Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sivaji - The Boss?

The hype around this movie called Sivaji eludes me. I think it is one of Rajnikanth's worst movies. It is three long boring hours with a total half-hour of funny bits stuck in here and there. But this movie seems to be doing phenomenal business all over the place and seems to have introduced Rajnikanth the superhero to the rest of India. I really hope Tamil movies or for that matter even Rajnikanth are being judged by this silly movie. It is regressive, boring and unbelievable. I actually like Padiappa or Arunachalam better!!

So much for the Shankar, Rajni combination.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Surreal Conversations

I don't know if it is something about me or what. But I seem to get into these surreal conversations with the unlikeliest of beings. Like customer care, admin guys, HR of course, my maid, sometimes my boss.... Where, oh where would I be, but for this interesting human interludes.

This is a specific conversation I had with the admin department head of the company I work for. The background is that one fine day I wake up to discover that my phone connection is dead and I have to be on a conference call with some important dudes calling from the US. Frantically, I call Airtel customer care. For once in this lifetime, I manage to have a straightforward conversation with customer care, who gleefully informs me that my corporate connection has been disconnected on the instructions of my admin department and no they cannot forward calls and no they cannot temporarily activate it unless admin permits.

Ok, this ought to be easy, I thought, taking a deep breath. After all, I was in the right. I had actually paid bills regularly. So there is no reason for my phone connection to be cut. I had severly underestimated the capacity of Shri.Adminji.

Me : ``Hallo,hallo (falsely cheerful)!! Sir, apparently my phone connection has been disconnected by admin yesterday.''

Adminji : No, no. How can that be? Your phone has not been disconnected.

Me : Actually, I spoke to Airtel. My phone was disconnected on your department's instructions.

Adminji: No, no. They don't know what they are saying. Check your phone, it is on.

Me : Right. I checked my phone - from all angles, switched it on and off. took out sim card and put it in again. took out battery and put it in again. No connection. Nothing. And Airtel confirms they have disconnected me.

Adminji : If you do all those things to your phone, no wonder it is off. Thatz why Airtel must have disconnected.

Me (slightly desparate): Actually, Airtel disconnected because you told them to.

Adminji : I did not tell them anything. LEt them prove I talked to them. I haven't talk at all.

Me : Ok, so it is someone from your department.

Adminji : No, nobody from my department spoke to them.

Me : Ok, so they sent out a mail.

Adminji : Ah, that may be true. They sent some mail yesterday. Some connections were disconnected. But I am sure yours was not.

Me : Mine was too (loudly and firmly)

Adminji : Ok, so what do you want me to do now?

Me : You can ask them to reconnect me, for instance.

Adminji : (All sarcasm lost on him) Ok, I will do that.

Me: When? I have an important call in two hours.

Adminji : Two hours, no? no problem, I will go to office. I need to arrange for some lunch to be served. Then I have to look at some problems with some hotel bookings for our CEO. After that I should be able to do this. No problem.

Me(shouting now): I have a business call with people from the US in two hours. Surely this is more important that hotel bookings. Can you please call Airtel??????

Adminji : Why are you shouting? Are you bigger than the CEO? Why don't you call the US, instead of shouting at me?

Me: (sarcastically) And you will, of course, pay the bills for the US call

Adminji : (Sarcasm completely lost) Why are you so cheap? You cannot pay phone bills, is it? If you cannot pay, I will pay them from my salary. Don't shout.

Me (completely losing my head): Right, you disconnect my phone for no reason and you won't even make an effort to correct that and you want me to call people around the world to explain that my phone is not working and then you call me a cheapo.

Adminji : (interrupting my impassioned speech) You know what is the problem with you? you are a negative person. you cannot take anything positively.I gave you all possible options. You don't want to consider them. You just want to shout at me.

Me : (in what I think is a dangerous tone) Ah, I see. Could you, with your brilliant analysis, point out what exactly I need to consider positively, when I am going to be fired for missing an important call.

Adminji : See,see. You are again thinking negatively. All you people, think you are so important. Always shouting, always negative.

Me : Mr Admin. I have had enough of this - apart from being so incompetent that you cannot even understand what I am saying, you are also being insulting.

Adminji : (suddenly) Do you believe in God?

Me : (thrown off track) What does that have to do with this conversation

Adminji : If I have insulted you, God will punish me. And I am fearful of God. So I don't do wrong. So I have not insulted you.


Later, sanity prevailed. And I did manage a Machiavellian response to Adminji. I sent him my telephone bill, which he so kindly offered to pay from his salary. Airtel is now chasing him. I love my life. and such cheap thrills.


Monday, February 26, 2007

Play Review : Kanchanaseetha

A play after a long,long time... That itself leaves me predisposed to review it well. But that would be unfair to the theatre group, so have tried to be as objective as possible.

Kanchana Seetha is a play originally written by Sreekantan Nair and translated into English. The core subject deals with the conflict Rama faces after he decides to leave Seetha behind in the forest, proclaiming her to be `unchaste'. The play portrays Rama conflicted between his position as a King (Caesar's wife must be above suspicion) and Rama, the man. However, it is not so straightforward. There are several subtle nuances which are thrown up which seem to suggest that the conflict is actually Rama's inability to believe in Seetha's chastity and how the state becomes an excuse for Rama to mask his own indecision. In between are also thrown in the issues of the class hierarchy and conflicts arising from that system and so on.

The script was really very good, building up pace very well to culminate in Seetha being ultimately swallowed by the Earth. And the performances were also very,very good - bringing up the nuances suggested by the script aptly. The players were all very natural, especially the children who played Lava and Kusha, and yet came across convincingly in their portrayals of their respective characters. The sets and props were minimally used, the entire play being dependent on the strength of the script and the performances and here the director came up trumps.

The one question that I had was that is such a play still relevant in today's contemporary world? But I think the answer is that we do still carry the baggage of our culture which believes in the `chastity' of Seetha. Even in today's world where women are supposedly better off than before, we still do grapple with issues of societal expectations and so on. And therein lies the relevance of the play. As a friend pointed out, Shakespeare is still relevant because the interpretation is with respect to contemporary society. I agree with her and kudos to the Tejaswi Theatre group for their excellent performance.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Review : Babel

Babel is a movie where four vignettes are linked together: An American tourist and his wife who gets accidentally shot while on vacation in Morocco, the children's nanny who is an illegal Mexican immigrant, the Moroccan family whose kids accidentally shoot the American tourist and a Japanese teenager in Tokyo.

While three are directly connected (The Americans, the nanny and the Moroccan shooter), the Japanese connection is a bit tenuous, which is a bit ironical since that is the most appealing part of the movie.

The vignette of the Japanese teenager dealing with the trauma of her mother's death and her own emerging identity while coping with being disabled, is brilliant. The urban loneliness in Tokyo, portrayed throught the experiments of the teenagers and more brilliantly throught the bleak, concrete skyline view from her balcony, is the best part of the movie.

The nanny's story of how she takes the children to Mexico for her son's marriage and on the way back gets into trouble with the police and finally gets deported is also an interesting as well as touching story about the situation of immigrants to theUS - especially the illegal ones.

The other two are fairly straight stories - while the insight into Moroccos's rural settlements, confused political situation is good, it doesn't leave an imprint because it is so connected to the story of the Americans, which is the least appealing bit of the movie.

The format, the coherence and the handling are really superb and so is the camera which brings out the sense of desolation and loneliness so very eloquently. If this movie has been nominated for Best Cameraman, it just deserves to win. The movie is also rather intense and leaves you with a feeling of isolation and depression which is characteristic of today's existence. I just can't understand the significance of the title or the Hollywoodified American family. For the most part definitely good. Must watch.


Review : The Queen

We normal mortals are always fascinated by royalty. This is a movie which questions that fascinating institution in the backdrop of the death of Princess Diana.

To put the storyline simply, the movie details out the reaction of the British royal family to Diana's death in a car crash in 2000 and how they are forced to accept public reaction. In the course of this stream of events, a series of issues are highlighted -
  • the hypocrisy of the royals : it is OK for Charles to have an affair, but not OK for his wife to be upset about it. The stiff royal upper lip and silences need to be preserved. The Queen's husband takes the children out stag hunting to stop them from learning of Diana's death.
  • the relevance of royalty : when Cherie Blair questions the role of the monarchy versus the privileges they have. The government is elected by the people but reports to the queen.
  • The pressures of privilege : the queen is forced to react when she is severely criticised by her people for not sharing their grief!!
  • What defines a royal : When Charles time and again asserts that he is a `modern' man while his parents are from the `old school'.
There are also the interesting sidelights when a Labour Prime Minister (Tony Blair) has to report to the entity he sees no value in - The Monarchy - and how he changes his opinion about the Queen. The interesting play between the royals and the elected government - who is the custodian of the people and their interests, the `Queen bends knees to the Prime Minister' headlines when he forces her to react to the public outpouring of grief for Diana.

But as I said, all these are just highlighted/touched upon in the movie. There is no attempt to explore any of these ideas or focus upon them. While from one point of view it is commendable that there is no attempt to judge and the judgement is left to the viewer, from another point of view the movies comes through as lacking depth.

I would believe it is definitely worth a watch but wouldn't rate it brilliant, because finally this movie is about an interesting side issue in the UK but has no relevance to the greater part of the world. I am also not sure that Elizabeth Mirren's portrayal of the Queen deserves an Oscar.


Forcible Conversions

First of all, let me clarify that I am not talking about relegious conversions here. This is about this new trend of improving Average Revenue per Customer followed by practically every product or service you use from a TV to a mobile phone to Google.

I am sure that this must have been a common experience many of us share - you have a simple mobile phone which has excellent voice quality but doesn't have all that advantages of talking address books and synchronised calendars et al. (Well, frankly only a miniscule population in this world needs a synchronised calendar). But if you try walking into a store to buy that phone, the guy at the counter looks at you like you are this uneducated alien (cheapo & moron are the words which feature heavily on this thought bubble) and tells you that that model is no longer available. At a similar price (which actually means Rs 3 K more than the original) he recites this long list of additional features, which sound alien to you. You try being firm with him, doesn't work.And you can't repair your old mobile, it cost more than the new phone. So you walk out of the store with an upgraded phone you dont want for Rs 3 K more.

Or the bank which keeps trying to upgrade you from an ATM card to a debit card. Or Google which forces you to keep `upgrading' your blog. Or Windows which keeps upgrading its office suite and forces you to go higher and pay more. Or laptops which come up with vague features. Or ipods which offer you more and more storage for which you need to pay that online music site more and more to download more and more songs. In none of this does any customer inconvenience get addressed; all of them are meant to upgrade the pockets of the companies which put out those services.

For instance, take Google. I have been forcibly upgraded to use this new version of blogger. My templates remain the same. I have the same problems of editing text. It takes me the same amount of time to organise the blog and I still can't do an automatic email of updates to friends who read my blog(or who are forced to read my blog). So I see no `upgrade' value, but Google doesn't give me a choice. Worse, I am wondering what I am losing to this upgrade - is it privacy? IS some anonymous person sitting out there analysing my online usage patterns and drawing conclusions as to my mental health? It is scary, especially when I see a flash of `Google analytics' when I click on something. And in all probability, I have signed something which says Google can access all this when I opted to become a blogger. The problem is one never understands what it means when you sign on that `Terms and Conditions' till you actually use it.

If I opt not to go in for the upgrade, I pay a premium for that too either in actual cash terms or productivity terms. For examples, banks just automatically convert your ATM cards to debit cards and then charge you for the debit cards. If you insist on retaining the ATM card, you are charged more. Similarly for the upgraded mobiles or TVs or Windows suite.

I wonder what implications all this has from a customer protection side. Can I by law seek to protect my status to remain static - not go for upgrades - without paying through my nose? I don't know and I am supposedly a well-educated, rights aware consumer!!


Friday, February 23, 2007

Movie Review : 28 Days

Returning from a mind numbing number of meetings, the idea of being a couch potato for the rest of the evening (er...... this was 9.50 p.m) seemed extremely attractive, so I plonked myself in front of the T.V and by accident watched this very funny movie called 28 Days. I probably am the only idiot in the world who is writing a review of an ancient movie, but I really loved it.

Sandra Bullock is a writer-who has never written a word in her life-alcoholic-drug user. She and her boyfriend turn up completely high at her sister's wedding, whe she proposes this wonderful toast ``Everyone has to make some compromise in life. My sister made an intelligent one. She looked at Andrew and said is this a guy I want to spend the rest of my life with and came up with the answer Oh,why not! He is making pots of money. She is smart.'' (This is line which got me interested in the movie.) And then she wrecks the wedding cake, trips out of her bridesmaid's clothes, drives around in her underclothes in a drunken, hallucinative stupor and crashes into someone's house. And gets sent to a rehab centre. And gets rehabilitated.

The movie makes fun of all the stereotypes. Sandra Bullock's co-inmates at the rehab centre are a baseball star addicted to sleeping around with every woman he sees - including his best friend's ( since fourth grade) wife, a teenager hooked to drugs and a sleazy soap opera aka Santa Barbara, a stressed out alcoholic executive, a ageing beauty queen whose husband walked out on her, a black mother, a gay alcoholic who keeps crying all the time and losing his partners. The place is run by an ex-drunk. They poke fun at everything that happens there - the handholding, chanting sessions, group therapy, the focus on `expression' and what not. And under this is the pathos - all the others have been thru several rehabs and keep coming back . As the teenager puts it - faster and faster each time. And so she kills herself. The reality of life is there. But still it is a funny movie.

The movie has some great dialogues : like the sister's wedding toast and my personal favourite which is written below.
Scene : Sandra's boyfriend is proposing to her while she is at rehab.
``But Jasper, I am in rehab''
``Thatz because you got a nasty judge.''
``You know Jasper, I've been going downhill all my life.''
``Of course not. You are damn funny,especially when you get high. You are great.''
``Stop it,Jasper. I can see I have been on this path to kill myself and I didn't even know it.''
``Are you talking about the accident? it wasn't that serious''.
``There are so many normal people out there who don't drink, who don't wreck their sister's wedding, who don't land up in rehab and do chanting.''
``You are normal.''
``No, I'm not and it is dawning on me relentlessly''.
``Listen. When you become an adult, you stop being normal and this is true of all people. You wake up one day and have to figure out what to do with your life. Some get married and make babies, some get a job and make money and then there are some like us who have fun. All of us are adult and all of us are normal.'' I just loved that!

So even though Rotten Tomatoes rates it at 29%, I enjoyed that bit of dialogue too much and have to say, I loved it.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Discrimination of the Singles

It is rather amazing the different forms discrimination takes. I was just buying a mobile connection, for heaven's sake. And there was this first innocuous question as to who all lived in my house. Once I said I stayed with my brother, there was this prolonged whispering conversation about his marital status. Just as I was wondering whether the customer care execs (both women) were thinking about the possibility of being romantically linked to my brother (the thought afforded me considerable amusement, of course), they asked me directly if he was married. No, I replied, striving for a straight face. Then, they tell me, ``you need to pay an additional deposit of Rs 750, madam, since you are a bachelor''. I thought this was some sort of joke and tried passing it off lightly. But it was not to be - apparently mobile phone companies charge an extra deposit from ``bachelors''. The sad thing was that the people who glibly made these statements to me did not even know that it was discriminatory and were very puzzled when I made a fuss.

This is the second time I have personally faced such discrimination, the first time was when I tried getting a housing loan from ICICI and was told as a single woman I needed a guarantor. It was ironical that they did not accept my Government University Professor mom as a good guarantor but were perfectly OK with my student, non-earning brother signing up as a guarantor. By virtue of screaming non-stop for 45 minutes and threatening discrimination lawsuits, I finally got a loan with no guarantor. This was about four years ago and I don't know if this has changed at all.

These are only two personal instances - once I mention this to people, there are other stories which come up about such blatant as well as subtle forms of discrimination. Singles don't get houses to stay in or if they do, they pay a premium on rent, they are asked to assume more work since they don't have any spouse waiting for them, employers telling them that they are not reliable since they are single and of course, the intense interest everyone has in the life of a single.

I just don't understand how your marital status can influence your bankability, your employability or your credibility. Suppose I was married and defaulted on my loan, what exactly does the bank propose to do - catch hold of the husband dear's collar and demand honourable repayment? What will the mobile company do if a married man defaults on his bills - demand his wife's jewellery ? And how often have we heard the same employer complain that his married employee who is perenially absent because of his `family demands'.

But nevertheless, there is this subtle reinforcement that tells you, if you have a family it is OK if you default or don't turn up for work or be inefficient. So much for being that heartwhole, fancyfree, irresponsible, decadent single. The world around you is screaming at you to get married so that you can pay your bills, pay your bank and SETTLE DOWN!


Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dravidians Vs Devanagri

Is Tamil Nadu against Hindi? This is a very old debate, older than me in fact, so I was a tad bit surprised when it resurfaced among contemporary people. I am no advocate of insularity or `cultural preservation'. But I do think that insularity is a rather unfair charge being laid on Chennai today; it may have been true some thirty years ago.

The English always claim that the French are insular in protecting their language and indeed I have faced immigration officials or airline people insisting on speaking in French, which made me feel rather indignant. Even in admittedly insular France, I have come across friendly people who spoke English (This might have been a reaction to my French, but nevertheless...) But I don't think that is what Chennai is. I haven't seen people insisting that others speak in Tamil; if they don't speak in English or Hindi, it is because of a lack in education rather than any insularity.

So we come back to the point that if only Hindi was taught in schools in Tamil Nadu, this situation wouldn't arise. Well, in reality all private schools across the state offer Hindi, Sanskrit,French or Tamil as a second language . Most students prefer Sanskrit or French where it is easy to score marks, in fact Tamil is the least preferred language. When it comes to Government schools, however, Tamil is the only second language. But is that very different from say Gujarat or Karnataka? It is only the city schools which teach Hindi in Karnataka. I do know that Gujarat Government schools have Gujarati as the primary language with Hindi as the second language, whereas TN and Karnataka opt for English as the second language. If TN were to opt for Tamil and Hindi as the two languages of learning, there would be a huge hue and cry about its global insularity in excluding English!!!

Similarly as far as communication goes, one needs to learn the native tongue of a place be it Chennai or Ahmedabad, if one were to live there for a significant length of time. Besides being useful to communicate with people such as vendors, maids, milkmen etc, the local language is also a part of the culture of the place. If a UP-ite were to live in the US, would he/she baulk against learning English or would they not learn German living in Germany. So why is it so objectionable to learn Tamil living in Tamil Nadu? And vice-versa, Tamilians living in the North or West do not insist on speaking in English or Tamil, they do learn Hindi.

In practical terms, I have seen more Hindi being spoken in offices in Chennai (non-government ones) than in Mumbai. In fact, it is cool to know Hindi in Chennai, but not so in Ahmedabad or Bangalore or Mumbai. The government offices on the other hand, still have this age-old practice of learning one Hindi word a day and one can see this right from banks to registrar offices to railway stations. So where is Hindi being excluded?

Just because auto drivers and maids do not respond to Hindi, to brand Chennai as insular is rather unfair. Chennai is as insular as London or Frankfurt or Colombo and less insular than Paris. The crib about Dravidians being against Devanagri is outdated. So people, please realise that when you crib that Chennai-ites do not speak Hindi, it is you who are being insular and not the other way around.