Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"The Family" - a conspicuously forgettable film featuring Robert de Niro.....

When one has acted in as many movies as Robert de Niro: with aplomb, intensity, variety and style; then one can be excused if he has conceded to play a role in rather mediocre film like “The Family”. Released in 2013; directed by Luc Besson and loosely based on a French novel named “Malavita” – this is a story of a High class Mob family from Brooklyn, secretly transported to a Remote town in Normandy, France under the FBI’s Witness protection program. Genetically programmed for violence and revenge, this sweet family consisting of Monzani (De niro), his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer!!), a smart son played by John D’leo and a beautiful, virginal daughter played to perfection (the only redeeming feature in the movie) by Dianna Agron –. find it extremely difficult to keep their temper in place in this small town that is quintessentially French; and hence hate anything remotely American (including Peanut butter!). The FBI officer whose task it is to keep the family and the town safe from gang wars is none other than Tommy Lee Jones. Can you believe it? With such a star cast assembled under one roof, one would have imagined that the movie will sparkle with artistic brilliance, but unfortunately, this comic book spoof of Mafia retaliation leaves nobody with a chance to perform anything even remotely close their average best. One can almost imagine De niro getting up from bed in the morning and Jogging his way to the shooting spot to complete his shot as a daily chore….

Yet, it is a watchable film, if one is looking for two hours of pure entertainment (albeit, of a baser kind). Picture book characters, hilarious dialogues, smooth innuendos, pacy screenplay; and gives enough time to eat your popcorn, gulp Pepsi or beer (whatever..) and come out of this drama with a sense a light headedness, that one is used to, when the brain has nothing to do but gape and laugh at the sheer farcical concoction of a story on screen. If that is what one wants, then this is the ambrosia for you…

Robert De Niro is one of the finest actors of this generation in my book. I am sure no one would disagree with that observation. For somebody who has adorned the role of Vito Corleone in God father II (for which he received an Academy award); and now to play this caricature of a Mafia Don would seem bit out of place. It’s a probably a quick paycheck for him with minimum of sweat and toil. It is also, perhaps, a sign of times that he is getting older and not enough screen space as some of the younger and less talented actors do. And for one of the busiest, most hardworking actors Hollywood has ever known; to be sidelined can truly hurt. There is a clear sense of laziness, or shall I say, weariness in his performance in this film: The bearded look, distraught eyes and almost completely bereft of the brilliance that we are used to seeing in him. I wouldn't want to see this great actor gamble for roles that lesser mortals can perform. We have enough body of work to attest to his incredible virtuosity and commitment. Nothing more is required.

Finally, Mr De Niro - here is a personal plea. Please be choosy about your films. YOU can afford to……

God bless…..

Sunday, April 27, 2014

To Nitin Mullick - a remembrance and introspection

It is one of those heavy moments, when pain and anguish over the physical loss of a good friend completely paralyses one’s being. I just heard the news of the passing away of my friend Nitin mullick: a young, intelligent, loving and cheerful young man; plucked away in his prime by the inexorable wheel of destiny. How can such a fragrant flower be picked in its freshness? ; Or how could life be so cruel and heartless in taking away a loving father; a doting husband; a dutiful and caring Son, an admirable friend? These are questions that instantly arise in our mind; but then the answer comes almost instantaneously: - such is the law of life; - that lives that are very bright, incandescent and redeeming cannot last long; and their sheer exuberance and presence was meant only as temporary sojourn for all of us to interact, bask and live with; and then to carry them forever in our memory as a person who touched our lives, enlivening it with joy, happiness and optimism. They are too precious; and they are God’s chosen children, who cannot remain alienated from HIM for long. So Nitin has gone “Home”, leaving us all with only those lovely moments that we had with him, to cherish and honor.

My heart goes out to Vani and the boys, His parents, all those in his family for this loss so irreparable. Words cannot assuage the anguish of their bereavement, but I am sure all those who knew Nitin are with them right now in spirit; and we pray that Life gives them the courage and fortitude to stand through these moments of trial and sorrow.

Nitin, Farewell My friend. You will live on forever in our hearts….

God bless...


It is only when the fact of Death stares at our face, do we realize the incontrovertible evanescence of this Human body. When a person known to us passes away, our mind receives an involuntary jerk; and its seemingly strong edifice wobbles a little at the bottom allowing the “unpleasant” thought of our own temporal existence and imminent death bubble up to the top; - and at least, for a fraction of a second, if not more, we tremble with an unnameable fear that takes hold of us. This is a fact, and none can deny it. But very soon, we recover: diverting our minds to other pursuits; “externalizing” the whole experience and losing ourselves in peripheral activities; and the actual fact of death gets sidelined - so to speak.

Religions begin and end with an answer to this fear. The truest expressions of all religious endeavor seek an answer to this riddle of life that constantly threatens with us with its own annihilation. And when the answers have been discovered, they get codified into belief systems for the less adventurous souls, who cannot undertake the arduous, painful and often perilous journey into this void. Hence the need to have Churches, temples and mosques; where one can participate in its liturgical outpourings, bringing some solace and peace to ones tortured psyche; allowing to lose ourselves in the grand idea, that after all, there is something beyond physical death; and to be able to hold on to symbols ever so tightly praying that it would help us the cross the bridge between life and death. Not a bad idea, after all! Because without this consolation, it may become impossible to lead a sane life.

But nothing can substitute those pristine moments of discovery available to us when one looks at death on its face, and feels the naked fear of it in our raw bones. If at all one can hold on to it; look into it deeply, there is a chance that we may touch something beyond it. This journey, however, needs a heroism, that cannot be taught or mimicked.. All that we can do is to be open to this experience, when it happens, and allow life in its own inimitable way to lead us to an understanding, where Death in its richness will make as much sense as Life does…

God bless…..

Friday, April 25, 2014

"An unmarried Woman" - a film by Paul Mazursky

The 1960’s and 70’s marked a great period of change in American value systems. The Hippie movement, the libertinism of ambiguous sexual proclivities, the infidelity of marital life and increased rates of divorce; and a general sense of disillusionment and loneliness pervaded its social life. The American political arena also looked bleak after the assassination of JFK, and the country was caught midway between a glorious dream and a damning inertia that seemed to apply brakes to its growth, both socially and psychologically. It was in such a milieu, in 1978, that Paul Mazursky wrote and directed his emotional masterpiece “An unmarried woman” featuring the mercurial Jill Clayburgh.

Picture a beautiful lady married for fifteen years walking along the streets of New York with her husband, dreaming and talking of a summer vacation in beach houses; - when all of a sudden, her Husband breaks down, uncontrollably sobs and tells her in between shallow breaths that he is having an affair with a 26 year old, and wants to move away.. Our heroine stares dumbfounded, unable to articulate her emotions, turns and walks down the street without a glance backwards; and pukes into nearest trash can. The feeling of disgust so poignantly portrayed! Such is kind of middle class educated American woman who can rationalize her husband’s weakness, but emotionally cannot reconcile to it - that Paul drew up for our consumption. Erica is an intelligent and reasonable woman, who works in an art gallery; meets her circle of girlfriends every week for a drink and exchanges malicious gossip for fun; has a healthy sexual relationship with her husband twice a week for the last sixteen years : yet unable to hold the marriage together - and spirals into a web of inner grief, frustration, anger, loneliness and sexual experimentation to regain her balance back in life. The movie begins with Tchaikovsky’s “swan lake” playing in the background; and Erica (brilliantly played by Jill Clayburgh) flush after a round of Morning sex with her husband, dressed in her T shirt and panties, waltzing around with a warm, wet glow on her face – basking in the fact that everything about her life is so perfect and beautiful; and then begins the descent into irrationality and fragility of marital relationships.

The movie is all about Erica’s response to this middle age crisis. With a teenage daughter growing to maturity; Sympathetic men who gain her favor only wanting to take her to bed, the edgy feeling of getting old and losing her charm; trying to find that elusive satisfaction in fleeting relationships and bed mates - this is the story of “an unmarried woman”.

For Jill Clayburgh, there could not have a better role to act. Her thick flowing blonde hair, sharp face, shapely body, wide blue eyes and husky voice fits Erica perfectly. Her ability to project pain, anger, boredom and anguish - all in a single frame; and to play the role of an intelligent, cheated woman who knows her vulnerabilities; yet projecting a self-assumed confidence in facing an emotional setback; slowly melting away and succumbing to the need for companionship without hurting her pride and image - is a very difficult character to play on screen. Jill enacted it to perfection……. She did get an Oscar nod for this seminal performance.

Paul mazursky’s screenplay is effective and so are his dialogues. It smacks of honesty about American woman; their liberation, and deep convictions that shape their lives. There is a directness in his treatment of marital infidelity that I have not seen in a film. There is no beating around the bush, or small cushy dialogues. The firm pen of Paul whips through the hypocrisy of American values; the explosion of sexual freedom and its resultant boredom, the conflict between feelings and intellect - are vividly bought out in his narrative and succinct dialogues.

Watch this film, if you are interested in the finer art of Movie making. This is not an entertainment, but a story that could happen to anyone. The unbelievable reality of this movie is what makes it worth watching. And of course, one cannot see a better exhibition of character role play than Jill Clayburgh’s performance as Erica in this film. It is a study in the science of acting….

God bless…

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shakespeare - a rememberance on his 450th Birthday

Today is the Bard's 450th Birthday anniversary.

William Shakespeare - without any argument is perhaps the greatest Dramatist, poet and Historical critic ,- the English language has ever produced. No writer of any acclaim whatsoever, can ever disown the influence of his style, language and metaphor in this modern age. He is to English what Aristotle was to science - its fountainhead. His plays still resonate, reverberate with the same intensity and passion that he bought to it four centuries ago. Even today, connoisseurs and laymen alike; flock to watch a "Romeo and Juliet", " the Twelfth night", "Hamlet", "King Lear" or an "Othello" among others, with the eager enthusiasm of a modern day block bluster, as they would have when these tales were first performed at the Globe theater in London; which was the home of almost all his magnificent dramas. And there can be only one reason for this undiminished popularity : the timeless social issues that he so wonderfully captured in his characters; and his unique gift of clothing grave and deep ideas in a mysterious,esoteric yet beautiful language that touched and healed the soul with unswerving regularity.. His colloquial prose transformed itself into poetry in the sheer luminosity of its expression and similes that he drew. How could anyone forget the audacity of a Brutus's speech; the menacing coldness of an Othello' soliloquy; the trembling anguish of Romeo; or the melancholic philosophizing of an Hamlet.. They read like scriptures, which have the capacity to renew our interest and understanding with each reading.

Time has not dented the power of Shakespearean majesty. Even today , his books are Best sellers. They have to adorn the book shelf of anybody who call themselves Literate in English. Many years ago, I remember reading Samuel Johnson's commentary to Shakespeare's plays; and in the preface he writes :
''..The composition of Shakespeare is a forest, in which oaks extend in the air, interspersed sometimes with weeds and brambles, and sometimes giving shelting to myrtles and to roses; filling the eye with awful pomp, and gratifying the mind with endless diversity...' Any lover of Literature will attest to this ..

Many Happy returns of the day Shakespeare. Your words live with us every day....

God bless..

Sunday, April 20, 2014

'The banality of evil’ – The courageous stand of Hannah Arendt , a Jewish Philosopher :

The Twentieth century produced two of the most virulent, depraved and maniacally totalitarian regimes the history of Mankind has ever recorded or seen: “Stalinism” and “Hitlerism”. In Man’s long struggle to achieve a dominant society, these two regimes represent the farthest end of the spectrum – a manifestation of pure Evil.  At this distance, it is simply unthinkable that a government apparatus could exterminate millions of people as a matter of principle without scant regard for basic rudiments of morality and ethics. But yet, it was done, and the ghastly details of the process could fill a whole library; and the men who propelled and organized these initiatives were for most part decent people who led quiet private lives with families, but were willing to suspend their ability to think and make moral judgments when it came to executing “orders” from a hierarchy over which they had no control, much less of moral scruples over the gravity of their actions. They were merely cogs in the wheel without personal responsibility of good or bad. This is the trademark of “Totalitarianism”; - a unique cocoon of an organization, where Man loses his value as a person, and most importantly abdicates his reasoning capacity; which is a necessary precursor to make any moral choices. The Nuremberg trials after the second world war and subsequent enquires on captured Nazi commanders, came as a surprise to Intellectuals, philosophers and social historians alike; - when they found that none of the convicted officers, who held key positions in the perpetration of the horrific holocaust that wiped away close to a six million Jews across Europe - had even a trace of compunction or remorse for what they had done or committed. It was not that they did not understand the gravity of their crimes, but they simply failed to acknowledge their “personal” involvement in the extermination. They had lost all sense of individuality; and owed their actions to the mighty machine of a regime, which left them with no choice but to follow orders. Obviously, it is difficult for us to understand such a defense. How can one, we would argue, not think about the consequences of an action that would lead to merciless, inhuman extirpation of innocent Men, women and children. But then, we don’t live in such a regime that enforces such a behavior on us, and hence, we ask this question from a moral stand point that is far removed and tangential to the times when these crimes were committed. We would want these war criminals to be brought to justice - hanged; only then, according to us – will the scales be balanced. The enormity of the crimes involved would make us believe that these Nazi officers were ‘personally’ liable and responsible, no matter what arguments to the contrary can be afforded.

Hannah Arendt is widely regarded as one of the most important western philosophers of the twentieth century. Born a Jew, raised in the fervent intellectual atmosphere of Pre-war Germany; Studied under Martin Heidegger, who awoke in her the fire of Philosophical enquiry about the “thinking self”; found a lifelong friend in Karl Jasper, a existentialist, who helped shape her identity as an Intellectual and Moral philosopher; fled to Paris and then to America when Hitler’s regime started hounding Jews across the continent; Worked her way to become the  first ever full time female Professor of Philosophy in Princeton and a visiting lecturer with many other reputed universities; found time to write the most comprehensive work of Totalitarianism that traced the evolution of such ideas across history and its painful consummation in Hitler’s Germany. Hannah was the Cynosure of Jewish intellectualism, until she volunteered to cover the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi commander, for the reputed “Newyorker” magazine in 1961. The editorial board was overjoyed that a philosopher of such stature as Hannah, with the added advantage of being a Jew, would be ready and willing to report on this important case which was to be held in the heart of Israel – Jerusalem. Little did they realize, that it is often dangerous to allow a philosopher to act as a journalist? Hannah attended the trial and watched the pitiful state of Eichmann as he stuttered his way in court, completely lost, with no individuality whatsoever, not able to think beyond his little role in the machinery of Nazism, unable to perceive and distinguish between his acts and their repercussions. Hannah painfully noted that Eichmann did not feel good or bad about the Jews; in fact, he had no opinion at all. All that he kept emphasizing and iterating throughout the 56 day trial was that he was following orders implicitly. Of course with the weight and gravity of the crimes for which he was being tried, he could not and did not expect the sympathy or pardon of his judges; and 1962, he was sentenced to death by the Israeli tribunal.

Hannah came back to the United States hoping to reconcile what she heard, felt and understood; with what was expected of her – which is to produce a report that crucifies Eichmann. But the thinker in her wouldn't allow such a slip to happen. She had seen the worthlessness, the mediocrity, the utter fragility of Eichmann. To hold him responsible as a ‘person’ (as the world wanted to), for the crimes was not only wrong but unfair. Eichmann was tried as an ‘individual’ for crimes and not as part of the system that used him to commit them; and that to Hannah was not morally right. She deliberated on her report for some months, and then wrote a series of five articles, which later was published as a book titled “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil”. Not surprisingly, she became an outcaste in her intellectual circle, and friends started drifting away from her; accusing her for being a “Nazi” sympathizer. Nothing could have been further from the truth than this. Hannah Arendt believed that regimes such as those of Hitler are a calamity, but she held society and the conditions in which such a regime could flourish as equally responsible. She held the Zionist community led themselves into this catastrophe because they did not have a sensible direction or a leader who could pull them out of the dirt into which they were being thrown.  She surmised that Totalitarianism can only grow in a soil where all necessary conditions are ripe and can thrive; and that includes the Victims as well. This was a dangerous stand to take. But Hannah stood by it. 

After the trial and publication of her book, Hannah continued to grapple with the problem of “Evil” throughout her life. When she died in 1975, she left a legacy of independent thought and expression to some of the deepest issues of Man. Such are the stuff Philosophers are made of…

For those of us who want to quickly know about her without going through the trouble of reading her, I suggest the 2012 biopic by Margarethe von Trotta in German, casting Barbara Sukowa as Hannah Arendt.  A brilliant movie that captures the essence of Hannah’s thoughts and her role in the Eichmann trial. Good food for thought…

God bless….

Friday, April 18, 2014

Strategies for effective learning delivery - A few Pointers

Strategies for Effective Learning Delivery

Ever since I was a young boy in a classroom, the idea of teaching has always intrigued me. At school, there were many teachers who made my attention wander or induced boredom. And then there were those that had my undivided attention. They transfixed me, inspired me and tickled my curiosity. I have often wondered what makes the difference. What sets inspiring educators apart from their peers?

I still have fond memories of my History teacher in 7th grade. He used to walk in to the class without a single paper or book in his hand. He would often start a discussion on a random topic and leave the whole class spellbound with his vivid account of great Kings, Queens and events around the world. He actually made history come alive – free from the confines of a drab textbook. I always got exceptionally good grades in history as compared to other subjects. My parents would often wonder why. Well, I wondered too.

It took me years to figure out why. He made us relive history. In some way, I could experience history through his words. That made it easy for me to retain what I had learned and sail through the subject with effortless ease. There is a great difference between enforcing education and involved learning. Teaching is the art of getting the student involved in the subject without coercion.

When I got to college in India, my parents thought it was best to enroll me at NIIT (an upcoming computer educational institute). They had the vision to understand that a future professional needed to be computer literate. Computers, software? Honestly, I had no clue what I was in for.

The first day is still vivid in my memory.  As the instructor, a middle aged lady immaculately dressed in a sari walked in with a bunch of overhead projector slides in her hand, I was a little anxious. The teacher put the slides down on the table. What she said in the next ten minutes, transformed my life.

What she essentially told us was that learning and developing software was the easiest task in the world. All one had to do was think rationally and logically. For the next three months, she took us through the intricate yet simple process of creating flowcharts and the ability to dissect and branch a problem into possible workflows. By the end of the program, the new learning had not just made me understand and love the details of code and software but had also given me an additional gift of mental discipline and the ability to think through a problem and find a logical solution.

What was the magic here? The instructor knew how to present the subject to an audience and get them to think for themselves and get involved in the learning process. She would never force anyone to accept a solution that they weren’t convinced about. She would explore various workflows and was open to discussion and modification. The freedom to learn the process rather than the book was the key. Every student in that class passed with flying colors in that module. We had come from diverse backgrounds but her involved method of teaching transformed our thinking. It would not be unfair to say that those three months of creating flowcharts were the foundation of my software career.  I hope we continue to have educators like her in the industry.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to teach varied audiences which include young college graduates, developers, implementation teams, solution architects, project managers, senior sales teams and CEOs.  These strategies that I am outlining are my personal experiences as an instructor:

Strategy 1: Get to know your audience and their training needs
The success of a classroom session largely depends on the instructor’s understanding of them. Therefore, all instructors must spend at least the first half an hour getting to know the audience – their background, training needs and expectations from the session. A lively and interactive ice-breaking session sets the tone for the rest of the program – so make sure you don’t confine the introduction to a form full of names and titles. Participants come to training for a specific reason and those objectives must be addressed in the context of the course. You can teach the same topic each time with a different focus. 
Advice for upcoming instructors: The first one hour of a class can make or break your training program – connect with your customer – and shift focus accordingly.

Strategy 2: Refresh Pre-requisites
Every training program has some qualifiers and prerequisites which participants must already be familiar with before they move to an advanced level. It is always a good practice to check with your audience if they need a quick refresher on those prerequisites. I always do that in my classes. The products that I teach need a J2EE or.NET background and going back to the basics puts participants at ease. It raises their comfort level when they realize that the instructor is on the same page as them so that they can facilitate the learning process together.
Advice for upcoming instructors: Don’t jump the gun with your audience – start from where they are and guide them along the learning path.

Strategy 3: Keep it Real
This brings me back to my history teacher. Always draw on examples from real life – have a story to tell for each topic. This helps participants associate what they have learned with a practical example of how it works in the real world and provides a reference point to learning when they develop solutions for customers. IT training courses cannot be theoretical nor can we use metaphors for all topics. To keep a fine balance, instructors must continuously research their subject. Every onsite experience should be taken as a learning opportunity. Spend as much time as possible with customers and understand problems and solutions in the real world. Training should not only be a nine- to-five job. Spend a few minutes everyday to reflect on audience responses and learn from the experience. Every question posed by the audience is an opportunity to learn more.
Advice for upcoming instructors: Don’t confine yourself to a text book. Learn from your audience, take mental notes and share stories to evolve your training style.

Strategy 4: Make it Your Passion
As we always say at NIIT, training is our business and our passion. Instructors must be passionate about the subject they teach. The love and enthusiasm for the subject should be evident when they teach. Audiences must perceive that energy in the instructor. Software is a vast field with many available options. When participants come into a class they are all on slippery ground. They are unsure about the product or platform. It’s our job to give them the confidence to go back to their work places equipped with the skills to increase their competency and productivity.
Advice for upcoming instructors: Teaching is not a job. It is a responsibility.

And finally, the above are just some core strategies for learning delivery in IT training that I have shared. There are endless possibilities and approaches in an instructor’s journey. Evolve your own approach but always ensure that it works for your audience.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez - A short tribute to a magician of words, an esoteric story teller..

At last ,Gabriel Garcia Marquez has slipped into immortality. I wonder if Garcia would even want it call it that . Often, when one has lost a beloved, a surreal part of yourself ;- words choke; and they would struggle to find expression to those intimate thoughts, emotions and encounters that was so much an integral part of ones life. Garcia's death has silenced me. It sounds foolish though to assume that a man should keep living forever, but then, when you can tell stories the way he did ; in his magical language with fertile imagination ; - it is alright to delude oneself that Garcia will live forever; will keep us enthralled with wide-opened eyes absorbing his tales of history,passion, pain, betrayal ,revenge and the triumph of Human spirit against all odds. It is right to assume that Garcia can never die!!!!. He never will though, because, as long as literature is enjoyed as a medium that evokes life as an extraordinary journey :full of mystery; every moment transformed into a sublime fantasy; each sentence alchemizing into a divine tale unfolding - the works of Garcia will forever reverberate in the hearts of all of us...

A generation of writers and readers owe our passion for literature to this Man. Move on Garcia, We will NOT miss you.....

God bless......

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The entrapment of beliefs - An evening at Downtown Saltlake city...

All that I could see was the spacious and stunning architecture of the Temple of Latter day saints (LDS) situated in temple Square, Downtown Saltlake city. The inner precincts of the church was only for the believers of Mormonic faith, and needed a recommendation from an higher authority to enter it. So obviously, I couldn't go inside.. A friend of mine, an young lady, who had attended my class months ago decided to accompany me to the temple grounds, when she knew that I was planning to visit it. She was a staunch Mormonite. It was a beautiful evening and we strolled around the capacious acreage of greenery talking and discussing the rudiments of her faith and the symbology behind it. Mormons placed a lot of importance on Customs, rituals and strict adherence to it, and she was telling me about the various books that they use for liturgical purposes; and its origins. She seemed very knowledgeable about the whole thing., but I could sense that she was really making an effort to justify these beliefs to me. I let it pass though...

We sat down on a bench for sometime in silence , and then I asked her a quiet question " Have you ever questioned your beliefs....?"; and her answer was quite interesting, and contrary to the passion that she exhibited earlier . She said " In my entire life, every step of the way, I have been following a prescribed path. My parents were very kind and caring, but they always expected an implicit obedience to the Mormonic faith. My childhood friends, My adolescent crushes, My fiancee - all of them had to pass the litmus test of religious precepts and communal dogma. Our faith demands that every young man and woman must serve as a missionary in a far off land for a period of two years, and I was sent to Portugal and Africa to live such a life. if you ask me, if I really wanted to go, My answer will have to be a "No", but having lived there for some time, I don't regret it either. The faith ensured that I had a good education, never felt the need for money because it always there ,and my family sincerely wished and prayed for my well being. I am now in my late thirties, married to Man from the same faith, mother to two beautiful girls, have a good job and everything seems very good on the face of it. But of late, I am having doubts. In my quieter moments, I get this gnawing feeling of having compromised my life to a force that I had no choice to chose in the first place... I begin to have doubts on whether I should impose the same set of blinders on my children , or give them a more egalitarian atmosphere. I get frightened of these thoughts, because I am never used to doubting the fundamentals of my life, so far"

As I listened to her, I realized that most of us are on the same boat as she is. Deep down, all of us are stuck in our quagmire of beliefs, customs and social acceptance. Everything seems great on the surface. but deep down, there is discontent - the gnawing existential doubt within all of us.. One may keep brushing it aside, but it is there ;- lingering like a shadow behind every act..

We wound up our conversation in a Italian restaurant and I came back to my Hotel. My mind was filled with images of the temple ; its imposing structure and strong symbolism. It is amazing that after all the modernity that we profess, we still remain a trousered primitive , caught in the cocoon of self imposed value systems that we don't quite understand ourselves, but yet manage to pull off a life by living according to its tenets. Is this a sign of wisdom or foolhardiness? The answer is an enigma., a mystery.

God bless.....

Friday, April 11, 2014

"As good as it gets" - A film, a study in the art of histronics

Contrary to wise and popular opinion there are no absolutes in this world . It is only an abstraction created by the mind when it cannot find tranquility in the "what is". A complete Misanthrope, fastidious to the core, utterly repulsive, disdains company or relationship in any form - such is the character of Melvin essayed by the inimitable Jack Nicholson : the seemingly neurotic author in this brilliant 1997 movie "As good as it gets". One cannot expect even the mildest curtsies from this man. His neighbors detest him, and he revels in their discomfort. He mouths the most hurtful comments to his gay neighbor Simon ; presents to him, his most disgraceful self ; makes him squirm and writhe through his pointed taunts and sarcasms; and yet our hero, is also a successful author who is capable of writing the most tender stories about love and relationships. Such is the anomaly of life. He needs to sit at the same table at his restaurant for breakfast, use his own cutlery, and more so, be waited by the same Server , the beautiful and frank Carol played to perfection by Helen hunt. This is the setting of this touching romantic comedy directed by James brooks who has given us such great movies as "Terms of endearment" ( I had reviewed this movie a while ago) and "Broadcast news"..

The Movie moves along predictable lines with Melvin learning to adapt himself and draw deep into his inner resources to change to new circumstances in his life. People around him begin to realize that there is a small gurgling stream of kindness, compassion and good warmheartedness in him that has been largely driven underground by his obnoxious alter ego. Carol and Simon take his life along a path that brings out the best in him , and gets him to understand that to become a Human being, it is necessary to open oneself to life and its crudities.. Now, All this may sound a bit heavy and sentimental for an average viewer, but let me quickly assure you that this movie will tickle and make you laugh ; poke and make you think; inject timeless wisdom and awaken you. A wonderfully enacted movie !!!!!

It is not often that a movie gets an Oscar for both the Male and female leads in a single year. This was one of those rare occasions. And who can doubt the credentials of Jack Nicholson or Helen hunt for achieving this coveted prize. It is not so much the story or the role or the director that makes this a great film; but it is what these two phenomenal actors bring to bear on their roles. Nicholson as Melvin exemplifies the meanness that a human can be capable of : his body language, diction, minute micro expressions on his elastic face churn within us a deep aversion for him in the beginning;, which then slowly melts and transforms into an equally deep sympathy and love for the character. And that is not an easy task to achieve in a two hour drama.

And, what can I write about the talent of Helen hunt? I remember reading John Simon, the legendary Film critic describe her as " .... fiercely female, and meltingly feminine, more sexy then pretty and gloriously fusing the natural with the histrionics .." I am not sure if anyone else can describe her better; and in such few words..

In all, it would be one of the finest movie experiences you will have. And, If you have already seen it, I urge to see it once more, and this time to pay attention to the artistic sublimity of its protagonists.. In the end, it is a gentle love story with all the ingredients of an entertainer, but told and acted with an verve that elevates this film to be one of greatest motion pictures of the modern era...

God bless....

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dinu Lipatti , a musical embodiment - A short tribute

Dinu Lipatti lived but a brief and incandescent life of thirty two years. Born in 1917; succumbed to Leukemia in 1950 , taking along with him a prodigious talent, a gift, an unsurpassed mastery over the Piano and not the least; the tremendous affection of his passionate audience, who flocked to hear him every time his thin body took to stage to weave his magic upon his favorite instrument ...
Unorthodox, frail, unbounded endurance on stage - his mastery, meticulous preparation and scrupulous interpretation of the piano compositions of Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven among others , held listeners and critics spellbound during his short and intense career as an artist. In particular, The Waltzes and Etudes of Chopin came alive under the supple, nimble and divine fingers of Lippati. And as if by a tryst of destiny, It was his disposition to record more and perform less on stage ; probably because his unstable and deteriorating health left him incapable of playing live at a stretch beyond a length of time. However, this proved a boon to ages. Whatever recordings are left of Lippati are enough for any Pianophile to recognize the originality and genius of the Man. Today, I received my Lipatti's 1946 recording of Chopin's fourteen Waltzes - the last recordings before life ebbed away from his diseased body. My turntable just finished looping through the fourteenth Waltz, the crescendo of Chopin's mastery ; and I am left awash in the pristine notes of Lipatti's rendition of them..
I cannot better end my small tribute to Dinu Lipatti than by agreeing with Karajan , one of the greatest contemporary conductors who said " ...When Lippati plays, it no longer the sound of the piano, but music in its purest form....." Nothing can be truer than this.
God bless......

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Musings on a lovely Spring evening ...

A Beautiful Spring day in Atlanta yesterday. I took a long walk ; and on my way back, I stepped into my favorite restaurant in Dunwoody for a bite of dinner. I normally prefer sitting at the bar (though, I don't drink anymore!!), because it gives me an opportunity to meet my old friends , and secondly the bar is the least snobbish place to sit and hit an easy conversation with fellow human beings.. It was quite a busy night, and there was a long queue waiting to be seated . I quickly wound my way to my customary corner seat, which strangely enough never gets occupied ,only to find an old friend sitting next to me. I am meeting him after many months. He is a Stocky American in his early fifties, casually dressed with gentle blue eyes that always seem to have a pleading look in them. He works as a senior account manager in a retail chain in Atlanta. An inveterate wine drinker ; he was now holding a glass of red wine and lost in thought when my greeting woke him up from his reverie.

The thing about him is that he is gay, He has told me this in the early days of our acquaintance ; and I have at various times over the years seen him in the company of different men in the bar . In our conversations, he always seemed to be disturbed that his partners always left him for more satisfying relationships. For some reason, right from the beginning, he was very plain with me about his sexual preferences and the untold psychological discomfort these brief relationships bought him . As an educated and articulate man, both him and I have good mature conversations about this in the past. Yesterday though, he really seemed to be in the dumps. After the usual pleasantries , he broke out " Bala, I want a change from this messy life that I am leading. I know it in my heart that every relationship that I get into will leave me in pain, but I simply cannot bring myself to change. Each day, I find my energies are sapped away dealing with issues that I shouldn't' be. As you know, I am doing very well professionally : able to overcome any problems with style and finesse, but I am not able to bring the same quality of attention to my inner and social life". I listened to his tirade patiently and then asked him " Hey, Do you "really" want to change??", Are you serious and earnest about it?. I personally feel that you are merely dabbling with the issue and don't have the energy or courage, If I may so. to go into it deeply into it. You are hurt, frustrated and yet you are still hopping from one relationship to an other without understanding why? That's strange!!. You know what , I really believe that you are very happy doing what you are doing and deep in your heart you wish that this continues. forever.." .

My slightly vehement reply halted his drinking mid way ;and he put his glass down on the table. He covered his face for some time and then turned and looked with me with a wry smile . "You know what, I am glad you talked to me like that. I was expecting you to sympathize with me, but you threw the ball back in my court. True, I verbally have wanted to change, but I guess never have I really been serious about it. I have always been like a man , who after a drinking binge would swear that this would his last ever drink ; only to return to it the very next day with renewed interest - A habitual response..."

He left shortly after that and I finished my dinner as well. As I walked back home, the thought stuck me that this core predicament of my friend is almost universal. All of us want stability, peace of mind, life without problems and all of that spin. But then we are never really serious. Even "God" is just a past time with most of us. We ideally want everything around us to fall snugly into place for our perpetual pleasure; and not question the "self" that wants these changes. WE talk vociferously about hatred, wars, jealousies, equality, freedom - and all those big , high sounding words ; but deep down we want nothing to change. Our enquiries are always superficial. To be free of something, one must understand what is that which needs to be free, and do we really, seriously, earnestly want to be free at all?. Ninety nine out of hundred times, a truthful answer to this question would be a -"NO" . And therein lies the root problem...

God bless....

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"A Good Woman" - Movie Adaption of Oscar Wilde's play "Lady Windermere's fan" - a moral satire

The first time I read Oscar Wilde’s “The picture of Dorian gray”, as a text book in school, I must frankly admit that I understood nothing of it. The pomposity of his language, the intricate caricature of a morally decadent Victorian society seemed too much for me at that young age. Later, when literature started to making more sense to me, and I could visibly relate to what I read, the works of Wilde began to take a new meaning and perspective in my mind. It is at this juncture that I realized that ‘the picture of Dorian gray” was the only novel that Wilde ever wrote, and all his others works were Dramas or essays or epistles written at various decisive moments in his life. Speaking of his life, Wilde lived it rambunctiously. He stretched the patience and moral limits of late Eighteenth century England by poking fun at the hypocritical society that he lived in. His tour of America radically altered his views of individual liberty and freedom, and plays written during that period reflects his sarcasm of prevailing straight-jacketed attitude towards pleasure, institutionalized marriage and sexual deviations. It led him to many a controversy that constantly bogged his entire literary career. Plays like “the importance of being earnest’, “Salome”. “An ideal Husband” or “woman of no importance” were greatly criticized in public for its moral ambiguity, but that did not prevent critics and lay audience from flocking to the theatres surreptiously to see them.

“Lady Windermere’s fan” was written a short play in 1892 mocking at the fragility of ‘love’ in marital life. Wilde always had strong women in his drama, who would be the mouthpiece of his libertine beliefs. In this case, the story pitches two beautiful ladies: one young and newlywed and the other, a mature lady who lives off befriending rich men. Their paths cross when there rises a misunderstanding of each other’s intentions, and the play reaches a climax with a strong sense of Individual integrity triumphing over moral codes... The whole play can be summarized through the words Lord Darlington, a principal character, who rationalizes extramarital relationships with an immortal line “...We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars....’

I just finished watching the 2004 adaption of this play featuring the wonderfully talented Helen hunt and the gorgeous Scarlett Johansson. The movie was shot in the pristine blue shores of Italy; beautifully capturing the throbbing sensuality of its heroines, clothed in polished customs and etiquette of a bygone age. I never knew that Helen hunt can so look so stunningly good looking when she wants to. Scarlett was just about coming of age in this movie and does look a bit immature, but makes it up by her quiet innocence and well-proportioned presence on screen. The movie lights up with the witticism and sarcasm of Wilde’s epigrams sprinkled evenly across the film. Even the most mundane expression seems a self-evident truth when penned by the master…

Near One hundred and twenty five years after the play premiered on stage, the story remains fresh and contemporary. I am sure Oscar Wilde would be smiling in his grave. His incisive mockery, sarcasm and criticism of Victorian values have stood the test of time and still holds good….

God bless...