March 16, 2009

Revolutionary Road: For better....or the worst

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You must watch Revolutionary Road with no preconceptions in mind, because what you will be taken through is something totally unlike what you could associate with America in the 1950s. For Americans, this era was the best time to be alive, to prosper and be happy with their families - stark contrast to the recession they face today.

So, we have a seemingly perfect family in the Wheelers - April (Kate Winslet) and Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and their two children. But things are not at all what they seem. Below the farce, are the frustrations of both these individuals. Frank, for an unsatisfactory job, and April, for a failed career as an actress.

In an effort to pull up her life, April suggests that the family move to Paris and Frank gets as excited about the proposition. But as always with life, their plans dont work out. This completely shatters April, whose expectations of happiness and escape from a dreary life and as Frank puts it, a "hopeless emptiness", are hanging from a single thread - Paris. When that snaps, so does April.

The climax of the movie has been beautifully shot and poignantly features April's hopelessness and resignation.

Both Kate and Leo are powerhouse actors and do a great job with good support by David Harbour as his best friend and Micheal Shannon as the disturbed intellectual.

This movie may not appeal to all and slowly progresses from one scene to the next, perhaps mimicking life's drabness. But men and women will identify with Frank and April to some extent because we all go through moments when we question our very existence but choose to keep quiet about it.

March 13, 2009

When will we take ragging seriously?

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The brutal death of Aman Kachroo at a medical college due to ragging has shocked the nation. Apparently, Aman had been suffering for a long time and no help had been extended to him. And to top it all, I read today in the papers that there is no anti-ragging law in Himachal Pradesh where the crime happened. I can't look at the smiling photo of Aman without thinking about the immense sorrow, shock and anger that his parents must be feeling. I mean, this is 21st century India...can't parents be safe in the knowledge that they are sending their children to study in a protected environment? No, because what they end up getting instead is the tortured dead body of their child.

Sorry if that sounded crude, but it's time to take ragging very seriously. Today another girl committed suicide after a humiliating experience. All this is happening even after the Supreme Court intervened to ask colleges to do everything they can to stop ragging. I think we need more stringent and specific measures for college hostels where victims are helpless and have no escape.

There's a bill pending in Parliament since 2005 against ragging but I guess our MPs are too busy passing bills increasing their salaries and perks to bother. We can't have any more Amans -- this is too big a tragedy to ignore, because this is the death of trust we have in the Indian educational and justice system.

Another issue which urgently needs attention more than ever is the suicides that happen around this time as students are unable to cope with their exams. Why do we have an educational system that kills thousands of students every year? Why cant we make it mandatory for every school to have qualified counsellers? Why can't we make 50 per cent of our syllabus more practical and activity based? Somebody at the top needs to seriously think about this.

March 9, 2009

The Hundred Foot Journey

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This book may easily have been called the hundred 'food' journey. From the beginning, author Richard C Morais overwhelms your senses with the smells, taste and sights of Indian cuisine which can only be described as cosmopolitan, typical of Mumbai. From then on, it is a gastronomic journey of Hassan, a boy who goes from helping his parents in a roadside eatery to becoming a world-renowned French chef.

Surprising as it sounds, the journey is interesting and its characters may be divided into two sets: the boisterous Indians and the reserved French. Hassan is enterprising and learns the very authentic form of French cooking, without any global influences and innovations.

Morais works hard, going in detail to describe every dish and every wine. Sometimes, the food overpowers the characters. So, it would help if you are a foodie when you pick up this book. Otherwise, you may not understand this obsession with detail. Also, vegetarians beware, some parts of this book may make you queasy!

I would recommend The Hundred Foot journey for an inspirational read into what goes into reaching the top, and the doubts that come with it. It is also about breaking with tradition and following what your heart asks of you.

March 2, 2009

Valkyrie: "Only God can judge us now."

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Tom Cruise proved his mettle as an actor way back in 1992 when he starred in A Few Good Men. With Valkyrie, he is a pleasure to watch as the headstrong Col Stauffenberg, who just couldn't go against his raging conscience.

Historians say there were between 17 to 42 failed attempts to kill Hitler, and Valkyrie, which originated in Hitler's own army was the boldest one of all. Attempted on July 20, 1944, Stauffenberg came up with the plan to use Hilter's Reserve Army (Operation Valkyrie) against his own regime. Ambitious though it was, Hitler was lucky and survived the attempt.

The movie makes you realize how outraged people were with Hitler even in his own ranks. Tom Cruise and other notable actors play their roles to perfection as the conspirators who will ultimately pay with their lives.

Interestingly, as you watch the movie, the director is able to create a suspense so strong, it makes you forget that you actually know the outcome of this story. Hitler was not assassinated. But as you watch Stauffenberg and his men, you wish from your heart that they would succeed. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen and WWII gets bloodier, with Hitler committing suicide only nine months later.

I would recommend this movie for any person who is remotely interested in WWII history. The director also spares you any discomfort by not showing any ghastly images from the era, and the filmy is mostly confined to the white corridors of power.

Trivia: One reason Tom was attracted to this role was the stark similarity he has to Stauffenberg. see picture below:

For some facts on the Stauffenberg plot, see this link.