Friday, December 28, 2012

Movie Review: Dabanng 2

When the first movie ended, Chulbul Pandey(Salman Khan) had avenged his mother's death and ended with loving and caring family. In the sequel, Chulbul gets tranferred to Kanpur in order to achieve greater things in his professional career. According to him, Kanpur being a bigger city has much more to offer in terms of challenging work. As we know Chulbul, challenging work has to do with bigger and more ruthless thugs. In Kanpur, he meets Bachcha bhaiyya(Prakash Raj) and his brothers. When not locking horns with the gang of villains, Chulbul finds time to romance his wife(Sonakshi Sinha) and play pranks on his father(Vinod Khanna) and his brother(Arbaaz Khan).

The first time director Arbaaz Khan launches us straight into the action with the stylish opening credits which is built on the still photographs from the first part. This put us into the right mood for watching the sequel. After an interesting 25 minutes which relies on funny one-liners, beautifully choreographed yet unbelievable stunts and Salman Khan, the movie loses steam because of a fundamental flaw. The story telling in terms of script lacks flow and is devoid of any twists.

The movie tries every trick to cater to the fans. There are songs for the sake of songs, intended-to-be-funny scenes abruptly to show off camaraderie in the Pandey family and lack of a diabolical villain. You will also find the shirt coming off in the final action sequence. If there is any consistency in this enterprise, then it is only in one factor, namely bad acting. All of them are in a race to outdo the others in bad acting. Even the normally entertaining Prakash Raj puts in one of his worst performances. To add to the woes, the voice used doesn't suit him.

Skip it. If you end up watching this, make sure you are out of the theater after the initial 25 minutes.

Language: Hindi

Genre: Action

Rating: *


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Pattaya... Coral Islands aka Ko Larn

We were disappointed when we explored the Pattaya beach in the evening. It was hot and humid. There were many beach chairs spread on the tiny beach even at twilight. You pay a nominal amount to use the chairs. Even though it sounds enticing, the beach itself is not very interesting. What was more interesting was the walking street in Pattaya. There are restaurants, massage parlors and bars all along the walking street.

But next day, we were in for a surprise. There are a group of islands which lays a few kms away from Pattaya. They are accessible on a speed boat. These group of islands are called Ko Larn. But if you are a non-Thai visitor, you will know it as Coral Island. Coral island with it's white sands, beach chairs and countless tourists is one of the best place to spend time in Pattaya. It is a small island and there are many small makeshift restaurants offering local delicacies.

There is only one way to reach the Coral Island, using a speed boat. There are many speed boats that leaves Pattaya in very short frequencies to the Coral Island. It is a standard package. Before you reach Coral Island, the speed boat take you a bigger boat, anchored off the coast, which serves as the launch pad for parasailing. From there, the speed boat takes you to the another boat, which offers you an ocean walk. The ocean walk is more interesting. They give you a big helmet, drop you on the sea floor and let you walk on the sea floor all the while enjoying what the sea has to offer in flora and fauna.

Once all these are done, the speed boat takes to you the Coral Island. So it is three-birds-with-one-stone if you step into the speed boat from Pattaya beach.

Tags: Travel,Thailand,Pattaya,Ko Larn


Books: Tripwire

When his savings is about to run out, Jack Reacher stops at Key West and takes up odd jobs to meet expenses. His life in Florida is disrupted when a private eye from New York turns up searching for him. Although the private eye meets Reacher, the latter lies about his identity. Later, Reacher is intrigfued when he stumbles upon the dead body of the private eye. In order to find the people interested in him, Reacher flies to New York

Lee Child sets this installment of Reacher series in Reacher's past. The characters who influenced Reacher in many ways show up in this book. Also the mystery is set in the backdrop of military which is where Reacher worked in the past. The mystery also has a connection to the war which America wants to forget. This is a tiring link because Reacher is not from that era. Moreover, there are many other mysteries and novels set against this backdrop.

In this book, you see Reacher traveling a lot to different parts of the country. There are major changes happening in his nomadic life. This might be interesting for a reader who is interested in the series.  As for the book, the weakest link is the suspense because an avid reader of mystery can easily deduce this. That is the most disappointing factor of this book.

The other books in the series are.
Killing Floor
Die Trying

Tags: Books,Lee Child,Jack Reacher


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Books: Omnivore's Dilemma

There are criticism against the way food is manufactured in the modern age. The awareness created on the industrialization of the food industry has made a lot of people embrace the organic way - food and also farming. Michael Pollan chooses three options for consuming food. Before the actual consumption, he travels the food chain to see how it arrives on his table. The three options are a meal prepared from the industrial food chain, a meal prepared from the organic food chain and a meal prepared from what the nature has to offer.

At the core, the book tells us how the food on our table gets there. Since Michael uses an investigative style in telling the story, this book can be equated to a mystery. Although there is no danger associated with the journey undertaken by the author, there is an element of excitement and suspense which makes this book a difficult one to put down after you have taken it up for reading. When the food production methods are revealed to us, we will be surprised at many of the findings. Believe it not, there are political decisions that decide the type of food we eat. If that is not surprising, what you buy as 100% organic might not any way different than the industrial way of producing food in many ways.

Many of the books which embarks on similar journey flounders at the end. These books are not able to draw a solid conclusion without confusing the reader. Fortunately, Michael is able to voice the best approach, according to him, which is balanced and less hazardous than which is widely adopted. 

This book is for everyone as we should be aware of what we is turning up as meals on your plates and the it's impact on our society and environment. You may not change your habits after reading the book. But that is your decision. The most important part is generating awareness. If you are aware, then there is a remote chance for a change. If you are not aware, there is no hope for change!

Tags: Books,Food,Michael Pollan


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pattaya... Elephants, Tiger and Floating market.

The first thing you notice in this beach town are the dolled up faces of the woman sitting right next to the boards. The board displays the various kinds of massages - foot and body - along with their rates. This is not surprising as Pattaya is known as a guy's town. The city will not the make the cut if you compare it with Vegas. Still, it is a mini version of the sin city.

Do not lose hope. But there are still other things to do in Pattaya apart from these. What are the other things? Those are elephants, tigers and floating market. There is an elephant farm very close to the city. The farm offers many things like elphant safari, shooting range and a fully domesticated tiger. The elephant safari takes you to the Pattaya landscapes - flat land, small hills and rivers. Apart from the elephant safari, the farm also features a tiger. The tiger is chained and not caged. You can touch or caress it while your friend takes a picture of you with the tiger. I am not sure how they keep the tiger so docile.

There is still one more option left if you are not interested in animals. That is the floating market. It is a misnomer as the market is not floating. The market is built on top of the water body resembling a giant swimming pool. Unlike the color blue associated with a swimming pool, this giant swimming pool has brown water. The water is dirty and it hardly comes above your knees. There are boats on which you can tour the floating market. The floating market, with all the oddities, is a good place to shop. Make sure you have a map or know how to read signs for you could easily be lost in the market.

If you are like me, I mean your first destination in Thailand is Pattaya, then you might think Pattaya is a city famous for elephants, tigers and floating markets. But if you stay in Thailand for a couple of days and visit other cities, then you get to know that all these cities offer elephants, tigers and floating markets.

Tags: Travel,Thailand,Pattaya


Monday, December 17, 2012

Thailand...Visa on arrival

Don't laugh at me. "Visa on arrival" is a big thing for me. Imagine yourself getting off the plane and walking out of the immigration with a visa stamped in your passport. All done in a matter of minutes. No queuing in front of the consulate. No handing over the passport to the consulate and waiting anxiously for it to come back. Isn't it so convenient?

I envy Europeans when they walk into US by flashing their passports. Similarly, I envy Americans who walk into Europe. I get angry too. Everyone wants to sell their stuff in India. Our strength in billions count when everyone wants to sell. But what about free movement into their country? Well, that is not part of the deal! But, all hope is not lost. There are a few countries where Indians can get a visa on arrival. Thailand is one of them. To be frank, this was the major deciding factor. The beaches came second.

I have already passed through three airports in a span of a week. The international airport in Bangkok was the fourth and also the least impressive. For the visa on arrival, there were two lines - the normal and the express. The normal line was not even moving that I had to switch to the express line. The difference was a markup of 20% in terms of processing fees. The positive being express means express. The entire process completed within a minute.

That also make me wonder. They could raise the visa processing fees to that of the express fees, keep the express efficiency and do away with the normal line!

Tags: Travel,Thailand,Visa


Monday, December 10, 2012

What is that stars there?

That is exactly what my daughter asked me. "What is that stars there?". It came out of the blue while she was watching TV. I couldn't figure it out. So I had to carefully construct the questions in order to find out what she meant by "that stars". If you are not in India, you might have difficulty figuring this out.

You know most of the movies contains obsenities. So when the movies are telecasted on TV channels, the obsenities are muted or dubbed over. In India, it is muted mostly. As the local English movie channels like Star Movies, HBO, Movies Now etc have subtitles in English for the English movies (yes, you read it right!), this poses another problem. What happens to the subtitles when characters are on screen are swearing. The subtitles shows the obscenities as stars like ****!

So that was my daughter asking me. That stars. The muted obscenities. Now, what do I tell her?


The world has become a Walmart

I have been through three international airports in the span of 24 hours - Paris, Dubai and Bengaluru. A decade back, this would have very exciting to me because being in transit was the only way I would be physically close to the city. Being in transit also means checking out what the city has to offer in terms of products and brands. But this time around, it was not at all exciting. All the airports looked the same. No, they didn't look the same. They were the same.

The first shop I noticed in Dubai was the perfume shop. Then there was the alcohol shop and tobacco shop right opposite it. All the brands displayed on the shelves were the same as that was displayed in the major shops in Paris. If that was not enough, I came across a seafood restaurant in Dubai. It bore the same name and also the layout as the one I saw in Paris a few hours back. That is when it stuck me. It is just like a Walmart. You find the same products arranged in the same shelves no matter which Walmart you go to in any part of the world.

I like the concept of world becoming small. That is why we can be at the other end of the world within 24 hours. This is indeed convenient when you are an expatriate. But when all the world looks the same, there is no more fun in traveling. Sometimes, a bit of local color and variety adds to a lot.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Books: Die Trying

Jack Reacher has been moving from one city to another like a nomad. While in Chicago, Reacher sees a beautiful young woman in crutches struggling to get herself out of the drycleaners. Reacher offers help. But when he is helping her, three guys surround them and abduct both Reacher and the girl. Now, Reacher has to figure out the mystery behind the kidnapping and the importance of the girl when the nation gets ready for the July 4th weekend.

Lee Child continues the Reacher series with this novel. Lee doesn't waste time and gets into the action early in the novel itself. He is able to hook us on to the book with the sudden twists in the plot. Unlike the previous book, this is not told in the first person narrative of Reacher. Although it is the persepective of Reacher which is predominant throughout the book, the focus shifts to other players briefly. This helps in building the suspense and the drama. Given the backdrop of the book, this also is the best way to tell the story. Unfortunately, the plot seems sinister and non-believable that we end up losing interest towards the end of the book.

Like the predecessor, suspension of disbelief is required in reading this book. But this book is not as exciting as the previous one. The unfortunate part is we still have to read it to avoid discontinuity if we are actively following the series.

The other books in the series are.
Killing Floor

Tags: Books,Lee Child,Jack Reacher


Movie Review: Argo

When the American embassy is attacked in 1978 following the Iranian revolution and subsequent escape of the Shah, six embassy officials manage to escape the furious mob by walking into the streets and ending up in the Canadian Ambassador's house. Later, CIA manages to get them out of the country by constructing a story of Hollywood crew on location scouting. Ben Affleck bases his latest directorial venture on this true story to bring out an interesting and gripping drama on the screen.

Tony Mendez(Ben Affleck) is part of the operation which is trying to rescue the six American embassy officials taking refuge in the Candaian Ambassador's house. CIA has no concrete plans for the rescue. The only plausible plan is the one in which the embassy officials can pose as a crew on a location hunt for a movie. In order to make this plan work, Tony has to recruit help from Hollywood in the form of John Chambers(John Goodman) a makeup artist and Lester Siegel(Alan Arkin) a movie producer.

Ben Affleck quickly sets the action in place after providing a primer on the whole confict using voice overs. He keeps the viewer engaged with the fast paced drama on the screen. He has also an excellent supporting cast. Ben uses not only photography techniques reminiscent of the era but also the famous TV clips from the same era. The tension is captured brillianty during the US Embassy seige in the initial reels. However, the drama during the escape from Iran seems to be far fetched and also a bit forced for the thrills.

Performance wise, the movie belongs to Ben Affleck's Tony Mendez and Alan Arkin's Siegel. Ben Affleck effectively underplays his role making it more enjoyable to watch. Alan Arkin gets the best lines and provides the best humorous scenes in the movie.

Go for it. Although it tells only the American angle, it is still good to watch for foming our own opinion about the crisis.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ***


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Finding an apartment...

Finding an apartment is a daunting task in Paris. First of all, Paris is a overcrowded small city. While Paris is a true blue melting pot of culture, it is a nightmare to find a place to live. This in turn provides many instances of anguish and also some moments of humor, that is if you have a quirky sense of humor like me.

A few months back, I heard a woman's perspective of this problem. She is single and there are a lot of suitors for her in this romantic city. Not a long way into the courting phase, the guys pops the question. If you are thinking the question has to do with the ring, you are wrong. The question is about the keys. "Can I move in with you?".

There is also the other side of the coin as another friend puts it. He was at an office party where one woman had one too many a drink. She was going around asking everyone if she can move in. Before you stereotype her, she had recently broke up with her boyfriend and has been straddling temporary residences. I am pretty sure she was fed up with the constant moves.

That brings me to last Sunday when I called up a friend with a proposition for a male bonding session at one of the bars. He was uninterested as he was preparing to meet a woman. What is so special about the woman that he refuses the best entertaining company in the town? She has an apartment. And my friend's rental lease is expiring.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The importance of greetings

I went to the salon last Saturday. Since I have specific instructions for people who touches my hair with an intention to shorten it, my young friend accompanied to make the introductions. Even though the hair stylist is also a friend, it never hurts to be prepared as you don't want anything to be lost in translation. The first thing I did after entering the salon was what I do always involuntarily. Light up the place with my 1000 watt smile and bow my head in response to all the smiling faces. I always thought this was enough. Apparently it wasn't. My friend poked jabbed her elbow into me and muttered under her breath. "Say bonjour".

I was initially confused. What about my 1000 watt smile? Doesn't it work? Actually, it did work. It made all the people greet me pleasantly with a bonjour. While I happily responded with my head-bow, this wasn't the expected response. What I should have done instead was something more simple and appropriate. I should have greeted them back with a bonjour. Greetings and shaking hands is important here in Paris. You watch colleagues in the morning rushing in to shake hands with everyone. There is a rule to shake hands too. You shake hands when you see people for the first time in a day. There are some people who openly wonders on seeing you. "Did I meet you earlier?... Oh! I did. And we shook hands... So we don't have to shake hands anymore". Believe me, there is no malice in that statement, but a trace of humor if you are not French.

Greetings is another ball game. In one of the books written by a non-French author, he sums up the importance of greetings. The author asks us not to grumble if the shopkeeper isn't friendly. The reason may be you didn't greet him and you started on with your query instead. I am not sure if this is an exaggeration or not. But greetings are important. When in Rome, be like the Romans. So, say bonjour, bonsoir or au revoir depending on the occasion.

As a concluding piece, look at what the mayor has enforced in the city hall in a small town in France. If you are not nice to the city officials, you are shown the door.

Tags: French Lessons,Greetings


Monday, December 3, 2012

When it rains...

When it rains, run for cover. Especially if you are like me which means you don't carry an umbrella. Here in Paris, rains come unannounced throughout the year. That is the reason you are asked to carry an umbrella while visiting the city. If you live in Paris, the rains are not exactly as romantic as how Hollywood or literature writers paint it to be.

One of the frustrating feature when it rains is the difficulty to get a taxi. I am not talking about Bastille or Chatelet here. It is always to difficult to get a cab from these places whether it rains or not. In fact I was stranded at Chatelet a year back. I am talking about Place de Clichy and Blanche here. These are my favorite places to hail a taxi. Place de Clichy is always buzzing with activity and has a taxi stand which always has a steady stream of taxis in waiting. Blanche is the abode of the famous (and also the world famous) Moulin Rouge. There are always taxis here. When it rains, it is a different story.

The entire exercise of getting a taxi becomes frustrating because of abundance of taxis flying all across the place but none of it available for the person waiting for it. Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink! There are two major obstacles in this exercise. The first is simpler and I thought Paris had already solved it. The overhead lights of the cab has four modes; red, green, lighted but no colors and switched off. Red, green and switched off are easy to figure out. But how do you interpret the lighted but no colors? Are they taken or are they free? The second obstacle is your destination. The taxi driver slows down, enquires the destination and steps on the gas leaving you bewildered. No explanation provided. Apparently, the taxi driver doesn't like your destination.

Now if you are in Paris, here are a few pointers for you. Check the meteo website. It is very accurate. If it is going to rain, make plans that do not last longer than the last metro. You may even plan something till the first metro of the next day. If it is summer, you may be able to walk home. In winter, you are stuck in the cold. In such case, the only entertainment you will have are the antics of the drunken youngsters trying to impress the dressed-to-kill young ladies that are also waiting for taxis.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Photos: Trees and Shadows

A long time ago when I was using a point-and-shoot camera, somebody exclaimed. "You are facing the sun. The picture is going to be dark!". The person had a point. Since I was facing the sun, the subject would end up being dark and unclear. This might not be the best way to shot. But I love to face the camera and make the subjects dark. This makes the viewer wonder about the subject and form their own opinion. No image can be as effective as the one created by the mind. This is one of pictures I shot facing the camera.

This was shot in Amsterdam.

Picture Courtesy:

Tags: Photos


Thursday, November 22, 2012

A gallery and a restaurant

In the past two weeks, I have come across a theme for the first time. A gallery combined with a restaurant. I am not talking about the sandwich-salad-dessert counter. I am referring to a full blown functional restaurant. I have no reasons to complain because I enjoyed both the places.

The first place is called Le Bal. It shares the common entrance with an art gallery. The decor is subdued yet bright due to the white walls and dim lights. It is situated on road leading to a dead-end referred as impasse locally. The cobbled street leading to the restaurant exudes an old European aura. Art exploration or appreciation was not in my agenda. I was interested only in the food. The food is homemade and not industrialized in local parlance. It means they cook the food from basic raw materials instead of mixing semi-cooked food to produce the final dish appearing on the table. They have only a fixed menu, main dish with entree or dessert versus all three items together. Each item features only three choices. The entire menu is printed on a stationary with logo of the hotel and changed every day. The place was crowded and noisy. The food was delicious.
Menu of Le Bal
The second place is Bellevilloise Cafe. I was in this cafe because of the photo exhibition at the gallery  next doors named PhotoOff. The intention was have a quick dinner and then visit the photo exhibition with fellow photography enthusiasts. There is a long queue especially on Saturday night and you need a reservation. We given a table till 9 pm. Before 9 pm, we should be wrapping up and going out the door. The restaurant looks like a converted auto repair shop. The high ceilings circulates a lot of air inside the building and the glass on the roof lets natural light come in. When the tables were occupied, the sound levels increased. There was live music which made the evening more pleasant. The menu was written in chalk on blackboards which is indicative of a changing menu. The food was good.

I recommend you to try out both the restaurants. The first for the food and the second for the ambiance.

Tags: Restaurants,Gallery


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cin Cin and Cultural Learning

Cin Cin. Pronounced as Chin Chin. If you are wondering what this is, then this is how Italians toast. So they raise the glasses, clunk them together (gently as the purpose is not to break the glasses), and say Cin Cin. But my friend has an interesting experience which is also a cultural lesson.

My friend has traveled worldwide for job assignments. For a few assignments, he was living in different countries for a considerable length of time. One such assignment made Japan his temporary home. There, during a dinner party where top honchos of the company were present, my friend said Cin Cin after raising his glass. Everybody went silent. As a result, he became uncomfortable.

Then, somebody explained the whole thing to him. In Japan, you don't say Cin Cin at least when you are raising your glass for toasting. The way Cin Cin is pronounced, it sounds similar to what you call a small boy's pissing organ in Japanese.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Do you remember my pin?

Breakup is hard. The period after the breakup is painful and uncertain. No matter the bitter taste of parting, there is so much love still left over in you. So you end up being confused, longing for the voice and the touch. I have heard many instances of the post breakup period.

Breakups might be painful for the actors involved but provide moments of laughter and learning for the rest of us. The recent breakup I have heard about is about a couple who was living together and subsequently moved apart due to various reasons. This is the second time they decided to live together and then move apart. This time, it is almost the end of the cycle. Two weeks after the breakup, the boy calls up the girl. The first thing he asks, now hold your breath, is for the pin of the ATM card. The pin of "his" ATM card! "Do you remember my pin?".

When I heard the narration of the event, I was sure it was not the real reason why he called. Is it too hard to tell the real reason?

Tags: Musings,Breakup,Boy,Girl


Books: Cultural Intelligence

Today's world is a boiling pot of culture especially if you live in a city. Even when we are all from the same country of origin, our culture is different; by a tiny fraction for an outsider while by leaps and bounds for an insider. With this backdrop in mind, you aren't surprised when you come across this book written by Brooks Peterson.

Brooks Peterson defines culture and then goes on to explain how different cultures behave differently based on certain criteria. Thankfully, he doesn't use stereotypes although he cites examples from his professional/personal life. Using these criteria, he intends make us discover ourselves and how we may come into conflict when we are sitting opposite a person from the other side of the spectrum. He wants to sensitize us how the communication breaks down.

At the end of the day, the book ends up as a primer for the topic named Cultural Intelligence. It comes across as a brochure for what Brooks does for a living without offering anything concrete. If you are completely ignorant of how culture influences the professional world, then you may pick up this book. Otherwise skip to the end to check out the section for additional reading. That might serve you better. 

Tags: Books,Brooks Peterson,Culture


Monday, November 19, 2012

Books: Killing Floor

Jack Reacher has been traveling like a nomad. On his way to nowhere in particular on a bus, he decides to disembark in a sleepy little town in Georgia. In the first few hours in this little town, he is arrested by the cops for a murder. He himself is surprised and he decides to unravel the mystery. When he pokes around, a lot of skeletons tumble out of the closet in this clean prosperous city.

Lee Child begins the Reacher series with this book. The series has been so successful that Hollywood is soon coming out with their version of Jack Reacher. To sum up, Lee's Jack Reacher is a superhero. Reacher can accomplish a lot of things. He can charm beautiful girls, fight to kill without remorse and also quickly deduce people or events using his analytical skills. Most of the skills can be attributed to his military background. What Lee accomplishes is to thrill our senses with suspension of disbelief. This he does very well. The style of writing is humorous to mildly sarcastic. This works for the novel.

If you are in the mood for nothing serious, then pick up the book. I wouldn't ask you leave your brain behind. But I will definitely recommend you not to look for logical flaws or plot loopholes. This is best enjoyed without asking many questions and also by smirking at some of the implausible events.

Tags: Books,Lee Child,Jack Reacher


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Getting a good price for a house

Have you gone shopping for your dream house? If you are as old as me, you would have already done this once. As it is the case with any kind of shopping, this one is also stressful. If you have gone shopping and also is a proud owner of a dream house, did you manage to get the best price out of the seller? Recently, my friend narrated his experience to me.

My friend was able to get a good deal out of the seller. Of course, it was around the time the financial meltdown was happening and the property prices were falling. This was not the only thing that enabled my friend to pinch the deal. According to my friend, he arranged for his friend to visit. Arranging for a visit? I agree it sounds dubious and scary. But the phrasing is only for adding drama. It wasn't as bad as we would think it to be.

His friend visited the seller, evaluated the house and quoted a price lower than what was offered previously. The idea was to trick the seller into thinking the prices were dropping fast. Luckily for my friend, it worked. He got a good deal on the house.

Tags: Musings,House,Price


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Are you pregnant?

This is most difficult question to ask a girl even though it may be for a noble cause. When I say noble cause, I refer to causes like offering a seat in the Metro. A couple of days back, I was walking with a friend when he turned his neck to check out a woman who passed by us. When his neck and subsequently attention returned to where there were previously, I raised my eyebrows. He had a simple explanation. I wanted to check if she was pregnant.

That did open up the Pandora's box. A simple post is not enough to address all that. But he admitted about being very nervous about offering a seat to a woman in the Metro even if she looked pregnant. His concern is simple. How do I know for sure? It will be embarrassing to ask if a girl is pregnant and it turns out to otherwise. So he keeps quiet and looks elsewhere. If she needs a seat, she will ask. Then my friend gracefully gets up to offer the seat.

I have a different solution for this problem. I see someone tired or in a need of a seat (a need more than my need), I get up to offer the seat. My friend used to do the same earlier until someone asked him why he was offering them the seat. What do I say to that?

Tags: Musings,Pregnant,Seat


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Movie Review: Thuppakki

An army man on vacation takes on a terrorist leader planning massive attacks in Mumbai. That is the story in a nutshell. So you have Jagadish(Vijay) who is in Mumbai for vacation, meets a girl(Kajal Aggarwal) on his parent's insistence, rejects her on various grounds, repents the decision soon, courts her shamelessly and spends all his idle time with his inspector friend(Sathyan). While doing all these, he accidentally uncovers a terrorist sleeper cell. Now he has to thwart their plans. He succeeds the first attempt. Then the sleeper cell leader(Vidyut Jamwal) is irked.

This time, A R Murgadoss addresses the issue of terrorism in this movie with an Indian army man as the resourceful protagonist trying to stand up on his own, never complaining about lack of anything. I like heroes who complains less and accomplishes a lot with less. There are a few of them from Indian cinema of late. But there are issues with this movie in spite of the interesting theme. The main problem with the movie is the first half where nothing happens and an interesting second half. If you analyze the first half, the best scenes are already shown in the trailer. In order to fill in the first half, unnecessary comic scenes with Sathyan, Jayaram(in the silliest role he has every played in his career) and Kajal Aggarwal (less said the better). The visuals looks stunning thanks to Santosh Sivan. The script by A R Murugadoss doesn't leave any scope for the editor Sreekar Prasad to make the proceeding racier. Harris Jayaraj's music is nice but the placement of the songs is not good for the narrative.

Vijay performs well as the army man often underplaying his weaknesses. Even though he doesn't get to sport army uniform, he gets to do many other things. The wardrobe has undergone an ocean of change. He also does what he has not done in most of the movies. He gets to mouth English and Hindi dialogues. Forget the diction. This is a good sign because Tamil actors(or read stars) are finally willing to change according to the script. Vidyut Jamwal gets to show off his mean side as the terrorist leader. Unlike Billa 2 where he had disappointing role despite a terrific screen presence, Vidyut is able to perform in this role. The biggest drawback of his performance is the voice over (sometimes in Tamil and sometimes in English), a mechanism used instead of subtitling, backfires and takes the steam off his performance. Then, that is the director's fault.

The movie is a cat-and-mouse game between the good and the bad. But the thrills are lacking. It is like a cracker in a cycle of cracks-fizzes-cracks. I recommend to wait for the DVD. Using this option, you can still get some work done while watching the interesting parts alone.

Language: Tamil

Genre: Thriller

Rating: **


Monday, November 12, 2012

Fooled by a beautiful girl

Have you been approached for an opinion or an advice by a stranger while browsing through the aisles of a shop? I am asking this question to men. Tell me, have you ever been in such a situation? Well, that is what happened to me at FNAC when I was casually looking at camera accessories. A beautiful girl emerged out of nowhere asking for help. She started in French and quickly switched to English when she knew the extent of my language skills.

To tell you the truth, I couldn't speak for a few seconds. There were two things I did. Both of the actions were involuntary. The first one was to look around to ensure the dazzling smile was indeed directed to me. Once that was confirmed, I rubbed my nose. That was primarily to hide my stupid smile. Of all the people, she wanted to ask me for advice!

She wanted to get a new camera and I looked like a guy who knew what I was doing. Did my ego get a sudden boost? You may take a guess. Now, I have to act the part. So I checked what kind of camera she had now. She was hesitant at first. It was a Sony. I asked her what her budget was. She had a 600 euros. That is quite a lot of money. Then she started laughing.

She introduced herself to me and pointed to my young friend watching from a distance. It was his girlfriend and they were playing a practical joke on me. We had a good laugh. Later she pointed out to my friend, "He was nice. He didn't even ask for my number while I was talking to him". What do I say to that?

Tags: Musings,Camera,Stranger


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Surprise might not be a welcome thing

We say one thing and might end up doing the entirely opposite. How we act out in the mind might not be the way we do things in life. That is human nature. Take the case of a surprise. Many of us love to be surprised. But are we really happy when there is a surprise in store for us. Recently, my young friend decided to surprise his wife. This post is all about that.

My friend meticulously planned a trip to Morocco. He wanted to keep it as a surprise for his wife. So he told her they were going to India to visit their family and friends. He intended to tell the truth just before they boarded the airplane. I listened to the entire plan when he explained with a smile on his lips. The smile signified his satisfaction in imagining her look of surprise on her face when the best laid plan worked out the way he wrote the script. Call me a pessimist. I was okay with the plan. But there was a lot of "what about"s? What about the gifts she is going to buy for the friends and family  in India? What about the new clothes she is buying to wear in India? What about the plans she is making with her friends in India? These were just the "tip of iceberg" questions I asked to my friend. A determined mind. That is how I will describe my young friend. He had an answer for all the questions, though not very convincing. Finally, he went on vacation to Morocco. When he returned, I wanted to know how it all panned out. He told his wife about the real plans a day before they flew out. She was furious initially. All is well that ends well. They had a great time in Morocco.

I am happy for both of them. For you, who is planning to surprise your loved one, I have only one thing to say. It is okay to surprise your loved one. But it is also in your interest to surprise them and not to shock them.


A Hot Madras Curry And A Beautiful Couple

I have always avoided anything that ends with Madras on a menu. Todate, all of it has been a disappointment.  Today, my opinion has changed. It was all because of a hot Madras Curry. It was spicy enough to burn my taste buds. At the same time, I am not complaining. What would have otherwise turned out to be a boring dinner with me gulping down the food while reading Facebook and Twitter updates on my phone ended up being a different experience because of the hot madras curry.

I didn't order the hot Madras curry. The beautiful couple, sitting right next to my table, had ordered it. They  were at least two decades older than me. Their faces lit up with a friendly smile while I was pulling the chair to sit down. When my order came, we had already exchanged quite a few words. That is the good thing about Parisian restaurants. The tables are so close that you are not eavesdropping but actively participating in the conversation happening in the next table. I was at a state where I was ready to talk with anyone. I had just wrapped up 4 months of agonizing work earlier in the evening in the most satisfactory way for all parties involved. I didn't want to eat alone tonight.

So we are sitting there, talking to each other with my dinner in front of me. When my food arrived, they suggested me to try out what they were eating. It was a Madras curry. I was embarassed because this is something a Westerner would never ask of a stranger. But when they insisted again, I obliged in order to be polite. The dish was indeed spicy. My taste buds went numb for a microsecond. Now the ice was completed broken, we started talking more freely and openly.

Here is their story. This is a summary of 40 minutes and put chronologically for easier understanding. The man is from Wales. The woman is from Vancouver. They met in Australia a few months back. Both of them are touring Europe together for the past 3 months. In this span of 3 months, they travelled 30 cities and 11 countries. Oh yes, they were excited to tell me the name of the cities while I was counting the number of countries often crosschecking with them to make sure I got the country right. Paris is their last stop and tonight is their last night before going home. They were impatient to get back home. All through the travel, they had only a general plan and made concrete plans as they went. Now, they are very tired.

I had only two questions for them. The aim was to cheer them up. It is so natural for anyone to get exhausted during the last leg of the journey. It is psychological. My questions were simple. Have they done anything like in the past? Will they be doing anything like in the future? The questions cheered them up. I was happy. When they answered me, it was my turn to be surprised. They have not done anything like in the past. Now, they are thinking of doing the same routine in South America. Tell me, what should should I say to that answer?

Before I sign off, I have a question for you. Would you do something like what this couple did when you are at their age?


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Books: Life of Pi

Yann Martel tells the story of a castaway who spends more than 220 days stranded on a lifeboat drifting in the Pacific Ocean. Can a story of castaway keep us glued to the book? The answer is yes because Pi has companions. But they aren't humans, they are animals. Soon, the number of reduces gradually and Pi is only left with a Bengal Tiger. What happens on the lifeboat between the predator and prey is told in the rest of the pages.

Told in three parts - before, during and after the life as a castaway - and in first person narrative, the novel throws a thought provoking look at the harmony of life and perservarance of human spirit. We are all built differently. So naturally, there is an immediate hostility among all the occupants in the life boat. There is a urgency of survival when the overall number drops to two with only Pi and the Bengal tiger. Having worked in a zoo proves a blessing in disguise for Pi. The human spirit prevails. Pi is able to conquer the animal psychologically and soon come to peace with the beast. On a different level, the novel is also an inside look into the psyche of man.

I like books in the first person narrative. It puts you in the shoes of the protagonist. The language is easy to understand even though some of Pi's thoughts are absurd. This is justified as Pi is an young boy. Towards the end of castaway days, Pi starts hallucinating and crosses between real and unreal world. This is where the novel becomes heavy.

This book will emotionally drain you. It will also make you think about life and choices. Be ready for it if you are picking this one up.

Tags: Books,Yann Martel


A Problematic "No"

Today, I listened to a friend at work talking about stress. The stress was exerted by the most common villain in the workplace, the manager. The reason is simple. There is an opportunity which fits her profile at a customer site. She went for the discussion with the client and they were impressed. The client is ready to offer her the position. This is where it gets ugly.

The client wants her. Her manager wants her to take up the position. But. Yes, there is a but! But she doesn't want the position. She is a mother of two and will not be able to do justice to both her domestic and work responsibilities as this position demands travel and time. She thinks about it and declines the offer. Now her manager is not ready to let her go. He calls up relentlessly trying to persuade her. He calls every day, vainly trying to convince her. The repeated calls and endless discussions upsets her. She breaks down and cries at her desk. She takes a week off as she can't handle it anymore.

A week off has cooled down things at both sides. The manager has backed out. She feels much better. Now, let us forget about the roles and generalizations. This can happen to all of us. Where did it all go wrong? Are we unable to say an emphatic "no"? Are we unable to accept "no" for an answer? In a professional world, we have to stand up and say "no" when it is not possible. Of course, we also have to say the reasons why we are saying "no". At the same time, when we hear a "no", we also have to ask for the reasons. If we cannot find a solution for the reasons(usually these are issues), then there is no point in progressing further.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Photos: Salon du Chocolat, 2012, Paris

Do Parisians love chocolate? What else could explain the crowd inside the spacious Pavillion 5 of convention center near the metro Porte de Versailles on Saturday? Isn't Saturday a big shopping day for everyone? And they want to spend the time in sensing chocolate with all 5 senses.

The crowd made it impossible for me to take as many pictures as I wanted. With the yearly chocolate show, there is also a fashion show with the theme chocolate. Even when it was unfolding while I was in the pavillion, I gave it a miss. It was impossible to see anything because of the crowd. Forget about clicking a picture.

Still, I was able to capture some slices of what was going on. The pictures are given here for you to enjoy.

Picture Courtesy:

Tags: Photos


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Where do you keep your USB?

USB is a convenient device. Small and light. At the same time can carry important files. It is easier to copy on a USB and use it to copy to another computer when there is no network or a painfully slow network. But where do you keep your USB?

Recently, I saw a Tamil movie where an Ukrainian girl hangs the USB on a chain around her neck. It not only provides safe house for the USB but also gives the protagonist to flirtatiously use his fingers around her neck. Well, I haven't found anyone hanging USBs around their neck except in movies.

Take the case of my young friend. He keeps the USB on a key chain. The key chain contains other important keys, his house key being one among them. The trouble with such an arrangement is when you are leaving work in a hurry. You want to copy files in a hurry. You connect USB, copy files, juggle with million other things and run out of the door. You did everything except disconnect the USB.

This is a likely scenario. Imagine there is a bridge. In local parlance, a bridge means a working day that is sandwiched between a weekend and a holiday. If you take the bridge (translates to a day off), you have a long weekend of 4 days. My young friend did this mistake on such an occasion.

Luckily, the USB was still attached to the computer when he returned back to work.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Books: The Waitress was new

Neither a short story nor a novel. The size of the book in pages (as I read in Kindle format where I cannot the physically feel the book) does not qualify for the criteria of a novel. The style and theme of the writing is like that of a short story. As a result, what you get is a very short novel which touches you like a short story. The English translation of Dominique Fabre's novel tells the last few days in the professional life of Pierre, a bartender working in a nondescript bar somewhere on the banks of Seine. 

They say your entire life flashes before you die. Pierre is not dying. But the career is ending. At advanced age, Pierre is ready to retire. When his employer decides to take off on a whim without informing anyone and leaving Pierre to take care of everything, the latter revisits his life through reveries. So you have Pierre doing daily chores, giving confidence to his colleagues and consoling the employer's wife while his life flashes by him. 

Having lived in Paris, I have no respect lost for the waiters and the bartenders. But Pierre's life through Fabre's narration evoke pathos for this creed. I wouldn't call it heavy on emotions. The writing is fluid. The novel is short. So this provides a welcome diversion from the heavies or the superficial stuff you read.

Tags: Books,Dominique Fabre


Friday, November 2, 2012

Movie Review: Bachelorette

A wedding event that might turn out to be a disaster because of dysfunctional friends. There are twists and turns till all is well that ends well. Haven't we seen this many times on screen? Yes, we have. Bachelorette directed by Leslye Headland based on her own play is the latest addition to this genre. It is told from the girl's point of view and it does raise a few laughs.

So, you have three friends Regan(Kirsten Dunst), Gena(Lizzy Caplan) and Katie(Isla Fisher) who are in NY to attend Becky's(Rebel Wilson) wedding. The foursome were great friends from their high school years. They have seen ups and downs. The upcoming wedding is another up and down at the same time. It is a moment to rejoice for Becky while the rest of the three are not very happy about Becky being the first one in the foursome to settle down.

Leslye Headland's movie starts with jealousy. It then then traces the lives of the three friends through conversations and funny incidents. It peaks to a meltdown when egos clashes and secrets tumble out of the closet. At the end, everyone finds peace and happiness in their lives by correcting their past mistakes. Although there are funny moments, there isn't much to write about this movie. As for the performances, Kirsten Dunst stands out and Isla Fisher brings out smiles although she is playing the stereotypical superficial woman.

Watch it on DVD if you have nothing else to choose.

Language: English

Genre: Comedy

Rating: **


Photos: Chitchat by the canal

A couple of days back, I posted a picture which I clicked in Amsterdam. The canals are indeed an unlikely place to read. It is unlikely if you do not live in a city which is interconnected with canals. Walking by Amsterdam, you see a lot of sights which is not common in other cities. Here is what two gentlemen were doing by the canal. This is yet another unlikely place for a chitchat.

Picture Courtesy:

Tags: Photos


Thursday, November 1, 2012

A father talks about how fast kids grow up

Yesterday, I met up with fellow photography enthusiasts for a photo shooting session. It was a full moon day and we went to explore the area around Parc de la Villette. It was a learning experience for me where I mostly observed. Now, the fellow enthusiasts are posting really cool pictures as part of our mission. As for me, there aren't any worthy ones to showcase. Anyways, that is not the point of this post. 

I ganged up with two other photographers on the way back home. Three of us were from different age groups. But we had one thing in common. We were all fathers. Being fathers, our discussion soon turned to kids. Kids grow up fast. As soon as they step into their teens, the equation changes. I am not aware on how does the equation changes. But this is what I hear. That also formed the topic of discussion. One of us who had a 4 year daughter was articulate with his response. "I hear that a lot. For now, I am burying my head in sand and going to enjoy it while it lasts". That is when the third person decided to tell us his experience. The anecdote is from a few years back; a few years back when his son decided to move out of his home.

When the son takes a break from packing, he approaches my friend and tells him, "Dad, I have something to show you". Then the son leads my friend to the bedroom, opens up the cupboard and removes one of the top wooden pieces that serves as the separation to reveal marijuana plants. The son proudly tells the dad, "This is my secret garden". My friend takes in a deep breath, evaluates the situation and tells, "I'm glad you are moving out!".


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Photos: Reading by the canal side

The winter is here in Paris. Even though it is only fall, the climate is here more like winter. During these cold times, I travel a few weeks back to Amsterdam where there was a lot of sun during the three days I was there. There, I came across this woman reading something at the most unusual place.

Isn't this the most relaxing place to read something?

Picture Courtesy:

Tags: Photos


Monday, October 29, 2012

Movie Review: Skyfall

The latest installment of Bond can't get any more British than this. You have "the" Lord Voldemort in the star cast. Yes, I am referring to Ralph Fiennes. If that isn't enought, you have a British director Sam Mendes, who has found recognition from directing intense drama based on American lives, at the helm. I understand the decision on Ralph. But I couldn't say the same about the director. What is a director who specializes in drama doing in a thriller which ideally should have diluted sensibilities?

The opening reels of Skyfall casts all the doubts away even though subsequent reels are a different matter. You see James Bond(Daniel Craig) chasing a bad guy to retrieve a disk. If the previous movie used the Bourne techniques to give an edgy look for the action sequences, here it outdoes the Bourne. Bourne may be running over the rooftops fighting villains and jumping from across the building. Bond prefers to chase the villain over the rooftops of Istanbul on a bike wearing a suit. How cool can it get? Then both continue their stunt on top of a train. That is where Bond's companion Eve(Naomie Harris) takes a shot at the villain at the command of M(Judi Dench) and ends up hitting Bond.

Now, Bond is presumed killed. MI6 and M are under political scrutiny by the newly appointed Gareth Mallory(Ralph Fiennes). If that isn't enough, MI6 networks are hacked by an unknown organization and the headquarters bombed. It is time for Bond to come out of hibernation. Did you really think he was killed in Istanbul? The non-action if you discount the ones with the local exotic girls, drinks and age is catching up on Bond. He has to pass the medical examination before embarking on the next mission. The next mission takes him to Shanghai, Macau, London and finally to Scotland. Somewhere in between all the globetrotting, Bond meets the mastermind behind all this, Raoul Silva(Javier Bardem).

When you choose Sam Mendes to direct a movie on the 50th anniversary of the Bond, it raises your expectations. For once, we have a Bond with very vulnerable looks. He is more athletic than any of his predecessors. What you need in the series is a bit of drama. That is what one hope Sam Mendes will provide. He does it but in excess. That is the problem with this movie. When there is too much drama, the series loses the meaning. So you see a icon struggling with his past, his mentors and his capabilities. Deja vu if you have seen another caped crusader doing the same a few months back.

The main problem lies in the plot. The plot is reminiscent of the past Bonds, at least some sequences. The die-hard fans, including myself, love it when there are references to the past successful movies in the franchise. The first action sequence is the best and wastes no time to get the viewer in the middle of the action. Then there are action sequences which is over before it even starts. The villain's entry is late, presents himself as a diabolical figure and ends up as a madman hellbent on revenge. Where are the plain old villains with sinister hideouts and a sole intention of global domination? Please bring them back.

The poorly written villain damages one of the best performances of the movie, Javier's Silva. Not a conventional villain, when Javier makes the first appearance walking carefully towards a captured Bond, you are hooked. Javier delivers. During the long stride to meet Bond, Silva begins his monologue, flirting with audience in guessing his sexuality. In that sequence alone, he is able to bring multiple emotions in the viewer, some of them outrageously funny. After this scene, there is nothing much for Javier to do.

The plot is designed to showcase the exit of one character, entry of another character and parental feelings in Bond. At the end of the day, it is a Bond during the initial reels, a Batman Rises in the middle and a Western in the end. Usually, I like to end the reviews with a simple but definite verdict. For this one, I leave it up to you. What the hell? It is a Bond. Are you really going to listen to what I have to say?

Language: English

Genre: Action

Rating: **

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