Sunday, July 18, 2010

Trailer Park 3

Let's start with Frieda Pinto... Julian Schnabel... and Bombay Theme!



One for fun....



And the rest.... interesting for one reason or another...









Friday, July 16, 2010

2010... the awards so far...

I have seen Inception only about an hour ago, so clearly this post will be unduly colored because of that. But that's ok.. we'll not consider this my "movies of first half of 2010" post, but a part of my "let me salute Inception" posts.. :)

Note: the foreign Language movies are mostly of 2009, but got proper US releases only in 2010. so....

so.....

Best Supporting Actor: John Hawkes (Winter's Bone), Guillermo Francella (The Secret in their Eyes),  and Niels Arestrup (Un Prophete)
special mentions: Pablo Rago (The Secret in their Eyes), Nana Patekar (Raajneeti)

Best Supporting Actress: Priyamani (Raavan/Raavanan) and Olivia Williams (The Ghost Writer)
special mentions: Soledad Villamil (The Secret in their Eyes), Dale Dickey (Winter's Bone), Ellen Page (Inception) (well, she looked great.. and we KNOW she is a great actress... didn't have to do all that much here though.. still, they are my awards, aren't they? :P which reminds me.. I think I'll give one to Marion Cotillard too!!)

Best Actor: Tahar Rahim (Un Prophete)
special mentions: Leonardo DiCaprio (Shutter Island/Inception), Filippo Timi (Vincere), Naseeruddin Shah (Ishqiya), Vikram (Raavanan)

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone) and Giovanna Mezzogiorno (Vincere)
special mentions: Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Vidya Balan (Ishqiya), Hye-Ja Kim (Mother)

Best Screenplay: Christopher Nolan (Inception)
special  mentions: Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3), Park/Bong (Mother), Sacheri/Campanella (The Secret in their Eyes)


Best Director: Christopher Nolan (Inception)
special mentions: Roman Polanski (The Ghost Writer), Debra Granik (Winter's Bone), Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon), Juan José Campanella (The Secret in their Eyes)

Best Picture: Inception
special mention: Toy Story 3
slightly less special mentions: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Secret in their Eyes, Vincere, The Secret of Kells
ohh.. and some more: Mother, Winter's Bone, Ishqiya, The Ghost Writer, Shutter Island

ohh.. wait.. Best Picture isn't the last award here.. I have another...

Master of Rahul's Movie Universe: Christopher Nolan :) :)



Update:

After seeing Inception second time....

I'm replacing Ellen Page with Marion Cotillard in best supporting actress... :)

Also... needless to say, Inception takes all the technical awards... Best Editing, Best Sound Design, Best Visual Effects, Best Music Score (a very special mention to Toy Story 3 but, really, Inception's score is something else entirely), and maybe even Best Cinematography (with Shutter Island and The White Ribbon giving it tough competition... perhaps even sharing the award).

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Trailer Park -2 (The animation edition)

Some pretty good trailers of upcoming animated features. All of the movies might not turn out  to be great, but definitely all of them do look promising to some extent.











Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Trailer Park -1

Ok, this is a new series by me. I'll post, for the busy world's benefit, any trailers of upcoming movies that I find interesting. Some of these would be great trailers of movies that will eventually turn out to be crap. Some others will probably be crappy trailers of the movies that I have high hopes for. Hopefully there will be none that even I won't have an idea about why I posted them. Hopefully. We'll see.

So, here goes, sans any comment (and in no particular order of interest)...























Friday, June 25, 2010

Ratnam Remixes Ramayana

By the time I went to catch a show of Raavan, it had already been mauled by almost everyone online. The good reviews, and I have seen many of them now, came much after I myself had seen the movie, one of them, from my favorite indian movie critic, Baradwaj Rangan. It is still easily one of Mani's worst reviewed movies yet. Dil Se had about as bad reviews as this, as I'm sure Thiruda Thiruda would've had. I don't remember how much I liked Thiruda Thiruda, but I really do like Dil Se even though the last half an hour or so is quite cringe-worthy. I have met some people who like Dil Se and don't know/remember that it got some pretty bad reviews; I've also met people who didn't see Dil Se when it released because of the universal jeers it seemed to be getting in the media at the time, but caught it on TV later and wondered why anyone would consider it to be so bad. That was the hope I was holding on to when I went to see Raavan. The hope that while some of the bad reviews might be from critics who really don't share my taste anyway, at least some of the others might be overcritical for the simple reason that this is a Mani Ratnam movie and you *do* expect him to do better than this. The rating at allbollywood was about 50% which doesn't make it the worst movie ever (it makes it about the 10th best movie of 2010 so far with reasonable number of reviews considered), it certainly is much lower than what I normally consider to be my threshold for being "worthy of a watch". Also, MNIK is 74% and Raajneeti 62%, and I considered the former to be just about watchable, the latter entirely forgettable, making Raavan sound like a horrible movie that would be unbearable to me.

All I'm saying is that I was hardly expecting that I'll be going to see this one twice.

Now, lest you assume that my watching the movie twice means that I really liked it, let me explain my "watching twice" philosophy to you. There was a time I watched almost every movie more than once before forming any stable opinion on it. But that time was long, long ago. Still, I found that there are some kind of movies that are likely to improve on second viewing - movies that are obviously "have to see it again to really get everything in it" type like The Usual Suspects, and the movies that seem annoying/awkward because of unexpected/unfamiliar/difficult stylistic choices. The latter includes films that are partially or fully slower than one expected (2001 A Space Oddysey, Dekalog etc), unfamiliar style (early kurosawa, Farewell My Concubine etc), off-putting yet intentional pace inconsistencies (Kill Bill, Rang De Basanti etc). What happens is that the first time these things happen, I'm not really prepared for them and they affect my overall enjoyment of other things that actually might've been better than I thought. Once you have already seen the movie, you know what is coming and it doesn't bother you that much. So, unlike Raajneeti where the bad parts were just bad content and not style and the good parts weren't good enough to merit a second watch, Raavan seemed a perfect candidate for being such a movie. Not that it improved to the level of being a really good movie, but certainly some of the worst things seemed much less bothersome. What were these things? Read on...

I am still to make up my mind as to what really killed this movie. There are many candidates.

  1. A screeching Aishwarya in about 30% of her scenes that happen to be mostly in the first half. I can understand that it might've seemed a good thing to make Aish scream in a hoarse voice indicating her tortured and agitated state, but it certainly didn't translate on the screen as well as it might've been on paper. It just seemed annoying. 
  2. Abhishek's way over-the-top "mad Raavan" act in about a similar fraction of his act that was just plain annoying and unintentionally funny. Again, it probably seemed a good idea to justify the title "Raavan" by making it "ten heads.. as in ten different ideas running in the mind simultaneously" thing, but things like that are very hard to show on screen, unless you have a really charismatic performer to carry them through. Expecting Abhishek to do a Gabbar, a Joker or a Jack Torrence is hardly fair on the guy.. that sort of thing is just not his strength. I can see a Manoj Bajpai do wonders with this role.. even Madhavan would've probably made this work.... Anyway, I hear Vikram is able to bring much more physicality to the role much more convincingly in Raavanan. That itself should make the movie better by some margin for me. 
  3. Almost complete lack of "action" in the first half, and by action I mean worthwhile forward motion of the story... it is completely replaced by what we normally consider "action" sequences.. they just don't go anywhere. The way these action scenes are shot, it makes one think (and expect) that things are moving very fast but when you think about it, all that we are being shown are glimpses of a random "search in the jungle" with all the important parts of the story happening off the screen where Ragini must've done some seriously impressive stuff to muddle Beera's mind so much. I know that everyone can imagine their own effective stories about how exactly did things change in the minds of Beera and Ragini, but surely you can't blame the audience to not feel for your characters if they don't really see them doing much. This is even more frustrating because this is exactly the sort of thing that I love about Mani - two characters interacting.. playing with each other with just dialogue. As wonderful as all those jungle scenes with Dev running around look, all that time could easily have been used to use 10 pages of interesting lines for Ragini and Beera to speak. 
  4. Speaking of which, the lines that WERE spoken had hardly anything engaging about them. And this, I think, might be the single biggest factor in making the movie such a bland experience. Look at any Quentin Tarantino movie and you know that a scene doesn't necessarily HAVE to move the overall story forward for it to be interesting. All you need is some wonderful writing, and I don't mind one bit what it might be adding to the overall picture. The dialogue is one of the best things about Mani's movies. Even if some of the charm probably gets lost in subtitles, they are still pretty good. Dil Se and Yuva had some interesting writing by Tigmanshu Dhulia and Anurag Kashyap respectively and even Guru (with Hindi dialogue by the same Vijay Krishna Acharya who worked on Raavan) was actually pretty engaging througout (other than the silly climax, of course). Raavan, on the other hand, is full of simplistic, banal dialogue. It is perhaps difficult to separate banal acting with banal dialogue, and perhaps the same words would've worked had the performances worked, but I do think that they really needed some better lines here. 
Phew!! Ok, so much for things that didn't work. Why did I go to see it again, then? Well... mainly because the second half seemed so much better than the first half. The first half just seemed so uneven, that I thought maybe the unevenness will be less bothersome the second time and it will make for an overall better feeling. More importantly, there were some truly good things going on. Like I said, the good things in Raajneeti were not good enough for me to want to see them again.. unlike that, the good things here were actually really good and I really wanted to see them again. So, the good stuff.... 
  1. The beginning!! The 4-5 min long sequence that comes before the opening credits is a really, REALLY great piece of cinema. It reminded me of Godfather at times, and that can never be a bad thing. Perhaps it helped that VKAcharya didn't have anything to do in that sequence as it is almost entirely devoid of spoken words. This is as good an opening to the movie as one could've expected. 
  2. The photography! This one is a seriously good looking movie, even from Ratnam/Sivan standards. Ratnam has set almost the entire movie in and around jungles and waterfalls and that makes for some truly wonderful frames right from the first scene to the last. So much so that I think I would've enjoyed this movie more if it had been on mute! :D
  3. The songs. This isn't even close to being one of Rahman/Ratnam's best collaboration, and for once Mani seems quite uninterested in spending too much time on songs. But, in this case, even a less-than-interested Mani is good enough to give some good songs/picturizations. The album itself is good enough, specially if you add the "Jaa, ud jaa re" to it, but most of the songs actually seem that much better on screen. Kata Kata, Behne De and Khili Re all worked pretty well for me... Khili Re, specially, is really well choreographed. Surprisingly, I didn't even mind "Thhok De Killi" in the movie. The song hadn't really worked for me before.. the trailer actually made it worse, but, for some reason, it doesn't seem bad at all during the movie. Perhaps it is positioned well. Or perhaps it just seemed better in comparison with some things in the first half. :D "Jaa, ud jaa re" is a pretty haunting song and it is used pretty well in the movie too. 
  4. Some memorable scenes which are vintage Mani. One scene, in particular, reminded me of something from Dil Se.. Abhi and Ash talking while he is on a boat, rotating all the while.. There are scenes in Dil Se where a similar thing happens. The actors are talking, and something goes on in the background that doesn't really have to. You could have Amar and Meghna saying the same lines without that woman continuing to pound whatever it is she was trying to pound in the background... or when they are talking in the AIR office when people are walking past and the door in the background keeps opening and closing... these things dont have to be there at all.. and are perhaps pretty distracting for some people... but the effect is memorable.. I might not remember anything about what they were talking about in those scenes, but I will never forget the visuals that were quite beautiful and distinctive... 
  5. The whole flashback with Priyamani works really well. The credit should probably go to her charming and convincing performance. That part of the movie is probably the only part where I actually cared for the characters on screen. 
  6. Govinda in some of his scenes, and Ravi Kishan throughout are quite good. Even the guy who plays the other brother of Raavan (Vibhishan?) was good, even though he only had 2 notable scenes. I think Ravi Kishan's convincing portrayal actually makes you realize even more how much better Raavan's role could've been done. While Abhishek seems adequate in most of the scenes where he doesn't have to do the 'mad Raavan' bit, you still find it hard to believe that he and Ravi Kishan's character are brothers. Ravi Kishan brings a certain earthy/rustic quality to his role that is just not there in Abhishek's performance. As for Govinda, they really could've done without the referencing Hanuman bit in his intro scene but I don't quite mind that as much as many people seem to have. 
Which brings me to another point. I think some people were turned off by what they think were "literal adaptations" of Ramayana scenes, just like the Hanuman scene, but it didn't seem all that bad to me. I felt most of those things were actually tongue-in-cheek references to the epic rather than trying to force some direct references to remind people that it is Ramayana after all. Surely, it seemed to bother me to during the first watch, but something changed the second time round. And it wasn't just that I already knew that they were there. (Now what follows in this paragraph is full of big SPOILERS, so please don't read it if you  havent seen the movie... ) I think that by the time this movie ended, it seemed pretty clear to me that Raavan is not a typical anti-hero here. There is nothing that they show Raavan doing which would make you think that he is the bad guy (well, almost nothing) and there is nothing that Dev does that might make him a hero. You sort of go in with those expectations because you know your Ramayana, and because Ratnam seems to confirm those assumptions by making Dev a cop and Raavan an outlaw. But, really, this is a movie where Dev really is the villain and Raavan is the hero. Seeing the movie again from this perspective actually made things much better, including the fact that I now wasn't thinking that I am watching an "adaptation of Ramayan", but more like a normal hero-villain story with some tongue-in-cheek story and character references to Ramayan thrown in. While Hanuman jumping around in the trees and the 14 days/14hours/14 min thing are direct references, almost every other reference is actually twisted around to make them interesting, rather than boring. The polygraph test reference that just seems horribly forced the first time around actually seems rather clever way of using audience expectations to hide what the real meaning of the scene is. Every other time when one sees the Ramayan parallel, Ratnam twists your expectations to make things unpredictable. Hanuman goes to meet Sita and gets caught? Next must be him giving them a slip by something like "burning the Lanka"? Nope... Ram finds an injured Jatayu on the way? He'll tend to him.. be nice to him? Nope... Vibhishan goes to meet Ram? He'll probably join them or help them in any way? Nope... Ram, the villain of this story, is never more villainous as in that scene.. Even the Surpanakha's nose thing was put in quite convincingly with her mocking the cops by saying "police ke kutte" and sniffing pointedly... 

So... so many good things and bad things.. where does the balance lie? I think probably towards negatives. Raja Sen, at the end of his review, says something that I agree with.. "Raavan's deadliest sin, however, isn't in the clumsy dialogue, hammy acting or lame, oversimplified adaptation. All of that can be forgiven if the tale engages us". And that is very true. For all of the good things going on, I really was just sitting there are watching things quite passively. If only the Raavan-Ragini-Dev trio could generate in me any sort of emotion at all, this would've been a pretty good movie. But they didn't, so it isn't. I've heard good things about Raavanan, so I'm looking forward to it. But this one will be added to the list of disappointments. What else can a movie like this be, coming from the people who made Iruvar?? Does that make it a bad movie? Nope. Not even close. There are quite a few redeeming features that are way better than most other one-tone banal movies around. 

I haven't seen "Robin Hood", so that part excepted, my feelings about Raavan are exactly what Richard Corliss says at the end of his review in TimeAs a showcase for some of Indian cinema's most renowned talents, Raavan has to be considered a disappointment. But as a big summer epic about a forest bandit, hey — it's better than the Russell Crowe Robin Hood. And, thanks to A.R. Rahman's infectious songs, this one you can dance to.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Two down, one to go...

Summer, to me, meant three movies. Two of them released on the same day and, in a flash, 2/3rd of the summer is over. Verdict? Mixed, so far... Read on...

Toy Story 3 (and Day & Night) :


Out of the three movies, this one I was least excited about. I know I shouldn't have been. It is Pixar, after all. Still, a part of me was never quite convinced that Pixar could do what Godfather and Star Wars couldn't - come back after decade(s) to make a worthy sequel. Specially, because this TS3 seemed to be a consequence of Disney taking over Pixar. One could never be sure of what direction things will be going. Is is just Disney forcing Pixar into their usual 'make box-office-hay while the sequel-sun shines' model or did the Pixar wizards REALLY have something Pixar-worthy to offer? After all, the other sequel in the pipeline is Cars 2!!! What other reason can they have to go back and make a sequel to the only Pixar movie that seems to be less than adored by everyone other than model-car loving toddlers and the merchandizing-loving Disney execs. If that is not a Disney finance-driven decision, I don't know what is. And yet, isn't this exactly what I had thought when Miramax had announced that "Quentin Tarantino's Fourth Film Kill Bill" was actually going to be "Quentin Tarantino's New Films Kill Bill Vol 1 & Vol 2". We were all cynical about it and chuckled when Quentin said "it really makes complete sense. This is a creative decision." Turned out, they were right all along. How can anyone even imagine combining KB1 and KB2 now? We learned that there are some things we should take on faith. When QT says something, listen. And if there is one thing you can have full faith in, it is that Pixar never fails. It just does not. Nope. Not possible. Having said that I am still apprehensive about Cars 2, but if TS3 is anything to go by, I need not be.

One of the reasons I was apprehensive about TS3 was that I have never really been as much a fan of the Toy Story movies as almost every other Pixar movie (other than Cars, and perhaps A Bug's Life). And I have never really understood why that is so. Every time I see TS or TS2, I end up thinking "hmm.. this was really entertaining.. why do I not seem to love this as much as the others"? I think the reason is that as good as they are, they are still probably the closest Pixar comes to making a Dreamworks' like movie. You know, an action/adventure/comedy movie targeted mainly to kids that seems to be full of pop culture references a la Shrek. The problem with that is that as great as you might make it, you can perhaps give me full paisa-vasool entertainment for my money, but you are never really going to touch the greatness reached by things like the "Carl and Ellie's life together" sequence in Up or the entire cute, touching, astounding first hour of WALL-E.. or the scarcely believable decision to make "critique of critics" sequence the climax of Ratatouille. Now, THAT is what Pixar can do. To me, the least impressive parts of Pixar movies are those fast paced action/adventure parts that they do as well as anyone else, but doesn't make them stand out in any manner. The "run from the pack of dogs" sequence in Up, the "malfunctioning robots spreading chaos in Axiom" in WALL-E.. the "chase among the thousand doors" in Monsters Inc.. the climactic battle in The Incredibles, etc. And Toy Story movies, as well as they are made, seem to always leave the impression in my mind that they are almost entirely full of just these sequences. And I find that I am wrong every time I see them again. Perhaps the other things aren't as memorable in them as in other movies. Anyway, the bottomline is, Pixar has made another Toy Story movie and it has done it as well as the first two.. maybe even better. This one is, again, just a REALLY well made and entertaining action/adventure/fun movie for about 70% of its length but it ends on a note that makes it entirely worthy of those other great Pixar movies. For about 70% of its length it seems another great Toy Story movie (and that itself isn't something easy to do... how many movies do we know where the essential charm doesn't completely vanish after the first sequel?), but what they do with the last 15-20 minutes took my breath away. And I came out of the theater entirely satisfied, and appropriately ashamed of my lack of faith in Pixar.

This isn't a review. It wasn't meant to be. It doesn't have to be. After all, all of you are going to see it anyway, aren't you? :) Rest assured that if you liked the first two, there is absolutely no way that you aren't going to love this one too.

Oh... and there is also the small matter of catching one of their cutest short films. Day & Night is as good as most other Pixar shorts (which makes it a masterpiece :P). Go, watch NOW!

Coming up next... How Mani made a disconcerting movie that seemed bad enough for me not to recommend it to others and yet intriguing enough for me to want to go and see it again....

Thursday, May 27, 2010

My favorite optical illusions

A post on the other blog inspired me to post some of my favorite optical illusions. Here...

1) Same Color Illusion.

copyright: Edward H Adelson and web.mit.edu


Look at the image above. Which of the squares A and B do you think is the darker shade of gray? A? Well, as it turns out in every such optical illusion, the answer is - None. They are the same shade. Exactly the same shade. :) The brain interprets the intensity based on the context. Ever wondered why sunspots are dark? As in, it's not as if those regions aren't bright and hot  themselves, so why do they appear dark? It's because they are embedded in much hotter and brighter regions of the Sun. This is exactly what is happening here. A seems darker because it has light squares around it. B seems light because it is surrounded by dark squares. I feel that the strength of this particular image is in the fuzzy boundary of the cylinder's shadow.  This means that B's shade merges into the light square's shade seamlessly fooling the brain into expecting that B must actually be the same shade as the light squares, only that they are slightly darker due to the shadow. But same as A? No way! well, it is. :) Perhaps the image below will help in visualizing it.
copyright: Edward H. Adelson and web.mit.edu

2) Blue or Green?

Copyright Akiyoshi Kitaoka 

You know what's coming. But you can't believe it, can you? The spirals that are clearly blue and green are actually neither blue nor green, but a combination (RGB=0,255,150). i.e. they are EXACTLY the same color. unbelievable? I know. This one actually makes one forget the first illusion entirely. I mean, it was difficult to believe that one, but surely this is simply impossible? Well, copy it to paint/photoshop and see the RGB values. Or, just crop some pixels from the blue and green spirals without their pink/orange context and juxtapose them. Or, if you don't really have to do it yourself to believe it, just head on to this article at the badastronomy blog and see for yourself. This really is stunning.

3) Ok, this one is fun. Look at  this one. Which direction is the (apparently nude, but I digress... ) spinning? Clockwise? Counter-clockwise?


No idea about copyright, but I found it here. Anyway, once you know your initial answer, look again. Perhaps looking at the shadow of the feet will do it the first time. The spinning direction flips instantly! It is actually much easier to flip the interpretation in your mind after you succeed in seeing it once. I can do it within 5-10 seconds now, and yet it is such a rush everytime it happens! :) Specially when I focus on her face. Suddenly the hair jumps from front to the back. :) I think this is essentially the same thing as flipping the 3-D interpretation of the Necker Cube in your mind. But, somehow this spinning girl makes it much more fun! :)

4) And now, the killer. Hollow mask illusion. I don't need to say anything as they say it all in the video.



Incredible, no? I have always wanted to have one of these masks at home. Specially this next one, with einstein. But it is definitely not worth 60 dollars....



Do you have any favorite illusions? Do share in comments.

Kata Kata

New trailer for Raavan. This is actually surprisingly good. Surprisingly, because I was apprehensive about this song picturization.I was thinking something on the lines of "Ek lo ek muft", but this is actually pretty well done.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cannes via Ebert


Roger Ebert has been tweeting (and blogging) from Cannes, and I'm reading every word that he types, trying to fool myself into thinking that I am at Cannes myself. :) This post (and hopefully some other upcoming ones) is to suggest everyone else who might be interested and lukkha enough that following Ebert might be a pretty good way of keeping an eye on Cannes.

For those, who are interested but not lukkha, this post and others in the series will point to whatever I find interesting. If I am able to pique your curiosity about any particular movie etc, you can always head on to Ebert's blog later.

So far he has talked about a possible animated movie nomination for next year's oscar, a french movie by the maker of "The Triplets of Belleville" called The Illusionist; an english movie with a rather intriguing concept directed by Hideo Nakata, the director of "The Ring", called Chatroom; the "Wall Street" sequel by Oliver Stone, called Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps; and a korean movie called The Housemaid.

Out of these The Housemaid seemed pretty interesting to me. Ebert mentions that some people are already speculating that it might be a frontrunner for Palme d'Or, though it is still quite early in the festival. Ebert's synopsis -
It takes place almost entirely within the huge modern house of a very rich man, and centers on the young woman he has hired as a nanny. It involves the man, his wife, his daughter, the older woman who runs his household, and the mothers of the wife and the nanny.
This is a house where living is an expensive form of art. The couple are smooth, calm, sophisticated. They value themselves very highly. The nanny forms a bind with their 7-year-old daughter, and assists the wife during a pregnancy with twins. More than that I choose not to specify.
But look at the mastery of the film's construction. The nuanced performances. The implacable deliberation of the plot. The way the house acts as a hothouse to force the growth of anger. And the film's unforgiving portrait of people damaged by great wealth. This is a thriller about the ideas people have of themselves.
The trailer is pretty exciting too. Thrilling, as the movie promises to be, with some pretty good music and interesting look.



This is another South Korean movie that seems exciting, after Mother that released earlier in the year and is one of the best movies that I have seen in 2010 so far. Hmmm... I should write about Mother one of these days...

Excitement++

whoa!!! Nolan!!!

I started the summer with Inception and Raavan being my top 2 most anticipated movies. But with Raavan trailers decreasing my excitement a little, and with this trailer being so exciting, Inception is now officially the most anticipated movie of the summer for me.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Smiling lips and singing hearts

I recently finished reading "Musicophilia" by Oliver Sacks, and I thought that a condition mentioned in one of the chapters is worth posting about here. It is called "Williams Syndrome".

In WS, certain anatomical features are underdeveloped or faulty. This includes certain facial features (you'll see them having unusually wide-eyed expressions), certain heart and artery muscles etc. More importantly, perhaps, specific parts of the brain are highly underdeveloped, while others are either overdeveloped or at least unusually dominate because the others parts aren't developed properly. The parts that are underdeveloped are the ones that have an important role in numerical/logical thinking and spatial sense. The parts that are often overdeveloped or seem to dominate are the ones that have roles in linguistic skills, social skills and apparently emotional impact of music (thats where "musicophilia" comes in).

So, people with WS are highly gregarious... extremely friendly and social with everyone.. they almost completely lack any social inhibitions, so that they seem to be completely comfortable in the presence of almost anyone, regardless of whether they are familiar with them. Moreover, they actually seem to enjoy such interactions and seem to be unusually clued-in to the emotional cues in other peoples behavior/facial expressions etc.

Their linguistic skills are almost always highly developed, making them highly articulate. This, along with their friendly/social nature means that you'll always find them having long, extended conversations with almost anyone. On the other hand, they find it extremely difficult to do even the most simple math problems. You could be talking on phone with someone who has WS and probably won't realize that anything is unusual (other than the person being unusually charming and friendly) until you ask him/her to tell you what 3+5 is. Chances are, they'll fumble through the problem and will probably only guess an answer, which will probably be wrong anyway. Lack of a normally developed spatial sense means that they find it hard to work with even simple geometric shapes (like the toys that toddlers play with) and can hardly draw even simple things like a triangle or a circle. In short, as Sacks says, they are almost anti-autistic in their characteristics.

Sacks talks about some people having WS that he has met. There are really interesting stories here. e.g. when one little girl's mom told her not to talk to strangers, she replied with "but there are no strangers, there are only friends"

Another girl he met (she was about 7-8 years of age) was so clued in to other people's facial features and was so completely uninhibited in front of strangers that she surprised him by sensing his slight diffidence and said promptly something like  "don't be shy! I'll make some muffins for you". This, from a girl, who had never met Sacks before. Sacks had gone to her home to see her and was probably only about as inhibited as any of us would be when we go to someone's house for the first time (Well, some of us are probably more inhibited than others... my diffidence would probably be easy to sense for almost anyone. :P )

Anyway, so she went ahead and got some muffins for him. In some time, Sacks asked her (perhaps after covering the plate, though I am not sure) to guess how many muffins there were in the plate. She guessed, with some effort, "3". Then he asked her to go ahead and count them. She tried and counted them one by one and came up with 8. There were actually 13.

Another girl, a 15 year old, had an IQ of 49 - quite typical of people with WS. So, her average mental level was of around a 7-8 year old kid i.e. about a student of 2nd standard. But that doesn't mean, as I said before, that you'd be able to tell that by just talking to her. It's not as if they seem "retarted" in any sense. math/logic/spatial sense don't work properly, but they are exceptional in linguistics. They are highly articulate, which makes things difficult when they are in new company (difficult for them, sure, but also difficult for these new people). After all, none of us expect someone to be that articulate, YET having mental problems

Take this 15 year old girl with IQ 49. They asked her to tell them about what an elephant is. And her response, quoted below, is amazing in its detail. It is almost as if she is telling a story rather than answering a simple question :

"And what an elephant is, it is one of the animals. And what the elephant does, it lives in the jungle. It can also live in the zoo. And what it has, it has long gray ears, fan ears, ears that can blow in the wind. It has a long trunk that can pick up grass, or pick up hay… If they are in a bad mood it can be terrible…If the elephant gets mad it could stomp; it could charge. Sometimes elephants can charge. They have big long tusks. They can damage a car… It could be dangerous. When they're in a pinch, when they're in a bad mood it can be terrible. You don't want an elephant as a pet. You want a cat or a dog or a bird…"

So, to put it mildly, she knows something about what an elephant is. The amazing part is, after this, when they asked her to draw an elephant, this is what she drew -

copyright: Ursula Bellugi, the Salk Institute

(The labels were put by someone else to help others see what she might've been trying to make. She only made the figure.) Clearly, she knows about the fan like ears and tusks etc, but she can't draw any of those details at all.

The connection with music is pretty interesting actually.. all of them are strongly sensitive and emotionally attached to music. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that all of them are very good at playing music or singing (though a lot of them are). This is, as Sacks points out, quite unlike musical savants. Musical savants are almost finished articles. They will dazzle the whole world by their exceptional musical talents, yet, they might not necessarily derive as much pleasure out of music as a normal person around them. WS patients, however, invariably feel very strongly towards music.

This strong emotional connection to music, in combination with their completely uninhibited nature means that you'll find them merrily singing or whistling or playing music or swaying to music a lot of times. if you are walking on the road and they suddenly hear you even humming something they'll just smile broadly and will likely start singing along with joy. Some parents/guardians of a lot of WS patients decided to get a lot of together for a camp. Sacks describes what he saw at one of these camps and it sounds amazing. 15-20 people with WS - most, but not all, very young - sit together and talk to each other as if everyone is part of a close family. Talk about everything under the sun. And then, suddenly, someone starts humming and everyone joins in.. Some play their instruments, while others jump in and harmonize. Some just let their bodies follow the rhythm. I'd say that it is pretty sad to know about this, but it's really difficult to feel that way after reading about their joy in these camps or, indeed, their connection to music.

Kelly and O'Connor

My friends on the other blog were posting some classic english song videos. So I decided to post the one old classic song I always think of when I think of old classic songs.. :) presenting... Gene Kelly.. Singin' in the Rain.


Gene Kelly - I'm Singing in the Rain
Uploaded by goldrausch. - See the latest featured music videos.

And while looking for that I ran into another amazing video from this movie. What physical talent, this O'Connor!! see this if you haven't seen the movie (starting from about 2 min, I think, if you don't have those extra 2 min to spare).


Singin In The Rain Donald O'connor Lyrics, Make Em Laugh
Uploaded by musical-films. - Click for more funny videos.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Raavan Day 1 - disappointing

Ok, let me be clear. Disappointing only because this is Mani/Rahman/Gulzar. Disappointing in the same sense as Guru's music was a disappointment. After all, a Mani/Rahman album has no business having "Ek lo ek muft" and "Baazi laga" in it. Then again, every other song except those two were thoroughly deserving of being there. It is somewhat similar with Raavan too. I must say, though, that this is just the first day impressions. Chances are that a week from now I'll be posting "what was I thinking? Raavan! disappointing?"

Anyway, here is a mini-review.. just some thoughts on the songs...

1) Beera Beera : Fabulous song! The shortest song in the album, but carries the maximum punch. They thought of putting an "african" song for a maoist's introduction! well, maybe the "jungle" connection is there. The reason I call it "african" is because if I filter the lyrics and pretend that I am not listening to something in Hindi I can clearly hear something from one of the south african countries. :) The vocals by Mustafa Kutoane add so much to the song. Can't wait to hear this in ARR's voice in Tamil.
9.5/10

2) Behne De : Starts with a background of music that feels just heavenly. And then Karthik starts singing. wow! pretty good soft, slowish romantic song. The only drawback, if you can call it  that, is that it seems to follow pretty much standard ARR soft song script. Makes me think of Bhoola Tujhe .But then that's not a bad thing. Also, I have absolutely no doubt that when I listen to it with more attention, I'll find little instrumental/melodic gems throughout that will be completely uniquely of this song. This IS the sort of song that ARR seems to "polish" a lot to satiate his thirst for innovation.
9.2/10

3) Thok De Killi : This is the "Ek lo ek muft" of this album. perhaps better than that, but still doesn't work for me at all. At least not till now. I noticed some instrumental turns etc that were engaging but overall this is what the cliche "situational song, will work in the movie" is used for. The song talks about this group (maoists) talking about "Dilli" thinking them as "pichhda huaa" etc. I don't see how something like this will work in the form of a song. Then again, perhaps a better song would've made it work. After all, "Chale Chalo" is such an anachronism for the time in which it is set in, yet it works beautifully because it is such a great song. This is just disappointing. I don't see it improving even in Tamil, but I hope it surprises me.
5.5/10

4) Ranjha Ranjha : Do I like this so much because it comes right after Thok De Killi? :) I don't know why, but I find it really seductive. Not that it is terribly original, just like Behne De. Reminds me of Taal's songs. Something in between "Ramta jogi" and "Kahin aag lage". And from recent songs, very reminiscent of Blue's "Yaar mila tha". It has something to do with the structure (female and male voices alternating... conversing in the song), but it's not just. There is something to do with the way rhythm seems just that bit off-expected lines and the way words seem to seem to follow the contours of the rhythm. Needless to say, Rekha Bhardwaj gives the song her own unique flavor. And it is always a pleasure to hear Javed Ali's silk-smooth vocals. As for my 'not terribly original' comment, that doesn't apply to the instrumentals going on here. ARR seems to be having a lot of fun playing around with things in this song. Then again, even THAT isn't unexpected. He can't help it. :D Good for us, I say! :)
8.8/10

5) Khili Re : Remember what ARR did to Ghazals in Tehzeeb? The singer is singing a perfectly "Ghazalish" Ghazal and ARR just adds modern instruments in the background that seemed so awkward in the first hearing.  It definitely grew on me later and I actually liked what he had tried to do there. I think this is exactly the case here. Try to filter the instruments, and this seems another of his devotional melodious numbers that I have a weakness for. "Man mohana" didn't engage a lot of people but I thought it was really amazing. I could never resist its charm even though it is really such a simple bhajan. That is also true for "O paalanhaare". Trouble is, the instruments are doing something completely different here. This is ARR's Tehzeeb moment in this album, though much more subtle than that album. What  that does is it makes the song seem ok, but there seems something awkward about it, something amiss. That's why what I think as of now is that it is 'sweet, but  not nice enough'. However, I think there is a very good chance that this one is going to grow on me later. As of right now, the rating is..
7.9/10

6) Kata Kata : The start is absolutely wow! It is almost as catchy as Beera Beera! I have caught myself singing the first line of this song almost as much as Beera Beera since I heard the samples for the first time 3-4 days ago. But then, it sort of derails. And I suspect it has a lot to do with the lyrics here. Not the meaning of the words, per se, but the flow. Something tells me that this one was composed with Tamil lyrics first and they just couldn't do a good enough job of writing lyrics in Hindi that'd have gelled well with the flow of the song. If that's the case, this will gain a lot from a hearing in Tamil. in any case, i have noticed that I don't particularly care for hindi songs with "aunty ji chorus" :D Basically all the wedding type songs where some women are teasing the bride/groom. There is something about it that I don't like. But this only happens in hindi. I can think of a lot of tamil songs that haven't been dubbed in hindi which have similar chorus but I don't mind that at all. I am really hopeful that this song will gain a lot in its Tamil version. Like I said, overall, the rhythm is really, really good/catchy. It might catch on with junta. then again, it seems that this will be picturized like Ek lo ek muft, with the whole village dancing around (Mani seems to like this a lot). I don't see that being particularly junta-entrancing. Hopefully I'm wrong.
7.7/10

So, that's the first-day impressions. The reason i said it is disappointing is because one of the songs is just a complete let-down and two others are, as of now, not Mani/Rahman level. While the other three are really good, I think the sum of Barso re megha, Tere Bina, Ae Hairate, Jaage Hain and Mayya Mayya has to be higher than these. AND Guru wasn't even close to being one of ARR/Mani's best albums. So....

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tamil ARR songs for a non-Tamil.

A friend of GG asked her to get me to send her some Tamil songs that she might like. She hasn't heard many Tamil songs before and GG tells me that she tends to like Slow/Soothing/melodious kind of songs in general (not that she doesn't like any fast paced ones.. just  that if I have to make a small list, I'd do well to choose slowish songs).

So, I spent half an hour browsing through my ARR tamil albums and making a list of about 25 songs. That sounded too many, specially for someone who might not have heard many songs in a language she doesn't understand. So, Pesc suggested pruning it down to about 10, and sending the list in a mail with some comments about them. I had to take some gems out because of various reasons. I didn't wish to include any song that has already been dubbed in Hindi as there'd be a high chance she'd already have heard them. (Still, one of them is in the list... ). Also, there are some songs that I find it difficult to decide whether the movie/picturization etc add a lot to my love for them. If I suspected that, I struck them out too.

So, here are the 10.... well, 11 actually, since I added one right at the end probably because my media player decided to play that one right when i was about to send the mail and I just could not get myself to ignore it!! :) The resulting mail follows..

Nice... Soft.. Soothing... Melodious...  
well.. almost all.. some of these are fast/non-soothing. But ab list mein daal diya to daal diya.. :P

So, here is the list, roughly in the decreasing order of priority.. i.e. listen to the top one first.

1) Vellai Pookal from Kannathil Mutthamittal: very soothing. Awesome song from a great movie. one of the best songs sung by ARR himself, and that's saying a LOT. 
2) New York from Jillonu Oru Kaadhal: very melodious. "All time favorite Rahman song" of my roommate. Again, ARR keeps an awesome song with his own voice. :)
3) Elay from Sakkarakatti: not slow/soft/soothing. reasonably fast, but great fun.
4) Ithuthan Kadhal Inbada (female) from Pudhiya Mugham: you might have heard this already in hindi. But even if you have, well worth a revisit in its original form. A beeyouuuutiful song.
5) Ennuyir Thozhiye from Kangalal Kaithu Sei: absolutely heavenly piano in the interludes. That part itself makes this a great song.
6) Sonnalum from Kaadhal Virus: I think I especially like songs with slight Carnatic classical touch. and ARR obliges with a lot of melodious songs that have just that tiny classical touch to them yet seem so far away from classical finally. And the chorus here is to die for.
7) Enna Solla Pogirai from Kandukondain Kandukondain: Not slow/soothing but one of the most popular songs from one of his greatest albums. Shankar Mahadevan got a national award for singing this song. I could've blindly chosen almost any song from this album actually. went for the most catchy/popular.
8) Udhaya Udhaya from Udhaya: In many aspects it is like Sonnalum. a soft soothing duet.
9) En Veetu Thotatil from Gentleman: They lifted 3 songs from Gentleman without crediting Rahman, and left this gem. Perhaps because they thought it has too much of a "southie touch". They didn't know, of course, that soon that "southie touch" will take the nation by storm in Bombay/Hum Se Hai Muqabla etc... :)
10) Evano Oruvan from Alaipayuthey: Alaipayuthey was remade into Saathiya and they kept all the songs except two. One of them is this. I was aghast when I heard that they have composed a new song for this situation because, again, this is too "southie". Didn't mind in the end, because that new song was "Mera Yaar Mila De... Banjar hai sab banjar hai... ". Doesn't hurt to get another good new song, does it? :) But this one is definitely as good, if not slightly better. the female voice just melts me.. and the flute!! wow!!
11) Theekuruvil from Kangalal Kaithu Sei: Bonus song. not slow. not soothing at all. very fast actually. and perhaps a little difficult to like initially. But just keep an ear for the female singer's vocal acrobatics. What singing!!! very fun song, but really, it's the singer that makes this a must-listen. 

I can see that I have written more about the songs that are actually lower in the list. :) Doesn't mean that the top ones weren't worth talking about. Just that I got into the flow of discussing in depth later in the list. :) sorry.

By the way, standard conditions apply. You are not allowed to hear any of these songs unless you are able (i.e. have the time) and willing (i.e. have the enthu) to give it 3 hearings. continuously. i.e. hear 1, then again hear 1, then AGAIN hear 1, before moving on to 2. Take as much time as you need before this condition can be met, but don't break it. Please. 

And, no laptop speakers, of course. not even external speakers. good earphones/headphones are a must. :D

The youtube links are posted below, if anyone is interested but too lazy to find them him/herself. :)
















Close your eyes for this next one. that is probably a good idea for all of these if you just want to enjoy the song without being distracted (positively, or negatively) by the video, but this one is actually not even the real video of the song. Someone took a song video of Anniyan and added the ARR song with it!



















Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Raavan Tracklist is here... Yay!!!!

Yay!!!! :) Though I wish this is incomplete. I want more songs!!!! :( Though, perhaps it is expected, I think most recent Mani movies have only 5-6 tracks, except Alaipayuthey/Saathiya. Still, hoping for some more tracks, if only instrumental themes.

Here is the list as given on bollywoodhungama.com

Behene De - Karthik
Beera Beera - Vijay Prakash
Kata Kata - Ila Arun, Sapna Awasthi & Kunal Ganjawala
Khilli Re - Reena Bhardwaj
Ranjha Ranjha - Rekha Bhardwaj & Javed Ali
Thok De Killi - Sukhwinder Singh

Hmmm... Reena AND Rekha Bhardwaj. Rekha is Palash and Vasudha's "Rekha bhabhi" of course (they consider Vishal Bhardwaj their spiritual brother). Reena must be the "Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlaata Hai" (Meenaxi) and "Main Vaari Vaari" (1857 - The Rising) woman. 

Sapna "Chhaiyya Chhaiyya" Awasthi AND Ila Arun together!! Has THAT ever happened before? :D

Can never hurt to have Javed Ali sing one. And solos for Karthik and Sukhwinder sound promising too. 

So, people, ARR season is here again. Yay!!!!

PS: just to be clear, the list is out, not the music!! Patience junta, patience! 

Monday, April 12, 2010

(3) movies of summer

Last week, in one of those free moments when I think about movies that I am waiting to watch, I began thinking of, well, the movies that I am waiting to watch. Specifically the movies that come out this summer. More specifically, the BIG movies that come out this summer (i.e., excluding all those smaller, independent/foreign language movies that I am more likely to see and like than most summer blockbusters). There are some like Iron Man-2, Robin Hood, Shrek- Forever After, Despicable Me etc that might turn out to be good, but I'm not really anticipating them nearly as much as the three listed below.

Toy Story - 3: Pixar. Probably no need to say more. :) Still, for some reason I'm not nearly as excited about this as I have been for every Pixar movie over last decade. Perhaps some part of me thinks that Pixar might compromise with their high standards in order to just continue the franchise. Then again, it's Pixar.. how bad can it be? :)




Raavan: Mani Ratnam. He hasn't really touched his erstwhile heights after Kannathil Mutthamittal, but Yuva/Ayitha Ezhuthu and Guru definitely had enough Mani moments to make them very good movies nevertheless. And, if nothing else, the music can't be anything less than phenomenal, can it? :)

No trailers yet. I heard that the first look promo will release this week (and the music within 2 weeks from now). If so, you'll find it here as soon as possible. :D



Inception: "What's the most resilient parasite? An idea". Christopher Nolan. two of his movies were part of my top 10 of the last decade. and Memento made it to the "just missed the top 10" list. His last movie is perhaps one of my all time favorites. The fact that it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page and Michael Caine is merely delicious icing on what is without doubt a Christopher Nolan cake. Can't Wait!




PS: the title of this post refers to this, in case someone was wondering.