Friday, 23 December 2011

Great Expectations....

I missed you my Dear blog..I'm sure you missed me too :) I've been a bit busy, a bit more lazy and a lot less inspired. Anyway, here's a little something before we all go on a break again..

Couple of days ago, I got a chance to see a preview of one of the most awaited Bollywood movies of the year - Don 2. Although I didn't love the earlier Farhan Akhtar - Shahrukh Khan outing - mostly because I felt the it was clunky. There were too many unnecessary throwbacks to the original Don and that simply looked out of place in today's context (especially the remixed songs - which were atrocious!). I did like some of the twists (in the old one) and the promos for the new one looked super slick and so I was quite excited to get a free pass to Don 2.

The movie takes off where the last one left. Don's many enemies are conspiring to kill him. Cut to Malaysia, where we meet SRK who is leaner, meaner and has a very bad hairdo (which he does get rid of soon though). A few seconds later, he has single-handedly taken care of about five men. Daniel Craig would have been proud.

Credits roll, backed by great sound track by Shanker-Ehsaan-Loy. I have a big smile on my face and my friends look at each other with a thumbs up sign.

After the customary introduction of the oh-I-am-too-cool-for-Bollywood Priyanka Chopra, Don is re-united with Boman Irani and we see a well-executed jail break. So far so good.

But then, the plot begins to look very much like it was in the 70s -we are explained every detail of the plot (twice: in English and Hindi). Don (who controls the drug cartel of Asia) suddenly wants to steal "printing plates for bank notes". Really? In this day and age of plastic money, e-money and m-money, our very intelligent Don wants to steal bank notes! And how will he steal, these printing plates you ask? But of course, we use Bollywood's mantra - when in doubt about how to break into a high security vault, please refer Ocean's 11. Sure enough, we are introduced to a computer hacker, a bomb expert etc etc..Farhan Akhtar, et tu??

You get the gist..of course, there's some customary melodrama thrown in for good measure. Farhan tries to bring some twists into the plot, some work some don't. Some of the dialogues made every one burst into laughter, not because they were witty, but because they were so out of place and ridiculous.

Overall, I thought the action sequences were very well shot. SRK as Don does an admirable job (yes yes, I have always been an SRK fan!). He beats up everyone, masterminds the whole plot, charms everyone including PC (who I'm sorry to say, has nothing really to do in this movie..why is she there anyway?). Don suddenly begins to look more like Ethan Hunt! (maybe that is why Mr. Cruise released MI4 earlier in India). But then makes me wonder where all his henchmen went? Whats a Don without his army of followers?

Boman Irani is good. The others are either bad or completely wasted in their roles.

Oh well, so much for expecting a rockstar movie!

Speaking of which, I was really looking forward to Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar. As a  AR Rahman fan, I loved this out and out rock album. The promos looked convincing, with Ranbir looking like he knew how to act like a Rockstar.

First things first, Ranbir did indeed know how to act like a Rockstar. Every frame in the movie belonged to him. At every stage, he was pitch perfect in showing how a simple college going kid became "the bad boy of rock music". How he got fame and money, but he lost everything he had and became completely disintegrated from society...

The music of course, had a life of its own. On screen, it looked and sounded like magic. Rahman at his creative best!

What went wrong then? The plot, of course. The first half of the movie was good, but then the second half was so slow that you could feel the frustration in the air. Everyone was itching and really hoping that the movie would redeem itself and something would actually happen! The songs which were the movie's best assets began to feel like a burden when there were 3-4 songs in quick succession. The other problem was the lady who played Jordan's love interest. While Nargis' character was obviously "inspired" by Kareena's from Jab we Met, Nargis is no Kareena. Her eyes never light up and her voice (dubbed) actually sounds so screechy, that you don't want her to speak!

As someone rightly said, Ranbir is so good in the movie that he makes the rest of it look ok!

Oh well, so there we are, the end of another year. A year that started with great expectations, but fell a bit flat. The markets had started to look up and seemed like we were on the brink of economic recovery. Alas, the recovery was short-lived and soon we were back danger zone, just like 2008.

Personally, it has been a roller coaster ride for sure, but I wish things would move forward instead of moving around in circles...

Anyway, I hope that the next year brings better tidings for everyone.Here's wishing you a brilliant 2012!! Happy Holidays everyone :)

Monday, 19 September 2011

No woman, no cry

Bomb Blast in Agra Private Hospital was the headline on Google India News yesterday. Alarmed and hoping for the best as two of my Uncles (and Aunts) run private hospitals in Agra, I called up home. Turned out that the hospital in question was not directly connected, but actually did belong to some of our distant relatives. I think everyone is safe, but I was shaken and somewhat stirred, but then what can you really do about these things? The government comes up with tired responses on how this could be a terrorist attack and the perpetrators will not be spared, but have we seen any of the perpetrators caught or brought to task so far? Unfortunately, this is routine news in India and one can only hope and pray that our near and dear ones are safe..

One of my friends called and told me that she lost her job recently. She was upset and I tried cheering her up with cheesy one liners: "Its not personal, its business" - ala Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You've got mail. But the reality is (as Meg's character says) "its not personal to you, but its personal to me!" Behind the falling stock market, surging gold prices, inverted yield curve, behind all the numbers on Bloomberg, there is a human face that no one sees. At the end of the day as we all invest so much of ourselves into our work, business is very personal..

Another old friend has been very upset lately. I've seen her go through extreme highs and lows, relationship pains you see..I happened to catch up with her yesterday and things are still rocky. She is hurt, confused yet hopeful. Another friend has just broken up from a seemingly happy relationship and was shell-shocked and trying to piece her life together. She is also hurt, confused but has no hope..Which brings me to a Carrie Bradshaw like moment - Is not being in a relationship better than being in an unhappy one? I don't know anymore..

And so with a heavy heart, I decided to put on my running shoes and my iPod and catch the last bit of sunshine. I was stopped in my tracks by this guy singing with his guitar in an alley of the streets. His lilting voice rang out melancholic and powerful. A man standing next to him was swaying to his music. The rhythm of the song was slow, probably 'coz he was singing his heart out, like he felt every word and he really believed in the promise of those words. A woman with a glass of wine stood in the corner but as I glanced towards her, she turned away to hide her tears. Maybe she was just moved by the magic of his voice and the beauty of the words..Or maybe she had gone through a lot of pain, but the song told her to not lose faith and hope.

So this for everyone out there, as someone recently said to me - "may you find your little patch of sunshine soon.."

My feet is my only carriage
So I've got to push on through
But while I'm gone...

Everything's gonna be alright
Ev'rything's gonna be alright
Ev'rything's gonna be alright
Ev'rything's gonna be alright
Ev'rything's gonna be alright
Ev'rything's gonna be alright
Ev'rything's gonna be alright
Ev'rything's gonna be alright

No woman, no cry
No, no woman, no woman, no cry
Oh, little sister, don't she'd no tears
No woman, no cry

No woman, no woman, no woman, no cry
No woman, no cry
Oh, my little darlyn no she'd no tears
No woman, no cry, yeah
any sister no she'd no tears, no woman no cry

- Bob Marley

Monday, 22 August 2011

Of movies and music..

Everyone who has ever watched a movie with me will tell you that I am a very harsh critic, that I find faults with most movies, especially Hindi ones - which seem to be remarkably short on logic, reason, plot, screenplay, acting - pretty much everything..

So I recently saw a few Hindi movies (some new, some old) that I really liked (like a lot of people out there) and I thought I should write about them, well just to prove that I actually do appreciate a well made movie!

Dev D - Relatively old movie, I know! But I only recently saw it. I think what makes this movie great, is how Anurag Kashyap has taken elements / stories that have happened in the recent past and weaved them into an age old story that we all know and have seen many times over. The narrative is crisp, to-the-point and extremely contemporary. The characters are bold and un-apologetic. The performances are brilliant, especially Abhay Deol, who goes on a very convincing path of 21st century style self destruction.

Not to be forgotten, is the music. Amit Trivedi and Co, have put together a soundtrack that not only gels with the movie, but is extra-ordinary as a stand alone album. Most tracks are experimental and Amit Trivedi has been fearless and mixed rock, Indian classical, Jazz, Folk, Electronica, Western Pop / Soul and of course Bhangra. My favorite tracks are (not surprisingly) "Nayan Tarse", "Payaliya" and "Emotional Attyachar (rock version)".

ZNMD - I was very apprehensive about this one. Does this have a "Dil Chahta Hai" hangover? Does it over-promise and under-deliver? Maybe this is like Rock-On - another saga on friendship... Even after reading the good reviews, I still wasn't sure if I will like it. But when I saw it, boy, was I happy? I loved it! I wanted to see it all over again, I felt like making a movie myself!
For those of you who haven't seen it, its about three thirty something men who go on a "bachelor" road trip. Its a feel good movie where the three friends embark on an almost life altering trip where they all fight their own demons. I, of course, identified the most with the character played by Hrithik Roshan, as I have too worked many long hours, scheduled my plans while on holiday around work calls, reviewed documents in a cave hotel and would have completely lost it someone threw my blackberry out of the window! The movie works because the lead actors gel together. Farhan Akhtar is at times too goofy, but excels in his moment of truth. And aah yes, Abhay Deol...he makes his role look so easy, and almost plays third-fiddle to other two. But watch out for the expression on his face in the last adventure, and you know that this has been a class act once again. However, the real star is Zoya Akhtar, although I still think "Luck By Chance" might be better in terms of screen play and story telling.

The music is superb - Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy definitely don't disappoint. Its easy to see why "Senorita" is so popular, its melodious and the mix of Spanish and Hindi as well as the interplay of the "lead" singers is quite good. I can't decide between "Der Lagee Lekin" and "Sooraj ki Baahon Mein", but hey, both are good!

So here I am raving about movies I saw recently. I do hope you see these movies (if you haven't!), but definitely listen to the soundtracks, as while one is more "mainstream", they both provide a complete contrast to each other that always is a good thing..

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Wall Street meets Main Street

The past few days have been very unsettling. The financial markets the world over have taken a nosedive. Fears of a double dip recession have returned and looks like investors and those of us in the financial sector have no where to hide. Of course, the markets are usually a leading indicator and things may turn out to become worse for the "main street" as well.

What is more unsettling however, is the sudden and inexplicable violence in London. I woke up on Sunday to see images of burning buildings and people trashing stores. At first, I thought this was a one-off thing, although pretty scary and not something that you would expect to see in a city like London. When people started calling me, and had sent emails overnight to check I was ok on Tuesday morning, things really hit home. I quickly turned on my computer to see what was going on. Some of the images were horrific to say the least. The sounds of sirens, ambulances and helicopters have continued over the last few days and parts of England do look like war zones.

What struck me the most is that people are not really protesting about anything at all! They are just taking advantage of the situation in a very organised way and looting items like plasma TVs, iPads, shoes, clothes..How were they so organised, they used blackberry messenger, of course! Only in the UK will you find people in £100 trainers robbing shops because they feel that they have been wronged by society..

Who are these people? What do they want? They say they are angry, but what for? For having council housing? for having the chance to get an education? to get unemployment benefits? How about they tried to go to a real poor country and saw what poverty is all about. What it means to have no food, no home and no education. What it means to be living off the streets and have no real prospects.

These riots also brought home the fact that the UK authorities are unable to deal with widespread disturbances like these. They are still debating whether it is actually "legal" to use batons and wondering if the use of water cannons is "appropriate". In fact, on the very first day of rioting, the police simply watched as rioting went on, much preferring to look at CCTV rather than actually trying to stop the events as they unfolded.

Reminds me of the free market regulatory policy that most of the western world has followed. The theory that markets are always right and that the market will correct itself and weed out the outliers is completely wrong and has been proven wrong many times in the past. As for the current sell-off, seems to have been triggered by the US govt downgrade by S&P, but no-one has a put a finger on the real issue - over leveraged consumers and governments. The response of the western world to shore up the economy for the last few years has been to print, print and print more money ergo leading to further increase in government debts! Very few have pointed out that credit fueled culture will need to be reversed and it will be painful.

On the social side, there has been talk about "bad parenting" here and how parents need to keep a tab on their out-of-hand kids. Is that the real issue here? Why did these kids or certain sections of society get out of hand in the first place?

Maybe all this is because the rich and the poor both felt entitled to have things that they could not afford in the first place. The educated used their credit cards, while the un-educated used their knives and the power of the mob.

I almost feel that police and regulators have been too soft here. Increasingly in the west, you get the feeling that Big Brother is watching. Phones are being tapped, emails are monitored, there is CCTV everywhere you go. But where is the Big Brother when you actually need him?

I hope that the fires are put out quickly and the sirens go quiet again. I hope the rampant sell-off in the markets stops and firms start generating business and start hiring again. But the reality is that all measures are stop-gap and temporary and no one has a real long-term solution yet. And so we will go along our business, till we get shocked to the core again..

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Rock on!!

What a wet spring its been in London! Certainly doesn't provide much inspiration as I've been trying to learn the opening lines of "Spring" by Vivaldi on my guitar.

The spring began with much promise - My first trip to the Royal Albert Hall and second concert by Nitin Sawhney. Royal Albert Hall was something else! It is definitely the most beautiful venue and Sawhney did a piece on the hall organ - which was interesting.

Sawhney mixes new elements into his performance every time. His music can be best be described as "world music". Although "Nadia" remains my favorite and I hope to hear the Rina Bhardwaj version on stage some day.

The following week, Roger Waters was in town on his The Wall tour. I had been thinking of going for a long time, but was still debating. But after the Nitin Sawhney show I felt I could not miss this for anything in the world. And how right I was!

The show was spectacular. I knew every sound, every little note..The show was a complete walk down memory lane and I couldn't help but miss my friends with whom we used to listen to the album every day and night...I am short of words at this point, I absolutely loved it! But it was also bitter sweet - I wondered if Roger Waters or Pink Floyd would ever tour again..

Last week, I went to a concert that completely moved me. It was a Pandit Ravi Shankar concert at the Barbican. He is celebrating his ninth decade! He looked un-recognisably frail and had to eat "energy food" in between recitals. But other than that, it was pure magic.

It made me nostalgic to the time I first heard the sitar. It was sometime during my school days when I heard a friend of mine play and loved the sound so much I felt I had to learn to play this instrument.

He started with Alap in Yaman - Kalyan followed by Raag Tilak-Shyam (his own Raaga creation) in teen taal. In between, he suddenly felt the urge to Rabindranath Tagore, so he played a song by Tagore! The highlight was "Khamaaj" a seamless amalgamation of many raagas in different taals. He played the sitar in a way that I had never heard before - dulling the sound to make it sound like a percussion instrument rather than a stringed one (something I had learned on the guitar just the week before!) The performance ended in a smooth jhala.

We all gave a standing ovation and asked for an encore, but I guess he was just too tired. I just hope that I get to hear an encore soon!

Overall, its not been a bad spring..afterall, how often do you get to listen to two musical legends in completely opposite genres in the same season.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

I'm a Believer!!

Today is a rare day, its the morning after...and for once, it is not filled with regrets, finger pointing, confusion, arguments or pure disbelief and denial. People are not coming up with accusations, arguments and justifications. From the logical - "they are paid so much for the ads (and now IPL) that they have no incentive to play for the country", "its only Sachin the rest are useless", "they come under pressure too soon"; to the downright inane - "Indians are vegetarians so they can't compete as athletes" or "Gods are against us" and of course "the match was fixed"

After more than 25 years of every Indian of my generation expecting the "best team on paper" to win and every time being let down just as fabulously. But today is indeed a different day, coz we are truly the world champions!! Not only that, we are now, the only team to have won the World Cup in all three formats (60 overs, 50 overs and 20-20). We are the leading Test side and of course we are the commercial capital of Cricket Land.

And so today, I go down memory lane and relive the world cup moments - some great wins, some bitter disappointments and sometimes the only cheer was provided by the special cricket commercials. (PS - click on links)

I don't remember much of 1987 World Cup, we used to live in Shillong, Meghalaya and I cared more for Football and Tennis than for Cricket...

1992 - We move to Kanpur (home to Green Park, the only International Cricket Stadium in the state of UP) and therefore get caught up in Cricket frenzy. The tournament was a complete washout, the only saving grace was the win against Pakistan and of course the image of Javed Miandad doing the frog jump as he imitated Kiran More.
Pakistan led by Imran Khan went on to famously win the World Cup and we all wondered when our team would ever be as spirited...(and whether we could ever understand what our captain Mohd. Azharuddin said after the first phrase i.e. "the boys gave 100%...")

1996 - I remember that our final exams were going on at the time, and we were only allowed to see India matches :(

India was playing in the sub-continent and we had a real chance of winning..Sachin Tendulkar had become one of the best batsmen ever and had practically broken all records. The mood was up-beat and the TV commercials capitalised on this big time

In the Quarter-Finals, Team India play spectacularly against Pakistan and the term "doing a Jadeja" was coined when he thrashed Waqar Younis for 40 in two overs..India was all set to take on the mighty Sri Lankans at Eden Gardens. The match started well, but what happened in the second innings is a shameful event for Indian cricket - India collapsed (predictably) after Sachin was out and the crowd started Rioting..The crowd was not justified in rioting and I don't think Eden Gardens has still recovered from that match..But then it reflected the state of affairs of the Indian cricket team - it was a one man army and was completely dependent on its star player - Sachin Tendulkar (leading run scorer of the tournament)

1999 - A not so great tournament for India who couldn't progress beyond the super sixes..But then the lasting image will always be South Africa vs Australia in the Semis where a mis-understanding caused SA to get knocked out of the tournament...

2003 - BJP was in power and their campaign was called "India Shining"; From the outside, India was indeed shining, the telecom / mobile revolution was in full swing, the markets were up, the Cricket World Cup was going on and Team India under Saurav Ganguly looked formidable. A convincing win over Sri Lanka and New Zealand (and of course Kenya) got India into the finals against the mighty Aussies..We never had a chance against the Aussies, because we never really tried! The cookie just crumbled and Team India lost by the largest margin ever!!

Once again, the only thing to really cheer about were the TV ads...

The BJP India Shining Campaign didn't last longer as well, they too lost to the Congress led Coalition.

2007 - Was it because I was too busy with my investment banking internship, or India were in such bad form, but either way I don't remember watching a single match!!

2007 - T-20 World Cup; I wasn't a fan of T-20 at that point and missed most of the league games (India wasnt playing well anyway). But then "youngistan" team India took over in the knock out stages and the images of Yuvi's 6 sixes and India winning against Pakistan in a nail-biting match remain.

2009 - T-20 World Cup; My friends and I bought loads of tickets for matches at Lords. Watching games at Lords was a real treat! But India let us down again and was knocked out in the qualifiers. PS - found this great ad though

2011 - Expectations are sky high, it is a lengthy tournament, Sachin's last world Cup, etc etc.
I almost gave up on them the way they played against England; My hopes were regained after they played SA - because even though they lost they played well!! Knock-out stages were a complete emotional roller-coaster..We all know what happened, the team finally rose to the occasion, this time the symbolism (the famous huddle) was missing, but the firecrackers were not.

1983 was always an image for us, finally we have new images, new memories to cherish. Virat Kohli summed it up for all of us when he said "Sachin has held carried the burden of Indian cricket for 21 years so its fine if we carry him on our shoulders today" (did he really come up with that on the spot??!!!)

And so here I am, I confess I am not cricket crazy like a lot of my friends but a fan nonetheless, and today, I am a believer!!

PS - check out this MS Dhoni ad (I'd not seen it before)

Monday, 14 March 2011

Hey there Georgie girl!

"this is a meeting about having a meeting" -brilliant line from Larry David's Curb your Enthusiasm thats on the telly right now. The meeting is with "George Costanza" from Seinfeld who wants to move back to acting but the only roles he gets are that of "George Costanza".

How many actors would kill to have a role like that of "George Costanza" but then most actors end up being stereotyped and have to live the rest of their lives as "Joey" or "Samantha". Although we value versatility so much, we rarely cultivate it..

Change is sometimes the only constant, yet we are opposed to change. We continue to follow the same routine - wake up, go to work, "meetings about having a meeting", more meetings, networking and then some! Trapped in a corner office, in the corporate maze that our lives have become...chicken and egg problem surely, the chicken desperately trying to burst out of the egg.

And so George will probably always be George, and Kramer will always be Kramer...Damn!! I miss Seinfeld...Sky Atlantic, bring it on please...

Sunday, 27 February 2011

All that glitters is not gold...

A Lamborghini is always an absolute head-turner, an orange one more so, and one parked outside the DLF Emporio mall in Delhi entrance leaves you completely awestruck..

For a self-confessed mall rat like me, it was becoming a matter of intense trepidation that I had not visited the luxury malls in Delhi. I finally made time, literally on the last day of my long stay in Delhi and strode into DLF Emporio.The pride of Delhi, supposedly its what makes Delhi cool these days..a sign of the times, a bastion of India's progress and prosperity.

Malls in India are such security fortresses, you are frisked everytime you get in, it makes me wonder how people are so determined to go to them still. Anyway, the Emporio is certainly a high security zone, with x-ray machines and security officers who speak to you in accented English.

Right, security check done and my first stop is as always, Gucci. As I enter the store, I overhear this pre-teen boy asking the salesperson "do you have this shoe in my size?" Unfortunately, they don't...but really, are Gucci shoes for your average pre-teen?

The Fendi store was full, everyone needs a Fendi spy bag of course...

I continued strolling about, making regular stops at Rohit Bal, JJ Vallaya, Tarun Tahiliani and all the scions of Indian fashion, but when I saw a sari at Abu Jani Sandeep that retailed at a price equivalent to the annual income of many Indians, I began the wonder what the whole point of luxury was.

But then how different is this from a trip to Selfridges or Harrods? Why am I not really shocked at the price tag of an Alexander McQueen gown? Why am I perfectly comfortable with the people in a Channel showroom in Paris, while the ones in Delhi seem so out of place?

Cut to Burberry, there's a sale sign on, perhaps I can find a steal after all. Women of all shapes and sizes are clamouring to buy a Mac...or maybe even an umbrella, of course must haves in the relatively rain free Delhi...

As I walked out empty handed from Burberry, I began to wonder really, who are these people? Where did they come from? Why the mad rush to buy anything "designer"?

As my true-blue Delhi friends Mohit and Amrita say, but thats how it has always been. The Delhi crowd was always rich, always driven to splurging; its just that people have just graduated from buying gold and diamonds to LV bags...Or maybe it is because in today's day and age (malls, access to information et al) luxury has become democratised; What was once just the vanguard of the rich and famous is now accessible to the commoner;

As I drove out of DLF Emporio and turned around the corner, I couldn't help but notice the cliched slum with rags serving as walls, leaving a bad taste in my mouth...

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Winter 2010 / 2011

As I woke up, I noticed the date: 1st Dec 2010; the beginning of the end, the end of another year; yet filled with so much anticipation for the countless celebrations, parties, events, sales and of course holidays. Where there is so much expectation, there is bound to be some disappointment as well...

Would that make December one of the most stressful months as well?

too many boring parties, or not being invited to the most happening parties; not finding the perfect dress, or overpaying for the gorgeous one; endless gift shopping or worse disrupted holiday plans.

To fly or not to fly...that is the question? As Londoners watched with bated breath as fresh snow descended upon us (a meagre 1 inch, mind you...), I too hoped and prayed that my flight would take off. It eventually did, after a last minute plane change due to a snow induced snag....To steal from someone's FB post - the Germans cleared 300km of Autobahn but the English couldn't clear 3km of runway!

December in Delhi is usually chilly, but filled with warm and sunny days. This year, of course, was different. A heavy fog descended upon Delhi causing much havoc to flights and trains.

Holidays have also become a way for some groups / sections to try and submit society to their demands. Last year's (err wait that was 2009) BA flight strikes were a case in point, so much so that most people began to stop booking flights on BA especially during holidays. The Gujjars were similarly inspired and decided to strike when it would hurt the most - during peak season in Rajasthan. Road and train links into Jaipur were disrupted and we hoped in vain that our trip could continue as planned. Endless phone calls followed to try and get refunds / cancellations / rebookings.

We did manage to go on our family holiday, but only when the "official" peak season was over (the Gujjar agitation got over just as the season ended...)

But for all the stress, the holidays are probably still worth it!