A bouquet of flowers picked along the way ….

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Movie Review) August 18, 2010

Filed under: Movie Reviews — gurdas @ :

We all fall in love. And we are all the better for it. Whether or not our love ends in a long, happy relationship is besides the point. And that is exactly the point that this 1967 masterpiece makes. Directed by Stanley Kramer and brought to life by Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, and Sidney Poitier, the story is about how we reason with love. And the truth that, sometimes, love is beyond reason.

I am very much a person who looks for character development in the movies I watch. And I have come to realize that movies in which the story takes a character and molds it right in front of my eyes, are the movies that I find inspiring. For isn’t that what we find inspiring in life too? IN this movie the stage is set for confrontation when a young white girl brings home a negro as the man she wants to marry. We hardly hear the term negro these days, but I use it because it is uttered generously in the movie. Other than the couple, we have the girl’s mother and father, the girl’s nanny (a black woman), the boy’s father and mother, and a priest who is old time friend of the girl’s parents. We start with certain people expressing what I would call as almost disgust at the prospect of a white girl marrying a black man. And we have some people expressing a restrained disapproval. And how that changes over the course of a little over an hour and a half.

The movie is rich, very rich, is serious, moving dialogues. Some of them might very well live with you forever. I could specially relate to a few since I happen to have experienced similar situation. Like when Sidney Poitier (as John) says “It is not just that our color difference doesn’t matter to her. It is that she doesn’t seem to think there is any difference”. There is a lot of difference between the kind of persons in those two sentences and you just have to know it to know it. Or the part where John’s mother (played by Beah Richards) remarks about men losing a perspective on love as they grow old, of not remembering how it was when they were young. The movie is replete with what I’d term as swashbuckling American language, the kind that makes you smile and thump even when the scene is somber. Here are some examples.

Spencer Tracy as the girl’s father and Katharine Hepburn as the mother put in stellar performances. You rise and fall with them. You feel their anguish and their joy. The movie is set within the span of half a day and in that little time scale it runs the gamut of human emotions giving you a glimpse of your own self many times over. Developing along what I said about characterization is the point that in this movie, any person who gets more than a few minutes of screen time comes across as a complex real person. As examples, I present the African maid and the white Priest. You’d think they behave a certain way. But they do not. They both startle you and yet you will immediately connect to them. And you will recognize the larger statement the movie makes about being non-judgmental, free spirited, liberal, and finally accepting the grandeur of love.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is effective prescription for anyone suffering from excess objectivity. And a resounding confirmation for those who revel in the celebration of love.


Peepli [Live] (movie review) August 14, 2010

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Peepli Live

Peepli Live did not just live up to my expectations, it exceeded them. Giving me a side splitting and yet brooding glimpse to an India I know exists, an India I have experienced first hand, but an India I rarely hear about. An India most urban dwelling Indians think exists only in movies. Actually, that India does not exist in movies because movies are mostly about urban subjects. Peepli [Live] is rustic, charming, and satirical.

A satire on the poverty that runs across the nation and the mockery we have made of it. Peepli Live is powered by exceptional screenplay and the most original dialogues I have heard in a long time. And it is rustic – generously populated by slang that designer wear, polished, English speaking Indians might cringe at. But a language spoken by numbers greater than the entire population of United States. The characters are real and believable. The clothes they wear depict the reality of their existence. Their scraggy beards, dirty loins, and hand woven beds are common sights in rural India. The movie has its flaws but they do not interfere with the story telling. I will have to nitpick to tell you where the movie fell short. Yes, it was that good an act.

The storyline is simple. The farming brothers Budhia and Natha (100% real ‘non-english speaking India’ names) are facing the prospect of losing their land. The way out? Natha will commit suicide, Budhia will collect money that the government will pay to the dead farmer’s family, and use that money to pay off the debt on the land. Around this simple plot is woven the story of greed, treachery, labour, honour, politics, shamelessness, conscience, and most importantly a complete lack of empathy. The only other primetime Bollywood movie from recent times that scratched the vast but overlooked subject of abject poverty was Swades. But unlike Swades, Peepli [Live] has no parallel stories. There is no love story here. No song and dance sequence. But just like Swades, Peepli [Live] is honest cinema. The farmers are real. So are the goons. Omkar Das Manikpuri (Natha) is a find. I knew what to expect from Raghubir Yadav and he delivers. Watch out for Natha’s wife Dhaniya played by Shalini Vatsa. And Natha’s mother will rock your bed just like she keeps rocking her own!

You will also meet ‘Lal Bahadur’, a pumping thumping ‘character’. And you will come across Hori Mahato, who becomes a metaphor for things we overlook. You will have questions about the exit of Rakesh, and what truly is the role of the media. For a change, you will be laughing and thinking at the same time. The songs are catchy and the lyrics convey the same feel and message as the movie; and you will want to dance and think at the same time.

The movie did slip in a few sequences and it seems the compromise was made to gain dramatisation. For example, when the news channel vans first roll into the village, they just come in unreal synchronisation. And that last scene at the warehouse seemed loose. Other than this, the movie is tight and pulls out some daring acts which could have fallen flat but do not. Often, the film easily slides from a hilarious moment into one that leaves you pondering. The satire is not sugar coated and there are no long preachy sermons.

I am tempted to watch it again next weekend to (re)enjoy some of those dialogues – exquisite gems that come and go so fast you are left thirsting. Peepli [Live] deserves a peep. Actually two.


Million Dollar Lemonade August 7, 2010

Filed under: Children — gurdas @ :

Olivia, Mia, Joseph, and Pari

Pari, the four year old child of my friends – Lalita and Samudra, recently acquired a phone fetish! She calls me almost everyday; and you should listen to her call or voice messages. They sound like she means business. Oh wait, she does. Her friend Mia wanted to do a lemonade stand and Pari jumped in. I was roped in as “a customer” and a few misfires later, a week ago, they did put out a stand. As promised, I was there to buy the produce.

When I reached the stand I was greeted by a motley group of kids. I announced excitedly “wow, can I have a lemonade?”. But these kids were pros. Mia walked up, looked down upon me (even though she was looking up) and said, “you have to pay for it”. I immediately went on the defensive with “oh sure I will”. Joseph was the order taking guy, he grabbed my dollar bill and came back with two quarters (each glass was priced at 50 cents). And then he is asking the adults, “who should I give this back”? Hello, me obviously!

The lemonade was good and totally worth the money. I saw the kids had gone back into the garage and were huddled over their earnings, trying to split into three equal halves. Perfect opportunity! I walked over and sat down on the ground beside them. Mia looked at me, and I said, “you’ll did a fantastic job”. She took the bait and replied “it was my idea!”. Which it was, so I gave her special credit for that. They had dollar bills, quarters, dimes, and many pennies. Total earnings stood at a grand $5.50. I bought another drink to make that $6.0 and ease the task of doing a three-way split.

But that leaves out Olivia, the spaderunner. She looks at me, frowns (more than what you see in that photo) and says, “what is that hat you are wearing?” I replied meekly and hoped she will accept the explanation. Luckily, the jingle of money distracted her and I was spared. Soon we were all out, and I requested for a photo of Lemonade Inc. They were more than ready and also agreed to hold out profits and make a ‘V’ for victory. And they all shouted “money” when I asked them to smile.

Yeah right, it is all about money, honey.


Bundles of joy August 4, 2010

Filed under: Children,love,Me — gurdas @ :

Pari and Soumya

Kids make the world a better place. And they make me very happy! They learn from us, but they also teach us if we accept the role of a pupil. I believe making friends with younglings is an art of the heart. They speak a different language – it has a grammar and a syntax different from adultspeak. So, some unlearning is required. And lots of patience. From my little experience I find that almost every kid out there is eager to find a friend in you. The problem is adults want kids to like them as adults. That is not how you start!

I see strong similarities in kids and pets (specially dogs). They are hungry for love. And they want to play with you. How you approach them is very important. The way I do it is present myself as available and waiting. You cannot demand friendship! To exemplify, I draw upon two recent experiences. The first was during my visit to London. I had a gift for a four and a half year old boy. He wanted the gift but His Highness was adamant about two things – one, he did not like me and two, he did not feel like saying “thank you”. Sufficient effort was made but the kid would not budge (no surprises there). The way I saw it was simple. The child was saying “see, if you want to be friends you will have to do more than just give me a gift”. I bid my time. After the persuasion from other adults had died down and the kid had time alone with the gift, I walked over to him and told him about this story behind the gift. Doesn’t he want to know about it? He sure did. Twenty seconds and an impromptu story later, he gladly said thank you and gave me a hug. We were friends.

The other incident happened when I recently met Soumya, a friend’s soon-to-be-four daughter. She walked into the room and we looked at each other. I think I said something like this “Hello! What is your name?” to which she replied “Soumya”. I then said, “Lovely! I’d love to talk to you. Can we do that? to which she replied “no” with a shake of her head. Hmmm… talk of hitting a wall! So, I went back to my chair. But I kept stealing glances at her, and she would do the same. I would tilt my head and smile. She picked the cues and it soon became a game (by the way, this is my favorite first trick). And that is exactly my point. If I were to go back and become an adult, the kid will take a lot longer to connect. Kids love games . They also appreciate when they are taken seriously. It is kind of an oxymoron. They want you to talk to them as if they are responsible adults. But they also want you to play with them. In the picture above, Soumya has this umbrella opened for no reason at all. Aren’t kids amazing? Would an adult ever do that – enjoy an umbrella? No, we open umbrellas only when it is raining and we hardly ever pay attention to the fact that umbrellas are rather pretty. But kids are not chained by adult limitations. Their world is full of sights and sounds that poor adults miss out. To get a child interested in you, all you have to do is get interested in ‘their world’. Soumya and I became fast friends over the next few minutes. She was an easy child to befriend – shy but responsive. And she gave me the best compliment possible when she allowed me to feed her dinner. Though that did not go well with Pari, the other kid in the group, who insisted to be fed by me even though she was not hungry. So, I had these two kids sitting on either side eating spoonfuls served by me. Bliss!

In a few days, I am going to face my toughest test ever. I have been invited to talk about Indian culture to a class of American preschoolers (4 to 5 years old). I have never interacted with kids in a classroom setting and so I am full of nervous excitement. Holding the attention of sixteen kids for twenty minutes is not going to be easy. Will post here how I fared.


A midnight summer’s dream August 2, 2010

Filed under: Me — gurdas @ :

There is only one way to describe the weather this last Saturday – romantic. It rained on Friday night and remained wet and cloudy all of Saturday. Not the depressing types though. There was enough light and while the air was laden with moisture, it was buoyant and breezy. Well, water vapor is in any case lighter than ambient air! And so it was romantic in many ways. It was the perfect day to grab a lazy chair, brew some tea, and idle in the balcony while catching up on some favorite music and reading. Or just enjoying the company of a friend or companion or family. I did not do any of that.

Virginia welcomes the night rider

At a little past 11 pm I decided to go for a drive. I am sure had I not ended up an engineer, I would have become a driver for one-off special errands. Yes, I love it so much. I am truly, madly, deeply in love with driving. I often fantasize about driving on long, winding, unfamiliar roads. But so do many people. What makes my love special is that I also relish the everyday drive to office or to the grocery store. I get excited about going anywhere. All I need is a vehicle, some music, and a tell tale sign of a road. I have enjoyed driving in the mad bazaars and potholed roads of India! And I know some of those experiences would ‘drive’ other people mad. Me, when I am driving, I am following my bliss.

Coming back to the Saturday. My initial idea was of a short drive. A little food would make it more fun, and so I stopped at Bojangles and grabbed some food and drink and then hit the highway. And then the bug took over. The weather cajoled me to go a little further. And then a little more. I crossed my friend, Margaret’s hometown, Henderson, and thought of her having fun somewhere in South East Asia. And soon I was in Bracey, Virginia where I refueled my car and my tummy and then drove back. For the most part my windows were rolled down even though there was a light drizzle. I thought the rain would come in, but it did not. The crisp air kept me awake and at one point I had to turn the heater on to avoid discomfort. But I also kept the windows rolled down! I wanted to enjoy the air come what may. I also had Bollywood music playing at high volume and often I would sing along. Some 144 miles and 3 hours later, I returned home a very happy man.

I should be doing this more often. I was reminded of my time in India when, during my undergrad and later while working, I would go off on these midnight drives. Sometimes to eat at a dhaba and at other times to have a cup of tea. But those were merely excuses for I know I was driving for driving’s sake.


To Live (Huozhe) (Movie Review) July 16, 2010

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Stunning, convincing, and a kaleidoscope of humour, tragedy, courage, dignity, and everything else that goes into a life. My first movie from Zhang Yimou (director) has me thirsting for more of his works. The movie travels the life of a couple, Fugui and Jiazhen, from sometime in the 1940s to about three decades later. The couple go from rich landlords to labourers and then middle class, and as they make this journey, the viewer is given glimpses of Mao’s revolution. But that is just the backdrop. The real story here, in my opinion, is about the continuity of life. About remorse as experienced by Fugui when he loses everything in gambling. About dignity so beautifully portrayed by his wife, Jiazhen. About surviving a war and living each day as it comes. About forgiving and about loving. Artistically shot, the movie has its funny moments, my favourite is when Fugui is served vinegar while he thinks it is tea.

The movie benefits from supporting actors, which includes the couple’s children. The love between the siblings produces a few memorable scenes, like the brother (Youqing) fighting with boys that tease his sister (Fengxia) or the community kitchen scene (had me smiling). I also fondly remember the scene when the sister serves food to her parents and brother soon after they’ve had an argument. Fugui’s war time friend (Chunsheng) and the town leader provide comic and tragic moments. I also loved the character of Fengxia’s husband. Come to think of it, every single character in the movie is well etched and acted – the hallmark of great cinema.

I highly recommend ‘To Live’. It is alive.


William the 99999999th July 6, 2010

Filed under: Ethics and Values,Inspiration,life,love — gurdas @ :

I love being surprised and do not suffer my ignorance of high cuisine menus. So, I often tell the person taking my order what I feel like having, and not necessarily what is on the menu. And I let the person attending our table advise, often even pick for me. The advantages of this approach greatly outweigh disadvantages (which are almost non-existent). One, I get to relish all kinds of expressions – questioning, curious, thoughtful, surprised, caught off-foot to name a few. Being a turbaned Sikh, I have the advantage of appearing different. So, when I get into my ‘lets have some fun here’ ordering style, it is almost always something they did not see coming. I have never ever received a normal expression when I start ordering. And this gives me a high 🙂 Plus, I get some free character study to do. I see confident, knowledgeable attendants (because they shoulder the responsibility of understanding my taste needs and matching it best to a menu item) and I see confused, ignorant types. None of this is available to folks who display a mastery of the menu (sometimes faked) and reel off their orders. And the fun does not end there. Since I am basically eating their pick, they take special care in making it right, and always come back asking how good their pick is. I shower them with my smiles and praises. Great relationship (however brief) tactic.

So, the other day my friend, Mina, and I went to a Starbucks for chit chat over coffee. Taking our order was a smiling African American gentleman named William. My order was this “I am in the mood for something cold, very little ice, and a strong taste of coffee.” William jumped to the challenge of meeting my desire. He asked me a couple of questions and placed the order. I had no clue what he was going to serve me. I did not ask. Surprises are best when savoured at the right moment. It was Mina’s turn. On our last visit, she had a strawberry drink. The other options were mango-orange and chocolate. William completely ruled out mango-orange saying it had no taste. I fell in love with the guy right then. For anyone to confidently say something on their menu is not worth it, needs to be acknowledged. Mina did not want chocolate and she already had strawberry. Hmmm…this was looking like a jam. But William bested himself. He offered to make a mix of strawberry and mango. He had not tried it before, but was confident it will be different. Mina felt secure in his confidence and she agreed to be game.

We took our table and shortly after that my order was announced. My drink looked inviting, very dressy with a dark bottom layer, a light brown middle layer, and cream top layer. My expectations doubled. I took a sip and smiled. William had nailed it. Just what I wanted! And this was not on the menu. I praised his selection and thanked him. He made double sure I liked it. I told him I loved it. A minute later, Mina’s order was ready and while not as dressy as mine, it still displayed an interesting mix of colours. She took a sip and then another. And she smiled. Check-mate! What happened after this moment is why I am writing this post.

William walked over to our table and asked Mina how her drink was. She said she liked it. Her praise was gentle and maybe William thought she was just being polite. So, he said this “If the drink is not what you feel like having I can make you another.” I was sold. His smiling face and humility coloured that room. Mina took the cue and this time her praise was equal to how much she liked the drink (she loved it).

I pondered on this and both Mina and I talked about it. What William did was exceptional. It might seem otherwise, but I thought his gesture was grand. It is not about the cost of the drink, but the attitude.

My next visit to Starbucks is not going to be for the good coffee they brew. But to be able to say hello to William.

ps: The name William, to me, has a kingly tone to it. And so the title of this post.