The good part of a rainy summer..

I spent a good part of the last post cursing the unpredictable Rochester weather and the boring summer. But to think on the positive side, there are two advantages of this weather too- Firstly, I am cooking a lot nowadays. Well, that is a good thing because those who know me decently well know that until about a year ago, I couldn’t make anything except tea, coffee and fried egg. Because I was coming to the US and had to live here with strangers, my mom forcefully taught me to cook a few simple dishes. But I was always like a fish out of water in the kitchen; cooking was always an ordeal! Moving into a house with three guys as roommates and no coursework gave me the time and desire to at least attempt to develop my expertise in the kitchen. And wonder of wonders, I discovered that cooking could be quite enjoyable! And what’s more, I could actually be good at it !! 🙂 Besides, it’s a known fact that there’s no better way to lift your spirits than good food! So the past few days have seen me make pretty successful attempts at Ragda Patties, Gobi Manchurian, Thalipeeth, Indian Chinese, North Indian fare and many other dishes that I otherwise would have stayed 10 feet away from. Of course, it’s not that I cook fancy stuff everyday but now I’ve reached a stage where if I have to rake up a meal for 5-6 people, I at least don’t get all nervous and jittery at the thought of it. And that is definitely something my mom and I are proud of!

I think now is a good time to mention a few people I credit this new-found skill to. Of course, a major source of ideas and recipes is my mom. I think we spend at least 10-15 minutes discussing what I cooked and what she cooked everyday! Apart from that, I also vehemently hunt around for good food blogs nowadays and this has been quite a revelation actually! I cannot believe the number of Indian women settled in various parts of the US who are actively running food blogs. Now these are all young, working, married women who have kids and a husband and maybe even in-laws to look after. And I don’t even know if they earn any sort of revenue from these blogs, apart from probably Adsense. But in spite of that, they regularly write about the food they cooked, add some pretty yummy pictures and conduct events to encourage fellow bloggers to come up with innovative recipes. Quite a strong network they have out there! Of course, you can always tell if the author is someone from the US when she uses cilantro instead of coriander and cayenne pepper instead of red chili powder !! 😉 While I do wish to thank all of them for their contributions, there are some who I am particularly fond of:

1) Naina’s recipes: Naina is actually my neighbor from Pune who has lived in Rochester for seven years and moved to Seattle just a few months ago. She has some pretty innovative recipes. I have yet to try out her authentic Italian fare though.
2) Aayi’s recipes: Now this is one incredible lady. She writes about the most complex stuff as well as the most mundane, every-day recipes. The thing I like best about her is that she cooks a lot of Konkani fare which is pretty simple and easy on the tastebuds too- afterall, who wants heavy, fat-enriched food everyday!
3) Manjula’s Kitchen: I guess most students in the US know about her website. She puts up videos of her recipes and though her website is not very exhaustive, it’s good for some of the North Indian dishes.
4) Hooked On Heat: I love her site mainly for the amazing tempting pictures she puts up! And she also has some very interesting recipes.

Okay, now enough of food stuff !! 😛 The second good thing about having to stay at home because of a rainy Rochester summer is that I get to watch a lot of movies nowadays !! You already know how fond I am of movies, but the funny thing is that until now, I have seen a lot of Hindi films but have somehow missed out on some of the most famous of English movies! And PD is a major fan of all Hollywood flicks. So we invariably end up hunting for movies on IMDB, download them and watch them. Add to that, one of our professors gave us his old TV and we bought an S-Video cable last week, so now we hook up our laptops to the TV too! Imagine what a heavenly combo that is- good food and a good movie !! :):)

The past few weeks of movie-watching have made me realize how much I’ve have missed out on all these years! There are some pretty incredible movies out there, which can haunt you for days on end! And you can always tell if I’ve liked a movie depending on whether I’m awake or not at the end of it! What happens is this- we usually see these movies in the night while having dinner and I am already pretty tired coz of school the whole day. So it is only a really good and gripping movie that manages to keep me awake all through it! 😛 Like I saw Shawshank Redemption (yup, I was seeing it for the first time! :P) till 2 am but it was alllll worth it! That movie is one of the most incredible movies I’ve ever seen. That’s the best thing about Hollywood flicks actually- they don’t glorify the “hero”; he’s not some brilliant chap who set out to do great things. He’s just an ordinary guy who made the most of the cards he was dealt with! And the whole movie is just about capturing his experiences and thoughts- and that’s what make them such extraordinary movies!

Of course, what blows you away is the expertise of the film-makers and technicians- they delve into such intricacies of their film’s characters, it’s almost as if they’re living each of their lives! Like take a movie like Wall-E– the story of this film is so painfully simple but you look at the animation and you actually feel for Wall-E and Eve. You don’t think of them as just cartoon characters. Same goes for Cars– I don’t know about you, but I found the idea of making a delighfully cute film about a racing car lost in a small village where he finds the true meaning of friendship to be pretty innovative. Talking about innovation, I saw Memento today and I have no words for a movie like that! I haven’t seen Ghajini so I’m not going to compare the two. But I do believe that even a master like Aamir Khan would not have been able to capture the true essence of the film. This is probably why Murudagoss had to resort to making the hero seem like a violent, angry guy seeking revenge. Memento is hardly what you can call violent! That is another thing about Hollywood films- everything is so understated in them. Most of the emotions the characters are going through- pain, grief, joy, guilt, pride, jealousy- are either explicit because of the dialogues and screenplay, or are left to the viewer’s imagination. Unfortunately Indian films resort to very strong display of emotions, everything is very in-your-face and that sometimes does little to excite the viewer or make him think. But I guess that has more to do with the way we are- we tend to be more gregarious and loud than the Americans and so this behavior is reflected in our movies too. (Interesting view on it here by my friend Ketaki).

Of course, I don’t love all the movies I see. Like, I saw The Hangover the other day and it is the dumbest, ickiest movie I have ever seen. Why would anyone make a movie like that!?!

So anyway, going by the trend, I’m looking forward to loads of yummy dishes being cooked at home and even better movies being watched.. 🙂 And that sure does make it a wonderful summer! 🙂 Oh and by the way, I saw Harry Potter in the theater last week and it somehow was such a letdown! I think what is happening is- people’s expectations of the movie have risen so far that the directors are finding it hard to live up to it! I was specially expecting a good movie from David Yates, given that he did a fantastic job of the previous movie. But this somehow just didn’t have that magical touch. I can’t pinpoint to exactly what it was, but that awesome feeling you get after watching an HP movie was missing! I honestly hope the last two are brilliant- otherwise it would be a wayyy too disappointing end to the series…


Film Review: Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na

I finally managed to see Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na two days ago and I must say- this is probably the first time my prediction about a movie has gone wrong! When the whole Love Story 2050 vs Jaane Tu battle was on, I’d thought Love Story would do a lot better than Jaane Tu, not because it would be a brilliant film but because it would at least have a great deal of special effects (after all, 50 crores usi pe toh kharch kiye !!) and suitable eye-candy (read: the Baweja boy and his red haired girlfriend!) And from the looks of it (pun totally intended), these things do matter in the success of a film, regardless of the story. (Remember Om Shanti Om!?) And I’d thought Jaane Tu would be a copy of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai with a predictable storyline and weird looking actors (this was before I heard Imran Khan give an interview- smart fella, I must say!)

Anyway, I haven’t been able to muster the courage to watch Love Story yet and Jaane Tu is pretty much a predictable flick, but I love the way Abbas Tyrewala has managed to stay away from a lot of the cliches surrounding the “best friends falling in love” stereotype. His background as a scriptwriter definitely show in the dialogues. I specially loved the Bottoms-up-Coke and the whole Rathod from Ranjaur angle. This is probably the only film of Sohail Khan I’ve found tolerable!

I’m not going to go into a detailed film review coz there are obviously a lot of those doing the rounds. It’s the story of a boy and girl who are best friends and are also secretly in love. Only catch- the whole world knows this except them! So basically the whole story revolves around how they find this out. One thing I don’t get though- why do all girl-best-friends of guys have to be tomboys?! Is that coz a girly girl would be too attractive for a guy to be just friends with?! Also, why does a tomboy girl have to become a girly girl when she gets a boyfriend!? Like start wearing dresses and straighten the hair and all that jazz! (I take personal offence to the latter! ;-)) C’mon, guys aren’t that shallow na!? Or are you!?

I liked the fact that none of the male characters were templates of those typisch stud-boys waiting to bash up the next person! Neither were the gals the crying-at-the-drop-of-a-hat variety! But again- since they’ve shown Aditi to be the kinda gal who doesn’t think twice before slapping or swearing at a guy, then why doesn’t she do the same to that dumbass boyfriend of hers when he slaps her!? After all, he’s the philandering one! Or is that asking for too much from a pretty lass in a Bollywood film!?

Loved the airport sequence- very very Bollywood, but still manages to make you smile. And thank God they made Jai sing the Jaane Tu.. wala song himself- bad vocals notwithstanding. It’s small things like these which make Jaane Tu a lot better than other films of its genre. Also liked the whole Boms-Rotlu thing. It’s heartening to see that finally film makers are opening up to the idea of a partly balding, weepy, (albeit sweet) collegian falling in love with a (cute?) gal, without making a joke of it. Love seldom is of the knight-in-shining-armour variety na!

Brilliant supporting cast which actually contributes to the storyline. Ratna Pathak Shah, Naseeruddin Shah and Paresh Rawal are mind blowing as expected. Their characters have been etched out beautifully. I loved Meghna’s character the best, but I’m going to reserve my thoughts on that for a later post.

And the whole boy-and-girl-can-never-be-just-friends bit?! The less I say on this, the better. Somehow the first thing that comes to my mind whenever I think of this topic is an evergreen dialogue from Maine Pyaar Kiya said by a raging Mohnish Behl to Mr. Khan. It goes thus-

Prem…ek ladka aur ladki kabhi dost nahi ho sakte! Yeh toh ek natak hai…natak! Dhadakte hue dilon ki bhadakti hui aag ko chupane ka…bujhane ka…!!

Not that I subscribe to the view, of course! Best friends falling in love is probably the most common and convenient of all reel love stories, but it definitely doesn’t have to be the case every time in real life!

Film Review: U, Me Aur Hum

I have a great deal of respect for first time film directors. So I make it a point to definitely watch their films (in the theatre) in the first week itself. And of course, when the film is made by someone like Ajay Devgan, the anticipation is even more, and justifiably so!

But unfortunately, the film- though strong in its conception- didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I expected the film to have a tried and tested template- you know- boy meets girl, something goes wrong, but they get back together, marry, again something terrible happens but they tide over it and well…live happily ever after! This fact in itself was surprising, considering romance isn’t exactly what Ajay Devgan is known for, in the film industry. But though the start is pretty typical (especially the title montage with love quotes amidst white clouds!), the story takes on a brilliant turn after the initial mush is done with. Surprisingly, the brilliant Kajol and Ajay Devgan pairing doesn’t quite make the mark this time. Their earlier films together- who can forget the frothy Pyaar to hona hi tha and the sensitive Dil kya kare- had a freshness and genuineness to them that made them stand out. But somehow, the whole part where Dr. Ajay, a psychiatrist meeting Piya, a waitress on a cruiseline, falling in love with her “at first sight” (phew!) and trying to charm his way to her heart, comes out a tad too artificial. The sequences are cliched (salsa and liqueur chocolates…..really!?) and Kajol and Ajay look too comfortable with each other to seem like first-time lovers! This is probably why the first half doesn’t make an impact!

The story does pick up a lot in the second lot- that’s when you actually have a “story” to the film actually! The whole Alzheimer’s issue and what each of the characters go through while dealing with it has been brought out brilliantly! That’s the sort of stuff you expect from a veteran actor, who’s done more than his share of meaningful cinema. There’s limited yelling, screaming and depression and the film does progress through all of that to successfully bring out its point- that is to convey the true meaning of togetherness and commitment. But again, one thing I didn’t like about this part is the supremely detailed visuals. I distinctly remember this scene where it’s raining and Kajol loses her way home and can’t remember her address etc. There’s this part where the camera focuses on the raindrop falling off her eyelashes as she blinks! And there’s this other part where we have orange brain cells trying to transmit some information and slowly turning a dull grey (obviously decaying coz of the disease) I mean, what is that about?! The way I see it- if you have a complicated and layered storyline, keep the visuals simple so that it doesn’t get too garish on screen! Remember TZP?! Special effects are used to add charm to otherwise cocky stories- like in Dhoom 2 !!

One thing I really liked about the movie though- are the supporting characters. Brilliant performances by Sumeet Raghavan and Divya Dutta- as expected, of course. Isha Shervani and Karan Khanna don’t do much, except add a few laughs here and there! What’s different in this film is that the supporting characters don’t waltz in every 15 minutes just to sing-n-dance or drink vodkas! They actually “support” the main characters- like extended family. And since there are no sasu-mas and pitajis in this film, these friends provide the love, support and encouragement to the main couple when the need arises. This is the kind of importance not given very often to the supporting star cast. As a director, Ajay Devgan has really scored brownie points here!

Songs are nice, nothing that lingers on in our minds! All in all, it’s a film worth a watch- at least for its second half. I think after this film, no one will be questioning Ajay Devgan’s competence in handling love stories. But one suggestion- maybe everyone in Bollywood should steer clear of the “love at first sight” concept yaar. It was great when Yash Raj Films did it but it’s become a bit too commonplace now and well, everyone knows that doesn’t work! 😉

(Read an awesome review of the film here)

TRRP and Sports movies…

One fine day, a pit-stop tire changer speeds along the roads of Manhattan in a taxi, coz he’s late for an appointment; in the process, he’s discovered by the team manager of a failing racing team, goes through some stupid selection and next thing you know, he’s a professional racer! Two days later, he’s won his first race, and subsequently goes on to win 50 titles over the next few years! This is the story of the first one hour of Ta Ra Rum Pum.. Now I didn’t know racing was that easy! No practice sessions, no rigorous training, no planning or talking sport with his teammates- all Mr. Racer dude does is sing and dance on the roads of NY with his lady love, get married and have children…and yes, race on the side! Interestingly he comes to know about the “bump and run” technique used in auto racing, only when he’s 50 laps through his first race; yet he sure becomes No. 1 !! And this is exactly how sports movies in India are made. Now if you are going to spend Rs. 25 crore on those racing sequences (which were really good, by the way), you might as well add a two minute prelude showing the guy practice a few laps, right ?!

See, the logic is simple. The focus of your movie may not be on the sport itself, but if your movie is about a sportsperson, do justice to the sport he plays. So if you have a movie on boxing, show the guy practice his footwork and pump some iron, coz without that, he’s not going to win those matches! Firstly, very few movies on sports are made by Indian filmmakers, and the ones that get made focus more on the iconic status and glamour of the “stars”, conveniently sidetracking the hours of sweat and grime.

I think one of the best Indian sports movies ever made is- Iqbal. (Of course, there was Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar and Bend it like Beckham too; but JJWS was the one of the first movies of this genre I think, and Bend it.. isn’t exactly Indian, so I’m leaving those out) Coming back to Iqbal, the movie’s main focus was on the protagonist overcoming his disability, going against his father’s wishes and fulfilling his dream of becoming a cricketer. But what made the movie stand out was that it didn’t glamorize cricket as a sport (For a change!) It showed the protagonist go through intensive practice sessions, Ranji selections, strategizing, dejections, rejections and lots and lots of hard work. (I specially loved the training using the buffaloes and the chakravyuh concept.) That is what added so much credibility to the movie and the character of Iqbal. No wonder attendance at cricket camps went up after the movie was released.

I don’t know why filmmakers shy away from showing the non-glamorous side of the sporting world. It’s something that everyone knows exists, and it’s rather illogical to show absolute novices become overnight superstars! I hope someone understands that!

By the way, apparently Abhishek Bachchan and Bobby Deol play boxers in some movie called Jhoom Barabar Jhoom or something! Bhagwan hame bachao !!

And while we’re on the subject of movie themes, I think someone should make a movie on doctors too! Yes, people who know me know of my fascination for this profession, but seriously, there’s a lot to experiment with, and no one’s ever made a film on the medical world before… Mr. Madhur Bhandarkar, are you listening?!