Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Eat This With Some Fava Beans

It's not often that one encounters strong, well-etched out negative characters in books. In fact, IMO it is infinitely more difficult to craft an interesting villain, than to flesh out the hero. Perhaps this is why many times, villains end up being mere stereotypes (heroes do too, but that's another story). Here are some villains who are anything but:

Hannibal Lecter: truly one of a kind. Almost synonymous with Antony Hopkins ever since the movies released, this Thomas Harris creation (Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Red Dragon) is often downright chilling, and never less than disturbing. This article offers some insights into the events that made Hannibal the Cannibal. In an awe-inspiring description, Harris describes Hannibal as 'not really fitting into any psychological profile' and also goes on to say that while at prison, he 'attacked a nurse, tore out her eye, dislocated her jaw and ate her tongue; his pulse never went above 85 all the while'. What's more, Hannibal has 6 fingers, maroon eyes that reflect light and small white teeth. He has an exceptional sense of hearing and smell, and tilts his head to one side when listening (a mannerism that Hopkins adopted in the movies too).

Can you imagine the increduility that I felt when I heard that they were launching Hannibal Lecter into Bollywood? Guess who played Hannibal? Apna Akshay Kumar!

Jackson (The Winner, David Baldacci) is not a 'real' character, unlike Hannibal Lecter. Yet IMO he remains one of the most ingenious and cunning villains to be created in recent thriller fuiction. For much of the book, Jackson is a faceless man; appearing in disguise after disguise, he hides his true identity until the very end. The lottery scheme described in the book is pretty decent, and the book would make a great movie. The cat 'n' mouse game between Jackson and the heroine (LuAnn Tyler) is pretty engrossing as well.

Annie Wilkes (Misery, Stephen King): who can forget the lunatic, scheming nurse who keeps captive her favourite author Paul Sheldon - all because she's his 'number-one fan'? 'Misery' is one of Stephen King's earliest novels, if I am correct. It also happens to be my introduction to Stephen King, and o-boy, was I hooked! For the uninitiated, King is a master storyteller (especially the ones he writes as Richard Bachman), and 'Misery' finds him at his best. Annie Wilkes is a haunting character who stays with you for days after you have completed the book.

There was a recent Tamil version of 'Misery' - Balu Mahendra's 'Julie Ganapathy'. Veteran actor Saritha gave a scintillating performance as Annie Wilkes (or Julie Ganapathy, if you please). However, director Balu Mahendra succumbed to box-office dictates and inserted a couple of item numbers (doesn't even an eminent director of his stature have any sense? I mean, come on - having a wet dream in the last thing a man living in virtual terror would do!).

Norman Bates (Psycho, Robert Bloch): One of the very best in the horror genre, featuring an immortal fictional character. Tony Perkins enacted the role (in the famous Hitchkockian thriller of the same name) to perfection; Norman Bates brings to mind only Perkins, and nobody else. The done-to-death shot of the nubile girl in the shower being watched by an unknwon was pioneered by this film, I believe. The fact that the movie is on par with the book speaks volumes about the genius of Alfred Hitchcock.

Prof. Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle): Perhaps best known as the man who 'killed' Holmes. To many, that alone would make him the most-hated villain of all time. Moriarty was perhaps Holme's worthiest antanogist, and this should make him a certainty in any such list!

An interesting tidbit: I have read an interview of Stephen King that his main inspiration behind 'Misery' was the widespread protest that followed Holme's death while grappling with Prof. Moriarty.

Rainbird (Firestarter, Stephen King): John Raibird is a Red-Indian assassin who makes his entry only toward the latter half of the book. However, he makes a creepy villain alright - especially as he is pitted an innocent Charlie, a young girl cursed with pyrokinetc powers due to no fault of hers. His psychological skills as he toys with the young girl's mind invoke admiration as well as hatred in us.

The Poet (The Poet, Micheal Connelly): To put it simply, 'The Poet' is one of the best thrillers I have ever read (and as you can make out, I have read quite a few). Connelly exceeds himself in this exquisite book that does not star his usual assortment of characters (Bosch etc). Although the climax is not all that great, the journey to uncover the killer is awesome. The fact that Connelly establishes such a strong villain, using only his adversary's findings, is what makes this book such a good dread.

Btw, the title is a famous bit from one of the Hannibal Lecter books.

Monday, September 25, 2006

VV and Keerthi Chakra: Reviews

'Vettayadu Vilayadu' has been a much-awaited film in most of South India. Starring the versatile Kamal Hassan and directed by upcoming director Gautam, the movie promised a lot. Does it deliver? Well, it does - at least partly.

VV is a classic cop-hunts-serial killer tale - nothing more, nothing less. Thankfully, there are none of the usual Kamal-touches in the movie - no smooches, no hints at child abuse, no high-pitched wails of misery, no atheist expositions and what's best, no high-funda makeup. Instead, we have a rather fleshy-looking Kamal - receding hairline and paunch in tow - play his age (well, almost!), and that certainly was the best aspect about the movie for me. Discarding the usual conventions of how a police officer in the movies has to look like, the hero looks like how any middle-aged policeman would look. There's nothing much in the role for an actor of Kamal's stature, and he doesn't disappoint in what he's been given either (would have been a challenge for somebody like Surya or Vikram, though).

The serial killer - played by Daniel Balaji, who was there in Gautam's earlier venture 'Kakka Kakka' was well - hams too much. Though he is menacing alright, he fails to convey the intelligence/cunningness the character seems to possess intuitively. As a foil to Kamal's character, he fails miserably. Thankfully, most of the time the taut screenplay hides his inadequacies. Jyothika is good in her role - Gautham certainly writes interesting characters for her.

The pluses? Well, it is a decent thriller, and has Kamal playing his age. It has a mature romance (which does not mean Bachchan and Hema Malini grooving to 'Chali Chali' for a change!), something that is so rare in Indian cinema. The little touches Kamal and Prakash Raj add to their characters when they meet are wonderful (it is so true that great actors enhance each others' performances). And of course, the technical aspects are superb.

Of course, VV was so amateurish in a lot of ways. First of all, it has the same old cop's-wife-killed-by-goons flashback. When will we stop doing this in our movies? If you have to show it, at least do it decently, like they did in 'Ab Tak Chappan'. The whole flashback portion was the worst aspect of VV. And pray, why did they add that miserable special-effects scene - the one showing Kamal zooming on a bike? The whole 'Raghavan instinct' thing was embarassingly and uncharacteristically voluble. And that bit about Jyothika having a kid - completely irrelevant! To top it all, the movie (especially the climax) had a huge 'Kakka Kakka' hangover.

Like most of Kamal's non-comedic movies, this one too is watchable fare.

At the outset: 'Keerthi Chakra' ('Aran' in Tamil) is poorly, poorly directed. In fact, were it not for the sheer presence of Mohan Lal in this amateurish attempt, it could pass for one of those Vijaykanth flicks (substituting Pakistani terrorists with Al-Qaeda would be about the only change required). Mohan Lal must have been sozzled to have accepted this movie.

First of all, there's not much of a story here. Its the usual tale about a bunch of patriotic armymen trying to thwart terrorists from harming the country (male-bonding goes with the territory). Lal leads the pack. Lal, like Kamal in VV, is grim most of the time. Yeah, you guessed right: his wife too was killed by Al-Qaeda. Lal's hawaldar is upcoming Tamil actor Jeeva (who turns in a competent performance). The terrorists are a bunch of perpetually scowling, screaming and ranting Muslims who keep saying 'jihad' that and 'jihad' this. And then there's the 'Indian Muslims are Indian first' moral, shoved into our faces first by a vile rape scene, and then by the lunatic sole surviver screaming curses at the dead bodies of the terrorists.

Lal and Jeeva are about the only positives in this farce. Though Lal is a bit too - (hmm..how shall we put this?) rotund - to essay the role of a commando, he makes no mistakes in the histronics department. Once again, its not much of a role, but Lal stands up and delivers. In fact, he ends up saving the movie from becoming an outright disgrace. Jeeva acquits himself honorably in his scenes with Lal, and that's a fine compliement by itself. The commando scenes are well-shot as well.

The negatives? You must be kidding me. Clueless direction, unimpressive music, listless camera work, terrible acting, a gruesome rape scene, inane & hackneyed dialogue - where do you want me to start? You'd be better off watching a Vijaykanth flick - at least, you can laugh!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

One for the Foodies

Apart from books and movies, food is another big weakness (its not that difficult to make out, once you have met me!). Hence, I always did love to try out new restaurants - though I have been disappointed quite often, I have sometimes been pleasantly surprised too.

Over the last few months, I have spent virtually all my weekends roaming around Bangalore and Chennai (on alternate weekends) with Smitha. Needless to mention, this offered me the perfect opportunity to visit some new eateries, both in Bglr and in Chn. I have been planning this particular post for quite some time, but it materialized only now.

Indi Joes (Indijoes), Bangalore: The place has some exotic cocktails, for sure. And they have an attractive Happy Hours offer as well: for any drink you buy before 8:30PM, you will get a free refill. Located inside the Carlton Towers complex on Airport Road, this swanky joint also has a good selection of sizzlers and desserts. I would personally vouch for the fondude; it was excellent. Its definitely not very quiet, though; I went there during the World Cup season, and the place was alive, if you know what I mean. I thought the nachos were excellent too, but I had to munch them up all alone, so I guess the feeling was not universal! A meal for two, including a couple of cocktails, would set you back by around Rs.750 - just make sure you get there before 8:30!

GRT Grand, Chennai: This is fast becoming one of my favorite restaurants in Chennai. The Indian restaurant (Copper Point) inside provides combines lovely interiors and impeccable service with mouthwatering food. The non-veg thalis that they serve are especially good - a typical thali comes with a thirst-quencher like jal-jeera, a non-veg appetizer plus a veg appetizer and then the regular thali with a non-vegetarian dish. The fish curry is truly awesome, and holds special memories.

The first time I visited Copper Point was with my dad, sis' and Smitha. Now, both dad and sis' are allergic to prawns, and hence we told the waiter specifically not to serve prawns. However, there was some kind of screw-up and they did end up serving prawns. Me and Smitha dug in, and the next time the waiter came by, we mildly said: Hey, you did end up serving prawns anyhow. My dad made some vague comment about how he'd have ended up puking into his plate. The waiter apologized profusely, and brought us a delicious fish-curry (which I ended up ordering on a couple of other visits too) - on the house. Now, that's service for you!

I'd recommend this hotel to anyone. Its a wee bit pricey: a meal for two, plus a couple of beers apiece would empty your wallet by around Rs. 1200. Some of the thirst-quenchers are really, really expensive though; there's one particular concoction with coconut-water and honey that costs a steep 95 bucks! If its a special occasion, I'd say its worth it.

Sikandar, Garuda Mall (4th Floor), Bangalore: This restaurant is hidden away inside Garuda Mall; the entrance obscures a finely done azure-blue decor. However, this is one of the few negatives I can point out about the restaurant. The interiors were splendid, and there was adequate space between the seats (I hate some of those restaurants where you can hear every word that the guy on the next table says). Moreover, they had a non-smoking section as well.

I'd popped in Sikandar for lunch, and I have to admit that the buffet was scrumptious. We ordered a couple of cocktails too (now, that's another interesting story, but if I repeat that here I might be sleeping on the sofa for the next couple of weeks, and I don't fancy that much!), and everything was excellent. I'd love to visit the restaurant again, and will do so at the next chance I get. you should too!

Savera, Chennai: Minar, the rooftop Mughlai restaurant in Savera, is my favourite restaurant in Chennai. For one, if you are lucky enough to get a window seat you get to have a bird's eye of Chennai for miles around (its on the 11th floor). And then, you have the ghazals; a blind singer responds favorably to suggestions and belts out ghazals and other select oldies. The service has always been efficient, and the kababs are lovely (if you ask me, I'd choose the Machli Noorjahani or the Machli Koliwada anytime). And most importantly, they serve pickled onions with the drinks (I have always been a sucker for these)! Be warned, though: Minar borders on the slightly expensive side; a meal for two could easily cost you Rs. 600 or more.

Zara Tapas, Chennai: This one calls itself a Mexican tavern. They have a nice ambience, an impressive collection of cocktails and some great snacks. And yeah, the waiters are all young and try their darnest to process your orders fast. The window tables are lovely, and by 10PM the place is completely full. They have a pepper-squid-something snack that's really yummy. However, the place is really, really on the expensive side.

The next post on restaurants will be the ones I really didn't like all that much. But that's for next time. Please do feel free to add your own recommendations (irrespective of which city they are in!)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Outkissing the Serial Kisser

Bald maverick & ex-director Mahesh Bhatt has dug up new diaries that he wrote when he was romping in the hay with Parveen Babi (lucky bastard!), and is planning to script (yet) another kissjerker with apna Emraan Hansini. The story goes something like this:

Hansini is an high-profile ex-pimp (ex, 'coz while running away from the husband of a woman he tried to sell to Amrita Singh, a Beirut-based madam, he was hit by a running car) who now limps badly. He is married to one of his old clients, Udita Goswami, who has made a name for herself as one of Beirut's top call-girls. They have an unhappy marriage, as Hansini has had a conscience attack after his accident, and does not approve of Goswami coming home late, and neglecting their adorable little child Rohan. And what's more, she does not even attend Rohan's lacrosse matches!

Shamita Shetty is Mrs. Plain-Jane unhappily married to party animal Ashmit Patel; opposites don't attract, in this particular case. While Shamita is content to sit at home and vaccum the carpet, Ashmit believes in setting the city on fire. Repeated attempts to drag Shamita to parties have ended up with Ashmit spending the night on the sofa, and Ashmit now goes to parties alone.

Hansini and Shamita meet. Sparks fly. Despite Shamita's initial reluctance, Hansini succeeds in kissing her. Again and again (yet another lucky bastard)! They have a rollicking affair, running around on the streets of Beirut scattering poor pigeons all over the place.

Of course, there has to be a lovemaking scene too. Set to a soulful song by a Pakistani singer, of course.

In what has to be an incredible coincidence, Goswani and Ashmit knew each other; in fact, Ashmit used to be Udita's favorite customer. But that's all history now. They share tips on how to rescue their respective marriages. They even sing a song together, where Goswami flaunts her midriff yet again. However, inevitably, they find out that their respective spouses are cheating on them. Much yelling and slapping follow.

After yet another airport-climax, where Hansini knocks down a hundred people and their suitcases, he and Shamita finally end up together. All's well that ends well.

Only, KJo (like JLo, only KJo's sexier!) beat the Bhatts in making this epic saga of infidelity. Thus we have the laborious KANK and not an exciting Gangster.

Its not that bad - considering that KANK is just Johar's third movie as director, KANK is an ambitious effort that is slightly better than his previous offering, K3G. In fact, compare KANK to other 'third' movies, and it even begins to look decent. However, KANK is no ordinary movie (if you don't know why, you have read this post in vain)! Karan Johar does have a decent sense of script, and a great eye for dialogue. However, what he also unfortunately has is a weakness for hayckneyed melodrama and bucketfuls of glycerine. If Karan does away with all the melodrama & glycerine, he might have the glimmerings of a good (and not merely candyfloss-competent) director in him. Let's hope he produces a tight, well-edited film next time!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Shaadi Ke Pehle

For once, this is not a film review; instead its a recap of my final bachelor moments...

The night before the wedding, we had a small function at home for family & friends. Most of the elders - meaning people of my dad's generation or even older - attacked the liquor ferociously, while the women and children kept re-visiting the sarees and the ornaments.

To say that most Mallu men drink would be like saying most fish (or is it fishes!) swim; liquor is a must for any ceremony that does not involve temples (except the poorams, but that's another story altogether). As I have mentioned elsewhere on his blog, from the fermented white toddy tapped from young coconut trees to imported golden scotch, us Mallus love to devour all of it. And then of course, we have the various brands of cheap arrack sold - naming these is a science by itself, I have to say. I mean who else could think up brand-names like Aana-Mayacki (Elephant-tranquilizer, supposedly strong enough to make even an elephant stagger), Resurrection (so strong that you'd get up only after 3 days), and Manavatti (Bride, a 'lighter' brand which'd have you hanging your head down like a bride)? In fact, the only place you can find Mallu men standing meekly in line would be at wine-shops; in front of that great equalizer, alcohol, we seem to lose that furious combative spirit that otherwise so naturally overpowers us at other venues such as railway stations, bus stops and cinema theatres.

Women and sarees/ornaments, of course, form a much more global phenomenon. Take any self-respecting South Indian lady (ok, maybe not all the gals of CurGen, but still at least 50% of them) to a Kancheepuram shop, and you have them drooling at hours & hours of non-stop nirvana. They, somehow, are blessed with an ability to discern the quality of weavership by just running a lazy hand over the pallu of a saree (for other ignorant men, like me: this action somewhat resembles how Dickie Bird signals FOUR!). The new sarees bought for the wedding must have been re-opened and folded, if I were to warrant a guess, roughly about 365 times on that night alone. And of course, there were groans of 'Oohs!' and 'Aaghs!' everytime the ornaments were displayed. Ah, well - its like men and cricket, I guess - only worse!

By 10:00 PM, the men were all tired of drinking, the women were tired of saree-viewing and the kids were hungry. The food was served, and families slowly started trudging off to their respective homes. Old drunk men came up to me and clasped my hands in theirs, eliciting from me all kinds of promises - to go to bed early, wake up early tommorow, pray hard etc. Yeah go home, buddy, so that I can sleep, you know!

The driver was busy dropping people home, and at around 10:30 we had a frantic call from him: apparently a Tata Sumo had come and rammed the car from behind. Now, this was serious alright - this was the 'wedding car' that had to bring us home the next day. Before one could say 'Jesus Christ', some 2 cars laden with drunk men itching to pick a fight had taken off to the site of the accident. What's worse, my dad was one of them (though he does claim he wasn't drunk, he caertianly was itching to pick a fight!). Luckily, things were settled peacefully and there wasn't much damage to our car (just a tiny dent); hurrah, the wedding car was alright!

After packing off all the guests, we now had to make our way to the hotel near the mandap to spend the night. The marriage itself would take place at Guruvaoor, a temple where as many 150 marriages would take place on an auspicious day. In fact, there has even been a 'mistaken identities' wedding at Guruvayoor, due to the huge rush. I mean, just imagine hundreds of excited brides & bridegrooms with anxious parents in tow hustling and bustling toward the mandap, even as their respective photographers try in vain to get the 'right' angle: pandemonium would be an understatement! But still, its a six-zigma process alright! Anyway, to avoid all this chaos we'd decided to hold the wedding as early in the morning as possible, and hence we were staying near the temple.

We reached the hotel by around 11:45 PM. I took a quick shower and went to sleep. Thus ended my my last day as a bachelor...

Sunday, September 10, 2006