Friday, June 30, 2006

2 New Reviews

Reviews for Paarijaatham and Don Chera are now online at bbreviews.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


When I was young, fights were the most important component of a movie. The story, the romance, the song sequences, the comedy - everything else was secondary. The number of fights and the quality of each of those stunt sequences were the only things that mattered. The answer to the question "Fight Irukka?" was usually what decided if I was going to see a movie or not. And the assurance of fights in Rajni movies were a big reason for me becoming his fan.

Though I have grown to appreciate all aspects of a film, stunt sequences still hold a special place in my heart. I still look forward to fights in a film. A well-picturized stunt sequence can get the adrenaline really flowing and a few such sequences can make the entire film seem fast-paced.

As you've probably guessed, it was the news of stunt master 'Vikram' Dharma passing away that led me down this particular memory lane. So, here are five movies that stood out for their action sequences. Some of these didn't have Dharma choreograph the action sequences(for all I know, none of them may have had him as the stunt master!) but I'm sure his work atleast influenced the fights in some of them...

Murattu Kaalai - The jallikattu scenes, a key part of the film, were picturized very well and brought the fury and intensity of the sport before our eyes. Rajni's one-on-one fights with the bulls were also picturized with skill, making us believe that it was really him. And the climax fight atop a train was terrific and could stand up to many sequences today in grandness.

Sakalakalaavallavan - While Rajni mostly did the regular, hand-to-hand fights, Kamal's fights tended to include a lot of props. But in Sakalakalaavallavan, he did both, resulting in some memorable fight sequences. The first fight in the field was raw and rough while the climax was tense and thrilling.

Captain Prabhakaran - Vijayakanth always paid special attention to fight sequences and with a director who paid equal attention to them, Captain Prabhakaran had some blistering action sequences. Vijayakanth used his back-kick to great effect in the rousing police station fight and the rest of the film had some great action sequences too.

Run - Madhavan is an unlikely action hero but surprisingly, he starred in what is probably my favorite action sequence in recent times. The subway fight in Run was pure adrenaline, both in unexpectedness and in the choreography of the actual fight. All other fights in the film were also realistic without being violent and made Maddy a believable action star.

Dhool - Director Dharani exploited Vikram's macho image fully in this masala flick. The intensity in Vikram's encounters with Pasupathi was built up masterfully before exploding in the long but superb sequence at the election booth. The Madura Veeran... song sequence was another exhilarating sequence.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Spidey 3 Teaser Trailer

Now that one superhero has hit the screens, its time to start looking forward to the next! The first teaser trailer for Spiderman 3 has been released and not surprisingly, is being screened along with Superman Returns. Just one more reason to go see the flick!

An awesome teaser for sure. Hints at a lot of darkness and inner conflict for Peter/Spidey, right from the new color for Spidey's outfit. Not sure from the teaser who the villains are going to be though. Is that 'sand thing' a Spiderman villain in the comics? The final 'reflection shot' simply blew me away.

While on the topic of teaser trailers, my favorites so far are the ones that were released for Godzilla. The one with the fisherman and the sea and the one where Godzilla's tail swipes the dinosaur skeleton in the museum were real classics. Too bad the movie didn't live upto the hype created by those teasers... Pretty sure that's not gonna happen with Spiderman 3 though!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Crying Game

It is pretty amazing that movies are capable of evoking such strong emotions in us. Even as we watch a movie, we know in the back of our minds that the people we are seeing onscreen are working off a script and earning far more than we ever will. We know that every scene we are watching was created after several takes as they struggled to get it right and that once the scene ended, the actors simply wiped off the greasepaint and went about their own lives. But we still become caught up in the lives of these strangers, laughing at their jokes and sharing their sorrows as though we’ve known them all our lives.

Out of those two emotions, happiness and sorrow, the latter is definitely the more surprising one. Laughing at a stranger’s jokes is natural. We laugh at anything that’s funny and it doesn’t matter who’s saying the jokes. But sympathizing with characters who we know to be unreal and who we’ve seen for barely a couple of hours, to the point of shedding tears for them, is really surprising.

While I don’t think I’ve ever cried at a Tamil movie, I have had wet eyes during a few of them. Surprisingly, very few sad or tragic scenes have made me teary-eyed. I think that’s because our directors make it very obvious that they are aiming for our tear ducts. Sentiments are overblown and dwelt upon until the scene’s effectiveness is diluted or completely lost. Ofcourse there have been movies that handled tragedy with grace and subtlety. I remember scenes in Anjali, Idhayathai Thirudaathey, Rhythm, Kutti and a few other movies that were incredibly touching.

On the other hand, I’ve found that happy scenes have the power to make me tear up (I guess these would be tears of happiness or aanandha kanneer!). Scenes that portray genuine affection touch a chord somewhere inside me. The scene where Shoba runs back to Rajni’s side in the climax of Mullum Malarum invariably makes me tear up. And a more recent example would the entire segment where Rajkiran and Saranya enjoy the sunset years of their life in Thavamaai Thavamirundhu. As I said in my review, “I watched the segment with a tear in my eye and a smile on my lips”.

That’s not the case with my wife though. The floodgates are almost always ready to be opened in her eyes. There have been many instances (the climax of Dishyum being a recent case in point) where I would be complaining about the silliness of the scene, only to turn around and find her red-eyed and sobbing uncontrollably. How the same woman can then heartlessly deny my requests for the next electronic gadget is, I guess, one of the great mysteries of life!

Monday, June 26, 2006


It is really amazing that Pixar is able to set the bar for animation higher with each new feature. They already set the bar pretty high with movies like Toy Story 1 and 2, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles but Cars definitely represents a new high in computer animation in movies. As always, the high-quality animation is in support of an interesting and familiar story where lessons are learned and imparted.

Lightning McQueen is a brash and proud race car who has burst onto the racing scene and is on track to become the first rookie to win the Piston Cup. When the race ends in a 3-way tie, Lightning and the other 2 cars have to drive in a tie-breaker race in California. But Lightning gets lost on the way to California and ends up in a town called Radiator Springs. It is a ghost town that lost its tourists when a new freeway opened up and among its residents, Lightning learns a few things.

As far as environments go, Finding Nemo was spectacular as it took us down to the depths of the ocean. But it was easy to let imagination run wild with the colorful sea-life. In Cars, the action is all above the ground in an environment we are familiar with. So realism is more difficult. The filmmakers have also taken a risk by selecting the dry, unexciting deserts (rather than, say, colorful fields or lush scenery that is more eye-catching) to set the action in. But the locales are gorgeous and brown has never looked more beautiful. The scenery when Lightning and Sally go on their drive and the bird’s-eye views we get of the entire land are spectacular.

But it is not just the big stuff that is good. There is a lot to see and admire in even the smallest aspects and a lot of attention has been paid to detail. The way the shadows on the ground or the telephone wires or the scenery pass by while driving is recreated very realistically. The huge audience made up of cars (they even do the ‘wave’!), the whoosh as the race cars race by and the scattering of the cracked asphalt make the races realistic. And the rear lights always come on when the cars back up!

Past the animation, the film goes down the same path as other Pixar films. There are the usual jokes got out of modifying familiar items so they relate to automobiles (like the Jay Limo show, a Lug Nut Drive exit on the freeway, etc.). There are lessons learned by the haughty race car as he experiences life in the slow lane.

The film actually seems aimed at adults more than kids. It clocks in at almost 2 hours, which is definitely more than the amount of time the young ones stay interested in 1 thing. There is also not enough fast action or slapstick comedy aimed at the kids. The scenes where a car ends up with a tree on its roof or the tire-changer shows up with a bright hat are the ones where Kavya laughed loudest but those kinds of scenes don’t occur too often. So I had to artificially induce excitement or humor in ordinary scenes to keep her interest. On the bright side, there are no real sad scenes either (except for the ones where the cars topple over and that’s not as sad as cute animals being caged!) and so Kavya didn’t end up crying.

Cars – definitely worth the ride.

Kadi Joke

Kadi jokes were widly popular when I was young but it’s been a while since I heard a good one that I hadn't heard before. Heard this one from a friend’s son yesterday.

Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were fighting and DD pushed MM against the wall. MM immediately pulled out his pen and started writing the Ramayana. Why?

Sunday, June 25, 2006


In my review of Adhu Oru Kanaakkaalam, I included Bagyaraj in the list of directors who had been unable to change their styles to suit the tastes of the current generation of viewers. But with Paarijaatham, he makes a strong case for being removed from that list. He has applied his well-known talent at mixing sentiments and humor to a youthful love story and added enough screenplay flourishes to deliver an entertaining film that provides a nice break from the current trend of glamour and violence on the screen.

When Seetha(Seetha) moves into her new house, Sumathi(Saranya), who lives across the street with her ailing father, becomes her servant-maid. Seeing Sumathi’s good nature, Seetha decides in her mind that she would promote her from servant-maid to daughter-in-law. She plans to convey the same to her husband(Prakashraj) and son Sridhar(Prithviraj) when they join her in a few days but things don’t go according to plan.

Almost the entire first half features a story-in-a-story as Prithviraj and Saranya enact a story that Saranya narrates to Seetha. It is an interesting and novel concept though at the end of it we realize that the segment amounts to little more than a filler. Take away the entire episode and the movie is barely affected since the main story essentially starts only after this mini-story ends. But inspite of this, it is not frustrating since the segment manages to be funny and interesting.

The story-in-a-story concept points to cleverness on the part of Bagyaraj, the director. The main story in Paarijaatham is quite serious. There’s a lot of drama but because of the way the characters are placed, it provides little opportunity for romance or humor. But those two, as much as sentiments, are Bagyaraj’s strengths and so he uses the mini-story to provide them both. And it works. Prithiviraj plays the same kind of role that Bagyaraj played in every movie – one where the joke’s usually on him. The self-deprecatory humor in almost every scene leads to a lot of smiles and a few laughs as he falls for Saranya. And since the romance starts off with their engagement, it is rather sweet and avoids the clichés of the usual love-at-first-sight romances.

The second half is a testimony to Bagyaraj’s skills at penning an interesting screenplay. The ending itself is a foregone conclusion and so there is no suspense about where we are going. More important is how we get there and with Bagyaraj at the helm, it is a mostly interesting ride. Inventing a character for himself to take care of the humor, he creates enough roadblocks in the way to the climax but does so without things getting irritating and then removes them cleanly also.

With a wafer-thin story and a predictable ending in hand, Bagyaraj has had to rely on some screenplay innovations to make things interesting. One ofcourse is the aforementioned story-in-a-story technique. Taking a page from Thiruttu Payale’s book, he also employs the technique where a scene is shown first and its conclusion, usually different from what we were led to believe, is shown much later. So some disconnected scenes that give the movie a slightly disjoint feel initially end up proving their worth later.

But there are times when the old-fashioned director in Bagyaraj rears his head. A lot of things are resolved with one of the characters overhearing others talk and this looks artificial and a little too convenient in many places. Subtlety is also lacking throughout with Bagyaraj hammering things(like Saranya’s good nature) home instead of letting his visuals do the talking.

The film is a launching pad for Bagyaraj’s daughter Saranya. She’s not gonna win any acting awards but does a good job considering its her first film. Like most debutantes, she is inhibited and doesn’t let go in many scenes. No such complaints about Prithviraj though. He does the romantic hero role as well he played the villain in Kanaa Kanden and surprisingly, shows a lot of flair for comedy. His flustered expressions play a big part in the laughs generated in the first half. The huge bevy of supporting actors does their parts well and Bagyaraj shows that he retains his knack of eliciting laughs with his dialog delivery alone.

The picturization of song sequences is probably the department where Bagyaraj’s change of style is most evident. All sequences have been picturized aesthetically and have a gloss that was never part of the songs in Bagyaraj’s movies before. The sequence shot in foreign locations and the one shot in the rain really catch the eye.

Paarijaatham - Fragrant.

PS: I wonder if the letter S is a good luck charm for Bagyaraj. Every important character, both in the main story and the mini-story, has his/her name starting with S. This isn’t used to create any confusion like it was in Jery but certainly stands out.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Beach Road

When James Patterson was interviewed for the article about him in Time, he listed Beach Road among his five favorite books. But after reading the book, I feel like that was more to generate some advance publicity for the book than anything else. It does contain a great twist but apart from that, its a courtroom thriller that falls in the same "average" category as Patterson's other recent books.

The story takes place in the Hamptons, a community made up of the really wealthy. When three white kids are found murdered, suspicion falls on a Dante, a black youth who is expected to be the Michael Jordan of tomorrow. Tom, an ex-basketball player takes up his case and asks Kate, his ex-girlfriend to help him out.

For the most part, the book is a courtroom thriller. As Tom and Kate defend Dante in court, the novel contains all the elements of such thrillers like hostile cross-questioning, surprise witnesses and grandiose closing statements. The case has a racial component but that is barely touched upon. The book's intention is to be a light, fast thriller rather than a study about the effects of racism.

What makes even that part of the book interesting though, is the style Patterson has chosen. The entire book is presented in first person but by different players in the drama. So everything, right from the style of narration, changes between chapters. We are also given insights into the minds of each of the players, something which would not have been possible with the more traditional third person narrative. Patterson also begins with an intriguing note that any of these narrators could be lying. So, we can't take what the individuals say at face value either and that always keeps us in doubt about their roles.

We get the feeling that the entire book was written for the sake of the twist at the end. It is definitely a helluva twist but we aren't given enough time to savor it since it occurs too late. Also, we haven't connected with any of the characters and so the twist doesn't quite have the effect a twist of this magnitude should have had.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Sivaji - New Stills

Finally... these look like some official photos from Sivaji. They look more like publicity shots rather than stills from the film but right now, we'll take anything! The extra-ruffled hairstyle makes thalaivar look really young and cool, especially in the last photo below.

[Pics Courtesy Karthik]

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Update: Clues added for the movie names!

One of the more popular group games is Anthakshari, in which teams sing songs starting off with the last letter of the song sung by the opposing team. Here’s a game based on a similar concept.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to complete the chain of 10 Tamil movie names below. Starting with the second film name, the first word of each film’s name is some form of the last word of the name of the film above it (so, if a movie’s name ends in kaadhal, the next movie’s name could start with kaadhal, kaadhalan, kaadhali, kaadhale, kaadhalikka, kaadhalukku… you get the idea!). The first word of the first movie name and the last word of the last movie name have been filled in to kick things off.

Please do not post answers as comments so as not to spoil the fun for others. Solutions can be emailed to bbalaji [@] sbcglobal [dot] net. Partial solutions are welcome too. If they prove that the game has turned out to be too tough (though I don’t think so considering some of the cine geeks who have commented so far!), I will post clues to the movie names tomorrow…

Let the game begin!


Netru _______ ______ (Old MGR film)

_______ _______ (MGR film – remake of Hindi hit)

_______ _______ (MGR film with the number Nalla Perai Vaanga Vendum Pillaigale…)

_______ _______ (Rajni’s big-budget flop)

_______ _______ (Rajni-Radhika hit)

_______ _______ (Old NSK starrer)

_______ _______ _______ (Rajni’s ‘watershed’ movie)

_______ _______ (Rajni-Radhika flop)

_______ _______ (Old Sivaji film)

_______ Vaakku (Karthik-Revathi starrer)

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Imsai Arasan... - New Trailer

A new trailer for Vadivelu's Imsai Arasan 23aam Pulikesi is now online. Slightly longer and funnier than the previous trailer, it appears to be one of the better trailers in recent times. It has a few lines of dialog apart from clips from the song sequences. The Aadivaa Paadivaa... clip looks great and the Aasai Nilave... clip elicits a chuckle as soon as we look at it.

The trailer has certainly whetted my appetite. Wish the censor issue gets cleared soon so that the king can arrive...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Background Score

There is an interesting - but way too short - article [link courtesy Kaps] by Theodore Baskaran in Outlook, on the evolution of Tamil Film Music. It starts off interestingly enough with some facts about how things were at the beginning (interesting comment on how people treated movies like concerts!) But it gets frustratingly brief after that. There is little on MSV and the music of the MGR/Sivaji era.

The article does go on to mention Ilaiyaraja and Rehman, the 2 most influential Tamil cinema music directors in the last 40 years or so (the former a lot more than the latter ofcourse). It describes their contrasting styles rather nicely as it says…

“…Ilayaraja doesn't believe in creating film music as a mere aural experience, isolated from the images. For him, music is integral to the effect of the movie. It has to integrate with the narrative, not intrude upon it. It has to go with the images, has to be part of the viewing experience”

“Rahman's stress has been more on songs than on background score. Unlike Ilayaraja, he accentuates the independent aural character of film songs; they aren't necessarily linked to the onscreen images or the characters singing them.”

While I’ve been listening to Tamil film songs for as long as I remember, I barely took notice of the background score when watching a film. To me, the BGM played little role in a movie. But all that changed with Idhayathai Thirudaathey, the background score for which illustrates what Theodore Baskaran is talking about in the first paragraph above. Idhayathai Thirudaathey still holds the record for the film I’ve watched in the theater the most number of times and Ilaiyaraja’s BGM played as important a part as Girija’s cuteness, Manirathnam’s screenplay and P.C.Sriram’s cinematography, in pulling me back to the theater that many times. That was one movie where I came out of the movie hall humming pieces of the background score rather than the songs. And its one movie I could enjoy even with my eyes closed the entire time!

The magic begins right from the start with the soothing and soulful tune that plays during the titles. Almost every sequence after that has a great background score that fits the mood of the sequence perfectly and elevates it from being merely interesting to truly memorable. There’s the playfully fast music during the scenes where Nagarjun and Girija play tricks on each other. There’s the upbeat, cheerful music in the scene where Nagarjun realizes that life has to be enjoyed however short it may be. There’s the soothing music accompanying the fog seeping into Nagarjun’s house. There’s the thudding, powerful music that drives the climax in the railway station. And ofcourse, there’s the uplifting music as Nagarjun kisses Girija in the end. That last piece of music had the power to make us forget that they were 2 lovers who would die shortly and made us believe that they’d live happily ever after!

Since Idhayathai Thirudaathey, I’ve started noticing the BGM a lot more and have gone back and unearthed gems like Mouna Raagam, Johny, etc. Ilaiyaraja is truly king in this arena. I’m yet to enjoy Rahman’s BGM they way I have enjoyed Ilaiyaraja’s. The one BGM piece I do remember from Rahman’s work so far is the scintillating score that plays when Arvind Swamy douses the fire on the Indian flag in Roja. But technically, that was part of the Thamizhaa Thamizhaa… song and not a stand-alone BGM piece. Yuvan Shankar Raja does seem to have inherited the right BGM genes from his dad. He has made us sit up and take notice of his score in recent movies like Pattiyal and the instrumental pieces like Going Thro Emotions… in Pudhuppettai are phenomenal. But there is a sense of “showiness” in his music that sometimes threatens to override the visuals and so doesn’t allow it to perfectly complement the scenes the way his dad’s music did.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Anne... Parotta Thalaiyaa!

Arguably the most successful comedy duo in Tamil cinema, Koundamani and Senthil probably exchanged nicer words than usual when they met at the former's daughter's wedding reception. More pics of the function, attended among others by Kamalhassan and Vijayakanth, can be seen here. Photos from the wedding can be seen here.

Njan Kadavul Launched

Arya is one lucky guy! While Njan Kadavul was all along expected to bring together Ajith and Bala, Arya came out of nowhere to snap up the role after Ajith stepped out. After a lot of starting trouble, the film was launched on June 14. Chithiram Pesudhadi heroine Bhavna (this is another lucky gal!) is the heroine and Ilaiyaraja will be scoring the music. Considering what Bala’s films Sethu and Nandhaa did for their respective heroes Vikram and Surya, Arya must be hoping for the same kind of break-out role too. So he's given bulk dates and will be joining the shoot after he completes Saran's Vattaaram.

Btw, why is it Njan and how is the title gonna be written in Tamil?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Inspirational Movies

The American Film Institute (AFI), as part of its continuing ‘Top 100’ series, yesterday selected the 100 most inspirational Hollywood movies. A Wonderful Life came out on top and To Kill a Mockingbird, Schindler's List, Rocky and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington rounded out the top 5.

Among Tamil movies, I can think of a few genres that will automatically earn the tag ‘inspirational’. Movies on freedom fighters ofcourse come out on top. When well-made, they are capable of kindling feelings of patriotism in all but the most cynical of viewers. Movies about social vigilantes too are capable of being inspirational. As they strive to clean up our society, we invariably end up wishing someone like that would show up in real (or even think about doing our bit to change our society for the better). Then you have movies about people who are abandoned by their relatives/friends but succeed in life and rub their noses in it. They are real underdogs who make us root for them to succeed.

Based on AFI’s list, I can think of two key factors that make up an inspirational movie. One, it has to have a strong, memorable protagonist. Ideally, he should be an underdog who fights great odds to emerge a winner and imparts (and maybe even learns) a lesson or two in the process. And two, whatever hardships it portrays, it should be a positive, life-affirming movie that makes us feel good about ourselves when we walk out of the theater. That doesn’t mean that no film ending tragically can be inspirational. As Braveheart’s selection showed, a movie can be inspirational even if the protagonist himself is not around at the end.

So, with the above, admittedly vague definition of an inspirational movie, here, in no particular order, are my ‘first draft’ choices for the 10 most inspirational Tamil movies.

Anbe Sivam
Kappalottiya Thamizhan
Pudhumai Penn
Pudhu Vasandham
Thavamaai Thavamirundhu

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Monterey Trip

One of the more popular 1-day trips in the Bay Area is the drive that starts off with the Mystery Spot, covers the Monterey Bay Aquarium, takes us on the 17-mile drive and culminates at Carmel Beach for a gorgeous sunset. The trip covers some must-see spots, perfectly fills up 1 day and doesn't leave us too tired at the end of it. We made half of that trip today as we took some relatives to the aquarium and the 17-mile drive.

The aquarium's a fun place and has a great collection of sea life. Its been a while since I've been there and there were quite a few new additions, both in the displays and in the building itself. Kavya as always had the most fun, stopping at every display, touching and feeling starfish and playing in the play areas.

To me, the 17-mile drive is more an example of how anything, through successful marketing, can be transformed into a tourist attraction. Cars are usually packed bumper-to-bumper on the drive and the 21 vista points are all packed during weekends and holidays. But few of the stops are actually worth the trouble. The rest are more marketing triumphs than anything else. A single tree growing on a rock is called the Lone Cypress, a place with a lot of waves is called the Restless Sea and worse of all, an old, dried tree by the roadside is called the Ghost Tree!

But the hype's obviously worked and the 17-mile drive is usually on the itinerary of every visitor to the Bay Area (which is one reason why I've been on it more than a dozen times!). Thankfully, unlike the last couple of days, today was a gorgeous day that was perfect for the coastal drive. So we got some great views of the sparkling blue sea.

Some photos from the trip can be seen here...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Pokkiri Launched

So its official. Vijay's next film is a remake of Mahesh Babu's recent Telugu megahit Pokiri. After rumors of teaming up with S.J.Suryah(Puli), Perarasu's brother Muthuvagidu(Murasu) and Dharani's assistant(Thangam), Vijay ended up joining hands with Prabhu Deva, for whom this will be the first Tamil film(as director ofcourse) as well as the first masala film. The film was announced at a press meet yesterday. The Tamil version is keeping the same name as the Telugu original and Vijay is going to be paired up with his Sivakasi heroine Asin. The film is slated to be Vijay's Pongal 2007 release (does this mean it will go up against Sivaji and Dasaavathaaram?).

Is it just me or does this seem like a very low-key film launch? Considering Vijay's superstar status and the long gap since Aadhi, I was surprised at the soft launch for the film. Doesn't look like there were any other star invitees or even publicity stills. Even the photo accompanying the banner looks very ordinary and could have been plucked out of any of Vijay's recent films. Maybe all the big stuff is being reserved for the film's puja or official kick-off? But Asin looks very cute :)

Vijay's had mixed luck with Telugu remakes. Films like Gilli and Priyamaanavale were big hits while they've been balanced by flops like Aadhi. Now its upto Prabhu Deva to make Pokkiri join the former list...

Weir Walks Out of Shantaram

Director Peter Weir has walked out of Shantaram, the movie based on the novel of the same name by Gregory David Roberts. Johny Depp is still the hero and creative differences between him and Weir are supposed to be the reason behind Weir stepping down. They still have time to bring in a new director since the movie isn't supposed to begin production until early 2007.

Weir has an impressive resume with films like Master and Commander of the World, The Truman Show and Dead Poets Society. Would be nice to know who is now being considered for the director's chair since the director's approach would have a lot to do with how India is portrayed in the film.

The majority of Shantaram deals with its hero living among the slums in Bombay. So the book deals with life in the lowest levels of our society and the associated poverty, disease, drugs and violence. But though Roberts talks about all this in detail, his love for the city and its people comes across very well. I wonder if this will come across in the film also. If it doesn't, the movie will simply be another film that ends up either making fun of the country by exaggerating its culture and customs and/or showcasing its poorer side (like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom).

Monday, June 12, 2006

Darna Zaroori Hai

Darna Zaroori Hai is Ram Gopal Varma’s latest experiment. Like Darna Mana Hai, this film is also a collection of independent short films (but this time, the films have been directed by different directors) linked by a common thread ‘fear’. Some stories work better than the others but the film is definitely an interesting attempt.

I really liked the stories in Darna Mana Hai. Only one was pretty eerie and could legitimately be called a horror short. But the others had clever stories, good twists and most importantly, a sense of closure. I especially liked the one with Vivek Oberoi and Nana Patekar and the one with Aftab. The weakest part of that film was the main story that bookended the shorts.

Darna Zaroori Hai keeps intact many of the good aspects of its predecessor. The short films all have uniformly good performances from actors who manage to slip comfortably into their roles. The films create a good, heavy atmosphere and throw in some good surprises that keep them from getting too predictable. And to lend credit to the ‘horror film’ tag, there are also some nice ‘Boo!’ moments that cause us to jump in our seats.

But many of the stories end up being vaguely disappointing. They have good build-ups but the conclusions are rather unsatisfying. They seem to end too abruptly and provide little closure.

The first episode with Manoj Pahwa is the best of the lot. Inspite of resorting to clichés, it succeeds in creating an eerie setting. More importantly, it is very clever and tongue-in-cheek (it takes digs at RGV’s own Darna Mana Hai and ends brilliantly). The episode with Arjun Rampal and Bipasha Basu and the one with Randeep and Zakir Husain are also satisfying since they contain a few scares, nice twists and give us closure. The episode with Amitabh and Ritesh and the one with Suneil Shetty and Rajpal Yadav are disappointing but contain good performances. Amitabh as a harried professor and Rajpal as a weird insurance agent are great. The episode with Anil Kapoor and a fully-clothed Mallika Sherawat falls between the two.

As an experiment, Darna Zaroori Hai stands tall. But as entertainment, it falls a little short.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

2 Bay Area Recommendations

Visited Vasona Park in Los Gatos last weekend since it was highly recommended by our friends. We weren't disappointed. It was a pretty huge park. Had a huge lake in the middle with different kinds of boating - paddle boats(which we did), sailboats, kayaks, etc. The ducks swimming at various points in the lake made a pretty sight.

The ducks were also walking around on land quite freely and Kavya was pretty excited to get close to them.

A small creek flowed through the park and tiny pathways led down to it at different points. The river wasn't too deep at these points and it was fun wading in it. The water was really cold but naturally, it felt nice considering the hot weather.

The adjacent park had a cute little train that went around Vasona park and a carousel - both time-tested kiddie favorites.

Like all parks, this one too had a small play area with slides, swings, etc. Karthik went on his first slide, protectively hugged by big sister. Obviously, they both really enjoyed it and just couldn't get enough of it.

All in all, a nice, fun place to spend a not-too-hot summer afternoon if you live in the Bay Area...


We had Karthik's birthday party on Saturday at the Southern Spice restaurant in Mountain View. Discovered the restaurant only recently but its become our new favorite place to eat out (inspite of the distance). Have liked all dishes I've had so far and I've had quite a few like bread pakora, vegetable pulav, chenna masala, aloo-gobi, etc. But if I were to list my top picks, I'd say they have the best malai kofta and gulob jamuns I've tasted so far in any restaurant here in the US. Yummy...

Friday, June 09, 2006

4 New Reviews

Reviews for Pudhuppettai, Jery, Thalainagaram and Kokki are online at bbreviews.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Air Force One on the ground – that’s pretty much Firewall in a nutshell. Harrison Ford once again gets to deal with gun-toting bad guys (though in a much bigger space) as he tries to save his family without giving the bad guys what they want. It is an average thriller where a slightly more complicated plot tries to make up for an older Ford and feebler action.

Ford plays the head of network security at a small bank in Seattle. The bank is being acquired by a much bigger bank and Ford doesn’t see eye to eye with the new bank’s head. A man who is introduced to him as a businessman soon reveals himself to be a high-tech robber as he holds Ford’s family hostage and asks Ford to find a way to wire transfer $100 million from his bank. Ford goes along while constantly thinking of a way to save his family.

Firewall is a by-the-numbers thriller that doesn’t miss any trick in the thriller handbook. It gives Ford the perfect family (with a loving wife, a boy and girl), a dog (which will help him at some point), a big house (so people can run around and hide) and a nice job (with access to lots of money). His little boy even has allergies! Similarly, the film itself has familiar elements like a near-escape, small crises, a trusted sidekick, etc. So the film is mostly predictable.

There is a lot of computer mumbo-jumbo thrown around though surprisingly, I never heard the term ‘firewall’. But they add little to the plot. The main idea is to see how Ford outwits the bad guys. Some of his tricks (like his walking letter dictation) are clever but as always, the villain is one step ahead of him initially. The villain too has more plans up his sleeve than just a robbery and that helps keep the plot moving even after the main deed is done.

Villains in thrillers always go to a factory or a similar place to provide an interesting setting for the climax. The villain here too drives a long way but ends up in a pretty unexciting place. So the climax is a little low-key though there is some good one-on-one action.

Ford is solid as always and gets a lot of chances to display quiet anger, which is what he does best. He looks too old to be taking on someone like Paul Bettany in hand-to-hand fighting but the stunts manage to be convincing since he is bruised a lot too. Paul Bettany (who plays Silas in The Da Vinci Code) is smooth and cool as the bad guy. The others don’t have much to do.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Happy Birthday Karthik!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Belated Happy Birthday SPB

SPB turned 60 yesterday, June 4. Considering how young he sounded singing Devuda Devuda... just a year ago, I didn't believe that he has touched 60 (Ilaiyaraja is just 3 years older!). Gifted with an amazingly smooth, mellifluous voice, not to mention the special touches he adds to the songs (like the laugh in Pattu Kannam...), he was, is and will always be my favorite singer. Here's a nice article that traces his career from a Telugu perspective.

To celebrate the occasion, here are some of my favorite SPB solo numbers picked completely at random. I know they just scratch the surface of his incredible collection of songs but when we're talking about a truly gifted person like SPB, there's not much more we can do!

Sangeetha Jaadhimullai... (Kaadhal Oviyam)
Idhayam Oru Koyil... (Idhaya Koyil)
Satham Illaadha... (Amarkkalam)
Rojaavai Thaalaattum... (Ninaivellaam Nithya)
Enna Satham... (Punnagai Mannan)
Andhi Mazhai Pozhigiradhu... (Rajapaarvai)
Salangayittaal Oru Maadhu... (Mythili Ennai Kaadhali)
Ponmaalai Pozhudhu... (Nizhalgal)
Senorita... (Johny)
Nilaave Vaa... (Mouna Raagam)

He may have turned 60. But his voice will always be 16... Happy Belated Birthday SPB!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Queen Bee 2006

13-year-old Katharine Close won the 2006 National Spelling Bee yesterday. The word that won her the trophy - 'ursprache', which means a parent language. I always thought Indian kids did very well in this (last year's winner was an Indian too). But no Indian kids in the top 3 spots this time.

This year's Bee was telecast on prime-time television(ABC) for the first time. I did stumble upon it as I was channel-surfing yesterday night but kept going without realizing what it was.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Fence and Sensitivity

It must be pretty clear from the contents of this blog that I love movies. But I also love going to the movies. I love the previews, I love the growing anticipation before the movie starts, I love munching on the popcorn and I love the big screen and the loud sounds. So I felt stifled when the theater trips were drastically cut down after Kavya was born. The trips that were guaranteed every weekend turned into rare outings and I was left desperately waiting for the DVD release date.

That’s why children’s movies are great! They have allowed me to atleast go back the theaters. I may not be thrilled by the movie but atleast I get the theater-going experience. So it wasn’t too surprising that I was as excited as Kavya when I went to see Over the Hedge last weekend.

The movie was a lot of fun and Kavya enjoyed herself. The animals are cute and there are a lot of visual gags that appealed to her. Unfortunately, the fun didn’t last till the end. Children’s movies always convey a message and such messages are rarely learned without the main characters going through some difficulties. Here the message is that one shouldn’t use others and should be faithful to their friends. And on the way to conveying the message, the animals get caged.

Kavya is incredibly sensitive. The tiniest disappointment can make her burst into tears and it doesn’t take a lot to make her sad. Seeing the sad faces of the animals as they were taken away led to another sad face, this time on Kavya. But that sadness was atleast shortlived as they escape pretty soon. The bigger problem was that a bear is the bad guy in this film. But ever since Baloo in Jungle Book, Kavya likes bears. So as the bear in Over the Hedge falls down and gets beaten up and flies away after being tied to balloons, the tears flowed rather freely and didn’t stop until the end credits came up. Kavya was probably the only kid who came out of the film crying!

But overall, she did have fun and surprisingly, so did I. The movie works quite well for adults too. The dialogs are smart and there are a number of clever jokes. The movie takes a lot of digs at the American lifestyle and the importance it affords to food and eating. And the staple of any animated film that also aims to appeal to adults - digs at other movies - is also present. I noticed nods to atleast two movies – Citizen Kane and A Streetcar Named Desire.