama Giri (Indrajith) pulled out his brahmanical sacred thread as something more powerful than an AK 47 in the event of an attack by Hindu nationalists. Though in the very next scenes it was illustrated that Brahmanism is no superhero cape, even those couple of scenes could not escape the under currents of caste-ism and patriarchy omnipresent in the film. The movie breaks it back under the weight of heavy symbolism it is girdled by. The glue that was supposed to hold it together was Hindu - Muslim brotherly love, to the extent that real life brothers Indrajith and Prithviraj Sukumaran play the representatives of the two religions, a la brother from another mother.

Prithviraj's character Aslan Mohammad is the first born-again Hindu in the history of Malayalam cinema. The character is permitted to keep the religion he was born into (Islam) by his yogic baptizers. By now it is an established fact in Malayalam cinema that even those who have conquered all the senses go senseless in front of Prithviraj's charisma.

The directors and cinematographers are no match for Prithviraj's universal allure. Jiyen Krishnakumar, a directorial newbie does not even stand a chance. Every once in a while, the protector Prithviraj playing Aslan is placed as an arresting subject in sweeping frames featuring high Himalayan passes. He is seen sending out his calming gaze over the landscape, while strictly observing the rule of thirds. Other than these frames, I could find nothing arresting about the film. I do not know how people who are not Prithviraj fans (unlike me) survived this movie ?!

One unintended comical scene that caught my attention was when Aslan parted ways with his semi-nude saviors in the high Himalayas (location: go to Rohtang Pass and hang a right) with a Nama Shivaya , his dread-locked yogi friends retorted with Aslam Alaikum! Then both groups drew crosses and went in separate directions to the save the world. That is the inter-religious super glue I am talking about - didn't work for me, maybe it worked at the box office? (Ok, I added that last part about the crosses, couldn't resist the temptation. Which brings to mind that Christians are notably absent in the film, maybe because it takes place in the Northern Indian heart land where there is not a significant population of Christians? Yet this being a message-laden film which even goes back to a 14th century battle for particularly no reason, adding a few Christians in the mix would have hardly been a noticeable offense.)








Sep 29, 2017

Ayal Sasi

Sreenivasan looks like a terminally ill patient in the film, 'Ayaal Sasi', where he plays the protagonist in his last lap of life. His physique or the lack of it almost convinced me that director scouted for an actor who was indeed sick and made him the hero. But I couldn't have been further from the truth - Sreenivasan supposedly lost 15 kgs for this movie by sticking to a leaner diet. Salud! Sreenivasan, that speaks of quite a commitment.

Sasi is a human looking glass, perched to reflect and respond to the prejudices and vacuousness of society and the narrow-mindedness of religious groups. He is also depicted as someone who has a fondness for superfluity. Sreenivasan has tried to affect an air of detachment as a spacey artist floating by in an alcohol induced haze on the fringes of society.

I do not how box-office responded to story of an ailing frivolous artist and his run-ins with religion and greedy relatives. This is the kind of subject Sreenivasan excelled in as a writer. I wish it was his pen that wrote the script for this movie which could have unearthed many humorous possibilities, but at least they cast the right actor as Sasi.

Sep 9, 2017

CIA - Comrade in America movie review

Comrade in America (CIA) is a feather-light film drifting across borders, told through stories and lives it flits through on its way to the destination - a defined terminal point in a present day utopia (this promised land's promise is highly debatable these days, the film recognizes that.) 

The movie also features one of the most pumped-up entries for any young star I've watched recently in any movie in any language - the beat, the music, the rap, the Molotov cocktail, the blazing fires, the resolute red flag in the ascendant and of course the assured slow motion accompanying the grand entry of Dulqar Salman - if the youth of the nation does not fall for this, I do not know what else they will fall for. Except that most of the well-informed youth must have already fallen for the original Kanye West song, "No Church in the Wild" from which Dulquer's entry is copied scene to scene.



For Dulqar Salman, playing the protagonist - a young communist Aji Mathew, it is love that shines as a beacon on a distant shore. He scorns the idea of visas, distances and border walls in a way only foolish and impulsive twenty somethings in love can. It only seems natural that being a bona-fide communist Aji should have routine midnight conversations about his love life with his three trusted, official mentors - Marx, Lenin and Che (pretty good lookalikes for a Malayalam movie.)



If you can look beyond the foolhardiness of the central character and forgive Amal Neerad, the director for building a movie around such an inane cause, the film in fact is enjoyable with its sprightly dialogs, interesting vistas, well crafted side characters and informative like a memoir documentary.

Kudos to the director and team in attempting a subject - U.S (southern) border crossing in an Indian regional language film. It is also the first film, international or otherwise, that I have watched recently, dedicated to all refugees from all over the world. With refugee crisis holding center stage in the news I am sure there will be more and there should be more, but glad to have seen it first in a Malayalam movie.

The film rides on the star power of Dulqar Salman with good support from Siddique, Dileesh Pothan, Soubin Shahir, Parvathy, Jinu Joseph and new comer Karthika Murali. The only character that felt out of place was the Malayali girl with an unconvincing story who turns up in the U.S-Mexican border crossing group, named Pallavi played by Chandini Sreedharan - not to reflect adversely on Chandini's acting skills. Pallavi's grand father might have been the Malayali who had that tea-shop on the Moon when Armstrong made the giant leap for mankind and was (tricked into) thinking he was the first man on the Moon. Then again I can understand the director and writer's justification of allowing our handsome, charismatic hero an incidental female crutch, if the movie had to be a commercial success 😊 - which it was.

Sep 8, 2017

Achayans


Achayans is a loud movie - both literally and figuratively with a multi-star cast headed by Jayaram. To keep things interesting beyond the antics of the four Achayans (informal usage to reference a group of Malayali Christian men) made up of Jayaram, Unni Mukundan, Adil Ibrahim and Sanju Sivaram, the movie also tries its hand at being a crime thriller. 

The 'crime' excuse is used to bring in Prakash Raj as the newest avatar of astute South Indian detective. Brainiac cops in South Indian movies usually make their entries, exits and other perambulatory exercises to the background roar of Vedic chants while fingering their sacred thread (worn diagonally across the torso.) The thread-fingering is to reinforce the notion of the intelligent "Brahmin", the most intelligent and venerated of all castes - therefore excellent detective material, in case the audience were tone-deaf and missed out on the suggestive accompaniment of decibel shattering Sanskrit howling.

Another issue I have with Kannan Thamarakkulam (director of this 'epic') is the extreme distortion of his lead female characters.  The world of women in Thamarakkulam's head is a house of mirrors. Every time he needs inspiration for a female lead, he peers into this carnival attraction in his head and comes out with gruesome caricatures of women reflected on its mirrored walls. Achayan's has Amala Paul's Reetha Fernandez - a closet lesbian(?) caricatured to literal perfection with an askew wig, ill fitting jeans and operating in a perpetual pissed-off mode as dictated by the script and director's understanding of the said category of women.

Now that I think about it, the entire movie is a burlesque platitude, a rehash of rehashes. There are not many moderate characters nor is there anything new, but there is a pleasant surprise - Jayaram. In this melee of over-acting and contrived ruckus, this improved version of Jayaram comfortably sporting his natural grey hair and exuding confidence without overdoing it, offer tiny breaks when we audience can ease off on our hyperventilation.

Aug 31, 2017

Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu


If director Sathyan Anthikkad had aged like fine wine, Rakshadhikari Baiju Oppu (hereafter referred to as RBO) is what he would have come up with. Regrettably he didn't and thankfully Ranjan Pramod, the script writer of some Anthikkad's later movies has filled the void.

The best thing about RBO is it seems so natural and light. The flow of dialog, the ease with which characters appear or slide in and out of frames, the sounds, the ambience, the effortless attention to detail which in reality must have taken some effort and all this put together and delivered as a well constructed entertainer is commendable. Bravo!

And then there is Biju Menon - the king of reinvention in contemporary Malayalam cinema, playing the title character Baiju. His journey from the handsome, brooding, youngest son in Doordarshan TV series - Mikhayalinte Santhathikal through emotional dramas like Meghmalhar in the early 2000s to the man who found his funny bone in Vellimoonga, Maroobhoomiyile Aana and RBO - has been like watching an evolving chameleon in action. We are left to wonder what other colors or characters would he comfortably grow and morph into in the coming years.

The natural ease in direction is reflected in the performance of other actors too. Aju Varghese, Deepak Parumbole and many other new comers who play significant roles give the feeling that we are watching their daily goings-on without a veneer of pretense. I also loved the absence of dubbing as it helped in interring the phantasm of the same female character's voice that used to come back to grate you in every other film.

I started watching RBO with the expectation of a syrupy feel good movie. It is a feel good movie but it is also comfortably real and uncompromising without ruffling many feathers. There is not much of a story and the only character introduced to create tension (played by Padmaraj Ratheesh) is the only weak point in the narrative.Nice work, Ranjan Pramod and a treat for the audience.