Tuesday, November 27, 2012


In upcoming news, I will defend my thesis on 21st December. Yep. Not joking at all.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Reading... writing

3 years ago, I posted a lament about how I'd ended up reading fewer and fewer books. I'm happy to report the situation has changed over the past year (or more. Didn't keep track until recently, when I felt like making a list). A recent conversation reminded me that I've read loads of books recently (Thank you Kindle!) and I felt I should make a small list.

What kick-started my return to reading was the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson. I'd already seen the Swedish movies before so I knew the basic plot-line but the detail that books offer and the pace of such genre of books meant I was hooked onto reading all three. Since January, I have revisited old classics - The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, A Christmas Carol, The Man with Two Left Feet And Other Stories. India trip meant I found some great cheap editions of - Hitch 22 (highly recommended and still unfinished by me as I chug through it a couple of chapters at a time) and One Hundred Years of Solitude (recommended if you enjoy magical realism).

Project Gutenberg, and Archive.org mean that I have a steady source of classics (Three Men in a Boat, P.G Wodehouse stuff and Gogol's short stories). And then, I stumbled upon the A Song of Ice and Fire Series (I think the individual ebooks might be better, this 4 book version has slight problems with formatting, indexes etc.) Whoa! If you enjoyed Lord of the Rings, you will love this. Do read. Taking a break before I start reading the 5th book of the series.

So, as a diversion from Game of Thrones... I reread Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. Another great epic. And a few days ago, I stumbled on one of the first complete English translations of the Rig-Vedas. One of the times where I was glad that Google digitizes books. Reading has commenced at a slow pace, thanks in part to archaic English and OCR errors.

I'm at the end of doctoral research. Quite fast, I know, but French doctoral programs are time bound. They last 3 years and deadlines are rarely extended. Which leads to the writing of my thesis. I currently joke that reading epics is good training for writing one. Wish me luck :)
PS: Added Amazon Affiliate links in certain places. If you buy something from Amazon by clicking  through links from here, I earn a slight something (while you pay the same price that you normally would).

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Party conversations

Let the persons involved be unidentified. It's better that way. Call them X. That may represent the same or multiple persons...

X: (muttering to self) 2 carries over... and..
Me: What?
X: I'm trying to multiply 31 and 37 to see if I'm drunk.
Me: Ummm what?
X: Well, they are the two prime numbers just above 30.
Me: ....
X: I started with primes above 20.. now slowly progressing to higher numbers.
Me: ... If you feel the need to multiply 2 numbers to check if you are drunk... You ARE drunk.

Me: Is that chocolate?
X: Yea. (while holding a glass of pastis) Alcohol followed sweet stuff is extremely bad. I'm getting it!
Me: ...

X: Hey you, you are Korean right? You have to take this shot with me.
Y: Yea.. what drink it is?
X: It's (something something, I forget). Come on... looks for a shot glass. What the hell do they say in Japanese before you drink?
Y: Umm.. nomi.. no that's "to drink"... ummm
Yes, X was French, Y was Korean and the drink was not Japanese sake. I have no idea why they wanted to say whatever in Japanese.

(A few hours later)
X: So, 51 is not a prime right? 53 is. I'm now trying higher primes.
Me: Yep... and 59.
X: Right, 57 is not.. because it is a multiple of 19.
Me: (Stares)... Wasn't it easier to remember it as a multiple of 3.
X: Oh yea.. 19 times 3 is 57. Didn't realize that.

Here, X is the host, early on in the party. I'd just reached their place.
X: I'd hoped more people would come. Those lazy idiots.
Me: Well maybe they will come late. Everyone is late.
X: Maybe. It's the long weekend now, so the party can go on till really late.
Me: yea... we can party till Sunday night... no one will want to leave. No matter what. And then... then, you'll just have to shoot whoever is left. That would be your only solution.
X: ....

Saturday, April 21, 2012


My last post was written a long time ago. I posted it recently only because it was lounging around in the drafts section for too long. But polishing it up with the IMDB links and adding a few newer movies to the list led me another stream of thought. What sitcoms or comedy TV shows would I recommend to others?

Turns out it's a more difficult question to answer than I imagined. I realized that I've not followed any Indian TV series in more than 8~9 years. And to think that I've been outside India only half of the time. Most shows are generally crap... everywhere. Even then, it's not difficult to end up with a list of around 5-10 good American shows, 2-3 British ones (I've only just begun looking for them) which one could watch and follow.

Very few good Indian shows come to my mind. Most are not recent. And since I only speak Hindi and Marathi, I wouldn't want to comment on shows from other languages. But I'd wager there are much more good Marathi shows than Hindi shows. Probably because a relatively smaller audience, and even smaller funding opportunities automatically weed out the bad?

It also leads me to wonder about sitcoms. I now realize how language is an important factor to humour. When we crack jokes in Marathi or Hindi, they are generally puns, or play on words. Probably my lack of a good literary grounding in these languages is the cause for that. My knowledge is limited to some of the works of P. L. Deshpande.  I recently re-listened to some of his recordings (where he reads out and performs his own essays) and was struck by how different it is to what one sees now. He includes puns and play on words, yes, but his jokes are better written. There is a premise, a lead up and then a pay-off.

The better comedies in Marathi (405 Anandvan, Gangadhar Tipre, ... oh-god I can't remember any more!) tended to sprinkle it with some serious-er moments, but always followed the golden rule of not having the characters in on the joke. For the characters, the situation at hand was something of concern... they didn't realize it was funny to others because they were invested in its outcome. Which makes it so much more enjoyable.

Among the many gripes I have with Indian tv and cinema is that to me it seems everyone is trying to ape the flash-bang-hollywood movies and popular tv. We should rather figure out what we do better and do it.

Here's a parting thought: Watch shows like 30 Rock, Community, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Coupling, and even The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. Now how many recent Indian shows can you think of that make laugh out as loud (Ok.. that IS subjective I know). Or rather, think of which show you can quote from and have someone else instantly recognize it. "Sorry Shaktiman" is one, but is only said ironically. :-/

[Edit: The post and thought was mostly inspired because I spent some time in an improv troupe, and some people I know from there write 'notes' (on fb, so can't link here) or blogs on such analysis often.]

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Once upon a time, I got really mad at how clueless certain people I knew were about movies from India. They knew the 'industry' was called Bollywood, but almost none had seen an entire movie. So, I wrote a little note on my Facebook page and shared it. It was a list of movies I would want my friends to watch, if they wanted to get up to speed with how Bollywood is. And the kind of movies I like to watch.

My point being, there are millions of bad movies made by Hollywood each year, but everyone talks just about the cool, slick, big-budget ones. On the other hand, everyone just gets stuck at the idea of songs in a movie, and people refuse to process anything else when they hear of Indian cinema. I mean, why are giant metallic robots that turn into cars okay, but 2 people singing not so? (http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2165Yea, most movies are bad, but there are millions of other things wrong with them, which probably have nothing to do with them having song and dance routines.

#rant over, phew.

So if I had to begin showing movies to my friends, which ones would I start with? In no particular order, I drew up a list.

1) Lagaan: Once upon a time in India :- A typical Bollywood movie about how a village must form a cricket team and beat the British administrators at their game in order to be exempt from taxes. This was nominated for the "Best Foreign Movie" at the Oscars in 2002, and is complete with "oh i feel happy, lets sing; oh i need to convince him to help me, lets sing; oh I'm jealous, lets sing and dance".

2) Dil Chahta Hai : A story of 3 friends; about how they grow up after they graduate and how their life takes them apart, but still keeps them close. (Does that even make sense to you ? should improve my description skills)

3) Lakshya (Goal / Aim ): An aimless high schooler finds direction in life after he signs up for the Indian Army. Set amidst the Kargil War, 1998, a story of growing up.

4) Rang De Basanti (Paint it saffron - saffron symbolizes sacrifice) : A story of a group of 20-somethings who are disenchanted and disillusioned by the government and "the system". Inspired by the lives of the revolutionaries on whom they are filming a documentary, they decide to take matters into their hands.

5 & 6) Sarkar (Government) and Sarkar Raj: These two movies are a brilliant example of how you can take a story and adapt it to the Indian setting. These are based on the Godfather series. These movie are Bollywood, but have no song and dance sequences. Surprising, right?

7) Omkara: Adapted from Shakespeare's Othello. Probably non-Indians might not appreciate it so much, since the language and setting is typical rustic Indian. I like it for how well it has been adapted to make the story seem Indian.

8) Sholay: A remake of the movies "The Seven Samurai" and "The Magnificent Seven". Made in 1974, this movie is again a brilliant adaptation of the story. A classic which almost any Indian guy will have in his top 5 or top 10 list. I saw the Japanese movie before the Hollywood remake and was quite disheartened by how close it stuck to the Japanese version. Sholay is whole loads more fun, and extremely well made. Any "true Indian" will become your best friend if you can quote the water tank scene. (Don't test this if your life is at stake though.)

9) Swades (Motherland): The story of an Indian guy who's settled in the US, but remembers why he loves home and India. A really simple story, which probably speaks to me more since I find myself asking the same questions. About home, India, US, life and so on. Some day, a blog post on all that too. Though I do have major gripes with the narratives, the story is all about why the guy wants to come back to India... I would have loved it if the story talked about life abroad without resorting to stereotypes.

10) Sarfarosh: An action/ romantic movie, typically bollywood with songs, dance, action, comedy and so on. The story of a cop who decides to tackle rising terrorism in Mumbai and surrounding areas. A well made film that, if my memory serves right, has fewer jarring segues than most films.

All these still count as typical 'mainstream' Hindi cinema (we have 22 official languages, according to Wikipedia anyway, and an independent film industry in almost each language). I haven't listed the newer new-age/artsy/multiplex-fare movies which would appeal to foreign audiences easier precisely because they seem to be heavily influenced by foreign cinema. (But "Dev D", Ek Chaalis Ki Last Local", "Johnny Gaddar", "Khoya Khoya Chand", "Peepli Live" are delicious bits of movies that need more watching.)

Typical Bollywood fare, which I dislike but is somehow popular among non resident Indians and non Indians, include "Om Shanti Om"(A tale of re-incarnation + Ultra bollywood mish-mash), "Devdas" (how falling in love makes you a stupid idiotic drunk wasted guy) , "Kal Ho Na Ho"(ok, this one is probably good, but I still don't like it as much), "Koi Mil Gaya" (A rip-off of E.T, fused with the character Forrest Gump?), "Hum Aapke Hain Kaun" (A glorified wedding video).

There are other movies that are over-the-top but self aware movies which are quite fun (Main Hoon Na, Tashan, Andaz Apna Apna - I've lost count how many times I've seen it) but they rely heavily on pop-culture references (hasn't anyone wondered how pop-culture always tends to refer to stuff that happens in the US/UK?), puns and play on words. Things quite hard to translate to foreign audiences.

 But this is a list of movies that are pretty much "Bollywood". If you know any more, add to the list :)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Political incorrectness

There's something about being (or saying things) horribly wrong that just tickles me. I think the world would be a better place people learn to being politically incorrect for humour (Ricky Gervais, anyone? Or Jimmy Carr? warning: links are quite offensive!).

Like my French friends here. They routinely joke that I may have been already married when a kid. They make slurping sounds when eating beef, and praise the taste. Some know that I don't like the concept of eating snails. So they make sure to offer me some whenever I mention I'm hungry.

It's all done with the slight semblance of a smile and twinkle in the eye. Knowing that what they are saying is wrong. Or sometimes with a overly fake serious face.

I counter with their stubborn insistence on saying my name wrong. Or saying American movies are plain "ollywooood". Or asking me if I want to heat because I might be angry. And I joke about how looking gay is okay. And mention how they still think they should own the world, making a poor Asian like me do all the work.

I mentioned my upcoming trip home, and immediately one guy asks: "So, can we ask you to get something from India?" I answer, "Sure. What do you want?".
- "A young wife. Probably 13-14 year old."