Monday, January 29, 2007

Cars and Maculinity 101

Even if you go in to watch The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift expecting it to be bad, you'd still be surprised by its flatness. Relocating the lead character to Tokyo and trying to drum up some parochialism doesn't give the worn out plot any legs at all. And the races, though tight and polished, don't seem to have any stakes worth caring for.

However, a variation on an old Indian saying goes: even a pool of mud can house a Lotus. There were several interesting things I learned about cars and masculinity from the movie.

In the opening sequence Lucas Black and Zachary Ty Bryan decide on a car race as the best way to decide who the girl (Nikki Griffin) will end up with (pic below, left). A cheerleader pulls out her bra and whips it in the air as both Black and Bryan gun their engines. When the pink bra lands on the tarmac (below, right), both cars whip past - sending it flying in the air. Whoo-hooo! This is the kind of stuff stuff first year classes in Womens Studies are built around.

No matter what anyone tells you, hot chicks care deeply about cars, often opening the hood and admiring the insides while dressed scantily (below, left). And they love to party with guys who talk about nothing but cars all day (below, right).

Also, look, a guy may fly down from the US to meet his Dad in Tokyo, not having seen him for years and all Dad may have for him are a few gruff words (pic below, left). Hey, where's my hug Dad? But put a car and a few tools between them and they'll bond for like, a few minutes even (below, right).

Boy, there are a lot of good looking girls in Tokyo, but the only girls worth getting into trouble over are the ones already being treated like someone else's property (below, top left). Covet them, even if you might end up getting your nuts kicked (below, top right). In fact, get the whole family to join in (below, bottom).

Drifting in cars on dangerous mountain bends in nothing but moonlight can actually be quite romantic and a great suicidal first date (below, left). Even better, you can score phone numbers by scorching a gigantic wheelie around a car with chicks in it (below, right).

Remember, whenever in trouble (below, left) use a car race to sort it out (below, right). It works every time whether it is over women, money or honor!

Finally a quick word on actors Brian Tee (Drift King) and Suan Kang (Han). Both bring a welcome respite to the rest of the charmless performances in the movie. Tee manages to pull off a glowering bad guy without getting mired in the usual cliches. Kang brings a hang dog coolness to the movie that survives the many limp lines he has been given.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Scribbles and Sketches

I stumbled onto a rather addictive page from zefrank recently and spent quite a bit of time playing with his interactive web applications. If you are there, definitely try the scribbler, which takes any doodle you make and prorgressively stimulates a scribble based sketh based on your previous doodle. You can read more about how scribble works here.

Here is a simple one I made to show how scribbler works. My doodle is on the left. A typical run through of scribble is in the middle. You can also change colors midway, which is shown in the rightmost image.

Just about anything you do ends up looking good. Here are a couple of simple ones I did. Nice, eh? My original doodles looked like something my 5 year old would have done.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Pathan's Recall - What has changed?

At the start of the ongoing series between India and West Indies, the selectors rewarded Joginder Sharma for a fine Ranji season by recalling him. He was given one game - a low scoring affair in which West Indies destructed handing India a 2-0 lead. Joginder came in at the fall of Dhoni's wicket in the 21st over and scraped together 6 runs in 19 balls. As the first change seamer, he sent down 4 overs for 16 runs.

While Joginder was trying to make the most of his chance, Pathan was trying hard to regain his mojo, bowling for Baroda in the Ranji Trophy. Baroda lost two of the three games he played but he showed occasional glimpses of his old form, at one point collaborating with Rakesh Patel to send Mumbai spiralling to 0 for 5 in the semifinals.

By any standards its not enough to justify Pathan's recall as India's premier seamer. But it may not be what the selectors are looking at. Viewed differently, Pathan now becomes India's allround option, much like the ones the selectors were trying to unearth with Joginder. He can bat really well (he recorded the highest score for India in their disastrous tour of South Africa recently) and if he isn't expected to carry the seam attack, his bowling can be seen in a different light as extremely handy.

It remains to be seen how Pathan is positioned and used if he gets a game to play.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A very Rogue-ish Gallery of Songs

It would have been easy to dismiss Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys - a reinterpretation of salt water ditties - as an effort to cash in on the huge success of Disney's Pirates of the Carribean. Originated as a concept collection by Pirates director Gore Verbinski, the CD has executive producing credits for both Verbinski and actor Johny Depp.

But as producer Hal Willner explains in the liner notes, the actual production beyond the concept was a separate creative process. First, Willner started by collecting as many chanties as he could by browsing on-line stores. After compiling 400 tunes, he shortlisted them and then went about recruiting a band.

Using a loosely structure recording process, Willner (pic) would invite selected artists to look at the songs and then have them commit their version of the tune. Anti/Epitaph, the sister labels who commissioned the set, have a reputation for artist driven music and this shows in the way Willner first picked solid artists rather than stars and allowed them the room to interpret the tunes they were given (no Hannah Montana on this one).

All of this has resulted in making Rogue's Gallery endearingly raw and rowdy and gives it a crowded barroom type of intimacy. The CDs start off with "Cape Code Girls" by
Baby Gramps, who was clearly put on this earth to create this tune and goes on to feature artists like Rufus Wainwright, Nick Cave, John C Reilly, Jolie Holland, Bryan Ferry, Bono, Sting, Lou Reed, Andrea Corr and my one of my favorites - Lucinda Williams. (It's a shame Epitabh signings Tom Waits or Neko Case don't feature anywhere)

There are 43 songs in all, 23 on the first disc. A lot of them have the smell of rum and whiskey in them. There is a fiddle-infused, bitter-sweet ode to a sailor at sea by Eliza Carthy. Sting does a lively version of Blood Red Roses. Loudon Wainwright III renders the progressively filthy Good Ship Venus. (This disc doesn't have a Parental Advisory label on it but probably should). Most of these put a smile on my lips that stayed there all day.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Traffic Signal delivers a stinker or two

The music for Madhur Bhandarkar's new flick Traffic Signal is out, with promos for the movie playing on TV. And while we all talk about the cool new music coming down the pike, I thought I'd mention a couple of snoozeworthy efforts on this soundtrack.

Yeh Zindagi hai to kya zindagi hai (Hariharan, Sangeet Haldipur)
I really like Hariharan's voice and soulful delivery but even he can't save this pop-ghazal that can't decide which hook to call home. The musical arrangments sound like someone fell asleep for long periods at a time and the song meanders for a good five minutes before fading instantly from memory.

Dil Naiyo Maane Re (Himesh Reshammiya, Tulsi Kumar)
Ok, let's not fault music director Shamir Tandon for this one because it's been delivered on this CD by you-know-who. Apparently Himesh backed off from doing the music for this film to score time to finish his own flick. So he gave the movie this turkey instead, which first showed up on the soundtrack of Ahista Ahista. Well, what's worse than Tulsi Kumar singing a song? Himesh Reshammiya doing some funny accent to go along with it. As if mauling that cute guitar riff in the beginning with some predictable thumping beats wasn't crime enough.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth: Why it works

It’s not that no one has heard of Global Warning before. In fact, Discovery Channel’s excellent multi-part Global Warming: What You Need to Know narrated with facility by Tom Brokaw set the standard on this topic when it aired last year. The Al Gore powered documentary An Inconvenient Truth doesn’t break much new ground in terms of informing us about what’s happening. In fact, it’s really a slide show by a former presidential candidate. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. And the details make An Inconvenient Truth a very compelling film.

Unlike what the DVD sleeve says, Gore does politicize the issue of Global Warming. At one point he even essays a non-too subtle call to displace the current government based on its inability to act on issues of environmental significance. There’s a lumbering section on his abortive attempt to become the President (Gore starts off the documentary by introducing himself, rather gamely, as “the man who was the next President of the United Status”. After some applause, he genially admonishes the audience with “I don’t find that funny at all”). And as mentioned before, no new scientific ground is broken in the documentary regarding the topic it elaborates. In one mildly exploitative segment, Gore dwells on footage from natural disasters to bring the danger close to home.

But the following few things make Gore’s movie a joy to watch.

Gore uses his unique position and contacts as the former Veep of the US to accumulate charts, pictures and facts that would normally evade other documentarians. And he puts all this together steadily, often playfully, into a compelling global picture. Somewhere in the documentary he says that he’s given his presentation over a thousand times and he’s constantly fine tuned it for the masses. It shows!

He presents himself as an expert without sounding pompous. He constantly talks about his work as an environmentally focused office holder which is then spliced in with related footage from his political career.

He is not afraid to take the US to task. He shows evidence that the US is the major offender in terms of CO2 emissions and isn’t afraid to mention that it's CO2 output is way out of whack in terms of both territory and population. The enthusiastic response the movie received shows that Gore’s respect for the intelligence and propensity of the American audience did not go unrewarded.

In perhaps the most clever and winning bit, Gore talks about a painful family memory as an analogy to help us understand why people are slow to react to this threat. This deft bit of humanizing hits the audience at the right time in terms of understanding that the issue of climate change, no matter how large, has to be solved at the grassroots.

Finally, instead of ranting on, he ends on a positive note, telling us that we have everything we need to start addressing Global Warming today. And he uses examples from American history to encourage his audience to get going. It’s a disarming and engaging way to finish a documentary about something that threatens our very existence.

Abhiwarya at the Box Office

So we know they can sell magazines. But can they sell movies?

The recent disaster of of Umrao Jaan, which grossed $1.3 million and sank faster than a kabab in my Mom's dhanshak daal (not that I've tried that, Ma) had everyone asking that question. So all eyes were on the romantically no-longer ambiguos duo when Guru hit the theaters on January 12.

Early reports were said to be disappointing. But then the Abhiwarya engagement broke and everyone's curiousity got the better of them because they went to watch the movie in droves (to be fair, Guru has gotten the best reviews of Abhishek's career).

In about a week, Guru's worldwide take at the
box office is just over $9 million worldwide. Is that good? Compare that to last year's biggest blockbuster Dhoom 2 which sits at $31 million globally after 7 weeks in theaters and another solid hit Don which crossed $19 million in its first 6 weeks.

It won't be Abhiwarya's biggest hit (that would be Dhoom 2), but it'll almost certainly be a big ka-ching! and usher a great start for Bollywood in 2007.

Dhoni's Whiplash Drive

That Mahendra Singh Dhoni honed his cricket on tennis balls is well known in Indian cricket circles. He uses his bottom hand and strikes the ball in a way that reporters have now termed "teeing off". Analogies to golf aside, Dhoni's bottom handed drives have turned into this highly unique whiplash drive that brings the bat in full circle in front of the batsman. It's been compared to Bheema wielding his gadaa and is quite a sight to watch.

Thanks to Cricket Videos Unplugged for the screen cap opportunity.

Monday, January 22, 2007

How Himesh Reshammiya can get his groove back

Himesh Reshammiya is probably the most prolific music director in Bollywood today. His songs blare from loudspeakers all over the nation. His concerts are packed. His music props up dance floors everywhere. His fans are legion. So why does my gujju brother get no respect from a lot of people? Even Johny Lever handed him a hilarious reprimand on his show not too long ago. Well, there are several reasons, but instead of dwelling on them, I'd like to point out the following things Reshammiya could do to get his respect back.

Stop with the whole "India's First Global Rock Star" angle. A talented musician with ambition is one thing. A talented musician who thinks he's the big cheese and sorrounds himself constantly with women writhing around him is another thing. It works for rap stars, not for Bollywood directors. Besides it'll make older men jealous and they'll stop buying your CDs.

Quit playing wounded, noble guy in sappy videos. Playing sobbing victim wronged by women works once or twice. After a few, it gets old, then downright annoying. Make a video that isn't scripted around staring with puppy dog eyes at hot women. Mix it up, for God's Sake. Cast Jassi in something. Or better yet, play a psychopath who is obsessed with killing ants.

Know your strengths. See that video: I Love You Sayoni? You cracking a smile in there - good. You dancing - bad. You playing a good soul to a little boy - good. You playing martyr - terrible.

Do keep the cap and flowing trench coat. The entire scruffy, mysterious, cool look works if only because no one in their right minds would wear stuff like that in a tropical country and that makes you stand out. (Although reader Asha P. would like you to take the cap off - good idea once in a while)

Don't try to sing all your songs even though you have a pretty good voice (Don't worry about that "nasal" thing. It's not bad at all) Even a voice can get overexposed and your voice box is more exposed than Shakira's hips right now.

Pick your singers with care. It's not important to try out new talent just for the sake of it. More of the amiably sunny Kunal Ganjawala, less screechy stuff from Tulsi Kumar. And to hell with filmi connections.

Do push the limits of dance and rave but innovation is best served with quality not quantity. There is absolutely no need to remix every song on the CD. Some people do like to just listen to the music, not everyone wants to attempt a dislocated hip with every song.

Stop with the hyno-trance lyric thing. If the line says "Mein tumhe pyaar karta hoon", you don't have to go "Mein mein mein tumhe pyaar - mein mein mein tumhe pyaar - karta karta karta hoon". There is a fine line between hynotic and annoying.

Get some new instruments in your orchestra. It's not your songsmithing that's gone stale, it's your musical arrangements. Do an entire song with an acoustic guitar. Do another with a two-step. Pare down your music so we can enjoy the beauty of your tunes. Because when you choose to, you can still create some pretty darn good music. Unfortunately, it's all getting lost in the parameters imposed by Brand Reshammiya.

UPDATE: For those of you who asked for what is behind the cap, here is a picture.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Is Crank Smart or Crap?

Some day when the hyper-active Crank is on TV and you Tivo it and if your recommendations are enabled, Tivo will record every Quentin Tarantino movie in sight for you. This isn’t to say that Crank doesn’t have flashes of originality. Made for a reported budget of just $12 million, the movie was released by Lionsgate early last Fall and went on to gross close to $40 million worldwide. Yet the film has elicited such polarized reactions from people who’ve watched it that I decided to see it for myself.

The first thing to know about Crank is that it is not just influenced by video games but patterned after them. The opening title for Crank is displayed as an old 70s style pixilated video game title. And the first sequence you see is modeled after a first person shootout game in which the lead character Chev Chelios, played by a rather cranky Jason Statham, stumbles on a rather sadistic DVD.

The prime mover for the plot is fairly straightforward – as retribution for a disagreeable hit, Chelios has been injected by a rival with something called a Beijing Cocktail. As a result, his heart will shut down but he can keep himself alive for a little bit longer by making sure his adrenaline is always pumping and charging his heart. It’s like Keanu Reeves’ Speed, only the bus has been replaced by the human body. It’s Speed: The Intravascular! And first time directors Mike Neveldine and Brian Taylor take the kinetic narrative of Speed and amp into a relentless rampage in this movie.

The movie is very violent to the point where the violence becomes self-referential. It is also satirized copiously with humor, most of which felt rather funny. In particular, much of the humor revolves around Chelios’ attempts to keep his heart ticking rapidly. In one audacious scene, he plows his car through a mall with the cops chasing him. Later still, he steals a cop’s bike and stands on it with his arms off the handle to keep himself in peril, and ostensibly his heart pumping. When all else fails, he jams his hand in a waffle maker to push his heart rate up. Through all of this, Statham does a fairly decent job coming across as a not-too-smart slug who’s doing his best to survive by desperately making the most of what is available to him. He spends a good chunk of time running around in a ridiculous hospital gown flashing his butt all over town.

When it’s staging some scene that looks right out of a video game, Crank is briskly entertaining. But the thrills feel largely vacuous. Much of this is because a backdrop or character development is completely side-stepped in the movie. The question I was left pondering was: are the filmmakers smarter than this movie makes them appear at first glance? Are they making the ultimate bit of male pulp fiction driven by the adrenaline rush of video games or are they making a statement about how our society reflects the world inhabited by gamers?

Stathom’s girlfriend Eve is played by Amy Smart, who has been led to believe that her hit-man boyfriend is actually a video game programmer. Later in the movie, when Chelios rescues her from a kidnapping, he indulges in all sorts of violence on the side to make sure she continues to be unaware of what is going on around her. Was this just a lame retread of a concept that has been done before or is Eve supposed to represent the portion of the audience who is clueless about the dangers of the world we live in?

And finally what is with the rough treatment of women in the movie? Women show up caged in bubbles or servicing men in particularly humiliating scenes. In one particularly troubling one, Statham finds his heart rate flagging in the middle of Chinatown. He then begs Eve to have sex with him to save his life. Just as you are beginning to think this is a joke that isn’t working, both get boisterously busy even as they are watched by scores of people, including a bus-load of girls. Later, Eve morphs from someone who is rowdy enough to have sex in public into a wallflower who freezes when chased by bad guys, so Chelios has to lift her up like a dummy and stuff her into the car.

Moments later, Chelios is driving his car at high speed in scenes reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto, shooting the bad guys to Sunday and having sex with Eve in the car - all at the same time. Does Eve represent women in general in some highly misogynist video game, her catering abilities pre-programmed in some testosterone-soaked menu to perform one of several degrading things to enable yet another adrenaline rush?

I suggest you watch Crank at least once to answer these questions for yourself. Based on my experience, there are a few things to keep in mind that will help. You know how people sometimes ask you to leave your brains behind when watching a particularly illogical movie riddled with plot holes and entirely focused on thrills? Crank is like that, only your brain needs to be between your legs. Second, women are treated very poorly in this movie so keep that in mind if you want to invite someone to watch with you. Lastly, make sure you like Jason Statham before you get into your chair - there is a lot of him in the movie.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Little Book of Hindu Deities

Sanjay Patel's The Little Book of Hindu Deities is a light-hearted visual look at Hindu Mythology told by unfolding the story of most of the important Hindu Deities. It is by no means an exhaustive treatise on the subject and most likely intentionally so because few texts can lay a claim to any kind of completeness in this regard. The stories of Hindu Mythology are so entwined with Indian culture, that it's often impossible to separate the two. Because they define Indian civilization, they transcend religion itself. I was raised as a Parsee in India but on a very healthy diet of Hindu mythology to the point where we embraced it as our own. In his acknowledgements, Sanjay tells us that he works at Pixar Animation Studio and was born in the UK and raised in LA and that he has never been to India. This makes his effort even more remarkable, because not only does he capture the essence of each deity, but he does it crisply.

The format of the book makes it an excellent read for kids (I have two sons 8 and 5 who are discovering Indian culture as they grow up in the US). Each diety gets a terribly cute animated avatar, rendered by Sanjay, with a one page write up in large font. Each deity's name is followed by it's pronunciation. The text is easy to read and understand by anyone over the age of 8 and is playful enough for kids, but will result in at least one question per page to an adult. If you have a 5 year old, expect a few more questions. You can either read it to your kids or have anyone over 8 years old read it themselves. Importantly enough, Sanjay doesn't shy away from the complexities of the mythology even when he gets to the Shivaling.

Sanjay sometimes does get flippant in his attempts to make the topics accessible. You get the feeling he could have toyed with Shiva less ("Shiva has long hair, but he is not a girl. He just doesn't like haircuts") and made his tone more consistent (there are pages where he distinctly increases the complexity of his language and narrative).

But given his background, Sanjay strikes gold with his kid-friendly and stylistic updates to the visuals of each deity. Rendered in paper-cutout fashion, each piece of artwork is decorative and colorful, almost a poster in its own right. (In fact, you can buy a selection of the artwork from Sanjay's
web site)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mirren's wins at the Golden Globes

So Helen Mirren won two Golden Globes for playing two very different Queen Elizabeths. Her award for Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie came for Elizabeth I and her second globe of the night came for potraying Elizabeth II in The Queen in the Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama category.

And I don't care what anyone says: Mirren looked drop dead terrific. Its nice to see a winner do away with the cutesy giggles, bang tosses, jokes that sounded funny back then, political rants and arm waves and replace it with a cucumber cool demeanor that would have done the Queen proud. Sure her speech was boring, but who was listening, anyway? Plus in a sea of people trying to deliver the most memorable speech, her understated podium speech was downright classy.

With Meryl Streep getting a nomination (and eventually the Globe) in a different category - Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, Mirren's only competition came from Judi Dench. But it's hard to see Dench winning for a movie that was as dark (and fiscally unsuccessful) as
Notes On A Scandal. But with Streep likely scoring a nomination for Best Actress in the Oscars, Mirren will have to contend with her. Much as I like Streep's work in "The Devil Wears Prada", I hope Mirren wins.

Racing to the Oscars - A Report

It's worth reading Mark Harris' last page column in Entertainment Weekly titled "An Oscar Season in Hell". Three years ago the Oscar nominations and subsequent awards were moved up by two months in order to combat

  • slipping TV ratings (the rationale was that other shows were using the beginning of the year to dilute the importance of the Oscars) and
  • to discourage the ridiculously expensive campaigns pioneered by Harvey Weinstein when he was at Miramax.

Harris bemoans that not only have none of purported advantages materialized (TV ratings still stink, campaigns just begin earlier and are more aggressive) but shortening the time to watch movies forces the voters to skip important films.

Here is a particularly entertaining excerpt from Harris' column:

As for the tighter schedule magically creating briefer
and more genteel Oscar campaigns, if there's a single person in Hollywood who
believes this, please drop me a line as soon as you get Wi-Fi in your
sensory-deprivation tank. This year, Fox Searchlight has done everything but
trademark the color yellow in its attempt to drive the Little Miss Sunshine bus
all the way to the Kodak Theatre. One of the season's ripest ironies may be the
company's mammoth effort to secure prizes for a movie that makes such acute fun of the American obsession with winning. (Another is the pretense that Jennifer Hudson is a supporting actress, not a co-lead. Wasn't the point of Dreamgirls that you shouldn't demote someone just because she doesn't look like Beyoncé?) And ad copy remains preposterously overreaching: Did you know Forest Whitaker's work in The Last King of Scotland is the ''most universally acclaimed performance of the decade''? I guess not using the word ''century'' represents the new spirit of restraint the Academy had in mind.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Iron Man takes shape

If you are a Marvel comix fan like me, you're eagerly following all the developments on the Iron Man movie due out in 2008 and in development by director Jon Favreau. Favreau, who directed the terrific, underrated gem Zathura, has a lively myspace group dedicated to discussing the development of the movie and solicits feedback on which actors to cast in certain roles, often with very entertaining consequences.

Well, Gwyneth Paltrow just
signed on to play Virginia Potts, PA to Tony Stark (Mr. Iron Man himself). After Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (hey, has everyone here been in underrated gems?) this would be her second foray into graphic novel territory. Good for her!

Some personal notes about Iron Man. He's a character that boys can really identify with - he's got a near indestructible exterior, plenty of cool gadgets to play with but behind the mask is a vulnerable man who has emotional and physical problems. Added bonus: as Stark, he's a freewheeling, immensely rich playboy. What's not to like?

The sorrounding characters in the Iron Man mythology have always been weak. Iron Man himself has never been an A-lister for Marvel, and this is reflected in the choice of Mandarin to play villian in the movie. Anyone heard of this guy much?! On the other hand, his backstory can make for some very interesting plot points.

Rum Rubaroo

I don't do recipes here and I don't drink much alchohol either so I'm thrilled to blog about this new drink I stumbled on while trying to entertain myself with a companion piece to some really delicious Trader Joe's Thai Lime and Chili peanuts (which given time deserve their own blog post). Its probably been done before, but I'll claim it as an original. I'm not sure about the name either, but its good for a laugh.

Here goes:

Rum Rubaroo

  • 2 cups ice
  • 1 part dark jamaican rum
  • 2 parts Minute Maid limeade (less if you don't like sweet much like me)
  • 1/2 part water or soda
  • Put a toothpick through a green grape and immerse before serving

Shake, don't stir and for heaven's sake, don't drink and drive or hark back on college parties back in the day.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Animal Pink

Unlike Herschelle Gibbs, who hurled rascist slurs at Pakistani supporters in the recently concluded first test in South Africa, pleaded guilty and then later appealed indicating he had done nothing wrong, here's Pink showing us all how to recover from doing something dumb - admit, apologize and admonish self.

Reality Bites Shilpa Shetty

Here is my obligatory post on Shilpa Shetty's appearance on Big Brother. I haven't watched the show, in any of its multiple incarnations, and I confess I haven't seen an entire Shetty movie yet. But of all the eye candy that pervades Bollywood (there are some actors left I think), she's my favorite.

In one of her early promos for the show, she graciously compares herself to Angelina Jolie, modestly admitting that she doesn't "know what to think of that". Some news of her progress on the show here, amidst accusations of racism. More ruckus here as Chancellor Gordon Brown has to answer questions during his visit to India. You can enjoy more of the show on YouTube if you want to make up your own mind.

Best of all, you can go to her web site and you can pick from a variety of rather large web chicklets rooting for her on to win. Here's my favorite. I love the fact that someone appears on a show like BB, then takes it seriously enough to launch a campaign to win. Like in Cricket, if you are going to slash outside your off stump, do it really hard! Go, Shilpa!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Phone throwing Naomi

Sometime in March last year, Naomi Campbell was getting ready for Oprah's show and apparently thought her housekeeper had stolen her jeans. She threw a cell phone, which hit the housekeeper's head resulting in four stitches. Campbell pleaded not guilty when charged. Yesterday, she pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, stating:

Ana Scolavino was an employee of mine. During the
morning of March 30, 2006, I threw a cellphone in the apartment. The cellphone
hit Ana. That was an accident because I did not intend to hit her.

Gee, must have been a pretty small apartment. But consider yourself warned: if Ms. Campbell looks huffed and picks up her phone, dive for cover!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Notes on The Da Vinci Code

(Spoilers...please skip if you haven't seen DVC yet)

In my opinion, if it weren’t for Tom Hanks’ hairstyle in The Da Vinci Code, Paul Bettany would be a shoo-in for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. His portrayal of the violent, manipulated and misguided muscleman is nothing short of magnificant. Bettany physically morphs into a powerful, sinister figure, his face reflecting danger, sorrow, confusion, mystery, often all at once.

Early on he gets a terrific sequence from the director to help him lay the foundation for his character. Shown in grainy flashback, director Ron Howard sketches Silas’ salient history in a few scenes blending sound and color (and lack of it) beautifully to leave us breathless. And it left me wanting more of Silas in the movie. In a key scene where he repents after a hideous murder, Bettany shows us that Silas is violent and passionate but not psychotic. Rather he’s shaped by events to be just what he is – and that is his character’s strength and tragedy.

Bettany gets considerable help from a veteran – fellow English actor Alfred Molina – who is able to fully realize a tender, symbiotic yet exploitative relationship with Silas with minimal screen time. Which means, Howard gets to focus more time on Ian McKellan, and rightly so because McKellan (hey, these English actors are crawling out of the woodwork in this flick) turns in an excellent performance like clockwork. However, disappointing box office returns, religious controversy and ultimately (and might I add unfair) ridicule over Hank’s hairstyle put a lot of people off this movie as a prestige project worth handing an Oscar to. Don’t let that disappoint you, Paul! We’re passionately impressed!

I was a bit surprised after watching The DaVinci Code because it isn’t a half bad movie. I think screenplay writer Akiva Goldsmith missed a trick by following the structure of the book too faithfully. An explosive shootout in which the bad guys cop it is usually a climax that signals the end of a movie. We’ve watched so many Hollywood movies that follow this formula that expectations are wired inside of us. DVC then carries on for a good 20 minutes after that tying up loose ends. It is in those last minutes that DVC loses the fight to become a really good film.

The Devil Wears Prada Report Card

href="">The Devil Wears Prada is a near-perfect chic-lit realization. It's light, infectious, full of moxie and dazzles you with fashion and an ugly duckling subplot while maintaining the moral high ground about vacuous physical transformations.

Certainly the movie doesn't start auspicously with a montage of several women getting dressed for morning appointments that is meant to show us just how frumpy our heroine is. This falls flat, neither making a point nor propelling the story forward and indeed is not necessary at all. But director David Frankel keeps things focussed after that and even pulls off another nice montage showing the transformation of Sachs. In the end though, I couldn't help but wonder what the movie was about. There are several lessons I wrote down at the back of my wife's Glamor.
  • Success is not worth it unless it's on your own terms
  • Do stand up for yourself
  • Immerse yourself in your environment if you want to excel
  • There is always a way to get something done, however impossible
  • Do be concerned about your coworkers, even if they are bitchy
  • It's important to have work-life balance
  • A scruffy boyfriend with shared history is a better bet than a smooth, successful operator you've just met
Confused? Sure, but this isn't V.S. Naipaul. B+

Anne Hathaway (Andrea Sachs)

I was fairly dismissive of Hathaway until her flawless performance in Brokeback Mountain, a small but tricky role with one very key scene. If her performance seemed natural there, its positively organic here and the trick she pulls is that she shrewdly underplays a role that in the hands of someone with lesser smarts could have felt splintered. Hathaway could become the next Julia Roberts or the next Jodie Foster from here. Either way, she is nimble in this movie and make no mistake, the real reason the movie is such a delicious guilty pleasure. A

Meryl Streep
(Miranda Priestley)
Streep has gotten enough kudos for her performance (and a great shot at an Oscar this year) so I'll keep it short. Ever since she rediscovered her mojo in The Bridges of Madison County, she's barely put a foot wrong. I even enjoyed her comedic turn in the sweet, underrated Prime. Here, she supresses the obvious histrionics and makes her character sharp, intelligent, wholly believable and even worth rooting for. A

Emily Blunt (Emily)
Blunt plays Priestley's primary assistant who is gradually replaced by Sachs in the movie. Its a fairly high profile role for a starlet - she has no character development to aid her, but she gets zingy lines, a handful of important scenes and a good stretch of emotions to take her character through (good stretch given material like this, that is). While there is no denying its a solid performance she's not as exceptional as the buzz would have you believe. B

Stanley Tucci (Nigel)
Tucci is the undersung actor in this movie. He plays a designer who works for Priestley's magazine Runway and the only person doted on by her. He constantly cracked me up while pulling the considerable trick of not trying to be funny at all. A

The Devil engineers a transformation

While watching The Devil Wears Prada on DVD recently, I couldn't help but marvel at how well the entire movie had been cast. And its not just good casting, but also casting that takes some chances (Blunt, Tucci) that pays off.

In a series of good choices, Anne Hathaway is a particularly nifty one to play the central protagonist Andrea Sachs. As a smart, aspiring journalist, she morphs from being endearingly frumpy to whip smart fashionista. Hathaway has alabaster skin, doe eyes, a figure that is a perfect movie clothes hanger. And she pulls off the physical challenges in her role in spades.

Behold the transformation of Ms. Sachs.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Shahrukh Khan versus Amitabh

While reports of the feud between Shahrukh Khan and Amitabh are furiously doing the rounds in the Bollywood press, I thought I'd take a long, hard and highly objective look at who would win a quintessential fan-slugout.

BoxOfficeIndia tells us that while Amitabh decimated his competition to end up #1 for 15 years in a row between 1976 and 1981, ShahRukh has had to contend with Salman, Amir, Hrithik and Sunny Deol in his career for a total of 8 years in the top spot. Both have one entry apiece in the top 10 grossers of all time (Amitabh has Sholay, Khan has Dilwale...)
Winner: Amitabh

This is a tough one because both have bucked unconventional looks to make it to the top. Amitabh has the sad, brooding face and SRK has that broken nose bit. Over time, we've come to think of both as handsome, but let's admit it: poster boys, they aren't.
Winner: Tie

Asking Price
Although Amitabh was the first to hit a price of Rs 1 crore, SRK is rumored to charge Rs 6 crores per film. The only other actor who can do that in all of Bollywood is Amir. Amitabh's asking price: Rs 3 crore...tsk tsk, a few Lamborghini's and an apartment or two in Mumbai short of SRK - per film of course.
Winner: SRK

This is a no-contest. While SRK's bouncing is not going to give Hritik sleepless nights, it's often tinged with a madcap recklessness that make him a joy to watch, Amitabh famously has two left feet and dance directors knowingly work around this by giving him a few hip shakes and arm waves to get through a song. You could argue that Amitabh's patent jhatkas can evoke claps from the audience, but it's ada, not dancing.
Winner: SRK

Who IS the king of drama?! Amitabh defined the very parameters of modern mainstream Indian acting, spawning hordes of poor imitators. He can still stand perfectly still in a shot and let his eyes tell an entire story. SRK is solidly competent, but if a director needs to show pathos that can rip someone's heart apart, he needs to help SRK. You'll often see SRK shaking and nudging his head to convey emotion. On occasions, as in the final scenes of KANK, he can even be embarassingly bad.
Winner: Amitabh

SRK can flirt, tease, love and obsess all while never breaking step or interrupting arm flings and shoulder shrugs. He is the scoundrel with an open gaping wound through which his large, warm heart is visible for all to see. Amitabh's idea of romance was a bit of teasing (remember "Potti pataana hai fakut kaam apun ka"?) and then going back to Mr. Grumpy with arms in pockets again. Outside of some movies with Rekha, he looks like he's romancing himself most of the time. Want mass market proof? All of Amitabh's best attempts at romances have been flops.
Winner: SRK

Anyone who has watched Amar Akbar Anthony will tell you: no one makes you laugh harder than Amitabh. He single handedly made comedians obsolete in Bollywood for years before Kader Khan reinvented the buffon as villian and later still Uday Chopra played the buffoon in Dhoom 2. SRK needs strong material to be funny. Give Amitabh silence and he'll still have you in splits.
Winner: Amitabh

While SRK does well in action (see Don), Amitabh was the quintessential action star, relying on his trademark swagger in an era where there was no help from special effects and slick camera work. Nothing was more rousing to watch than the skinny angry one blowing away an army of goondas just by the sheer force of his anger. His terrific pause in the middle of a dialogue just before he got down to the business of kicking butt is still brilliant to watch.
Winner: Amitabh

While SRK has excellent quality control, Amitabh has had to pay back old debts - both financial and emotional - resulting in some seriously misguided movies and commercials (Hajmola, anyone?). The fact that he is so sincere and acts his heart out in all of them only makes us cringe more.
Winner: SRK

Who is the more popular of the two? While Amitabh's appeal crosses demographics, SRK pulls in more of the youth audience. Given time, SRK can be ageless too, but its hard to imagine him reaching the dizzying and sustained heights that Amitabh has achieved in his career.
Winner: Amitabh

Final Tally
Amitabh wins 5
SRK wins 4
1 tie
Ding, ding ding! Amitabh wins!