Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Photos: Paris Plage 2012

A week back, Paris was like an oven. The summer which was never there suddenly descended on the city almost making us all believe all the heat was being given in a matter of few days instead of spreading it over months. During that week, I was out with a group of photographers to capture the Paris plage. That week also was the last week of the plage. In case if you are wondering what Paris plage is, the banks of River Seine is dressed up like a beach. When the banks are converted into a beach, it is good place to hang out taking in the sun and also watching the street performers.

The banks are crowded no matter the intensity of the sun. Some unwise individuals and also groups might turn up fully decked in inappropriate wear for the occasion touting cameras. But majority of the people turn up appropriately clothed. There is music, free concentrate juices, water, stand to play and wooden floors to dance. The first thing I witnessed was a man hungrily eating an ice-cream. In that heat, ice-cream is indeed a good escape.
Further ahead on the banks, there was an orchestra comprising of only two people attracting a lot of audience. The orchrestra was playing right under the shade of one of the bridges on the river. This helped people to stop in the shade and listen to the performers.
At the first they performed. Then they asked the onlookers to join. An enthusiastic crowd joined the performers and were singing animatedly soon.
I moved along the banks and found many other sights which was pleasing to the eye and worth capturing through the lens. But these are the best images I could capture successfully.

Tags: Photos

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Good Boy and The Mysterious Lady

It has been a while since I wrote about the good boy. Even though the bad is always in demand, the good always appear in my life intermittently giving me enough to smile or laugh. God is in every man. Didn't someone say something similar? Likewise, the good boys appear in different forms when you least expect it. The latest avatar of the good boy appeared in front of me last Saturday regaling me with an interesting anecdote.

The good boy goes for  dinner with his office colleagues. The office colleagues can be collectively called the bad boys. The question why shouldn't arise at this point. They are bad boys. Period. Also, dinner is a very light word for the merrymaking of this gang. Anyways, they are ordering dinner and preparing their palette with the necessary pre-dinner washdowns. As the entire group consists of people from different parts of the world, the medium of communication is English. This is where it gets interesting.

They are talking loud in English. The attractive lady at the adjacent table joins the conversation. Very soon, the bad bunch invites her to their table. She is French. But she loves to hear the English conversation. A couple of rounds later, one of the bad boys communicate with the good boy. The message is loud and clear. The lady is definitely interested in the good boy. The good boy can leave the table with the lady.

I take a short break here. This is exactly where you use your imagination for two questions. How did the bad boy communcate with the good boy? No matter how difficult it is under any circumstances, determination always help you find a way out of a sticky situation. The second question is why leave the table? To be frank, I have no idea. I am also using my imagination. Moreover, I didn't want to interrupt his story.

Given this proposition by the bad boy, you can imagine the good boy's reaction. Yes, you guessed it right. He is not going for that walk. He says "No, thank you". The word "no" brings in more forceful efforts from various bad boys to tempt the good boy. But the good boy is not tempted. The bad boys fail. All of them have a great dinner and walk out of the restaurant. When the attractive lady disappeared, the bad boys started laughing. The good boy is surprised now. They ask, "You didn't get it?". The good boy looks questioningly at them. That is when they say, "It was a man dressed up a girl".

We do not know what would have happened if the good boy had left the table with the lady. Nevertheless, this is one more win for the good boy aganst the bad boys.

Tags: Musings,Good Boy,Bad Boy,Lady

Friday, August 24, 2012

Photos: Round bale

I have seen these round bales at many places around the world. It has always fascinated me and wanted to photograph them for a while now. But this photo happened by chance. I was in the suburbs of Paris to visit an equestrian club. On the way back, I requested my friend to stop her car in order for to take the pictures of round bales scattered without a specific pattern all across an empty field. It is good to have friends who understands your hobbies and also encourages you. She not only stopped the car but also posed with another friend of hers.

The idea of hand and legs sticking out of the bale to create this impression orginiated from my friend. All of us improvised on location. There are two people behind that round bale. Both of them are blondes. Their hair, regardless of how beautiful it looked, was not fitting well into the picture. So I asked them to duck behind the bale and stick their arms and legs out. You can see the result for yourself.

Tags: Photos

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Books: A Coffin for Dimitrios

Set between the two world wars, Eric Ambler's novel chronicles an author's journey to trace the life of an individual. When the dead body of a notorious criminal named Dimitrios is found in Turkey, a mystery writer Charles Latimer is interested in writing a novel based on the story of this criminal. But in order to find the history of Dimitrios, Charles has to cross continents, meet mysterious people and get them into confidence.

The simplicity in Eric Ambler's novel is the biggest plus points. There are no doomsday scenarios or scary villains. It is just an ordinary man trying to follow the footsteps of another man in the reverse order. In the reverse order, I mean tracing a life with the death as the starting point. Despite being devoid of cliched trappings of a thriller, this books ends up being a thriller because of the way it is narrated. The locales shift rapidly. New characters are introduced. Plots are revealed in the form of communciation between the lead character and the people he befriends during the quest. These communication are through conversations or letters.

It is for you if you love to read a simple story and beautiful language. It is also for you if you would like to experience some old world charm with a dash of mystery.

Tags: Books,Eric Ambler

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Movie Review: The Expendables 2

Towards the end of the movie, when Church(Bruce Willis) presents a new aircraft for Barney(Sylvester Stallone), the latter scorns and remarks about it being a museum piece. On hearing this, Trench(Arnold Schwarzenegger) philosophically says, "We all belong there!". This statement is not only true about the trio but also about the other three major actors featured in the movie namely Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lungdren. Despite this fact, they bravely come out to do a movie without any pretense of their glory days. In this process, they seem to enjoy every bit in kicking ass and also poking fun at each other, and also themselves. These two factors makes this movie an immensely pleasurable watch.

In the sequel to The Expendables directed by Simon West, Barney is still with his old team comprising of Christmas(Jason Statham), Yang(Jet Li), Caesar(Terry Crews) and Toll(Randy Couture). They also have a new member in the team, Billy the Kid(Liam Hemsworth). When one of their team is killed during a mission by Jean Vilain(Jean-Claude Van Damme), the rest decides to avenge the death. With this basic premise, Simon West successfully manages to entertain us by staging spectacular action scenes while at the same time never ever trying to make us believe this is not a farce. The job is relatively easy. Simon takes the story forward by slowly introducing and re-introducing most of his star cast for the action sequences. This keeps the viewer hooked on although we can second guess what is next. The action sequences are all inspired by the respective performer's past successful movies. But then, that is why we love most of the actors featured in this movie. As the technology has advanced, the movie also has become very violent with exploding heads, decapitated bodies and blood spillage thereby making this a perfect outing for an action junkie. As for the performance, all of them are known as bad actors. So, there is nothing much to write about. What comes out elegantly on the screen is the camaraderie between the various performers. They seem to have a lot of fun doing this. This makes us enjoy what we see on the screen.

If you grew up watching the Hollywood action movies of the late 80's and early 90's, this is a must see for you. Gulp down your favorite choice of poison which make this ride much more enjoyable. Also be ready to clap and whistle. Some of the lines are self deprecating and outright funny. Other lines are the corny and the cheesy ones we heard while growing up.

Language: English

Genre: Action

Rating: ***

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Do you flirt on phone?

What you do with your phone is your business. I don't disagree with this point. After all, you pay the bills. So you have the right to do whatever you want with the phone. You can flirt or even have a hot steamy chat with whomever you please. It is your life. But when you are carelessly loud, it becomes tricky. On some occasions, it is embarassing for the people near you, especially if you are in a working environment.

Last week, when a female colleague suddenly got up from her seat and suggested a coffee-break, I was surprised. I am not the right candidate for coffee-breaks. Then why is she approaching me? It is vacation time here in France which translates to minimal attendance. Minimal attendance also means there aren't enough people for coffee-breaks. In our case, there still was another French colleague who could have accompanied her although there was a problem. He was on the phone. As he is a better candidate for chit-chat, she could have waited for a few more minutes till he was free.

Since saying no to a woman is an absolute no-no, I said yes. Over the coffee, she told me the real reason for the break. Our colleague was flirting on the phone. As I do not speak French, I was blissfully unaware of the steamy conversation happening right next to me. When the topic turned to eating, my female colleague had enough and decided to run away from the place, taking me along her.

What you do with your phone is your business. But if you do flirt, please have some considerations to lesser mortals. Moreover, I don't like coffee. So I hate to take coffee-breaks.

Tags: Musings,Flirt,Phone,Office

Independence Day, 2012

Would you have celebrated the Independence day in India? An innocent question. At the same time, a thought provoking one. The answer is "No". I would have slept late into the day if I were in India. Being away from home make you miss it more. The distance or the space works wonders...be it love or patriotism.

Since I was away from home, I decided to celebrate the Independence day with fellow expatriates. That resulted in making a trip to Indian embassy in Paris. The embassy wouldn't let any of us take our cameras or the cellphones inside. The security personnels collected all these items in their custody before entering the premises.

It wasn't bad. In fact, it was a boon. Imagine no cellphones for two hours. That means no checking for emails or social networking updates which translates to conversations in the traditional way. This also turned out to be a good way to make friends. My biggest surprise was something else. I could sing the lines of national anthem even though I cannot remember the last time I recited it.

There are things you learn but never forget.

Tags: Musings,Independence Day

Monday, August 20, 2012

Movie Review: Ek Tha Tiger

The basic theme of the movie is a spy, who is fearless,  on the run from two spy agencies namely RAW and ISI. The spy is named Tiger(Salman Khan). But as I sit through the movie, there are only two things which greatly disappoints me. The first is we cannot produce an engaging thriller despite the potential of reaping the returns with a star like Salman Khan. The second is more disconcerting. What is a love story doing in the middle of a spy thriller? Can't we write a decent spy story without an element of love?

When Tiger is sent on a reconnaissance mission to observe a nuclear scientist(Roshan Seth), his life changes as soon as he sees Zoya(Katrina Kaif). I honestly don't understand why his life has to change. He is constantly traveling to exotic places in the world, jumping across rooftops and firing guns while in any state of motion. The only thing he lacks is the martini, oh yeah the shaken one, and the gorgeous girls in the bikini. Then, the movies work in mysterious ways and hence the need for him to change. That is where the chase begins.

Kabir Khan has two successes under his belt. In both the previous movies, emotion played a strong role. In the second one, he created a greater canvas with a lot of CG wizardry. In this movie, he goes beyond with CG and stunts choreographed by an international crew. But an international crew is no a sure-fire way to create adrenaline-pumping action sequences with dollops of suspension of disbelief. For this, you need experience and also planning. This is one area where Kabir fails. The action is shown from various angles which break the rhythm of choreography. Instead of camera swooping all across the scenes to instill thrill, the action scenes looks like as if it was shot in multiple angles using a static camera. This is the biggest drawback of the movie. This is also the place where planning makes a big difference. Even the background score fails in these sequences. The second is the lack of courage to do away with a love-angle in a movie. In order to do this, you really need to work on the plot.

No doubt this one of the big release of the year. I do not expect to see Oscar winning performances in this especially with Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif in the lead. The most interesting part is the chase. Unfortunately, the chase starts off in the second part. Then the tempo is broken by the songs. The perfromances is uninspired. Even Girish Karnad and Ranvir Shorey are not able to infuse any form of enthusiasm into this enterprise. Roshan Seth is wasted in a inconsequential role.

Strictly for Salman fans. If you really want to check out the action sequences, I urge you to wait for the DVD.

Language: Hindi

Genre: Action

Rating: **

Friday, August 17, 2012

Preventing your team member from resigning

Employee retention. That is one of the toughest challenges facing the new age manager. How can you prevent an employee from resigning? If you search the internet, you will find dozens of articles; none of them useful and most of them vague. In this particular realm of affairs, a friend of mine shared his success story.

My friend's team member was about to resign. The signs of discontent were visible for a long time. So when the team member asked for coffee break, my friend had guessed the topic of discussion. Over the coffee, the team member broke the news. He was going to send out his resignation letter by end of day. What does my friend do? He decides to have an impromptu happy-hours rendezvous with his colleagues. They partied till late night. As a result, the team member, who was also a part of the merrymaking, could not resign by end of the day. Instead, the team member resigned the next day. My friend was successful in retaining the employee for one more day. That is indeed commendable. 

If you are a manager, you could also try a variation of this plan when your next team member decides to resign. Let me warn you. It is okay to be inspired (after reading this) but at your risk.

Tags: Musings,Resign,Manager

Friday, August 10, 2012

Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer

Preposterous! It was my sentiment when I heard about Abraham Lincoln being portrayed as a vampire hunter. With Timor Berkmambetov as the director, there wasn't much to think about this enterprise. With a movies like Wanted under his belt, you pretty well know this movie is all about stylized and unbelievable action sequences with cringeworthy dialogues. After seeing the movie, nothing has happened to change the notion. It is still preposterous with a lot of stylized action edited and shot cleverly to suspend disbelief. The suspension of disbelief never happens. You pretty well know you are taken for a ride.

Based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, Abraham Lincoln(Benjamin Walker) thirsts for revenge after his parents are killed by Jack Barts. While putting his plan for revenge in action, Abe comes to know Barts is a vampire. Luckily for him, help arrives in the form of John Sturgess(Dominic Cooper) who trains him to be a vampire slayer. Life goes on as we have known or read about Abe where he meets all the important people in his life like Mary Todd(Mary Elizabeth Winstead),William Johnson(Anthony Mackie), Joshua Speed(Jimmi Simpson) -, the difference being except all events are centered around vampire hunting. Years later, during the civil war, the decisive battle of Gettyberg is also painted as a battle between humans and vampires where the latter group is led by a vampire named Adam(Rufus Sewell).

Despite the ridiculous premise, Timor manages to hold our interest at places. The first is the choice of Benjamin Walker to play the lead role and his transformation into Abraham Lincoln. Though he posses a great similarity to the historic figure, it is the transformation as aged Lincoln that is noteworthy. Then there are two action pieces which are commendable. One is the fight between Lincoln and Barts where the latter flees using a herd of cattle to fight stealthily with his assailant. The cattle is running. They are both climbing, riding and jumping on the back of cattle as if there were stationary objects. The second action piece is the climactic fight on the train. It is interesting. On the flip side, there is too much blood and decapitation in the movie.

The action scenes are watchable. But I will only recommend watching those on the DVD.

Language: English

Genre: Action

Rating: **

Books: The Great Railway Bazaar

A journey from London to Moscow. It sounds so simple especially as there are direct flights available. Now imagine, a journey that starts in London and ends in Moscow while traveling through Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Japan and finally Russia. That is a lot of connecting flights. Now imagine, the medium of journey is not planes but trains. Are they are any direct trains which touches all these destination? I don't think so. Now imagine, the time to early 1970s. I guess I have your attention now.

Paul Theroux undertakes such a journey in the 1970s and narrates the experience using this book. When he starts the journey, he is sure the various trains are more than the mystery novels and thrilling spy movies depicts. He meets various people in the course of the journey that spans several months which also gives insight to the local culture, and in many a way stereotypes. But what stands out in the book is the emotions everyone experiences in their travels. One is filled with enthusiasm at the beginning which is followed by boredom and occasional surprises. Towards the end of the journey, everyone is gripped with restlessness and homesickness which tilts the balance. This is evident from the writing. The route chosen by the authors has a major factor behind the feelings the author goes through. On top of all this, Paul successfully captures the romance of a train journey.

If you love journey by train, then this is a must read for you. If you are a sceptic and even dislike train journey, then I recommend this to you as you will be introduced to a new world. While reading the book, keep in mind Paul has written a sequel to the book wherein he retraces the path. It too sounds like an interesting read though I will pick it up only when this book has sunk on me.

Tags: Books,Paul Theroux,Train

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Movie Review: A Few Best Men

When two cultures collide, there is always comedy. The comedy is primarily based on misunderstandings in which one culture may seem insensitive to the other based on their limited knowledge of each other. So, Stephen Elliot takes this premise and creates a marriage between an Englishman and an Australian woman. In order to make things a bit more interesting, he puts in a very short courting period in a strange land, a group of immature friends who are the best men, a unknown territory for the groom and friends along with a lot of frivolity. Unfortunately, the concoction doesn't turn out to be as interesting as it sounds.

A comedy works on outrageous situations backed by hilarious dialogues. It is not enough that the movie is full of gag-worthy moments. It should also make the audience laugh. That is precisely where this movie falls flat. When David(Xavier Samuel) hops on a plane to Australia with his friends, Tom(Kris Marshall), Graham(Kevin Bishop) and Luke(Tim Draxl), for his wedding with Mia(Laura Brent), he is unaware of his fiancee's family. When her family turns out to be politically powerful and insanely rich with her dad Jim(Jonathan Biggins) a senator, her mom Barbara(Olivia Newton-John) a trophy wife and her sister Daphne a lesbian, the stage is all set for you to roll out on the floor laughing. To add to the melee, there is a drug dealer and a prized ram. But things do not progress beyond this point. The only saving grace of show is Olivia Newton-John. But then, we have to wait till the wedding is on way and after she has snorted cocaine.

Stay away from this. Avoidable in all formats.

Language: English

Genre: Comedy

Rating: *

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Photos: Grand Marnier

Tell me what is on your mind.

Tags: Photos

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Photos: Horse Jumping

The rider is still learning the ropes. Moreover, it is a low fence. The challenge for me was the light. The ring is covered and hence there was less light inside. The irony being there was a lot of light on that day rendering some of the beautiful landscape less attractive for shooting. But when I want to capture the action, there wasn't enough light for a high shutter speed. This is the best I could capture.

Tags: Photos

Beware of what you post

Beware of what you post. It forms one of the lessons I learnt on Saturday. The other learning was a person's ability to identify his/her most loved possession by only seeing only a part of it. It might seem unrelated. But an interesting conversation with a friend led to these lessons on life.

My friend has a horse. No, I am not talking about the stunted animals on which you go for a ride around the lake in Kodaikanal, Ooty or Mahabaleshwar or even scantily snow-clad mountains of Rohtang Pass in the summer. I am talking about a real horse here. Coming back to the main story, my friend has a horse which she keeps in a farm, equipped with fenced open areas and also stables. This weekend, I was there to click pictures. During the conversation, I came to know she has recently switched to this farm. Two months back, she was using another farm. But she broke ties with the earlier farm because they let her horse be ridden without her permission. That piqued my curiosity. How did she come to know about this? That was my next question. The answer was weird. Through Facebook!

Listen to this. This gets weirder. The person who rode her horse posted a picture on Facebook. It was taken while riding her horse. The photo revealed nothing other than the ears of the horse. My friend was able to identify her horse just by looking at the ears!

Tags: Musings,Horse,Facebook

Monday, August 6, 2012

Photos: Travails of a photographer

A good photograph is appreciated by everyone. But do you realize the hardships behind a good photograph? I have seen my friend prostrating on the floor to get a good shot. Last month, I was walking around Montparnasse during the Gay Parade in order to get some colorful pictures. I accompanied the parade till Saint-Michel before it was too taxing for my legs to take part in it anymore. On the way, I passed Jardin du Luxemborg. That is when I found a photographer perched on a statue. It is in fact a good place to take top shots. As soon as I went near him to take pictures, other photographers converged to get a piece of action. He patiently obliged everyone.

Tags: Photos

Movie Review: 360

Life undergoes a 360 degree turn which forms the basis of the movie. What forces the life to take a 360 degree turn is sex. With a main theme and a sub theme, the director Fernando Meirelles follows the lives of  protagonists living in Vienna, Paris, London and Colorado in an episodic format. Like the other films using this format, the various lives are interconnected in a way. The actions of one influences the life of another even though the propagator of the action is not aware of it's implication. As a viewer, we derive pleasure in watching the cause and effect unraveling in front of us on the screen.

The movie stands out for the photography techniques used and performances. The camera becomes a voyeur forcefully trying to poke into the life of various people. There are too many characters played by a truly international cast. Because of too many characters, the screen time devoted to various protagonists is short and hence it keeps the viewer engaged. In an episodic movie, the stamp of director and the editor are more prominent than the performances. Yet, there are two performers who stand out - Anthony Hopkins and Ben Foster. The former is a fun to watch especially when he goes into the Alcoholic Anonymous meeting and recounts his experiences. Ben Foster has a tougher role to play as a sex offender. When he is released from the prison, he struggles with his condition. The struggle is poignantly enacted by him. The rest of the cast comprising of Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Jamal Debbouze and a variety of international names are fun to watch.

The sub theme is sex. So there are explicit scenes. So, this is not suitable to watch with kids. However, you can go for it if you want to watch something engaging and yet you want to forget it as soon as you step out of the cinema hall.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ***

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Books: Hit man

Keller is a hit man. He contracts for a man who operates out of a nondescript building in White Plains, NY. As part of his assignments, Keller has to travel to various parts of US as his targets can be anywhere in the country. So far, Keller's life would have sounded to you as fraught with danger. But that is not how the author Lawrence Block describes the life of his protagonist. On the contrary, the story of Keller takes you by surprise. 

Keller is an ordinary man who takes up this job for a comfortable life. He leads a mundane life. He is easily persuaded by himself to fantasize about settling down in the places he visits. But it is a temporary distraction like a common man. He is kind. The years in the job also has made him intelligent enough to deduce the motives of the person ordering the hit. A perverted sense of justice and righteousness forces him to accomplish the job differently.

We may have come across the assassin with a heart in novels and movies. But we have not come across an hit man like Keller. Lawrence Block chooses the stories carefully to reveal the mind of hit man in an ironic and humorous way. What Block's characters do is morally wrong. There is no doubt to this. So the humor lies in how the characters react. Another good point of the book is the organization. You can treat it like a book of short stories. You can start at any chapter. There are passing references to previous chapters but can be easily guessed if you haven't read the previous ones.

This is an excellent choice if you want to read a book but hate to be on a hook till the end of the book. Nevertheless, it is so interesting that you will not put the book down after you have read a few pages.

Tags: Books,Lawrence Block,Keller

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