Sunday, October 26, 2014

Always ARR

Yesterday (Oct 24th) Rahman performed at Berklee School of Music, Boston, where he was also conferred upon an honorary doctorate. He also conducted a master class at the performance center. I saw this ad back in July and immediately thought that I should be there, but for many reasons I decided against it. I have been to the Jai Ho tour concert at Chennai in 2009, but this would have been an exquisite experience. The sound quality and occasion it would have made it more electrifying.

Last week I drove up to San Franciso with two of my colleagues and the car we had rented happened to house an excellent sound system. We played some of Rahman's classics like Anjalai Anjali, Mettupodu (Duet) and other songs from an SPB-ARR combo playlist on my phone. Suddenly, I remembered about the Berklee concert and amidst all the fun a gush of void filled my heart. I felt really bad about missing the opportunity to see the Mozart of Madras in such live action. When I got home the below promo video was waiting for me on FB. It literally broke my heart.

All these events got me nostalgic and I've been listening to some of his brilliant works from the 90's all week. Those were the days. My family was the main reason I got so hooked to his music. They introduced me to many of his classics like Duet, Minsara Kanavu, Sangamam, Lagaan and Taal. I won't forget the day my cousin played Ghanan Ghanan and Mitwa from Lagaan for me at 11:30 in the night (when we stopped at his place for 10 mins after a day trip to Palakkad). There was a time when Mana Madurai from Minsara Kanavu used to play in a loop in my uncle's car and he used to be so much in awe about those beats. Whenever I listen to Margazhi Thingal from Sangamam I can visualize my cousin Srikanth and my sister Swathi dancing for it in every party we've had since the track came out (including the latest party we had in Nov'13 - they are both married and have a kid each yet they danced as gracefully as ever). I can keep quoting from my big family scrapbook and won't be tired of it. Listening to Rahman is like being with my family.

A few days ago I was driving around El Camino Real with my classmate Kannan, late after dinner just to listen to ARR and he kept on playing wonderful tracks - Kannamoochi (Kandukondain Kandukondain), Pudhu Vellai Mazhai (Roja), Nahin Samne (Taal) and so on. That's when he mentioned, "Man, he has stopped making such music, that's what I told you when we spoke about I". Earlier that evening when we met we started the conversation talking about the tracks of I (which had released couple of days back) and he was disappointed. He wasn't psyched about it on first listening. That has been the story for the past couple of years. I'm not so sure though maybe because I experience the vision bleach equivalent of hearing when I listen to his music. I immediately connect to the sounds that only he is capable of producing.

2014 has been one of the best in a long time now. After so long, there have been back to back releases of albums scored by Rahman. The year started with Highway, an emotional drama and he's been on a long and wide ride since then. After Highway came Kochadaiyaan a period animation drama about a king, then came Lekar Hum Deewana Dil (a crappy romantic movie which I'm not sure why he signed). Kaaviya Thalaivan followed which is again a period film about stage artists from Madurai in the 1920s. Finally came I which supposedly is a romantic thriller and I expect Lingaa (a commercial Rajini film) to release next month as well. Phew! Rahman had this many releases in one year last in 2004. Apart from these, he had two Hollywood releases as well (Million Dollar Arm and Hundred-Foot Journey) and an album called Raunaq. The varied genres, a Shankar movie, period films and a thalaivar movie means he has composed genres ranging across classical songs, fun no brainers like Mawwali Qawaali and Mersalaayitten, an Opera number (Aila Aila) and the list goes on. Extreme stuff.

I would rate Kochadaiyaan and Kaaviya Thalaivan as one of his best albums in recent times. It feels so great to see Rahman back to the basics and in both these albums, he has gone core classical. Idhayam from Kochadaiyaan is my pick of the album and one of his all time best scores - the percussion has been engineered in layers and they tie with each other so beautifully. Medhuvaagathaan is yet another SPB-ARR classic and the mridhangam flows like a pleasant river in that song. The use of KM conservatory choir in the title track Engal Kochadiayaan is awesome - again the classical rendition and the transition between high and flat notes is Rahman's touch. I'm seriously bewildered that the people who made tracks of Sivaji and Endhiran such huge hits didn't find Kochadaiyaan meeting expectations. What did they expect - Kochadaiyaan the king singing Kilimanjaro and Athiradee?

I'm not sure which track to pick from Kaaviya Thalaivan. After a long time, I had an album (even from Rahman's collections) in loop for so many days. Sandikuthirai is a surprise package - so fresh and yet so vintage. The 10 min theater track in Kaaviya Thalaivan titled Alli Arjuna is a collection of 5-6 songs that play out situations from Mahabharatham and the freedom movement, where he takes you back to the age old classical music in Rahman style. Again, the percussion is brilliant for all the tracks. Haricharan and ARR are gradually becoming an epic combo as a close second to SPB and ARR.

It's not just the movies. Raunaq is an album where he composed tunes for six poems written by ex-union minister Kapil Sibal. There was no big hype of hoopla and I'm not sure if many even knew about this quiet album, but what a pleasant experience, especially this one track called Kismat se rendered by Shreya Ghosal - what a master piece.

I just hope 2014 repeats itself every year, but that's the thing about classics - they happen once in a while and that's why they are unique. 

I've traveled with Rahman all along. All my successes, failures, good times, bad times, friendship, heartbreaks, highs, lows, sickness and everyday happenings can be associated with a Rahman number. It'll be ringing in my head no matter what. Be it late night maths practicing during 10th and 12th standard or the all night chats during college, hectic work days/nights in Madurai, Chennai, Shanghai and US, Rahman has kept me company. It's not just the song, it's the memory associated with the song. Always ARR. Forever ARR.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The lost case

I've been piling up a lot of frustration over the last three days, but I've been unusually calm. It's actually not a good sign. I felt terrified about when I was going to explode, who was going to face the slack and how badly it was going to end. I say a simple prayer everyday. "God, please give me the patience to control the urge of punching someone today. I don't think I have it in me to take a return blow." So, blogging about it seemed to be the best idea. I was getting my head around a nice and subtle way to put it out there, which surprisingly was taking my mind off the frustration. But, now, I'm not going to write about that, because I woke up this morning and the first thing I read was: Andhra court issues warrant against MSD. It stumped everything else out of priority.

Disclaimer: I'm obviously going to write totally against it, so, if you are not going to like it, please exit now and we can avoid a war of words later. 

Answers to FAIQs (Frequent Asked Irritating Questions):

1. Yes, I'm such a huge fan/admirer of Dhoni and that has nothing to do about my feelings here. Even if Gambhir/Yuvraj (my least favorite players from the WC winning squad) were in this position, I'd be totally against it. Maybe if it was Nehra/Munaf Patel, I'd still be against it, but, I'm sure I would've had a bit of a laugh too.

2. I belong to the same allegedly 'denigrated' religion in discussion here and I'm a staunch believer in God. But, NO, I don't feel that my religious sentiments are protected one bit more than the way it was before this complaint was filed.

3. No, I will not 'unfriend' you on FB even if we did argue over this. We probably just don't agree about this. It's fine with me.

4. I shared the 'The Hindu' version of this article because I didn't want to hurt the religious sentiment of my blog. Content is the religion of a blog.

To me, the first most disturbing thing about this news was that when more than 50% of the population don't even have time to read Business Today, there was one guy, who (1) saw this, (2) noticed the Reebok shoe among the many other things, (3) connected it to the prospect of handing God a shoe (the brand probably bothered him - Nike/Adidas fan?) (4) got his religious sentiments fatakkk-thattaak broken (Awwww!), (5) took time and effort to file a case (and money - mostly funded, because the character profile doesn't seem the spending-from-pocket type) and (6) the worst of all - DID NOT get thrown out of court. This last point, to me, is most frustrating.

Frankly, I want to file a few law suits too.

Did Dhoni really wear make-up and pose for Business Today or was it just a Photoshop thing? It kind of feels a bit of a let down if he did. My religious sentiments got a tad hurt. Well, cricket is kind of a religion, isn't it?

Suit 1: If he did, as a cricket fan, I want to sue him for wasting time instead of spending that time training for England.
Religious (cricket) sentiments: 1, Indian Cricket: 0

This news piece has got some media publicity because a celebrity (one of the top most) is involved. But, I'm sure there are so many cases like this one which puts so many innocent victims through a lot of pain and stress. People accused of rape will not be punished severely (because that's inhuman - rape is not), people who face massive corruption charges are released on bail and their arrival is celebrated as if they went to jail for freedom struggle (point to re-note here is that they were only released on bail, not cleared of the charges - ha ha, who am I kidding?) and they contest elections, people facing murder charges are in the VIP ward of a top hospital (heart attack - as usual to the rescue), thousands of such cases pending and this suit WAS NOT thrown out of court. Ah!

Suit 2: I want to sue the judicial system itself for spending the tax payers' money for this. Trust me, if they send force to England to bring him down here, I'm seriously considering it. 

Religious sentiments: 1, Judicial System: 0

So, who is this guy? Why does he take it for granted that he is the moral police of my religious beliefs. Who made him my religious sentiment hurt-level monitor? My religion is the probably one of my most personal business and why does he get to decide? And this suit WAS NOT thrown out of court.

Suit 3: I want to sue this guy who filed the law suit in the first place, because he has made it clear that the God I believe to be most supreme can become impure or whatever because he was handed a shoe. And that bloody, hurts my religious sentiments more than anything else. 

Religious Sentiments: 1, Common Sense: 0

When I mentioned this to a colleague today, the first thing he said was, "Didn't a pair of slippers rule Ayodhya (the biggest pain point  for over 2 decades in the country, in terms of religious sentiments) for 14 years?". And this suit WAS NOT thrown out of court. 

Suit 4: Issue arrest warrant to Sage Valmiki who conceived the Ramayana (or track the current living descendant) to clarify what happened there.

Religious Sentiments: 1, Actual Religious Values: 0

And this coming from an Andhra court. Isn't NTR literally considered as Lord Krishna himself? And, this suit WAS NOT thrown out of court.

Suit 5: I want to sue all those who used to perform prayers/arthi in the theatre, when NTR came on screen dressed as Krishna. I won't sue NTR, he undoubtedly pulled off the best on-screen Krishna appearances ever.

Religious Sentiments: 1, Ground Reality: 0

So, if slippers and shoes are such impure things, why don't you walk around without that? In the summer heat of Guntur, you can't afford that because your feet will turn in to pulp. So, you are degrading, no, denigrating shoes which actually feed lakhs of people who belong to the industry.

Suit 6: On behalf of everyone in the shoe making industry - Denigration, it is.

Religious Sentiments: 1, Self Respect: 0

But, what will we do? We have work to do. I have a release tomorrow and I'm writing this post instead of sleeping, only because I have to wait until QA signs off. We will worry about it when it happens to us. We will write blogs. We will post on FB. We will sit at home, in front of the idiot box, enjoy the game and complain that India doesn't play well overseas. We, are the Common Man. 

Suit 7: This lifestyle 'suits' me. Let me enjoy it, while I can.

Religious Sentiments: 1, Common Man: 0

If everyone starts suing for crap that gets printed on the media, TOI would be facing so many law suits that it will have to borrow some space from CNN-IBN to store some of the paper work. Dhoni is obviously not going to jail. But, some idiot down the line is going to keep filing law suits, because he got his psoriasis treated, but the habit of scratching something all the time stuck. A politician quips against severe punishment for rape that 'Boys will be Boys'. We will not sue him, because we are looking for a ticket in to the parliament and not out of it, right?

I'm halting there - abruptly. Not because I don't have anything more to say, but because the moment I decided that my prospects of surviving existed outside the peninsula, I lost my right to complain. All I can do is let out my frustration in the form a few sarcastic quotes. Once in a while, that NRI guilt creeps from the corner of the heart, whose existence I never knew of. 

And then, days like today happen. 

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The cast - Part II

So, resuming this series (am surprised too), I'm describing a few characters from Lost in the remaining parts. I'm choosing these characters because they walk among us (or at least shades of them do). Even without watching the series, you could relate to these characters. I'm trying to be as generic as possible for the benefit of people who haven't seen it and are interested in reading.

Charlie, The Loser (or so he behaves)

I thought about the tag (loser) for a while before I started writing. This character is many things, but to bucket all of them together, I couldn't think of a better tag. The part of Charlie is one of the best enacted characters in Lost (played by Dominic Monoghan). The idea I guess was for the audience to hate him (remember Snape in Harry Potter). You would have seen many a Charlies in your day to day life. He is talented, sweet, responsible and righteous, all of this by nature. The good characteristics fetch him a brief stint of success and fame. But, he is also naive, weak and too dependent that makes him lose all of it, while being exploited by someone he always trusted (in the series it's his elder brother). Had he dedicated half of the time and energy spent for this one person, for himself, he'd have made something out of life. In the end, when this person not only leaves him behind in a mess, but also takes everything away, he is way lost.

He has to choose between cutting a sorry figure and clinging on to the brief success story. Unfortunately, the world is too huge that most of them don't recognize short term success stories and the rest are too forgetful. So, picking the latter option doesn't work out for him well. He ends up feeling like a loser, feeling unwanted, being very needy and ends up cutting a sorry figure anyways. An act of recovery follows, trying to tag along where he doesn't clearly belong, resulting in more loneliness, self-loathing and searching for someone to blame so that he feels good momentarily. Even writing about this character is really tiring and pathetic. There is a only a small difference between people of this kind whom you hate and whom you don't. The latter ask for help or accept that they cannot be helped and stay out of the way.

The writers score for the symbolism of choosing the profession of a rockstar for Charlie.The resistance he shows to getting fame drunk and sticking a needle to play the part is the depiction of nature, while giving in to temptation scoops in the weakness associated. Personally, he was at the top of the hate list for me. Every time he came close to an adventure, I wish the writers killed him off. The character was too irritating to take. And finally when he dies, you feel sorry for him (again Snape). The final touch of "Greatest Hits" where he pens down the top five moments in his sorry life is the touch.

Sayid, The Go-to-Guy

We know this dude, don't we? When all hell breaks lose and there's good surety that we are screwed, we go to him. We know he is the only person who could get us out of it. He is not a leader, but more of a loner. He predicts methodical failure, but, we ignore him and he doesn't insist. But, he is there to clean up the mess once it's well and made. He is powerful and doesn't speak much, we can piss him off easily and the more we talk to him, he figures us out. His judgement almost always hits the bulls eye. There is a sense of calmness about him that earns him our trust. We can let him down and ignore him, but, when something's wrong, we better have him in the team. The reason is that he is strong, more mentally than physically.

Breaking out of the external view of this character and learning about him reveals the secret behind that mental strength. The seasoned mindset roots at the repeated challenges thrown at him in terms of the choices he had to make in the past. In the series, he has a dark past of being an Iraqi Republican Guard Interrogator (fancy word for torturer) in the Gulf War. In real life, this guy probably isn't a torturer, but may have taken care of his siblings from a very young age (maybe protected them from an abusive parent or family) or something that requires lot of patience and personal sacrifice to fight through.

Naveen Andrews perfectly fits the role of Sayid. He has played it with such finesse that you like the character and the actor equally. Sayid is probably the only character that was a constant throughout the series. He made a choice once and that brought a realization of the darkest deeds that he is capable of. He is angry at the realization and he is lost in the anger. He consciously tries to recover, but life always puts up that choice in front of him, always with the option of his darker shade. That choice becomes easier to pick because he knows that he is a natural. The nine year search of the one right choice (his sweet heart) he wants to make is finally successful. But, when she gets murdered soon after, it pushes him permanently into darkness. For Sayid, this consistency is the writers' touch.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The cast - Part I

Revisiting something that you liked is always an inspiring act. Not many do it. Most people can't watch a really good movie more than once. The mundane task of investing time and effort to go through something again is an imminent waste of time. Then, there are the hopeless romantics including the one writing this prose. For us, somethings can never grow old. Every time we go back, we may lose a lot of time, but, there's always some gain. Something we missed the first time around, that makes you go - "How did I miss this!". Having quoted that, a couple of weeks ago, when I tried selling the concept of 'Lost' to my sister in law, I saw the first two episodes along with her. She did not buy it I assume (as I use the same Netflix account as them and only I have resumed watching it).

The first time I saw Lost was in 2010, when Navneeth recommended it. It was a humdinger, but I watched it in such speed that I did not understand most of it. The story takes crazy turns and after a point, it's almost impossible to keep track of what they are doing. Like the many million Lost fans I was utterly disappointed with the climax. But, I strongly believe that it was a huge success because of the way the characters were written. The script was etched with utmost sincerity to each and every character. It's indeed true that getting the characters right puts the story telling process in auto-pilot. I finished the entire series in less than a month, bragged about it for a while, got a bunch of colleagues to watch it, awed along with them and forgot entirely about it in the next series (How I Met Your Mother I think).

Almost a year later, I read this blog by Sudhish Kamath on a lazy day in office. I couldn't but rush home and reach for my hard disk to start the re-run on the very same day. This time, I started relishing it episode by episode to such depths that I literally lost myself in to it. A brutal scolding from a dear friend made me snap out of it and I forced myself to stop halfway through the 3rd season. My dad was away visiting my sister and I was staying alone in a two-bedroom flat. It took some strenuous effort of fighting crazy thoughts, a lovely engaging team at work and my dad's arrival (after two months) to recover entirely from it. Over the years, my mom, dad, sister, friends and many well wishers have warned me about the way I get attached. But, that was the first time I ever realized that they were right about it. It was the first of the three lessons I was ever taught about why getting so attached is not the healthiest of choices.

It was something about that time of the year I guess. Again, another year later, I totally sold the concept to Aneesh, who was also my roommate at that time. We weren't very busy at work and we went on a Lost spree as we rushed through the first 4 seasons in almost no time. The look of amusement and amazement on his face every other time the writers beat the odds made it more interesting. By the end of the fourth season, I had to travel to US for a two month visit and I had to resume the last two seasons in my hotel room alone. This time, the effect was eclipsed by the awe I felt for the climax. The nuances of story telling was a huge win (a triumph of story telling in Kamath's words). True to the title and theme, each character was lost in it's own way. The island is just a metaphorical prop used to convey that they were all indeed lost in their life with oozing class of screen writing.

A year and half later, thanks to my sister in law, I am revisiting Lost for a fourth time. In this busy schedule, the only other thing I have been able to do is to see Lost. A long weekend and another normal weekend was lazily spent in rushing through the first four seasons. When I talk about Lost, I always mention how our outlook of each character changes as the series runs it course. The least favorite character would become the most favorite. How many people liked Jack through the first three seasons as much as they hated Sawyer? And how they swapped places in the last three seasons. However, this transformation of animosity was achieved without disturbing the consistency of the characters. A classic example of how the thing you love about someone is almost always also the thing you hate about that person. It's one of the best exhibition of situation characterization that I have seen.

Through one pair of eyes, I can really see how this can be looked upon as a waste of time, but, the least it did was (along with the inspiration from a new blogger on the road) kindle the little bit writing I pray is left in me. I started out with something in mind and I got lost and ended up writing a whole blog on what I thought as the introduction. But, I'm leaving the title as it is, as at least at this point, I'm able to see a series of posts (a couple or so more) spawning out of this one. That's the least justice I could do to pen down my thoughts about the Cast of Lost. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Trespassing at its worst

Warning: Too long a post. Been as subtle as possible. Excuse the explicit writing, if you notice it.

Have you ever felt like cheap labor? 
Has someone picked your pocket?
Have you gotten mugged or assaulted? 
Has your best friend slept with your girl friend?
Has your boss ever abused you? 
Has someone you trusted lied to you?
Have you ever been stood up?
Have you been denied admission to a college because of your caste?
Has someone passed a racist comment on you?
Has someone stolen something very close to your heart from you?

Have you ever felt violated?

I guess if you had answered yes to any one of the ten questions, you'd have answered yes to the follow-up as well. Now answer this.

Have you ever been raped?

Isn't that the highest degree violation of one's personal space (sex/age no bar)? Which is better, getting raped or getting killed? There isn't a difference. Personally, I'd give a tiny edge to the latter because you don't have to live with it. I'm definitely not saying that someone who has been victimized by rape cannot recover from it. I'm just saying that there isn't a punishment in this world that can be given to a rapist that would make the victim feel any less violated.

All these days when I read about rape in the news, I imagined the assaulter to be a third rate criminal you'll find in the cast of a tastelessly made gangster movie. It was so naive of me to think that these people will never run in a 'normal' social circle. Yes, the use of the word normal is very deliberate because the moment one even thinks about committing such a heinous* act, the word normal automatically dislodges from their dictionary. Of all the news that has ever been reporter by TOI or any other news agency, this series grossed me out the most. The two accused are kids (read it again in capital letters - KIDS) for heaven's sake. This incident has reportedly happened in the same locality in Coimbatore where I spent my entire childhood. The victim and accused are from my Alma mater. And stressing it again, they are college kids.

It's unfair on my part to focus on this one incident, but, the fact that it could happen right next to us sends a chill up my spine. My own sister grew up in the same locality. Some of my best friends from college and my neighborhood lived and are still living there. There are 3 major schools around the area that tens of thousands of students attend. Now, I feel bad at having laughed at my dad when he got a bit worked up if my sister was even 15 minutes late from college. I finally understand why my mom used to personally accompany her tuition students to their home if they are leaving our house after darkness falls. Of all the places in all the cities of this world, I never imagined it could happen there. I'm still unable to come to terms with the fact that it can never, ever, be 100% safe.

On one hand if we can put the blame on illiteracy and growing up in a bad environment for most cases, there's the other side of the story. There's just too much access these days. As parents, especially the ultra-rich class who just think that their kids are still kids, provide all the access they need - Credit cards, Smart phones, Ultra books, High-Speed Internet connection and what not. But, at least in countries like India where technology has penetrated into the deepest of even the rural areas, parental guidance hasn't stepped in at all. Most of the kids get their own room (in some cases their own flat) because the parents appreciated their privacy. Heck, I had my own room throughout my 4 years in college, but, I'm sure I couldn't have sneaked in as much as a safety pin in to it and my father wouldn't have found out. I'm not saying that there should be no respect for the kid's privacy. I feel it's important to talk to the kids and make them feel comfortable about discussing what's going on in school/college, who their friends are (esp in the opposite sex) and not pick on and judge every single thing the kid does.

Most victims don't come out and speak up. I wouldn't blame them either. Some reporter in TOI is always waiting to unleash his creative best in reporting this, because it's not about sense, it's about sensational (I ripped that part out of a The Hindu ad in 2011). After all the physical torture that lasted only for a few minutes, there's the social torture that's going to last a lifetime. At this juncture, how do you blame anyone for being conservative and non-trusting?

However, the most painful part about all this is that, we always find someone else to blame. Why did you go out at that time? Why did you wear this? Why did you talk to a boy? Doesn't this college take security of students seriously? Is the police department sleeping? Take the case that I had shared above, for instance. I'm sure there are at least a handful of filthy people who blame the girl to have gone to the twins' apartment. Oh yes, going to a friend's apartment is indeed a "heinous crime".

Last year, I saw an episode of Neeya Naana where a doctor said that man is a beast who wears the mask of civilization. So, provocative dressing by a woman will unleash the beast within him. She also mentioned that the middle eastern culture of a woman wearing a burka not only safe guards her from the beast but also helps her personality. I'm not sure if it's just me or did that make no sense whatsoever, no matter how scientifically proven a fact it is. This is just a classic example of mankind being an extremist. We know both extremes. We don't know balance. We don't know moderate.

Nothing, nothing ever is an excuse. Not provocative dressing. Not the time of the day. Not biology. Not geography. Not culture. Not tradition. It's just simple. No matter what, You don't rape someone. YOU DON'T RAPE ANYONE.

*Rape is a heinous crime no matter how tastefully or how violently it was committed.