Friday, December 31, 2010

An expatriate’s guide for watching Hollywood movies in France



France has a delayed start for most of Hollywood movies. The exceptions are the movies released with much fanfare. Going to the movies is a different experience in France. If you are not careful, you will end seeing a Hollywood movie dubbed in French. At the same time, it is not difficult to find your way around. And I hope the following checklist helps you.

  1. Choosing the right version of your movie. On the billboard, the names of the movies are followed by VO or VF. VF indicates French version while VO indicates the original version. So, you should choose your Hollywood movie displaying VO.
  2. Release day for a new movie. In France, the new movies are released on Wednesday instead of Friday! If you are movie buff, it is a convenient day. Being the middle of week, it is not crowded.
  3. Arriving for the movie. This is tricky. They movie starts 20 minutes after the show time displayed on the billboard. The first 20 minutes is dedicated to commercials. The previews of upcoming movies are omitted. So, you can safely reach the auditorium after 15 minutes but for one thing. The seating is based on first-come-first-serve basis!
  4. Prepare yourself for the annoying subtitles. Most of Hollywood movies are listed as VOST; VO for original version and ST for sub titles (in French!). There is no escaping this!
  5. Buying the ticket. Before you buy the ticket online or over the counter, there is one important thing to remember. The tickets are very costly. On the brighter side, there are many deals on the ticket. You can buy a bunch of 5 tickets at less than half the price for each ticket. You can purchase an unlimited card for a nominal amount(which is almost equivalent to Netflix rates!) and see as much movies as time permits.

Picture Courtesy: http://www.artsjournal.com

Tags: Travel,Hollywood,France

Monday, December 27, 2010

Movie Review: Megamind



When his home planet is destroyed, an eight day old alien is dispatched to earth along with Minion(David Cross). His journey to earth coincides with that of another alien kid. During the flight to earth, both their lives are intertwined and shows the first signs of conflict. While the former lands in a correctional facility, the latter ends up in a rich home. Another quirk of fate lands both of them in the same school. At school, the former is treated with contempt because of his blue color and an oversized head while the latter is treated with reverence. All attempts by the former to blend in goes haywire. The former decides to adopt the life of a supervillain while latter becomes a superhero. At adulthood, the former is named Megamind(Will Ferrell) while the latter is named Metro Man(Brad Pitt). All attempts of Megamind to thwart the peace of the city named Metro City is thwarted by Metro Man.

When Metro City is celebrating the success of Metro Man, Megamind breaks out of the jail with the help of Minion and kidnaps news reporter Roxanne Ritchi(Tina Fey) right under the eyes of her cameraman Hal Stewart(Jonah Hill). Using Roxanne as a bait, Megamind traps Metro Man inside the city observatory. As the city observatory has copper covering, Metro Man is unable to break free. He dies in the death ray created by Megamind. Without Metro Man to check him, Megamind unleashes chaos in the Metro City. Very soon, the initial elation turns to disappointment. In order to restore peace in the city, Megamind decides to create a superhero from the powers of Metro Man. He injects the power accidentally into Hal. Meanwhile, Megamind impersonates as a museum curator Bernard to conceal his identity from Roxanne and eventually falls in love with Roxanne. All the best laid plans goes berserk!

Tom McGrath directs this animated movie. Despite interesting 3D work and a modest dose of lessons for the young viewers, the movie ends up as only watchable. The protagonist needs an antagonist for effective drama. When the Metro Man dies, there is no antagonist and Megamind loses aim in life. Subsequently, he descends into sorrow. It is in this phase, the movie becomes boring. As for a bad leaf turning good, we have watched this numerous times on the screen before.

If there is nothing else to do, take your kids to the movie. They will enjoy the 3D effects!

Language: English

Genre: Animation

Rating: **

Tags: Movies,Will Ferrell,Tina Fey,David Cross,Brad Pitt,Tom McGrath,Animation

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Books: At Home



Bill Bryson stumbles across a secret door leading to a rooftop space with a magnificent view of the village from his residence in Norfolk. This also makes Bill to see his home in a different light. On musing, house is where the history ends up. Hence, Bill writes a novel exploring the phenomenon named home. During this journey, Bill explores all the rooms inside his Norfolk home - the hall, the kitchen, the scullery and larder, the fusebox, the drawing room, the dining Room, the cellar, the passage, the study, the garden, the plum room, the stairs, the bedroom, the bathroom, the dressing room, the nursery and attic. He spares none.

The major drawback of the book is the lack of structure. The contents of the books are the various rooms mentioned above. A glance at the contents is enough to realize how challenging it is to tell a story connecting these different elements. Bill takes us from one room to another. But, he fails to build a structure inside each chapter on the room. As a result, some of the chapters deals with the evolution in a structured way while others tends to be a sprinkling of anecdotes.

Despite the lack of structure, what surprises a reader is the painstaking research undertaken to write this book. The research combined with Bill’s witty language makes this a pleasant read. The clever usage of adjectives to describe decades and centuries of history brings out a smile on the reader’s lips. The book may appear intimidating because of the size. More than 25% of the book is dedicated to Bibliography.

Forget the structural deformities. Take up the book. You will surely be surprised.

Picture Courtesy: www.amazon.com

Tags: Books,Bill Bryson

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Notre Dame de Paris



My first ever reference to this place was Victor Hugo’s epic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I don’t remember how old I was at that point. I may have been stepping into teenage at that point in time. I always shied away from classics. They were big books and devoid of pictures! If Paico had not come out with an illustrated version of the classic, I wouldn’t have read it. On second thoughts, if they had not come out with an illustrated version of the popular epics, I would have neither known or read them. Standing in front of the church where the events unfolded in the novel, I was a bit disappointed. It is really a small church; smaller than what I imagined.

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There is no entrance fees for visiting the church. When the service is in progress, you can walk around the transept. The church has high ceilings. Under the high ceilings, even the priest conducting the sermon appears miniscule. After admiring the ceilings and mortals beneath it, you suddenly realize the power of the church. Add the reverberating chants of the priests and the smell emanating from the smoking pot. It is a humbling experience.

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The right walls are lined with confessionals. The only difference (from what I have watched in countless Malayalam movies) is the glass around the confessional. You can see the priest and also the confessor. But my guess is it is soundproof glass. So, you can’t hear a thing outside!

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I visited on a Sunday. The service was in progress. There were many tourists walking along the side of the main prayer area, enjoying the painting and clicking pictures. The noise levels were up. In spite of this, the service went on. The priests and the worshippers were at peace with this arrangement. The ability to pray depends on how focused you are and not on your surroundings! I have heard and read this before. But it took me a visit to Notre Dame to experience it!

Tags: Movies,Travel,Notre Dame,Paris

Monday, December 20, 2010

360 degree view of Avenue des Champs-Elysees



Avenue des Champ-Elysees is one of the most beautiful avenue in the world. The French say so. I’m still undecided. Even though I was not able to cover the entire 2 km stretch, I got out of the Metro when it stopped at station named Champs Elysees-Clemenceau. I emerged in front of Grand Palais after I took the exit.

There were many shops on both sides of the streets selling fashion accessories to gastronomic pleasures. Both sides of the streets were lined with well tended horse-chestnut trees. They were lights on these trees; probably because of the Christmas spirit. Since it snowed on throughout Saturday and early morning of Sunday, the sidewalks were wet and covered with slush. This make walking difficult.

See the videos taken during daylight and night showing a glimpse of the Avenue.

Tags: Travel,Videos,Champs Elysees

Friday, December 17, 2010

Musee du Louvre



Anyone who has read or seen “The Da Vinci Code” is familiar with this museum. The story starts here although the movie might have used other museums for interior shots. There are multiple ways of reaching this museum; cabs being least preferred while public transport the most opted. If you are using Metro, then you can walk right into the lower levels of the museum where there is an entrance near the famous inverted pyramid. If you walking into the museum from the ground level, then you use the new modified entrance which is shaped like a pyramid. You will also the see the arch in front of the museum. From the arch, you can also have a glimpse of Eiffel tower if the weather permits.

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The museum charges a fee for access. But on the first Sundays of the month, the entrance fees are waived off. This is the case with all museums in Paris. Musee du Louvre consists of mainly three wings – Denon, Sully and Richelieu. It is difficult to cover all the three wings on the same day. One of my recent acquaintances remarked, “It was huge and we had to run to cover the entire museum”. The emphasis was on the word “cover”. He did not use the word “see”. If you are only interested in seeing the smiling chick, then go to the Denon wing. The chick comfortably rests on a wall in this wing; smiling tirelessly at the passers by. After spending 4 hours in the museum, I couldn’t even cover even the Denon wing. Fortunately for me, there will be other first Sundays of the month!

Art lover or not, you should go for the audio tour guide that is available at the lower level. It costs you 6 Euros. But the guide gives you a detailed description of the paintings – the styles, the history and comparisons. It was very useful for me. I discovered a lot of new things with the audio tour guide.

One of the most important discovery was the word “commission”. Till then, I was under the impression these great painters painted first. Selling was the next step. But it did not work that way. They were always commissioned to do a painting. So, in effect, the person who commissioned paid the expenses toward the painting.

Most of the earlier paintings are biblical. If the Bible could inspire so many artists, then it is indeed the greatest story ever told. But then, most of these paintings were commissioned by a church or someone related to the church. But one painting stood apart. It was painted by Raphael and titled La belle jardiniere. It has Madonna, infant Jesus and also infant Saint John the Baptist. The infant Jesus tries to pick the black book resting on Madonna’s lap. As this book contains the fate of Jesus, Madonna prevents Jesus in reaching and subsequently reading the book while Saint John the Baptist looks on. It is a very simple yet powerful depiction of a mother’s affection and concern for her offspring’s happiness.

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Raphael also brings in another surprise. At his peak, he had many assistants working for him. He designs and the assistants execute. But it is hard to find the difference between his real work and that of his assistant’s. There goes the myths about outsourcing, mass production and possibly assembly line for highly technical work. Is he one of the pioneers?

The museum also houses the first commission of Leonardo Da Vinci titled La Vierge aux rochers. It is different from the colorful representations from the earlier eras. It might have been placed strategically to evoke emotions in the viewers. But when you walk past the painting, you immediately realize one thing. The painter has played with colors to give a strikingly different look than his contemporaries and predecessors.

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Both Raphael and Da Vinci were Italian painters. The other discoveries were two French painters. The first was Delacroix and the painting was that of the liberty leading the people. Why is liberty depicted as a woman? Why do everyone define freedom as feminine? I always wonder! It was not liberty or the naked bust that caught my eyes. It was the small boy with two pistols. That pose will put even Sergio Leone to shame. The second painter is Gericault and the painting named La Radeau de la Meduse. Based on a contemporary event, this painting ruffled feathers in Paris. Moreover, Delacroix was inspired by Gericault. The figures in both the painting are shaped like a pyramid in addition to several shared characteristics.

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Tags: Travel,Musee Du Louvre,Raphael,Da Vinci,Gericault,Delacroix

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Movie Review: The Tourist



In the streets of Paris, Interpol officers led by Inspector John Acheson(Paul Bettany) are monitoring the moves of Elise Clifton Ward(Angelina Jolie). Elise, aware of being watched, casually strolls through the streets and ends up in a cafe. At the cafe, she receives a letter from Anthony Pearce. Pearce is her lover who is a fugitive. In the letter, Pearce asks Elise for a second chance. In order to throw the police off his track, he also instructs her to board a particular train from a particular station and pick up a random stranger matching his height and weight. After reading the letter, Elise burns it and walks out of the restaurant. The police are able to retrieve only the ashes.

Chief Inspector Jone(Timothy Dalton) is furious at Acheson for spending a lot of money in pursuit of Pearce. Despite his superior closing down the operation, Acheson is still on it and meticulously reconstructs the message from the ashes. He finds about the train and the station. Meanwhile, Elise boards the train which is departing for Venice. She befriends a tourist named Frank Tupelo(Johnny Depp), a math teacher from US, much to the bewilderment of the latter. When the train approaches Venice, Acheson reconstructs the entire message. He understands Frank is being used as a decoy and asks his team in Italy to stand down. In Venice, Elise invites Frank into her hotel room. Now with Acheson closely watching Elise and Pierce’s enemies hunting for Frank, the vacation turns out to be an adventurous one for Frank. What happens to Elise and Pierce is told in the rest of the movie.

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck directs this thriller which is a remake of the French movie Anthony Zimmer. But the director fails to thrill the audience in spite of a great star cast, excellent performers and beautiful locations. The background music by James Newton Howard increases the tempo during the escape scenes. Barring the music, there is nothing great about those scenes. The rooftop chases in Venice looks like a shoddy job done in the back lot of a studio. There is focus on Elise explaining her relationship with Pearce. She is attracted to him and also frustrated by his mysterious ways. This is when the initially promising thriller goes south. Then, it never recovers!

There is nothing to write about the performances.

You can watch it on DVD if you have run out of choices. The movie amuses in parts. As a whole, it fails.

Language: English

Genre: Thriller

Rating: **

Tags: Movies,Johnny Depp,Angelina Jolie,Paul Bettany,Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck,Thriller

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Movie Review: The Next Three Days



The quiet and happy life of John Brennan(Russell Crowe) is disrupted when his wife Lara Brennan(Elizabeth Banks) is arrested on charges for murdering her boss. For the past three years, John has fought a losing legal battle to clear the criminal charges on Lara and also taken care of their son Luke while Lara has been serving her sentence of 20 years in a Pittsburg jail. All the evidences are against Lara. But, John is still convinced of her innocence. In spite of being warned by his lawyer friend, John appeals to the Supreme Court. But both John and Lara are thunderstruck when Supreme Court rules against Lara.

Determined to free his wife from the prison at any cost, John researches and find Damon Pennington(Liam Neeson) who has successfully escaped from prison on multiple occasions. Based on the inputs from Damon, John painstakingly devises several plans to break his wife out of the prison. Soon, John is obsessed by this idea. His focused approach and quirky interactions with the outside world is soon noticed by his dear ones, his acquaintances and also the law enforcement officials. Will John succeed to break Lara out of the jail? This forms the rest of the story.

Paul Haggis directs this movie which is a remake of the French film titled Pour Elle. The movie is an engrossing watch as the focus is on John – his emotional turbulence and his planning skills – and not on the escape. Paul’s treatment make us empathize with the main protagonist’s predicament. The story is not about a super heroic escape but about executing a simple plan.

Russell Crowe delivers a memorable and astounding performance as John Brennan. Russell’s John is a professor at a community college, trying to bring up a child alone and fighting for his wife. The tribulations and temptations can be seen clearly on Russell’s face and body. Even the unstable state of mind is clearly depicted by Russell. The scenes to watch out for his performance are when the first plan goes haywire, when he backs out of his initial plan to obtain money and when a single mother approaches him for courtship. Russell gives out an exemplary performance that overshadows the neatly written yet short role of Brian Dennehy. The other performances are good. But Russell steals the show.

Recommended.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ***

Tags: Movies,Russell Crowe,Elizabeth Banks,Brian Dennehy,Paul Haggis,Drama

Sunday, December 12, 2010

360 degree view from the entrance of Notre Dame de Paris



This was shot at the entrance of Notre Dame de Paris.

Tags: Travel,Videos,Notre Dame,Paris

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Movie Review: RED



Frank Moses(Bruce Willis) is a retiree who lives alone in a quiet neighborhood. He often talks on the phone with Sarah(Marie-Louise Parker), a customer service agent living in Kansas City and working for the pension office. Sarah does not like her stationary job and often dreams of an adventurous life with spies, chases and traveling. So far, Frank and Sarah have not met in person. Knowing her interests in romantic novels, Frank ends up reading the same novels as Sarah.

One night, Frank’s house is broken into by armed men. Frank effortlessly kills all of them. Then he travels to Kansas City to pick up Sarah as he fears her life is also in danger. When Sarah gets back home from a dinner date, she is surprised to see Frank in her house. Sarah is suspicious of Frank’s mental stability and is not ready to listen to Frank’s arguments. So, Frank abducts her and travels to an undisclosed location. During the journey, Frank confesses about his true nature of job. He had retired from CIA.

Now, Frank and Sarah embarks on an adventure, traveling to many cities in the US and meeting some of the former colleagues of Frank – Joe Black(Morgan Freeman), Marvin Boggs(John Malkovich) and Victoria(Helen Mirren). Meanwhile, the CIA has assigned William Cooper(Karl Urban) to track Frank and Sarah. In order to stay one step ahead of the hunter, Frank has to make peace with his onetime enemy Ivan Simanov(Brian Cox) who is a Russian. The rest of the story tells us why CIA is after Frank and how Frank outwits them.

This action movie, which is inspired by the eponymous comic book series, is directed by Robert Schwentke. Despite having a dream cast, Robert fails in providing an entertaining watch. The movie slows down during the hunt due to the conversations and speeds up during the action scenes. The action pieces are scattered around the movies and are very few.

Bruce Willis as Frank Moses has nothing to offer. Morgan Freeman’s Joe Black fails to evoke any emotion in the viewer. John Malkovich’s Marvin Boggs is funny. But we have seen similar eccentric roles in John’s career before. Helen Mirren as Victoria is excellent. Who would have thought the dame to handle a sniper rifle and a machine gun? Yet, she gracefully handles them both; killing opponents without much effort. Helen in a white dress and a black boots firing an automatic weapon paints a pretty picture. Her best lines are already in the movie trailers. But, it is still fun to watch her explain what she does for a living to Sarah in one simple sentence. Mary-Louise Parker evokes laughter in the way she reacts to the veterans. Karl Urban as William Cooper impresses despite having a miniscule role. Devoid of his customary facial hair and dressed in business suits, he proves that he can play the part perfectly while looking the part. Ernest Borgnine features in the a short role as the Records keeper and brings in a lot of nostalgia for an avid movie buff.

Watch it on DVD for the dream cast. Brace yourself for disappointment.

Language: English

Genre: Action

Rating: **

Tags: Movies,Bruce Willis,Marie-Louise Parker,Morgan Freeman,John Malkovich,Helen Mirren,Brian Cox,Ernest Borgnine,Robert Schwentke,Action

Friday, December 10, 2010

The boy who doesn’t eat rice



A recent addition to my list of friends is a young person who doesn’t eat rice. He jogs every evening which is not a great thing to boast about if you do not take the chilling winter into consideration. Despite the weather, he jogs in the park after coming back from work. So, I attributed his aversion to rice to healthy eating habits. But the real reason came out during a conversation fuelled by moderate dosage of alcohol.

He and his brother were only an year apart because of which his mother went through a hard time coping with two active boys in the house. So, his mother asked his grandparents for help. They relented. As a result, my friend moved in with his grandparents and spent his growing up years there. Grandparents being grandparents, he was treated like a king. He never had to lay a finger on rice. He was fed by them. He never had to dirty his hands!

Now, he hates dirtying his hands. That is the real reason behind the aversion. So, he doesn’t eat rice. He eats rice only while visiting India on vacation where his grandparents or parents or aunts feed him by their hands.

Picture Courtesy: http://www.lilsugar.com 

Tags: Musings,Rice,Aversion

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

vous parle anglais?



vous parle anglais? This is the pidgin equivalent of “Do you speak English” which is climbing up my charts as the most frequently used French sentence. And it is turning out to be very effective in enlisting help. I came across this phrase by chance when I overheard a friend interacting with a French speaking person. The friend in question immediately got a positive response in broken English. So, I decided to ask and learn this magic sentence by heart.

Now, this is the first question I ask whenever I approach someone for help. I get two kinds of responses. Most common is a shrug followed by the words “a little”. For everything, the French has a shrug accompanying their sentence. I wonder why. The second response is a gesture by using the thumb and index finger indicating “a little”.

From that moment onwards, it is very easy. You ask them the real question haltingly with emphasis on the verbs aided by gesticulating hands. This always yields the answers you are looking for.

If you are going to France, this phrase will come in handy. So far, I have not encountered anyone who answered in negative!

Tags: Musings,France,Magic Sentence

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mona Lisa – The smiling chick



The chick has an awesome smile. No doubt about it! Mona Lisa also known as La Jaconda is an enigma. The art historians and art lovers write volumes about Leonardo Da Vinci’s smiling chick. I wanted to see her mainly because of brouhaha generated around the smiling chick. Forget the geometric magnificence and the merging borders. That is beyond me!

Mona Lisa is a highly publicized artwork. This is quite evident in it’s current resting place, Musee du Louvre. In the Denon wing of the museum, there are printed papers with arrows, hung at key places, to direct the visitors to the painting. There were visitors who in a hurry (futilely trying to complete the tour of the entire museum in a day) asking for directions to her. They sounded as if this is the only piece they wanted to see in this museum.

Mona Lisa rests under a protective sheet of glass. She is also separated from the visitors by a wider security perimeter. There are museum officials around this perimeter safeguarding her from visitors. When you enter this room, there is a big crowd in front of the painting. There are also a few stray visitor admiring other pieces of work hanging in the room. I have taken pictures of the videos of the room. As for the picture of Mona Lisa, I do not have a good shot. But, you will find many good pictures of her on the net.

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Ironically, the biggest painting in the Louvre hangs across Mona Lisa. This a painting “Les Noces de Cana” by Paolo Caliari dit Veronese. But this giant painting is dwarfed by the smiling chick.

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Tags: Travel,Videos,Mona Lisa,Leonardo Da Vinci,Musee du Louvre

360 degree view from the entrance of Musee de Louvre



This was shot from the entrance of Musee du Louvre.

Tags: Travel,Videos,Musee Du Louvre

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The first glimpse of Eiffel Tower



This was taken from the arch in front of Musee du Louvre, Paris. But I have not seen it close yet.

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Tags: Travel,Eiffel Tower

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Responding to a fire alarm in an underdressed state



Around 2230 hrs on Thursday, I was changing into my sleepwear when I heard a non-stop ringing sound in the hotel corridor. Early to bed, early to rise. That was the plan I had intended to follow. The ringing sound threw a spanner on it. As time progressed, the ringing sound was accompanied by wild shouting in an unidentifiable Asian language and banging of doors. I live in the second floor of a hotel which is predominantly occupied by Asians. When I came out of the room for assessing the situation, everyone was running towards the stairs. So, I grabbed a pullover and a slip-on reluctantly. I also took my empty laptop bag which contained my passport. Then, I joined the multitude on their way to the ground floor.

By the time I reached the ground floor, a crowd consisting of the hotel guests had gathered in the lobby. Some looked like as if they just returned from work with laptops slung over their shoulder. Other were holding their laptops in their hands. The latter group might have dashed towards the ground floor when the alarm sounded. Kids were running around the lobby. Amongst the crowd, I felt naked in my underdressed state suddenly. The chilling cold breeze from the opened doors were making matters difficult for me. To my relief, there were others in various states of undress; the majority of them were women. Some of them had covered themselves with a bathrobe before vacating their rooms. But I felt very happy seeing one particular lady. She had a camisole and a tiny shorts that hardly covered anything.

Her shorts were shorter than mine. She might have been feeling worse than me! Anyways, it was a false alarm. The entire crowd dispersed within minutes.

Tags: Musings,Alarm,Smoke,Naked

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Searching for route de la Demi-Lune



IMG00006-20101201-1255 How tough is it to find “route de la Demi-Lune”? It should be easy? With Google maps, there are seldom any undetectable landscapes in the urban regions. So is the case with any major city in India. If that is the case in India, your confidence of finding the destination in one of the hyperactive business districts of Paris is high. But, I struggled hard to find this street yesterday.

Standing top of the metro station, the first issue was whom to ask for directions. The cab driver was unable to help. His GPS was of no use in the La Defense maze. After burning away my precious Euros, he couldn’t find the place. After this, I walked on top of the underground railway station in the business district to find a suitable person to ask for directions. The information center was closed. The gullible passers by could not help, despite employing two different modes of communication – pidgin English and animated hand movements.

But help came from unexpected quarters – the cops. They directed to me the street. I found the signboard indicating the street after an hour of searching. Although there were buildings on both sides of the street, there were no entrances for walk-ins. I walked back to my newly acquired friends – the cops. They called up my office, found out the exact location along with the best way to reach there by walking and instructed me.

After two and a half hours of wandering, I walked into the office. All the while, I was in a business suit without any of the accessories needed to fight the freezing cold – gloves, muffler, overcoat. Luckily, the thermals were a life saver! Now, I’m lighter by a few Euros after getting all the necessary attire for the cold. But I still do not have the most important weapon – the cell phone!

Tags: Musings,Search,La Defense,Paris

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bonjour, Paris



After a never ending struggle for obtaining a work permit in France, I have finally reached Paris. Technically, I’m 5 kms away from Paris in a place called La Defense. But then, why bother on accuracy when I have already travelled more than 5000 kms to reach this place!

The French work permit turned out to be more challenging than any of my previous projects. The work permit has many different stages. First, I submit all the relevant documents along with the application form. These are translated to French before sending them across to the French authorities. Then, you play a waiting game. When the authorities revert, you set up a personal appearance at the local consulate. They stamp the visa on your passport. Voila! You are ready to travel.

Even at the outset, there were delays for me. After submitting the documents on time, there was a delay in sending the document for translation. The French authorities took time to respond. When the work permit was approved, my passport was found to be unsuitable for EU. When I got a new passport, the French consulate gave a personal appearance date that was 40 days away! When I appeared on that day, I was asked to go to a different embassy. So, I guess you get the drift. Finally, I’m here!

Tags: Musings,Work Permit,Paris

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Self check-in and delays in departure



A few weeks back, I gathered enough courage to perform a self check-in over the web before boarding a flight. It turned out to be an easy and hassle free experience. I was also rewarded with extra miles on my King Club card for performing this action. To my surprise, I ended up in the business class. I double checked my seat number on my ticket stub. It was luck. I was travelling on a Kingfisher Red flight. On that particular day, they used a Kingfisher class airplane on this route instead of a Kingfisher Red class one. In case you are wondering the difference between these two, the former features a business class section whereas the latter do not. While checking in over the web, I had chosen the seats closest to the cockpit. So, I ended up in the business class with extra room to toss and turn. After this incident, I always check in over the web. But, I have never had the good fortune for enjoying the business class luxury later!

Checking in over the web has it’s share of advantages and disadvantages. On my recent visit to Pune, I had checked in over the web, arranged a cab at 3:30 am in the morning and went to sleep early. My flight was at 6 am next day and the carrier was Kingfisher Red. At midnight, I received a SMS informing me about the delay in departure. Now, the flight will take off at 8:30 am. I promptly called up the cab service and rescheduled the time of pickup. When I drifted into sleep after this, the phone rang again! This time, a customer service representative had called to inform me about the delay. I thanked the lady and went to sleep again. At 3 am, I woke up again after hearing the phone ring. When I picked up the phone, an automated voice informed about the delay and the new departure time! Kingfisher notified me thrice about the delay and I can hardly complain. In order to wake up early on an important day, I put three alarms in a span of 30 minutes. Kingfisher also has a similar approach though with longer intervals! A frequent traveler would have switched off his mobile after receiving the SMS as he is aware of the repeated notification method of the airlines in case of a delay.

The next day, I overheard an irate traveler enquiring about the reason for the delay. “Pune runway is closed, sir”, replied one of the girls at the counter. The traveler questioned again, “Why? Are they filling in the potholes?”. He wore a deadpan expression while asking the last question. The girls at the counter smiled and looked down.

Picture Courtesy: http://www.osl.no

Tags: Musings,Self Check-In,Kingfisher

Movie Review: Red Cliff



In 208 AD, Chancellor Cao Cao(Zhang Fengyi) forces the Emperor Xian of Han Dynasty to give him command of the Imperial army to suppress the southern warlords Liu Bei(Yao Yung) and Sun Quan(Chang Chen). According to Cao Cao, these southern warlords are rebels who ought to be dealt with force. After obtaining the permission from the Emperor using strong arm tactics, Cao Cao sets southwards with the Imperial Army. Very soon, Liu Bei’s army struggles to fend off the massive army of Cao Cao. Cao Cao’s army does not distinguish between civilian and military during their attacks. Zhuge Liang(Takeshi Kaneshiro), the chief strategist of Liu Bei, advises on an alliance with Sun Quan. Sun Quan is already tired with the repeated defeats and massive losses in casualty.

Zhuge Liang visit Sun Quan to put forth the idea of alliance against Cao Cao. All Sun Quan’s advisors are against a war with Cao Cao. But Sun Quan tells Zhuge Liang that he will need a day to think it over. While Zhuge Liang waits for an answer, he pays a visit to the Grand Viceroy Zhou Yu(Tony Leung).There, Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu becomes friends. Now, Zhuge Liang is confident that Zhou Yu will influence the decision of Sun Quan in the favor of an alliance. As expected by Zhuge Liang, Sun Quan agrees for an alliance. Even after the alliance, Cao Cao have superior power. To make matters worse, Cao Cao has already reached the outskirts of Red Cliff with his mighty navy. His ground troops are almost there. How the combined intelligence of Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu thwart the superior power of Cao Cao’s army forms the rest of the story.

John Woo directs this war movie based on the real Battle of Red Cliffs. John Woo gives a spectacular recital of history showcasing the ruthlessness of Cao Cao and the resourcefulness of Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu. He focuses on the working relationship between the two key players Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu to tell us how the battle was won. Although the movie starts with the traditional Chinese technique of fast zooming on the key players to heighten the drama, it quickly falls back into using the cinematic techniques popularized by John Woo. There are slow motion scenes to make the viewer enjoy a great shot longer. Similarly, there are back and forth cuts between two events happening at the same time at two locations with the camera zooming slowly and steadily onto the actors during the cuts Yes, there are sequences featuring the John Woo trademarks -  the pigeon and the Mexican standoff! But the battle sequences are the major highlights of the movie. The CG in these scenes are a letdown. But the different formations by the cavalry is filmed in such a way that even a layman understands the formation clearly and also it’s advantages. When Cao Cao’s navy suffers a defeat, the viewer is very clear on the reasons.

All the performances are good. The notable ones are Tony Leung’s Zhou Yu and Takeshi Kaneshiro’s Zhuge Liang. One scene alone is enough to showcase the talent of Tony Leung. When one of his trusted man dies after breaching a hole in the wall during the climax, Tony’s Zhou Yu smiles for a second and then the smile is immediately replaced with a melancholic look. He is happy about the hole in the wall which is the main objective but he is not happy about the cost he had to pay for the same! Throughout the movie, Tony’s Zhou Yu is calm which is inline with the character. Takeshi Kaneshiro’s Zhuge Liang is a strategist. He has to remain calm throughout. He accomplishes it with a smile that displays inner peace.

This is a must see for anyone who loves Chinese movies or war movies. There are two versions of this movie – Mandarin Full version in two parts and English (International) version in condensed form. If you have a choice, go for the Mandarin Full version. I watched the English version and was able to detect continuity problems.

Language: Mandarin

Genre: War

Rating: ****

Tags: Movies,Tony Leung,Takeshi Kaneshiro,John Woo,War

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1



Harry Potter(Daniel Radcliffe) is escorted to the Weasley household in the the Burrow. In order to confuse the Death Eaters, many of Harry’s friends consisting of Hermione(Emma Watson), Ron(Rupert Grint), Hagrid, Lupin, Moody, Arthur, Bill, Fred, George, Fleur and others drink Polyjuice potion to appear like Harry. But they are all attacked on their way to the Burrow. While trying to save the real Harry Potter, the owl Hedwig dies. Everyone except Moody reaches the Burrow with injuries. Moody is killed by the Death Eaters on the way to the Burrow.

Hermione, Ron and Harry mentioned in Dumbledore’s will. As part of the will, Hermione gets a fairy tale book while Ron gets an equipment that will show him the way in difficult times. Harry receives two items – the first one is quidditch ball he caught in the first match and the sword of the Gryffindor. Although the sword is bequeathed to Harry, someone has stolen it from Hogwarts. After receiving the items from Dumbledore’s will, the three friends attend Bill and Fleur’s wedding. The party afterwards is ruined by Death Eaters who attack everyone. Now, Harry, Hermione and Harry decides to find out the Horcruxes to destroy Lord Vlodemort(Ralph Fiennes). How Harry finds out the secret of Deathly Hallows and destroys one of the remaining 5 Horcruxes forms the rest of the story.

David Yates directs this movie which is the first part of the final installment in the Harry Potter series. The movie focuses on the hunt for the Horcruxes by Harry and his friends. With no help from Dumbledore, they are confused. But they try harder to solve the mystery! Because of this, the movie has the effects of a road movie where the protagonists are always on the move. Barring the initial fight with the Death Eaters where the chase ultimately happens on the highway, there are not many awe inspiring sequences. The CG sequences are neat giving a quality look for the movie and not beyond that.

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint continues to impress us in their respective roles. Although the cast includes a lot of heavy duty stars from UK, there is not a lot of footage for any one of them. The only notable addition to the long list of (UK) stars in this franchise is Bill Nighy. But unfortunately, he does not have much to do in this movie.

This is strictly for Potter fans. Without the knowledge of the novel, you will be lost in this maze.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ***

Tags: Movies,Daniel Radcliffe,Emma Watson,Rupert Grint,David Yates,Drama

Movie Review: Manon des Sources



Ugolin Soubeyran(Daniel Auteuil) undertakes a flourishes business in carnations after growing them in the land bought from Jean Cadoret’s widow. Cesar Soubeyran(Yves Montand), Ugolin’s uncle, helps his newphew in realizing the latter’s dreams. Meanwhile, Jean Cadoret’s widow has moved away the village. But his daughter, Manon(Emmanuelle Beart) stayed back with the family who lived on their property. Now, she is an young woman who detests Ugolin and his uncle Cesar.

One day, Ugolin sees a naked Manon taking a bath in a spring in the property. After seeing her, Ugolin falls in love with her and wants to propose her. He confesses his love to Cesar. Cesar is initially skeptical. But the skepticism vanishes once Cesar sees Manon. Unbeknownst to them, Manon is attracted to the school teacher Bernard who is well educated and knows a lot of about farming. During this time, Manon by chance overhears two villagers conversing about the deceit of the Soubeyrans. She is heartbroken to know there was spring in her father’s property that was blocked by the Soubeyrans. If Jean had known this, he would have been alive and successful now. How Manon takes revenge on the Soubeyrans forms the rest of the story.

Claude Berri directs the sequel to Jean de Florette based on Marcel Pagnol’s novel. Like the first part, the movie scores on the performances and direction. The events are spread over months. Yet, the director beautifully captures the passing of time; through either seasonal changes in the farms or physical changes in individuals. The director emphasize more on the turmoil of Cesar instead on the revenge by Manon which makes the movie appealing and dramatic.

Yves Montand is excellent as Cesar. Yves’s nuanced performace captures all shades of a wrong doer. Cesar is unapologetic and defensive of Ugolin when confronted by the villagers. Soon after suffering a loss, Cesar repents. It is in this phase, Yves makes the viewer sympathize with the lonely old man. Emmanuelle Beart’s Manon relies less on dialogues and more on personality. Her beauty and innocence distracts the viewer. Daniel Auteuil’s Ugolin has less to do in this movie as compared to first part.

Go for it. Make sure you see Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources back to back for a more enjoyable experience.

Language: French

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****

Picture Courtesy: http://cinemafrancophone.blogspot.com

Tags: Movies,Daniel Auteuil,Yves Montand,Emmanuelle Beart,Claude Berri,Drama

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Recurring prize



The big companies want to go green. Do the various actions taken for this translate to positive results? That is a question to ponder. But one thing for sure. Most of these big companies are successful in generating awareness among the employees. One such company organized a quiz as part of this initiative. An young girl came up first in the quiz. When she was summoned to collect the prize, she was very excited. She hoped to meet the big shots of the company and a worthy prize.

She hurried down to the reception. There, she was greeted by the receptionist and a group of people. The group of people belonged to a non-profit foundation started for a green earth! The receptionist two plants to her; the kind you can buy from a nursery. The plants were the prize. Keeping her composure and hiding her disappointment, she gracefully accepted the prize.

When she turned back to leave the scene, they gave her another prize, the people from the non-profit foundation had another surprise for her. “Since you came up first in the quiz, you can donate Rs 250 for the foundation…”, said one of the people. Then with a slight pause, the person added, “…monthly”. The receptionist interjected, “You don’t have to worry about it. I can make arrangements to deduct the amount from your salary”.

What happened to the plants? The narrator of this story did not tell me about it. But he did tell me one thing. She was not happy when she came to her seat!

Picture Courtesy: http://school.discoveryeducation.com

Tags: Musings,Quiz,Prize

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The “Easy Cabs” woes



Yesterday, I received a email from a friend. She had a very bad experience with Easy Cabs. Easy cabs is one of the many cab services that sprang up during the past few years. She had booked a cab on November 14th. She received the SMS with the driver details once the booking was completed.  But, when she called up the driver, the car had broken down. So, she contacted Easy Cabs again. The booking agent sent a SMS with the new driver details in an hour. This time, the car in perfect condition. But the driver had another pickup at the same time. So, she contacted Easy Cabs again. This time, there were no cabs available. There was nothing she could do now as it was late in the night!

I was surprised to read her email, strongly advocating against Easy Cabs. I dismissed it as a rare occurrence till I spoke to my friend on the phone yesterday. Around 9:30 pm, he was on his way to the railway station to drop his neighbor. His neighbor had booked a cab through Easy Cabs. The driver bailed out at the last minute!

Is this a problem with the cab services industry as a whole? Or is it Easy Cabs alone at fault?

Picture Courtesy: http://images.cartradeindia.com

Tags: Travel,Bangalore,Easy Cabs

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The bitter Ginger experience



Staying at the Ginger hotels is an exquisite experience. Anyways, that was my experience. Recently I stayed at a hotel in Pondicherry operating under this brand. During the duration of stay which lasted less than 12 hours, there were multiple instances which made the experience unforgettable.

I walked into the reception of Ginger hotel in Pondicherry after an 8 hour drive from Bengaluru. The time was past 9 pm. The person at the reception was on the phone. So, I waited. He was on a reservation call that lasted forever. As the call went on, my patience wore thin. And I fidgeted. Noticing a restless me, he winked back. That was the friendliest and most welcoming gesture I have ever seen while checking into a hotel. I haven’t yet checked in and the Ginger staff were treating me like a friend already.

When I walked into the room, I was welcomed by the mess left by the previous occupant! The Ginger staff were treating me like family now. Who else will dare to take you into a messy room other than family?

I walked into the bar. After the 8 hour drive, I planned to uplift my sagging spirit. After entering the bar, I placed myself strategically on the stool near the bar counter to minimize the time taken to transport the drinks. I had around 20 minutes before the bar closed for the day. I finished my first drink and ordered a refill. There was still 15 minutes left for the closing time. But, the waiter informed me curtly with an accusing look, “You have only 15 minutes and I will not take anymore orders”. Here again, the staff treated me like a friend. How many times have we curtly told our friends to finish their drink in order to leave the bar as early as possible?

The third instance was less dramatic. The hotel advertised wifi connectivity. They even sent the wifi password as SMS when I checked in. Once inside the room, I was unable to find a wifi network after booting up the laptop. So, I approached the reception. They blamed it on the weather. There is no wifi connectivity because of the rains. If I really want to get connected, I can sit in the lobby. If I can get connectivity in the lobby, why can’t I get the same inside my room? After all, my room is not miles away from the lobby! That was my line of defense. So, the receptionist offered me the keys of another vacant room, closer to the lobby,  to try my luck with wifi connectivity. What I found was baffling! The wifi network is available in the corridor. Once I get inside the room and close the door, the wifi network disappears from the radar!

Ginger Hotels believes in Smart Basics™. It looks like a copyrighted philosophy! I’m still trying to figure what is smart about these basics!

Picture Courtesy: http://estrip.org

Tags: Travel,Ginger Hotels,Pondicherry

Monday, November 15, 2010

Is Cancer on the rise?



Today, a friend was distressed after his classmate succumbed to cancer. My friend had recently crossed 25. So his classmate is of the same age too. It is too young an age to bid goodbye to life. Since this is the second case of cancer among his classmates, my friend was scared. Not only my friend, everyone who knew these two souls are scared.

Is cancer on the rise? It is the question we asked each other.

Has the field of medicine has advanced resulting in earlier detection of these ailments?

Is it the environmental effect?

We don’t have any answers. Do you?

Tags: Musings,Cancer,Medicine

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Movie Review: The Social Network



In 2003, Mark Zuckerberg(Jesse Eisenberg) studies at Harvard University. One night, he breaks up with his girlfriend Erica Albright. When Mark gets back to his room, he hits upon the idea of creating a program to compare the pictures of girls and ranking them. He uses the algorithm provided by his friend Eduardo Saverin(Andrew Garfield). Within a few hours, the program is ready and uploaded onto a website named FaceMash. The program becomes a huge hit bringing down the Harvard network. Due to this, Mark is punished with academic probation. But he gets noticed by Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra.

The Winklevoss twins and Narendra approaches Mark to work on their website named Harvard Connection. After listening to their idea, Mark approaches Eduardo to start “thefacebook”. Eduardo funds the project with $1000. Mark works on the project and is available to the Winklevoss twins and Narendra. Within a few days, “thefacebook” goes live and becomes an instant hit. When the Winklevoss twins and Narendra gets to know about this, they are infuriated. Narendra wants legal action but one of the Winklevoss twins disagrees. As the website become popular, Mark plans to expand while Eduardo plans to make money from advertisements. Very soon, the website catches the attention of Sean Paker(Justin Timberlake), the creator of Napster. The rest of the movie deals with the success behind Facebook and the two major legal hassles it has to deal with.

David Fincher directs this movie based on screenplay by Aaron Sorkin which is adapted from Ben Mezrich’s book The Accidental Millionaires. David tells us a riveting story behind the inception and subsequent success of the social networking site. He uses a non-linear format where the story shifts from the scenes where Zuckerberg deals with the lawyers representing the parties suing him to the actual story. In spite of knowing the history, this style keeps the viewer in suspense and also attentive.

Jesse Eisenberg steals the show with his depiction of an unapologetic and focused Mark Zuckerberg. Jesse’s Mark believes in a dream and will work hard to achieve success. Jesse is able to successfully portray the cold blooded nature while exposing vulnerable nature also. Andrew Garfield as Eduardo impresses. Andrew’s Eduardo trusts his friend blindly. But he is also impulsive which brings down the friendship.

Go for it! The history might not be accurate. But it is still an engrossing watch. The movie is a conversational one. So, make sure the movie hall has good acoustics.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****

Tags: Movies,Jesse Eisenberg,Andrew Garfield,Justin Timberland,David Fincher,Drama

Hidden Kitchen: Sher Khan Hotels



For over six months, I have been seeing a giant hoarding announcing this hotel on my way to work. A few months back, I also drove past this hotel when I took an unexpected turn on my way to work. The location was a major turn off. So, I never tried this restaurant. When my friend mentioned this place yesterday, I was skeptical. But when he gave rave reviews, I decided to try it out.

Although they are not high on the oomph factor, the food will make up for it. I had mutton sheekh kabab and mutton biriyani. The sheek kabab was grilled well and soft. It melted in melted along with my initial skepticism about the place. The mutton biriyani was revelation. The mutton pieces were cooked and soft unlike the rubbery and hard to chew mutton served in many restaurants.

This is indeed a hidden kitchen. You may have passed this area many times. But you will never notice the restaurant unless you are looking for this. The restaurant is located near the intersection of 24 Main road and 7th cross road in HSR Layout, Bengaluru.


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Picture 116 Picture 117

Tags: Hidden Kitchen,Bangalore,Kabab,Biriyani

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