Turning 25!

Dear 21 year old self,

Hi,

I know you are doing pretty good, rather brilliant, if I may say so at this moment. You just got your first credit card, which is a big deal to you, a job you are proud of and most importantly, good people around you. The friends you are hanging out with right now are going to be an important part of your time to come, some of whom you will call up at 4AM and say “Listen, I screwed up”. The surprise 21st birthday party was killer and the dinner that followed it too. Now you may wonder what wisdom I have gained in a period of four years that I will share with you. It’s not much but let me assure you, you will not be disappointed where you have got.

Chicago is beautiful; its suburbs are calm and serene. New York City is breathtaking to say the least and one needs to spend a year of his life there, well I definitely intend to. And my good old Bloomington, of which you have never heard of before and where I am right now, is a small student town, lively as hell and filled with activity. Let me tell you that for a person who has never left Hyderabad in 21 years for more than a 2 month holiday now and then, the next 4 years of your life is filled with a lot of travel. Some of it alone, some to really far off places and some to a point of no return and you will enjoy each one of those.

So, that brings me to the point of this letter. Sitting at coffee shops and working on case studies, roaming around a small student town and its downtown and attending random music events are some of the things that have been a fascination for a long time and I assure you that most of these small things have been accomplished. Over the last four years, apart from fulfilling all these childhood fascinations, and adding a few more to the to-do list, you have sort of a clearer picture of what to do in life, which had always been a puzzle all through.

We are fascinated by numbers, especially us Indians. The very idea of putting a number next to every little thing in life is something that comes naturally to us. Creating pointless milestones out of irrelevant entities is a common pass time, Sachin’s 100th 100 being a clear example here. Living half the world away from the homeland has not taken an iota of Indianess out of me. I strongly believe that biryani and pani puri can bring about world peace and the Golden Gate Bridge is nothing in front of the Tank Bund back home. No arguments on those. Similarly, I still love numbers and turning 25 is a big deal. Turning 21 was a big deal as well, in a good way, but 25 is weird.

The first 21 seemed like a lifetime. That was the only time when you naively trust people to be as nice to you as you are to them. You make a ton of friends, become close to some and lose a lot of them as well. With every friend you lose, you lose a bit of yourself. Some memories, activities, that you associate with one cannot be repeated with anyone else since the effect is just not the same. You will realize that some friendships last for a reason, some for a season and very few for a lifetime. Believing this lessens the pain of the ones that can’t go the distance.

This letter is not an expression of rebellion or sadness but of optimism. We are all born with the innate ability to rise above all the pain and suffering that life constantly brings. We are all born with a glimmer of hope, that maybe we can change things for ourselves if we really tried. I know I can overcome adversity because there is a part of me that will never give up. Here’s to overcoming our greatest obstacles.

All things considered, you have done a fairly decent job so far. While I am really glad to turn 25 in six months, there are certain things I miss about being 21; things that have withered with time just the slightest bit. The idealism I had, the pure belief that time is the best equalizer, the self-righteousness in decision making and a few other things. I have often wondered the very purpose of life and the comic strip below is the closest I have come to believe.

Cheers,
Kalyan

P.S. The core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences. True Story. Here’s to Supertramp! 

50/50 – Movie Review

It’s not often that you rent a DVD of a movie whose protagonist is fighting cancer and half the time you are laughing. By laughing, I mean, in a positive way, with the seriousness of the issue untouched. Adam, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is the quintessential “nice guy” who is diagnosed with cancer at 27. Armed with a friend who tries to take advantage of this situation to improve his own personal life, this movie deals with the whole process of day to day life of dealing with cancer, the operations and hospital visits, the side effects of the therapy etc.

50/50 Movie Poster

50/50

What sets 50/50 apart from most movies of its genre is the honesty and simplicity in the script. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance is the other driving force behind the movie; he makes it so believable that a 27 year old cancer patient does not have to do anything dramatic with his life that we forget that we are watching a movie about a possible terminally ill person. Most movies which deal with illnesses have been too melodramatic, making the movies more sad than hopeful. The illness there plays a more pivotal role than the character playing it and for a change, watching the illness be just a minor facet of the whole story in this case makes 50/50 a very likable movie. Also, by not over focusing on the personal relationships of the protagonist, the director Jonathan Levine keeps it as natural as possible. Supported by a good cast and some light music, this is one DVD I would not mind renting and watching again. Good job, Jonathan Levine & Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Image Source: http://www.50-50themovie.com/

“He gave grit a good name” Rahul Dravid about Steve Waugh

It is only fitting that Steve Waugh had requested Rahul Dravid to write the foreword to his autobiography, Out of My Comfort Zone. Following is what Dravid has written:

“I was 14 years old –sweating at the nets and dreaming, like schoolboys do, of playing for my country – when I first saw Steve Waugh. It was the 1987 World Cup in India, which Australia won, and while Steve was in his early twenties he had already caught my eye. This was not merely because of his ability with bat and ball (his slower deliveries bowled with various actions would soon be replicated in nets around India), but also for his grit under pressure. Steve appeared to relish the big occasion, seemed to thrive in such situations, but I had no idea back then that it would be this characteristic that would become his signature or that years later I would be privileged to see it first hand.

Greatness is a label easily bestowed in these ‘exaggerated’ times, but Steve earned such high praise. History will remember him as one of the game’s finest practitioners. He averaged over 50 in Test cricket, the mark of a superb batsman, and played a significant role in two World Cup victories, 12 years apart. As captain, he inherited a gifted Australian team from Mark Taylor and forged it into an even more aggressive and successful side. He was influential beyond his shores, a man looked up to.

Steve was a hard man and respected because he had done it the hard way. Greatness wasn’t handed to him; he pursued it diligently, single-mindedly. Dropped from the team, he worked his way back. The story of his resolute journey, among other things, makes for interesting reading.

With 32 Test centuries, there is no shortage of impressive innings to remember, but the one that stands out for me is the 67 not out in 273 minutes he made against us in a one-off Test in Delhi in 1996. On a turning wicket, alive with uneven bounce, he constructed an innings that was masterful in both its technique and its complete concentration. Watching it from silly point as he fended off gifted spinners like Anil Kumble was an education, a lesson for a youngster like me playing his first season of international cricket.

For me, when Steve batted, a couple of things stood out. There was the infinite care he put into his defense, each ball carefully watched and played as if his life depended on it. The acceleration of his bat was interesting as well, for sometimes you thought he was going to be late for the ball, but then his bat would descend at tremendous speed to meet it. Most of the time we left him alone, not speaking to him on the field, for we knew he fed off any conversation, and enjoyed confrontation and challenge that came with it. Australia was never beaten while he was there at the crease.

Off the field, his manner was introverted, his emotions tightly locked. He appeared to live the cliché of ‘No quarter given and none asked’. But off the field, if you sought him out for a chat, he was never reluctant to share his thoughts.

On Australia’s 1998 tour to India I was keen to pick his brain on batting and cricket in general, and Steve promised to let me do so once the series was over. But Australia lost the series and he was injured and missed the last Test, in Bangalore. I would have understood if he had forgotten about this eager youngster, and I thought it was inappropriate to remind him, but on the third day of the Test, unprompted, he called me and we met for dinner. It was a discussion that would have a lasting influence on me.

His ruthless style, combined with a passion for the game, has won him a staggering, almost unrivalled, following in India. But this is a reverence that does not only stem from cricket but also from generosity of spirit. Steve’s work with the children of Udayan in Calcutta has been widely admired, and he has also sought to discover India, to learn about us and go beyond the tired, stereotypical image of this beautiful country that so many visiting cricketers carry with them.

Steve’s legacy is hard to define, but I will remember him because he gave grit a good name. He proved that it is not only the pretty player who can capture the imagination, but also the tough and determined. Suddenly these qualities became as vital, as spoken about, as silken grace and sublime timing. He was leathery tough, played the game aggressively, and would do whatever it took within the rules to win. He built a team that has achieved legendary status, raised the level of young cricketers who played under him, and also embraced the traditions of the game and highlighted their importance.

I will remember the pain of not beating him in that last Test of his, in Sydney in January 2004, but also recall fondly his final innings in cricket against us, for it was a typical Steve Waugh innings: mind over matter, a man not in form but soldiering on, taking his team to safety. I will remember, too, that when I hit the winning runs in the Test at Adelaide n that same series, Steve found the ball and handed it to me. I have it still and is signed by him.

Steve Waugh is an interesting man who has lived an interesting life; a man of cricket but not just of cricket. For 18 years he has traveled the world, won and lost and learnt and led. He has faced cameras, critics and fast bowlers, and he has brought to it all a commitment to excellence.”

The book is available at flipkart here – Out Of My Comfort Zone

Image Source: Cricinfo

Foreword Source – http://mayesh.wordpress.com/

The League of Champions!

Remember those days at school when there was this particular chap who would get always get the highest marks in everything, no matter how hard everyone else tried? As far back as I can remember, I lost the desire to compete for that 1st rank because of that. Remember the 2004 Formula 1 Season where Schumi went on winning every bloody race and bored the hell out of his own fans, forget the others? What does such a thing do to the sport? It kills it. Competition is necessary. A certain amount of challenge is always good, even for the best. If there were two three people competing for that 1st rank in class, would it not bring the best out of them?

The point I am trying to drive here is that, “Rank 1″ is just a number. It is an accumulation of the good work done by a team over a period of time and not valid on every single day. To catch hold of Dhoni and say “You are No. 1 in tests, now go beat everyone around the world” is silly. A little chaos, a little uncertainty, a proper challenge, a loss here and there, an underdog victory, isn’t that what a fan wants? I would like to assume that we are fans of the sport first and then a fan of the team/player. Sometimes though, the fan of the team/player in us overpowers the fan of the sport. The 100th 100 of Sachin is a classic example for this. With a test match to win/save on the 5th day and a viral fever pulling him down, there were people on twitter still rooting for the 100th 100.

Rahul Dravid's Century at Lords

Rahul Dravid after his century at Lords

There is this concept a friend of mine talks about very often. In a friend group, ideally 3 to 5 people, everyone is equally talented in something or the other and the group can roughly be termed as a league of equals. Let me explain this with an example. Look at Dil Chahta Hai. All the three friends there have some skills and at no point does one feel that any one of the three is a misfit. Extending that theory to sports, there is no best player or best team but a league of brilliant players or teams.There is no best batsman or bowler, but a league of brilliant batsmen and bowlers. It is the healthy competition between these teams/players that brings out the best for the team and excitement for the viewers. How would the World Cup 2011 have been if India did not have to beat Aus, Pak and Sri Lanka but instead Zimbabwe, Holland and Kenya? It would be a bore if India won every match everyday like the brutal Aussies did in 2007. The sport will die, much like that year’s World Cup.

India lost to England in a test match at Lords. My point is, chill maro. Dravid is back in form; Swann doesn’t look as threatening as hyped; Raina, Praveen and Ishant seem to be in the form of their lives; Sachin & Gambhir will be fit by then. And most importantly, India is now the underdog.

God, it is killing me!

Some things should never end and somethings should never change. Like the sunrise & the sunset, the taste of filter coffee, the humor in Tom & Jerry, the wordplay of Wodehouse. Imagine the plight of a filter coffee addict when he is forced to drink a cup of instant coffee from a lousy coffee vending machine forever. Imagine how the world would react when the sun doesn’t rise on a given day. Imagine the gloom on the face of a Calvin and Hobbes fan when he does not find the strips funny and insightful anymore. That is doomsday!

To a fan, Federer not winning the Wimbledon is more than all of these. On that day, no other news can be worse than that. The match and how they played are inconsequential. The result hurts and no matter how hard the fan tries to justify to himself that it was a one off game, it is difficult to look forward to the US Open believing that Fedex, its five time champion, is not the favorite again.

For someone who has grown up watching an agile Swiss tennis player make mockery of huffing and puffing man beasts, making us smile and wonder with his effortless and graceful shots and finally fall on the center court of different grounds, a record 16 times, it is difficult to watch him lose. Especially, if it is not the finals. Especially, if it is the Wimbledon.

Federer

మతమేల గతమేల మనసున్న వాడు – Bombay Theme Song in Telugu

వేటూరి గారు రాసిన కవిత్వాలకు తిరుగు అన్నది వుండదు. ఆయన రచించిన యెన్నో కవిత్వాలలో ఒకటి బొంబాయి చిత్రం లోని “మతమేల గతమేల” అన్న పాత. రహమాన్ సంగీతం తో, ఈ పాత చిత్రం అంతం లో దేశం లో సమయిక్యత వుండాలి అన్న విషయం పై రచించారు వేటూరి గారు. ఆ కవిత్వం:

మతమేల గతమేల మనసున్న వాడు,
హితమేదొ తెలియాలి మనిషైన వాడు,
నీ దేశమే పూవనం. పూవై వికశించనీ జీవితం.


కన్నీట
కడగాలి కులమన్న పాపం,
మత రక్త సింధూరం కడగాలి అరుణం,
గాయాల నీ తల్లికీ, కన్నా!! జో లాలి పాడాలిరా!!

సరిహద్దులే దాటు గాలిలా, ప్రవహించనీ ప్రేమనే హాయిగా,
నదులన్ని కలిసేటి కడలింటిలో, తారల్లు విరిసేటి నింగిలో,
కలలోకి జారేను రాత్రులే, వెలిగించె నవ్యోదయం. ( మతమేల గతమేల )

 

తల ఎత్తి నిలవాలి నీ దెశమూ! ఇల మీదనే స్వర్గమై!!
భయమన్నదే లేని భవితవ్యమూ!! సాధించరా సంభ్రమై!!
ఒక మాట ఒక బాట ఒక ప్రాణమై!! సాగాలిరా ఏకమై!!!


Ala Modalaindi, Dhobi Ghat and my thoughts on Modern Indian Cinema

So we have seen a lot of new age Indian romantic movies or, as the west calls them, rom-coms. Consider a movie made in the 90’s. The story of any these movies starts off with an arrogant girl and an equally arrogant boy hating each other, who end up falling head over heals about each other. Essentially, the story writer then could not take any liberties in modifying this plot and all he/she could do was to modify how/why/where/under what circumstances these two, in some cases three or more also, met, fought and ended up liking each other. The reason I mention the brief history of rom-coms is that the next day after watching Ala Modalaindi, the movie was still making me think of how we have evolved. It made me think of how movies today, the good ones, do not have silly songs where couples keep running around the bushes anymore. It made me think of how the nakhre-waali ladki is no longer the heroine and instead we have a self-confident girl who is clear about her career and decisions. Look how far we have come in terms of character development!

Ala Modalaindi

We rarely see a college student based love-story, like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, thanks to Dil Chahta Hai which started the trend that a story involving folks who work makes more sense. Cinema is truly an reflection of our times. I am not talking about the outrageous southie movies, and Salman Khan movies too, which involve one guy bashing up a hundred goons but the ones like Wake Up Sid and Bommarillu. These did not really have a lot of content and story, like Pyaasa or Don, but the way they presented the protagonists, their confusions and habits, are something at least people from my generation can relate to.

We see more movies these days with the absence of typical love triangles, factionism, fights and stupid dances. Movies today have real-life scenarios like mis-understandings, failures with absence of out-of-the-world coincidences. It is refreshing because any movie which surprises it’s audience, in a pleasant way of course, is what we all want. Don’t we like it when we subconsciously guess the story and it turns out to be something else? Usual Suspects?

Another important improvement has been in screenplay development. We see voice-overs being used in a good way and one of the best examples is Being Cyrus. If you haven’t seen it, give it watch and also listen to it carefully. Even Last Lear had very good voice over effects. We also have non-linear screenplays, the ones flipping back and forth, the ones in which the audience is assumed to understand how the story is going without being told too much, like Johnny Gaddar.

Dhobi Ghat

Last and probably most important is the increase in the number of women behind the camera and this brings me to Ala Modaliandi. At the intermission of the film, my friend casually mentioned, don’t movies with women directors have more mature stories? This movie had many ups and a few downs but on the whole was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The humor was witty and the characters had more off-beat jobs, like reality TV directors, veterinarians, social activists amongst others.

Another movie in the same style is Dhobi Ghat, which was relaxedly paced as if the director was in no hurry to tell the story, sub plots into which she did not dwell too much and the best of all, usage of songs only as a background music.  A trend which Rang De Basanti had set, where the song is either a part of the story or is just something in the background. I would love to see more of that, where I cannot fast forward the songs and not miss anything, irrespective of the nature of the songs. Telugu films of the 60s used songs as the only mode of expressing romance. There rarely were any dialogs/proposals etc as  a part of the dialogs and this made the songs more meaningful and also more enjoyable.

So, I believe that the day is not far when we can stop bothering about the star cast and look at the makers of the film to decide whether to watch it or skip it. And one of these days, we might also not have any hype around a movie and have to see its cast on every reality show a week before its release. Hopefully.

P.S. By no means am I criticizing the movies of the old, but am appreciating the improvement in the quality of Indian cinema. Also, technical details like cinematography and art direction are not relevant in this discussion since they would not make a difference in the quality of cinema.

Image Courtesy: Random “Watch Movies Online” sites, found via google, which promote piracy and do not deserve to be linked.