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.

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