09 October 2016

'Queen Of Katwe' - Review

Review of 'Queen Of Katwe':

2005, Kampala (Uganda): An engineer called Robert Katende joins an NGO and starts teaching chess to children in a slum in Katwe (the poorest area of the city). One of his students is a 10-year-old girl called Phiona Mutesi - the daughter of a widow with 4 children, who sells vegetables for a living. Under Katende's guidance, Phiona achieves the unlikely feat of becoming Uganda's national chess champion and an international chess player.

In 2012, Sports Illustrated reporter Tim Crothers wrote a book about Phiona Mutesi called Queen Of Katwe. And now, Meera Nayyar (Mira Nair) has made it into a movie - featuring Madina Nalwanga in the lead role.

The most striking thing about Queen Of Katwe is its depiction of the Kampala slum. The word 'poverty' is too feeble to be used here. This is a world where life is not a wide zone of comfort but just a thin line of existence - and any chance event (like a road accident or heavy rain) can push you right off that line. Where a simple thing like taking a bath is a major project. Where shops don't have open fronts but iron grills instead. But somehow, in the midst of all this deprivation and despair, the poor people of the slum manage to celebrate life - through music, dance and colour.

Queen Of Katwe is a simple and heart-warming story about real people, their real pain and suffering, their real hopes and dreams, their real victories and defeats. It is definitely a welcome change from Hollywood's mind-numbing superhero factory.

05 October 2016

Purusha, Prakriti, Brahma, Kshatra

A categorisation of human qualities:

Intelligence + Knowledge
Strength + Courage
Softness + Gentleness

02 October 2016

'Sully' - Review

Review of 'Sully':

On 15 January 2009, a plane took off from New York to Seattle with 150 people on board. Shortly after takeoff, a flock of birds hit it and blew out both its engines. The standard solution in such a situation is to return to the airport. The pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Sully), had just seconds to make a decision. He chose instead to land the plane on the Hudson River - a very dangerous move. Miraculously, the plane landed safely and all the 150 people survived. Sullenberger became an American hero.

Clint Eastwood's Sully tells the story of that incident (which everybody knows) and more importantly, what happened behind the scenes (which everybody doesn't know). Because even as the American public and media went ballistic about Sullenberger's heroism, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was conducting its investigation into the incident. And its initial direction was that Sullenberger had been reckless and irresponsible in landing the plane on the river - instead of taking it back to the airport.

The first half is average. The writing (script by Todd Komarnicki) and direction could have been better. The second half is the part that delivers. Eastwood tells the story in his trademark no-nonsense style. Aaron Eckhart as the co-pilot (sporting a thick mustache) and Laura Linney as Sullenberger's wife give solid performances. But the movie, needless to say, belongs to Tom Hanks. He portrays Sullenberger as a genuine hero. Not a movie/media hero who is flashy, flamboyant and larger-than-life. But a real hero who is no-frills, down-to-earth, simple and humble.

30 September 2016

'Pink' (Hindi Movie) Review

Review of Hindi movie 'Pink':

What is a movie? What is motion picture? Motion picture is an art form that tells stories. So a movie is a work of art that tells a story - about some characters, the lives they live, the situations they go through and the emotions they feel. This is the fundamental function of a movie.

But art also has power. And motion picture, in particular, is very powerful. It can be used to inform and educate people - especially about important social issues. But to the extent it does this, it compromises on its fundamental function - and therefore on its quality as a work of art.

Which brings us to Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury's Pink. Pink takes a 50-50 approach. 50% of it is a movie that tells a story about some characters. And 50% of it is about an important social issue - violence against women. The movie part of it is good. It is realistic and has some good performances.

The other 50% is meant to educate people about violence against women. Specifically, it argues the case of modernity against feudalism. This part gets full marks for good intentions. But it goes against the fundamental function of a movie - which is to tell a story. So it reduces Pink's quality as a movie.

So as an educational video meant for bringing about social improvement, Pink gets 10 out of 10. And as a movie, it gets 5 out of 10.

26 September 2016

Analysts Rule The World


(On an alien space-ship)
Alien 1: Sir, we have discovered a planet with life.
Alien 2: What! Really?
Alien 1: Yes. Its atmosphere is nitrogen + oxygen, its surface is covered mostly by water and it has carbon-based life-forms.
Alien 2: How many types of life-forms?
Alien 1: There are many. But one type is dominant.
Alien 2: Find out everything you can about them.
Alien 1: Yes, sir.

(Some time later)
Alien 1: Sir, their primary mode of information transmission is in audio-visual form by using electro-magnetic waves.
Alien 2: How do they receive this information?
Alien 1: Through some strange-looking boxes.
Alien 2: Is this important?
Alien 1: Very. They spend all their time looking at these boxes.
Alien 2: Excellent. Tap into those waves. Find out who are their rulers.
Alien 1: Yes, sir.

(Some time later)
Alien 1: Sir, their rulers are called 'analysts'.
Alien 2: What?
Alien 1: Yes. We did a frequency study of their transmissions. 99% of their transmissions contain the words "According to analysts", "Analysts say this", "Analysts say that", etc.
Alien 2: Are you sure about this?
Alien 1: We are 100% sure.
Alien 2: OK, locate these analysts immediately. We must talk to them soon as possible. I will inform the Emperor.
Alien 1: Yes, sir!

27 August 2016

Segregation of Sexes in India

An important difference between agricultural society and industrial society is the relationship between the sexes.

20th century India was an agricultural society. One feature of an agricultural society is the segregation of the sexes. Boys and girls sat separately in schools and colleges. They did not talk to each other. If a boy talked to a girl (or vice versa) it would make news. As a result, boys and girls grew up without interacting much with each other. This situation continued into adulthood. Women did not work much outside the house. Their participation in the workforce was low. So men and women also did not interact much with each other.

21st century India is an industrialising society. It is completely different from 20th century India. It is not yet an industrial society. But it is no longer an agricultural society either. Today boys and girls sit together in schools and colleges. They talk to each other all the time. And more women are now working outside the house and participating in the workforce. So men and women also interact much more with each other.

This seems like a trivial point (and today's youth will find this description of 20th century India bizarre). But it may have some relevance. Social scientists say that violence against women is mainly due to the segregation of the sexes. How? One, boys/men don't know/understand girls/women. So they don't respect/appreciate them enough. Two, boys/men don't have normal and healthy relationships with girls/women. So this leads to frustration - which in turn leads to violence. Now if this theory is correct, then increasing industrialisation/modernisation will lead to decreased violence against women.

23 July 2016

'Star Trek Beyond': Review

Review of 'Star Trek Beyond':

In 2009, Paramount Pictures rebooted the Star Trek movie series. Director J J Abrams and scriptwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Transformers series) made Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). For the third movie, Paramount made two disastrous changes. First, Abrams went away to direct Star Wars: Force Awakens. So they replaced him with Justin Lin (Fast & Furious series!). Second, scriptwriters Orci and Kurtzman were replaced with actor Simon Pegg (!!!) and rookie Doug Jung.

Hollywood action movies have a formula: beginning action scene + middle plot sequence + ending action scene. Star Trek Beyond follows this formula, but screws up 2 out of the 3 parts:
a) Beginning – Justin Lin's dal-roti is cars racing on the road, not spaceships fighting in space. So for the opening spacebattle sequence, he copies Michael Bay – yes, the jerky camerawork that gives you a headache. The over-complicated battle scene is badly shot and edited.
b) Middle – There is not much of a plot here. At best, it is a plot for one TV episode. Simon Pegg plays Scotty here, and Benji in the Mission Impossible series. His one-point agenda in writing this script was to give himself a Tom Cruise scene (hanging from a cliff). The entire middle is poorly written and directed.
c) Ending – Here Justin Lin dumps Michael Bay and tries his own thing. The result is a climax that is at least watchable. (Any Beastie Boys fans around? Kirk and co destroy an entire alien invasion fleet just by playing their song 'Sabotage'!)

The cast (Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, etc) do the best they can with this average script. And why hire a good actor like Idris Elba (the villain) just to wear a plastic mask on his face? Heck, I could have done that job (for a lot less money). This year is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Hollywood has reduced the classic sci-fi saga to a mediocre product from its assembly line. Creator Gene Roddenberry must be rolling in his grave. Star Trek Beyond joins this year's big-budget duds: Star Wars: Force Awakens, Superman Vs Batman, Avengers: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse. Mainstream Hollywood is as dead as mainstream Bollywood. (STB has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 85%. This puts one more question mark on the honesty of American movie critics. The cynics seem to be the only honest guys around)

PS: I felt so guilty about dragging my parents to this B-grade show that in the interval I booked tickets for a Kannada movie for the next day – to atone for my sin :-p