Tuesday, 31 August, 2010

Rajnikant - Endhiran

So the Boss is back with Endiran, soon to be released.

A film about Rajni creating a robot Rajni to deal with the bad guys. My question is, why in god's name would he want to do that?

Will this robot be able to do the following?

- Exercise control over inanimate objects - sunglasses, spears, guns, bullets, cars?
- Dodge bullets?
- Control animals with a mere glance?
- Beat up scores of people unarmed?
- Make women go crazy for him without trying?
- Go from pauper to prince in the space of a few frames?

Doesn't seem worth the effort when Rajni the man can do it all anyway. I guess there was money to burn and Shankar stepped up to the plate.

The master stroke seems to be the casting of Aishwarya Rai. We'll get two robots for the price of one.

Here's one of the posters. Looks like something for a WWII flower child protest.

See for yourself.

Monday, 30 August, 2010

Whither Kader Khan?

Where in the world is Kader Khan?

Granted that he's pushing seventy five but has he retired? Amitabh is pushing seventy and very much out there and in your face.

I think that Bollywood needs to find an equivalent immediately. Who will play any kind of supporting role whether it has villainy, buffoonery, pathos or whatever? Who will write dialogues that swing between cult and buffoonery with equal ease?

"Govardhan seth, samunder mein tairne wale kuon aur talabon mein dubki nahin lagaya karte hain" from Muqaddar Ka Sikander or the role defining "Pura naam Vijay Deenanath Chauhan, baap ka naam Deenanath Chauhan, maa ka naam, Suhasini Chauhan, gaon Mandwa, umar chattis saal...." from Agneepath.

You can pick any number of dialogues from the 80s Jeetendra-Padmalaya movies for buffoonery, starting with Shakti Kapoor's "Aooooo, Lalita.........."

OK, so not everybody enjoys it but for people hooked into the Bollywood of the 80s and 90s, Kader Khan is irreplaceable - as a dialogue writer and actor. You'd be surprised how many of us are out there.

Here he is at his bombastic best in MKS advising a young AB or this random one :-).

Thursday, 26 August, 2010

Money Matters : Financial Decisions

In an interesting survey by Northwestern Mutual in the US, multiple generations were polled on their propensity to provide Financial advice to others and the variations of such advice across generations. The most interesting part of the results is the section on what was the best financial decisions the respondents ever made. These are the top six and as relevant to us as anything you've heard or read on Financial Planning.

1. Started saving early.

How many of us actually do this? I meet a lot of people in the early stages of their careers and this is advice that I always try to pass along. No doubt as Indians, we definitely will go down this route as compared to Americans; but with changing lifestyles and demographics, it is almost a given that savings level will tend to drop and even more so at early stages of careers. If you look at the propensity to spend among young people in Bangalore as an example, especially those in the first two to three years of their career, you cannot but notice that.

Build a nest egg and start with your first paycheck.

2. Bought real estate at a good price.

Tough one, this. Owning what is a primary residence needs to be a priority and the earlier the better. Given the amount of leverage this will entail for most people and the fact that careers often mean transfers across India, this tends to be the biggest financial decision that most middle class people end up taking. Given the regulatory framework and the way builders operate, it is also the riskiest. However, it is one that needs to be planned for as a priority.

Here's an alternate take on home ownership in the aftermath of the crisis.

3. Made sure that my family is protected.

What does this mean? In financial terms, the following at the bare minimum.
- Are your primary breadwinners adequately covered in terms of life insurance?
- Are your assets - residence, vehicles, property - insured?
- Do you have adequate Medical Insurance for your family?
- Do you have sufficient liquidity (cash or near cash assets) to tide over exigencies; loss of job, unplanned  
   expenditure, etc.?
- Are all your family assets covered for succession; do wills exist?

4. Bought products with guarantees (insurance/annuities).

This is actually linked to point 3. It entails investing in products that will provide a deterministic cash flow to your family in case the primary source of income is lost (death, loss of job, etc.) or post retirement. Examples of such investments in the Indian context are Insurance Policies (cash back), Pension products, Government Debt Products, PPF, etc.

5. Relied heavily on my 401K.

The 401K is a retirement scheme in the US. The equivalents in India are one's investments in the Provident Fund, PPF and Pension Schemes. Put aside a bit every month and forget about it and you will find that the sum is quite substantial when you need it.

6. Rebalanced my portfolio consistently.

I am not sure about this. Most people do not have the expertise, time or even the inclination to re-jig their portfolio periodically. You could use a Financial Planner's services or a Wealth Management Service to help you do this but I have not seen any empirical evidence to show that people using such a service are better off in the long run. From what I've seen, it works well enough if you do sufficient research to moderate your risk, be consistent in your investment strategy and not trade potential long term benefit for short term gain.

Surprisingly there is not much mention of equity as an investment class in this list. In fact, 1% of the respondents indicate that not investing in stocks is the among the best investment decisions they ever took! Given that this survey is conducted during the downturn and the blood letting and volatility that we've witnessed on Wall Street over the last year, this may not be surprising. However, the simple fact is that as an average investor, you will not generate adequate returns over the long run without equity in your portfolio.

The key to understanding any advice about Financial Planning is that the theory is built on mathematical / statistical techniques. This means that what applies to the population as a whole does not necessarily materialise for individual investors. That is where luck kicks in. One can at best plan logically and leave the rest to fate. As Indians, that is a concept that we should be able to grasp especially easily!

Wednesday, 25 August, 2010

Book Review : At Home

Who is Bill Bryson - travel writer, historian, linguist, science writer? If you look at the range of his published work, you will find that he straddles quite a few genres and successfully at that.

At Home is his latest. A historical look at the people of Europe and America with a British residence as the anchor point. Have you ever wondered why there are four tines to a fork, why toilets are as they are? Well, this book has the answer.

Bill takes the simple premise that a home is ultimately where history comes to reside and traces the origins of objects and concepts that are associated with individual rooms - the kitchen, the cellar, the attic and so on. He therefore writes a history of the world without leaving home. The world in this case of course is largely Europe and America with linkages to China, India, etc. traced where they are relevant.

For example, a journey starting from the kitchen covers the gastronomic history of England, the role and life of servants, the evolution of cutlery and dining etiquette amongst other things. Similar excursions are triggered by the bedroom (including an exposition on Victorian sexual mores), bathrooms (Victorian privy habits) and various other rooms.

An entertaining and informative read in the author's characteristic wry, detail oriented style. Unlike his earlier travel books which I tended to devour as close to one sitting as possible, this is a book that can be spaced out and read a chapter at a time. In fact, given the amount of history in it, it can get a bit heavy at times.

This is a so-so read - interesting, pedantic and boring in parts. Now how can we get Bill into a plane and fly him off to a strange country for his next book?

Saturday, 14 August, 2010

Nut Allergies

Time Magazine on Americans and Nut Allergies

Do you know any Indians (in India) personally that have nut allergies? I don't. You hear and read a lot about it being a big thing in the US but hardly anything in India.

Genetic condition or what?

Book Review : The Devil's Picnic

A tour of everything the governments of the world don't want you to try.

My wife picked this one up on a whim at a reduction sale in Wales. I had never heard of Canadian author Taras Grescoe and neither had she. I guess what triggered the decision was the sub-title. Who can resist something that provides even a hint of reading about government conspiracies?

A difficult book to classify - travelogue, food writing, philosophy, ethics review? Taras Grescoe sets off on a journey to literally taste the forbidden fruit (hence the title). He starts off in Norway on a quest for hjemmebrent, local moonshine, and discovers a whole world of Norwegian alcoholism and drug abuse. In the rest of the book he covers the issue of chewing gum in Singapore with an analysis of the totalitarian regime there; goes on a gastronomic trip to Spain to try, among other things, bull's testicles (unfortunately out of season and he has to do with that of a pig); Europe chasing the origins of absinthe (remember Johnny Depp in From Hell?)chocolate and cheese; Bolivia hunting for the coca leaf and the effect of the US War on Drugs; New York, to assess the effect of the smoking ban; Switzerland, to research assisted suicides and the euthanasia debate.

It's whirlwind journey marked by erudite prose; incident level description interspersed with critical analysis of the ethical dilemmas that prohibition provokes. Smart, funny and thought provoking - this is an excellent read.

As an aside, did you know that in the Geneva treaty covering the transportation of narcotic substances, there is a specific loophole designed to allow Coca Cola to import coca leafs into the United States to make Coke?

Pick this one up. Definitely worth your time.

Friday, 13 August, 2010

For all fellow Mallus out there - enjoy

Movie Review : Khatta Meetha

You have to admire Priyadarshan. He has identified a niche in Bollywood, build the support structure to enable exploitation of that niche and made a success of it. Remaking successful Malayalam movies.

Hulchul - Godfather
Gardish - Kireedam
Hera Pheri - Ramji Rao Speaking
Bhul Bhulaiya - Manichitrathazhu
Billu - Kadha Parayumbol

et al.

The Malayalam original was an enjoyable commentary on low level corruption in the Public Works Department with an entirely appropriate feisty performance by Mohanlal and a restrained one by Shobana. What you have in Hindi is a shouting match between Akshay Kumar and the rest of the cast.

The story revolves around the trials and tribulations of Sachin Tichkule, a civil works contractor, trying to make a go of it by navigating the corrupt system. What could effectively have been a commentary on the common man and the state of the system translates into a shout fest with Sachin letting off steam against the rest of the world (read cast) at a decibel level that makes your head ache.

The well meaning Sachin and his struggles are juxtaposed against the power brokers and high level corruption represented by the contractors in his own family (Milind Gunaji, Manoj Joshi) and their political connections. The tension and sarcasm that was underplayed in the original as representative of the closed gravy train system and those struggling to become a part of it is very much out in the open in the Hindi remake.

The vignettes that are representative of Sachin's struggles are set against a broader backdrop of high level corruption, rape, murder and tragedy. In the end, it is up to Sachin to stand up for his moral roots when pushed to the wall by the murder of his sister and bring the system down.

The common thread to most of the original films remade by Priyadarshan were strong narratives, appropriately subtle acting and good music. What is not clear is the need to amplify everything when translating the film into Hindi; dialogues, acting and set design. Is there an assumption that a pan-India audience cannot appreciate subtlety? Empirically this is not true, especially for comedies. You only need to look at the success of Angoor, Golmaal and many others to understand that people have a sense of humour and you don't necessarily need to beat them on the head with a joke for them to get it. As the greats have shown time and time again - Charlie Chaplin, Peter Sellers, our very own Mohanlal and Sanjeev Kumar - brevity and subtlety are the heart of wit, to paraphrase Shakespeare. Even in mainstream Hindi cinema, some of the funniest sequences ever such as Amitabh's wry wit in Sholay have been much viewed and loved by a large audience.

Unfortunately, comedy in Hindi films has come to be defined by the likes of Sajid Khan (have you sat through Housefull?) and possibly this is Priyadarshan's attempt to conform. I mean, come on, the man has directed multiple films in Malayalam that are not over the top, but very effective, during the earlier part of his career.

Having seen and loved the original malayalam, Vellanakulde Nadu, I went in to Khatta Meetha with low expectations and to put is simply, they were met. This is a hash of a much loved original.

Here's the road roller scene in the original Malayalam. Worth a see even if you can't understand the language.


Tuesday, 10 August, 2010

Movie Review : Once Upon a Time in Mumbai

What's with the English title? In any case, it was Bombay back then.

Intriguingly, the movie starts with a white ambassador being fished out of the sea. An underworld murder attempt? No, it's just angst ridden DCP whatshisname (a nicely brooding Randeep Hooda) attempting to kill himself. Apparently, he couldn't get his service revolver to fire.

The DCP feels responsible for the Mumbai blasts, having allowed the alleged perpetrator to grow into a don during his ACP days. He is referring to Shoaib Khan (hint, hint), who sowed the seeds of a spectacular career in crime during the time of none other than Sultan Mirza (hint, hint), the don of Mumbai. The Machiavellian ACP thought he would play one against the other but never realised that he was creating a Frankenstein's monster. Shoaib is played by the trying-to-brood-but- never-quite-making-it-even-with-the-Easy-Rider moustache Emraan Hashmi and Sultan is played by the intense-expression-in-all-my-roles Ajay Devgun.

We go through the standard rise, conflict, political shenanigans, protege taking down the mentor routine dutifully done with excellent technical quality. We also go through it with absolutely no feeling for any of the major players. This is a bland, emotionless film with none of the characters actually building any empathy with the viewer. Take, for instance, a comparable gangster movie like Vaastav. The movie hooks you because you feel for Sanjay.

This is why Ajay Devgun is unable to move into greatness. That undefinable quality that allows the audience to root for you. Very few have this. Take Sanjay Dutt - an uneven actor, two left feet, no real talent for dialogue delivery; but you come out of his successful movies feeling for him and quite enjoying the ride - Munnabhai, Vaastav, Mission Kashmir. In the new Lamha; technical finesse and contemporary relevance aside, Sunju baba carries the movie on the strength of his style - I wouldn't use the word performance.

Sorry to digress, this was supposed to be about Once Upon a Time. 

Wait a minute, in a way, that says it all about the movie.