Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Dangal: a battle

Aamir Khan has taken such giant strides as an actor that  his stature has become nearly untouchable. To pass judgement on his acting skills has become tougher for the reviewer; and for Aamir too, to keep scaling up from his previous movie as he sets the bar higher with each one of his films.
His one film a year is worth a hundred other releases. Apart from Dhoom, I have gone to watch his every film without a thought. He has done it again with Dangal.
Dangal is a film on sports. It starts with a young Aamir who was once a national wrestling champion but one who has failed to win the gold for his country. Subtle references are made to the uncongenial circumstances in India that do not help foster one's sporting capabilities and then you are forced to take up a job to support yourself financially instead of concentrating on furthering your interest in sports.
Aamir is supported very nicely by Sakshi Tanwar as his wife, who despite her TV acting background, has proved that subtlety is something that a good actor is capable of. Her quiet presence was what the movie needed...of a mother who is caught between her husband's dreams for his daughters and  the demands of a bigoted society in Haryana where the protagonists live.
As it happens in Haryana or maybe any other place in India, Aamir can only think of a son fulfilling his dream for a gold medal. Therefore, when his wife gets pregnant, he eagerly awaits a son. But the first is  a daughter, and the next and next and the next...
He gives up on his dream till one day a complaint against his daughters who had beaten up a few boys from the neighborhood makes him realize that he doesn't need a son to fulfill his dreams. Even the daughters are good. "A wrestler's blood runs in his children," he says.
The two daughters (Fatima and  Sanya) are then trained vigorously to enable them to take up wrestling at the state, national and international levels. Despite this obsession for the fulfillment of his dreams, it is commendable to note that Aamir makes a point never to raise a hand against a girl.
Though Aamir's thrusting his dreams on his children cannot be condoned, yet, for a father to dream of a career for his daughters beyond cooking, marrying and producing children, to go against the societal dictates is something to be highly lauded. He fights with the society and with his own children. The reluctant children  strive to live up to their father's expectation only when a friend who is getting married at fourteen, says she wished for such a father too.
Aamir takes them to dangals, a first time dangal where he has his girls wrestling with the boys. Though sniggered at initially, the wrestlers soon realize what they are up against. The girls eventually become the pride of their father when they return to their village with trophies won in game after game.
The girls are sent to Patiala, a city, for further training to prepare them for the international game. In a few touch-and-go scenes, Aamir shows the dark side of such academia. He continues to support his daughters till Fatima goes on to win the gold.
Aamir has excelled himself as a young wrestler, as a middle aged and an old father. He shows no qualms as an actor, putting on weight, adapting a slow gait, sporting a grizzly beard and acting older to his real age. He doesn't believe in being in every frame as the main lead, and allows the girls to take the center stage whenever necessary. Though this does go to the director, Nitesh Tiwari's, credit you'd seldom find our heroes let other actors hog the limelight.
The movie is based on real life story of Mahavir Singh Phogat who has made sure that all his daughters excel in their game.
Aparshakti Khurrana, (Ayushmann Khurrana's brother) makes an impact as the narrator and the goofy nephew of Aamir Khan. He provides the necessary comic  relief to the otherwise serious narration. 'Bapu sehath ke liye' song adds to the fun. The main leads' attempts to have a son through following various superstitious beliefs also is hilarious! Watch out especially for the line, 'kal subah panch baje..."
The two girls and the nephews' younger selves have done some great work too.
In some places, I felt that the film was holding itself back with a very cautious approach to some plausible provocative issues, given especially the backdrop of the very vocal condemnation of Aamir's statements last year.
The story maybe accused of having a simplistic approach but it doesn't fail in its gripping narration. My reviewer's eye was forgotten as I lost myself in lapping up every scene greedily.
For me the story works for what it stands for...a supporting father who stands against the world to give shape to his daughters' career. This film, coming from Aamir's stable, will surely give hope to all daughters in India.
My rating: 4 and a half on 5.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Toronto: an Indian tourist perspective

A long vacation of two months in Toronto was a revelation in many ways. After the first few days of jet-lag, it was time to go around. Below is what I observed about Toronto. This post may prove useful to a first-time visitor.
The Travel:
In the beginning, the whizzing cars on Toronto roads scared me immensely. But then I realized, as a pedestrian, I was the queen. All I needed was to press the button at the crossing...and the red light would turn green for me. I would scamper across as I saw the timer begin its countdown from 22. I would be delighted to watch the vehicles wait even when the timer showed a 0 and I didn't have to zigzag across the road with my hand held up hoping to make it across the street alive! The pedestrian here is respected.
Despite those scary speeds at which the cars traveled, they would strictly adhere to their lanes. Lane changes are indicated well in advance.
And how much I miss the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission)! The TTC is a combination of subway, the bus and the street car. For a mere $3 we could travel anywhere...however long or short the distance! We traversed the whole of Toronto gleefully at these rates. Multiple ticket options are the Presto card, tokens, weekend and the monthly pass.
The subway consisted of two lines, Line 1 and Line 2, running perpendicular to each other. A big advantage was to have trains running every two minutes and so there was hardly a wait period.
TTC apologizes for any inconvenience caused due to the slightest delay or even when a train does not run at its optimum speed between two stations.The coaches are all air-conditioned and pretty clean, more so those on the newer Line 1.
Ours was Islington, almost the last station on Line 2.

The TTC Subway Map

The subways stations are all equipped with uninterrupted and strong WiFi signals. Not just that, WiFi is abundantly available through the town, almost at every restaurant and tourist destination. As a tourist when one does not have local connectivity, this comes as a blessing!
At the Stores:
When you step inside a store, you are greeted with a loud cheerful 'Hi!' Back home, I am used to browsing the store quietly and then select what I need. This loud cheerful "Hi" threw me initially. Their exuberant greeting would be met by a very meek and shy 'hi' from me. It's another story that hearing this day in and day out, it rubbed off on me so much so that when I returned to India and greeted the bank official in the same style, he was perhaps a bit thrown off and returned the greeting with a very hesitant "Yes, madam?"
This initial greeting would quickly give way to, "What would you like today?" I used to loathe this pressure of getting you to quickly select something and get moving. Eventually I learned to reply firmly, "I am looking and will let you know when I decide." Of course, this was not so at the bigger marts.
Unlike in India, where there is only exchange on items  you are not happy with, here, you get a full cash refund for items returned in 30-90 questions asked. It is so easy!
The mind-boggling array of brand choices in most of these medium-to-large stores is amazing! I took ten minutes just to select one shampoo. So, imagine the time I spent in the stores shopping! There is a wide variety of pharmaceutical products too...huge jars of vitamins and supplements to choose from!
A new experience was the absence of a standard MRP on the products. And as each store has the freedom to charge as they want, we got many a meaty deal. Walmart had select deals on select products on some days but Costco (membership-only) offered products in bulk at the lowest prices in Toronto. For comparatively smaller quantities, the No-Frills store claims to be the cheapest in Toronto.
Though electronic items are available at half prices as compared to India's, what I brought back are all those food items that are available at select shops in India and/or exorbitantly priced.
Every store, big or small, accepts the debit and/or credit card...that is the norm of payment there. We were one of the very few people to buy with currency. There was never an instance of 'chillar nahi hain' repartee. We even got away with paying with a torn note once. Some of these marts had self check-in. You can total and pay on your way out. You don't need a cashier to help you.
Most of these stores are grouped in a cluster in one place and no 'kirana' kind of places that you can quickly run to in case you need something.
The People:
What I found similar to India are its helpful people. Everywhere I went, I found that it was easy to ask a stranger for help with directions.The bus drivers, the TTC personnel were also very helpful in providing directions.
There was checking by the TTC once and I was quite amazed by their approach. They would ask everyone with equal respect and patience, "Please show the ticket proof". Once shown, a wide smile and a "Thank you". They don't make you feel like a criminal but treat you with dignity that a ticket-holder deserves.
I found a new meaning for tolerance in the acceptance of every nation, race and religion in Toronto. In fact, Air Canada had Punjabi and Hindi films on its flight. Brampton in Toronto has its signages in Punjabi!
The concept of space is brilliant here: The physical space includes vast expanses of greenery all around you, in the parks and in marked conservation areas.. Lesser population also meant more space available. Joggers in vast open spaces is a common sight.  The air smells so deliciously clean!
The unwritten rule is to walk on the right-side of your path (footpath, mall, walking area, or stairs) and give way to people coming from the opposite direction. Even the trains travel towards their right. While standing in queues, you are expected to maintain a distance of approximately a foot from the person in front. If by mistake someone bumps into you, there is an instant apology. 
The Public Place:
Most of the public places have a fully-equipped, very, very clean washrooms along with drinking water faucets. The tourist places come with the coats hangers room in the entrance.
All streets have  pavements which dips onto the road at the junctions making it accessible for the wheel chair. Not just the streets but all public places have ramps to enable easy wheel chair access.
The Home:
Most of them are condominium accommodations. The condos and apartments are accessible with a key fob at the entrance and managed by a building management inside it. You are similarly provided a key to the parking. No puny watchman guarding the building here.
The biggest blessing for me was to sleep in a noiseless house. Thick and double-glazed windows  and doors help keep the noise out and let you sleep  in peace. No sounds of cars (no honking anyways) or sounds from the neighborhood disturb you.
Must confess, Toronto has grown on me and I would have stayed on if not driven out by the onset of its harsh winter.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

Ae Dil Hain Mushkil revolves around the hip and happening crowd, the kind that the youth secretly aspire to be a part of. This is established through the movie as one watches affairs, indiscretions, flings, sharing rooms happening in the most casual way.
The movie explores the unexplored (at least in movies) in relationships, and seeks to establish that a girl and a boy can be 'just friends'.
The lead pair Anushka Sharma and Ranbir Kapoor happen to meet in a pub and bond quickly. They soon break up with their respective partners and get friendly with each other. They share a common for Bollywood 80s and 90s songs.This is manifested in the movie through various instances when they sing and dance to songs from old Hindi movies.
What keeps you interested and enraptured is the palpitating energy that the lead pair bring to their performance. You root for them...when they find an echo in each other...when they are comfortable saying everything and anything to one another, when Anushka makes Ranbir realize that he doesn't sing as well as he thinks he does. The movie spends a good hour establishing this bonhomie.
All's well till Ranbir falls for Anushka. Even before Ranbir could find if she reciprocates, we have Anushka's ex  (Fawad Khan) return.
Anushka looks beautiful and so does Ranbir...that is till Fawad appears on the scene...and does he look hot?! After having seen him in a prim and proper role in Khubsoorat, this look as a dapper  DJ was a revelation. He is gorgeous. Unfortunately, due to all the brouhaha over Pak actors and all that, his role seems to have been chopped down.
Fawad's reappearance makes Anushka realize that she still loves him. A heartbroken Ranbir takes solace in the arms of Aishwarys Rai, an Urdu poet in the movie. I have tried my best to understand this casting. Why Aishwarya? The only conclusion I came to, is just because Karan Johar (the director) seeks to break another one of the dictates of the society...that it is okay to go around with an older woman.The expressionless Aishwarya adds nothing to this meaty role. Wish we had someone like Vidya Balan here...the ultimate seductress!
Well, as it has to happen, Anushka and Ranbir return to each other ultimately. The story till now is fine.
But what are termed as tear-jerking moments in the movie etc etc...for me, were so funny! The momentum garnered by a well-put-together movie ended in a rather tepid denouement.
And something that doesn't end well, is just not well!
My rating, a 3/5.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story

Dhoni...never ever thought I'd want to write about him. Especially, as since 2000, I lost all interest in cricket.
As far as movies are concerned, we are just through watching one on cricket, and then watching another biopic (after Milkha Singh, Mary Kom, Azhar)? Yawn, yawn. But wait, don't we have Sushant Singh Rajput in it? Yep, and that evoked my interest. Still, there was a skepticism...will I be able to watch three hours of cricket?
But once I started, there was not a moment I wanted it to stop.
What is the story ? It is about how the real life cricketer, Dhoni, a small town boy makes it big as he fervently clings to his dream of playing for India. Otherwise, the movie doesn't tell you anything that you already don't know about Dhoni, the cricketer. But Sushant Singh plus director Neeraj Pandey have literally pulled off a coup with this one.
The movie  does not boast of a great script and, according to Pandey's own confession, it wasn't easy finding dramatic moments from Dhoni's life. Sushant Singh puts this across in a beautiful manner. His inscrutable expressions don't give away how his mind works...whether it is the disappointment of not getting selected, or joy of getting selected, his love life, his job as a Ticket Collector...he is in great control in the movie as he underplays the portrayal of Dhoni.
What is evident from the very beginning is the single-minded  pursuit of his goal.This certainty determines his behavior and his decisions through every phase of his life, in the process exhibiting an amazing gamut of changes (professional, personal, physical, emotional) right from his High School life to the present. We get to see a man well in control of his life. In a rare moment, one sees him break down during an adversity.
An example of subtle portrayal can be seen when his old time colleague and roommate comes to meet him. He greets him warmly despite the gaping chasm in their economic conditions but then quickly moves on as he realizes that the gap is not just economic but in a growth that reflects a broader outlook of life.
A brief insight into Dhoni's  personal life is provided through (real or fictitious) engagements with two women.The expression of those moments are beautifully captured as a younger Dhoni tries to balance between playing his first set of national matches and his love interest. The second affair sees a more mature and confident Dhoni who has done well in life..
The movie takes us through all ups and downs of his cricketing career, of the many who were catalytic in the achievement of his dreams and how he maintains these relations through life.
The movie, of course, ends with the brilliant World Cup 2011 victory, culminating into all that Dhoni had aspired for.
All along you feel as though you are watching the real much so that you wish that he indeed was the real one. For me this movie works as one that I'd score a 3.5/ 5 but  the hero's performance deserves more than a 10 on 5.
Go watch it. Rarely does one get to watch such performance!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Kensington Market, Toronto

One of the sojourns while here in Toronto was to the Kensington Market.
It is surely one of the most vibrant and diverse places in Toronto. It can be called the 'khau gali' of Toronto but offering much more than just food.
On entering, the Market looks deceptively small. You'd be dismayed by the few options and hoping that there are more inside. And were there more?!
Kensington Market is bounded by Nassau Street, Spadina Avenue, College Street and Dundas Street on its four sides. It abounds with restaurants, eateries and patios offering cuisines of many countries....Moroccan, Tex-Mex, Middle Eastern, Italian, Latin American, Chinese, Indian... and even three vegetarian restaurants! There are many beer & wine shops spread across the Market.
On a leisurely trip, we sauntered along, planning to first assess the market and then decide on what to have. Soon we realized that viewing and remembering the selection was not as easy as we thought. So, we started with a soup in one of the vegetarian eateries. Continuing on our journey, we next had a cheese garlic bread. Priced at $ 3.50, it was a foot long .Warm from the oven, it exuded a heavenly baked taste.

Cheese garlic bread, Kensington Market
After  a 45 minute walk, we went to an Asian eatery where we ordered a salad. The salad, though exorbitantly priced at $11, was a splendid example of how fresh, tasty and crunchy a salad can be. Apart from the many vegetables, it also came with sesame seeds, and the crunch of Ramen noodles.

Asian Salad, Kensington Market

Further on our journey, we discovered an alley that encouraged graffiti. Among the many graffiti on the streets was this one that took our breath away.

Graffiti, Kensington Market

In front of the spectacular wall was this car in which grass and plants were allowed to grow. From what I discovered later, the graffiti on the car is changed every once in a while.

Graffiti, Kensington Market

The meandering walk took us to the adjoining China Town. We entered the street and saw the many Chinese eateries and clothes. Not really in the mood to explore further, we turned back to the Market and walked into a bakery to have churros priced at $1.25. After another 30-minute walk, we entered our last eatery for the day, a gelato shop which offered two scoops for $5. The variety of gelatos and yogurts were amazing.
We walked eagerly into a restaurant named, 'Vegetarian Restaurant' and discovered to our great amusement that their 'vegetarian' concept included the sea food as well! Well, new things to be learned from new places.
For the wine and meat lovers, the  Kensington Market offers mind-blowing options.The market also abounds with the freshest vegetables and fruits that range from the most common to the most unconventional choices.
There were other shops that dealt with clothes, spices, natural products, incenses, tattoos etc.
Towards evening, we viewed a small band of three singing and playing on their instrument, catering to the requests of the audience.

Music, Kensington Market
On Sunday evenings, we were told, that the street remains closed to vehicles and entertaining acts are performed.
Two things I'd suggest: Go with an empty stomach and a full pocket. The place is not inexpensive.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

100 days of Bangalore: and coming home

For someone who never really had an opportunity to stay away from home...EVER, to look for a place away from home and staying there for a prolonged period is a big deal. I was excited about going and staying in a new place and have no regrets about the decision. But the 100-day stay made me long for home like never before.

It was the 24th June and the last day of my project. I spent a sleepless night, so overwhelmed was I with the thought of returning home.My countdown had begun 15 days before.I felt swamped about the incessant rain, the huge volume of luggage, the traffic, the auto fare, the coolie. I didn't want anything to jeopardize my return home.
But then as though destined to, everything went smooth. I got an autowallah who charged as per meter despite the showers and the resultant traffic jam. The coolie I got loaded my luggage into the train at a very reasonable rate, and without haggling. My mood was all set wonderfully for a return home.
A big smile broke across my face when I got down from the train and saw the station name in Telugu. My phone told me that we could finally do away with roaming charges
Stepping into my home and looking at all familiar sights felt awesome!
The first big advantage was that when I opened my suitcases I could take things out or leave them as they are. My home, my wish!
In Bangalore every morning as I left my room, I had to gather all my belongings and lock them up in the cupboard .You just cant afford to leave your laptops, chargers, blankets...anything around as the room key was handed to the cleaning person.I would need to take them all out once I was back  And I had just one plug point to charge the two laptops and the mobile would need to take turns getting the services!
Food is the next big advantage.
1. No more climbing up and down the stairs to access the kitchen.
2. Leaving the vessels in the kitchen sink till I am in the mood of washing.
3. Having all that I need to cook my meals with, in their proper dabbas neatly arranged in the kitchen shelves....including the lighter. Yes, I had to go out to buy a match-box when I realized that a kitchen does not necessarily come with its lighter!
4. The luxury of eating what I wanted to: the flexibility to throw together a few things for a simple meal or make time and space for cooking up an elaborate one.
5. To chuck the leftovers into the fridge without the fear of it getting eaten by someone else.
6. I can cook meals between watching TV and/or working on my laptop.

When I open the taps in the bathroom, the luxury of having hot water gushing through the taps unlike the thin trickle of hot water from an instant geyser whose temperature drops just after filling one bucket!
The luxury of traveling in your own vehicle. When I wanted to have food from nearby restaurants, I would have to walk if time permitted or forced to take an auto during my short lunch breaks. My scooty does wonders for me in attending to the necessary chores in the neighborhood.

The blessing of having a washing machine! I can just dump all my clothes into it and get the task done! I have the lines for drying clothes inside the balconies of my home. When I leave for work, I have no fear of them getting wet. I can bring them in whenever I am free to. There were many instances there when I would put the clothes out to dry and they would be thoroughly drenched by the time I came back.
Though there wasn't really much time, and I dont watch TV much, but I missed the familiarity of having the channels which my home TV had. I missed the comfort of options, whether availed or no..
I like eating out and I realize that it happens because I rarely do so.But when  you eat out three times a day, the heart cries for simple home-cooked food..Hence, if I had any friends/relatives inviting me home, I would accept unabashedly.
Though the accommodation itself was not uncomfortable, yet home is a home. there is an ease of accessibility to all that you need. You set up your home according to your needs and don't have to depend on others. Coming back, I realized that there are so many things that we take for granted and we know their true value only when denied those facilities.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

100 days of Bangalore: the hits and the misses

In continuation of my previous post...

The Hits
Though there were practically just two places for breakfast near my residence, I had plenty of options at Malleshwaram, at distances of 2-3 kilometers. In fact, there were so many options that I did not visit a place more than 2-3 times in  the 100 days of my stay, and eating only once at a non-veg eatery. Most of these are the Udipi kind of places where you have tables to stand at and eat...and at times, just stand and eat.... and pretty decently priced for the quality they offer. I will especially miss all those varieties of awesome dosas there. The neatness and hygiene of all eateries, big and small, was indeed  laudable!
Initially , in summer, I slept with the doors and windows thrown wide open but towards April end, when the rains started, I started sleeping with the doors closed, then, gradually with windows closed, then fans shut off, then covering myself with two blankets and later, just before my return, shivering despite that. The weather was just so delicious!
Despite a much cooler weather when compared to Hyderabad, I found myself getting tanned whenever I stepped out in the sun. The clothes hanged to dry out would all fade quickly. Because of the higher altitude?
But yes, a pretty escape from Hyderabad summer!
Of course, I'd miss walking to office and reaching within 15 minutes of starting from home.
I don't remember, especially after coming to Hyderabad, being surrounded by so many trees. The green landscape all around was such a heartening sight. This, I am told, after being shorn of at least 50% of its green cover.
Most of the main roads I saw were so wide and clean! Of course, the by-lanes  with their potholes are a reminder that I was still very much in India. Few rains and the roads get washed out. And, same like in my city, one drizzle and the traffic would come to a stand still.
The biggest relief was not finding roads splattered with those deep, red paan stains!
Unlike Hyderabad autowallahs, I found the auto drivers there more agreeable to commuting short distances.
70%  of the time, the meters were accurate but if the distances were greater, the drivers would have a gala time literally taking you for a long ride thus upping the meter reading.The GPS on my mobile would be scoffed at. They would lay a claim to better knowledge of the streets and the one-ways.
The buses in number and frequency were commendable, making it easy (and an inexpensive option) to visit friends and relatives staying in far corners of the city. The AC buses were even more comfortable.The average waiting time would not be more then 5 minutes, unless you happen to stay in a remote part of the city.
With Telugu as my mother tongue, I had a smooth sail in Bangalore. I could have got by with Hindi too. But to interact with the autowallahs, the office house keeping staff, the small kirana shops, Telugu helped a lot.
When I said I speak Telugu, many of them would claim to be from AP too...from Rayalseema/Ananthpur areas. They speak a very accentuated Telugu with an abundance of Kannada words thrown in but it was good enough for us to understand one another.
It was amazing to see the office colleagues too slip from one language to another with equal ease and proficiency.
A mall is a mall...anywhere in India...nothing new there... but there is a difference...
I happened to visit the mall once during a weekday and was pretty amazed to find it near-empty. I have never seen malls being empty on weekends or weekdays in mana Hyderabad. That made me almost the entire population in Bangalore employed? If the majority indeed happens to be employed, that  is such a heartening thing to happen!

And the misses:
Very weird! Imagine tickets being sold for 800-900 rupees for a new release unlike the flat rates in Hyderabad. My habit of a first day, first show was quickly dumped.
Popular Indian movies run to full houses in Hyderabad, especially during weekends. On the other hand, in Bangalore all movie halls showing regional ones run half-empty till these high prices last (for a couple of weekends or more). But the English movie tickets are all almost sold out from day 1!
Is it because I stayed in the older and more conservative part of the city or is it the norm? The few eateries I found on my way back from office would down their shutters by 9-9.30 pm. If I happened to reach around that time, all that were left, were the scraps.
It is a city of the rich. Practically, everything is 20% higher than the prices back home.
Where did all my time go in Bangalore? I had so proudly claimed that I was  not going to waste any time on weekends but go exploring the city and the outskirts but then my very hectic work load drained me of any energy to venture out during the weekends. My escapades were limited to food adventures confined to a 5-6 kilometers radius from my residence.

As you can see, many things I liked about the city and very few things to complaint about.

Friday, July 15, 2016

16th July, our Carmel Feast

Those were the days, my friend!

Carmel School. Picture taken on my last visit to school  in 2010.
We celebrated Teachers' Day, Childrens' day, Annual Day ...etc. in our school but Carmel Feast  was a very, very special day for us.The whole year we'd be looking forward to celebrating this wonderful day.
Preparation would begin at least a week before. The class teacher would help plan the dishes for the day. About 10 dishes or so to be divided among the thirty of us. The feast would have varied and special items from each state we were from. There would be puris, the aloo bhaajis, sambar, pulavs, rice etc etc. We would raise hands to volunteer for the dishes. Those were not the days when we ever thought of buying anything. It was all labor of love (the mothers' obviously).

The day of the feast...there were no classes that day!
I recall distinctly the one we celebrated when we were in the 6th class. The desks were all lined against the wall, leaving a vacant square in the middle of the room. A few desks were arranged in the center. Each of us bought a piece of white cloth from our home and used it to cover the desktops. Some girls made an elaborate rangoli at the entrance. The food itself was presented in some pretty dishes on the center table. All those uncouth newspapers, and vessels the food came in were stuffed behind the desks, out of sight.
Plans to decorate the classes were made in advance. We used flowers, balloons , ribbons ...whatever we could find at home and mothers permitted us, to bedeck the classroom. The artists of the class drew elaborate welcome  messages and designs on the blackboard using white and color chalks. After we were done, it was our turn to peep into other classes to see how the competition was faring...the other section being our biggest rival in this case.
We now waited  excitedly for the teachers to come in. 3-4 teachers visited each classroom. They evaluated us on the decoration and presentation of the room. We girls all sat in a very disciplined manner at our desks waiting as they ranked us.The quiet discipline didn't last long though. "Miss! Miss!" we cried out pointing to various small things that the teachers might desperate were we that the prize for the best presentation be ours!
It was only after the teachers  tasted our food and left, did we have our lunch. The variety of food was indeed a feast. I remember distinctly a Kashmiri girl in our class bringing Dum Aloo...big stuffed potatoes in a magnificent gravy! Till date, the memory of that awesome taste lingers.
The warmth, the exuberance, the sincerity and especially the non-commercial way in which we celebrated this feast evokes fragrant memories which will last forever and ever.
Miss you, Carmel Feast and all those lovely school days!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

100 days of Bangalore: the stay

Around the first week of February, I was asked if I was willing to go to Bangalore for a new project, working with a new client.
I may not exactly have jumped at the idea but the prospect of working in a new city and the possibility of learning something new was quite exciting. I said an emphatic 'yes' to the idea and started looking forward to this stint in Bangalore.
When I was packing, I didn't know  where I would stay and when I would find a place for myself. I booked myself into a hotel for the first week hoping to find something by the end of it.
When I saw Bangalore flats and flatmates groups on facebook, I thought that all I needed to do was post in the group and I would find a place. Foolish me! The search wasn't going to be that easy. The office being in Kumara Park West, there weren't many places for renting. Kumara Park West is close to Malleshwaram and both these places are known to be conventional, residential areas. You have many more options in the Marthahalli, Whitefield, Electronic City side of the city.
Renting an independent room in these areas seemed next to impossible as, of the few available options, no one was willing to give a room for 100 days. The minimum expected stay was six months...with a one month deposit to boot (and no guarantee of getting it back).
Finally, I found something that looked custom-made for me. A newly constructed room with an attached bathroom on the terrace of a PG. The whole terrace was mine.There was a TV and a WiFi connection exclusive for my use.
I reveled in the comfort of exclusivity and privacy but at the same time, I didn't realize how tough it was going to be to access the kitchen on a floor below.What separated the terrace from the kitchen was a steep, open staircase. So, if one were to use the kitchen, one would have to carry all ingredients/groceries from the room to the kitchen below. Not having vessels to cook in also added to the woes. I managed to cook bread, Magi and tea at times. Having a fridge and a microwave helped to an extent but then there was a jostle for space to use these assets. And because of this arrangement, I had to have all the three meals outside home. But at least I had some semblance of a home.
The office, headquartered at Belgium, was definitely a great place to work where the employee comfort was well taken care of. The product I documented was vast and challenging. But what fun if you don't get a challenging project?! The work was invigorating but also pretty demanding
My working time was from 11 am to 8 pm. I would need to complete my morning chores, get ready and decide on a place to eat before I could step out. There were very few options around the place I stayed.
The time till 11 was ruled out and coming home at around 9 ish also ruled out any possibility of venturing out, watch movies or even explore places.
It was on weekends only that I could clean, wash clothes, attend mails/bills, visit friends and relatives and search for decent lunch places for that weekend.
The commute was the best part of staying in Bangalore. Having a permanent address in Hyderabad may not allow me to stay close to office, but that was not so in Bangalore. I could rent a place, less than a kilometer from my office. The commute time, on foot, was just about fifteen minutes...a bliss for every office-goer. To top it, walking under a canopy of trees helped ward off the hot sun till I reached office.
Trees all around my residence also meant waking up to chirping birds...instead of wakening to the rude hoots and rumbles of passing vehicles...something that I have not experienced since my childhood days.
Well, back to home sweet home now.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ki & Ka

The movie begins with a very restrained start…no frills…no dhamaka. For me, this set the tone of the movie... hoping it is more realistic.
Ki & Ka are Kiya and Kabir (Kareena and Arjun).
The movie has broached an interesting topic, viz. the role reversal. In households where both work, do we even have those strict lines anymore? To balance their professional and personal lives, men and women do share household chores. But yes, this movie goes a step further where you have a stay-at-home husband and an ambitious wife who yearns to climb the corporate ladder, and fast.
For an Indian actor, Arjun Kapoor displays courage by accepting this very unconventional role. Kareena Kapoor, at 36, looks more of the size 0 nonsense… and has carried the role of an ambitious Marketing Manager with an √©lan.
Arjun Kapoor, reflective of his real life, plays the son of a rich but estranged father and misses his deceased mom. He surprises Kareena when he confesses that he wishes to be like his mom. He believes that a woman is no less an artist as she juggles to keep the house running. How I wish Balki, the director, had delved more into this concept exploring the different facets of home-making. Also that Arjun could display more of the skills that come from an IIM graduate. An educated home-maker makes a whole world of difference to a home. The actual house-keeping that Arjun is so passionate about is not explored as much as it should be. It also is convenient that they choose not to have kids. Would be interesting to watch, if they had.
In the second half of the movie, we get to see that Arjun doesn’t have a problem playing a unconventional stay-at-home husband, but Kareena does. She introduces her husband as an artist who is at home writing a book.
Eventually,when Arjun gets interviewed, gets invited to TED talks, endorses household products, and becomes popular, Kareena is unable to take it. Arjun supports and revels in her success but she isn’t able to handle his, as she expects him to be at home and take care of it. She hits back, blaming Arjun with anything and everything that goes wrong in her life and their relationship.
The build-up in the first half is impressive but the second half seems to go off on a tangent. There seem to be two things happening in the same movie: the man-woman role reversal and the ‘Abhimaan’ kind of scenario where one partner is intolerant of the other’s success.
Swaroop Sampat as Kareena’s mother impresses with a very honest performance. Her dialog towards the end of the movie ties up all loose ends and brings a closure of sorts to the debate.
The movie is surely a one-time watch and doesn’t fail in entertaining you. The lead pair has done its best to sustain the interest.
A 3/5 rating from me.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Krishna Gaadi Veera Prema Gadha

Nani's name in Telugu movies evokes a lot of expectation. I may need to tone it down a bit, I guess.
His latest release "Krishna gaadi veera prema gaadha" reinforces my belief.
The movie isn't bad, dull or boring, but just doesn't live up to the expectation from Nani's films.
The movie begins with a violent action scene and before you think this movie is about family feuds, you see the hero break into a song and dance. The context is anyone's guess.
In the next scene we have the hero-heroine romancing. Then there is the terrorist angle.
The director has tried a bit of this and a bit of that, comedy, action, romance...

Having said that, what's good in the movie?
1. Nani's energetic and convincing performance
2. The kids, especially the youngest, add to the cute factor and win our hearts
3. Murali Sharma's amazing comic timing. He is borrowed from Nani's previous film, where he had played a scientist. He was brilliant in his brief role. He is well-supported by Prithvi who is bettering himself at comedy with every film.
Sampath is good in the role of a fearless policemen.

And what's not all that great is the inability of the director to sew all these various story lines into a seamless whole. Even before you finish oohing and aahing about one aspect of the movie, you are thrown into the next. Had the director, Hanu Raghavapudi, not tried to add so many hues, the film would have had a great story.The film might still draw crowds but I am not sure that he has proved himself after his disastrous debut (Andaala Rakshasi).
Well, the story in brief is about Nani being  a coward and how he is unable to ask the heroine's brother for her hand, and therefore his love has to remain a secret. It is also about his transformation from a timid man, who when he realizes he is losing what he cherishes the most, turns into a lion to protect his woman.
The children are assigned to Nani's safekeeping when they get caught in the midst of a violent family feud. Their road journey is well-written. The kids, thank goodness, are like your normal kids unlike the super smart kids that we see in movies these days.
Nani seems to be moving towards commercial  movies unlike his previous selection of the more simple and true-to-life stories.
No great works in the cinematographic area. The songs look forced too. The movie is brilliant in parts . Go watch. You will not be bored.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

CIBO House

Happened to be around Hi-tech city last week and while pondering about where to have lunch, my eyes fell on CIBO House. Though I had been wanting to eat here for some time, I hesitated because of some not-so great reviews.
Still, love for Italian food drew me to this place. And am I glad I did. Though the place is small, the ambiance was great, and the food greater still.
I opted for their vegetarian buffet which cost me 610/- including taxes.
The meal started with pumpkin soup. Very tasty, rightly spiced and served piping hot.

Pumpkin Soup

In the vegetarian section, there were four starters served with three accompaniments, the salsa, honey mustard and coriander-jalapeno sauce.
The salsa was fresh and tasty, though it could do with some more spiciness, the honey mustard was great (don't know if it was made in-house though) but the coriander sauce was rather tepid.

Dipping sauces
Four starters were served: baby corn in spinach paste, grilled cottage cheese, potato fritters and stuffed mushroom.
The baby corn was not well-cooked, neither was it appropriately seasoned. The cottage cheese was good. The potato fritters were awesome, very crisp and light. But what surprised me was my liking for the stuffed mushroom. I normally keep away from mushroom but this was so delightful in taste, I asked for a second helping. When you split the mushroom open, you find creamy sauces oozing out. 

Vegetarian starters
Also on offer was a bottomless glass of Virgin Mojito. This was okay but was rather a diluted version of the original. It could definitely use a little more punch.

Virgin Mojito

Coming to the main course, it far surpassed anything on offer so far.  Of the three sauce options, we chose pasta in Alfredo sauce. The pasta was cooked just right. You would be right in saying, 'this is how a pasta should taste.' Amazingly flavored!

Pasta in Alfredo sauce

This was followed by Butter Rice with three accompaniments, veg ratatouille, potato en carozza and Au gratin.
The butter rice itself was mildly flavored but each of these accompaniments complemented its taste nicely.
The most beautiful part of the dishes was that each one carried a distinct taste by itself. The veg ratatouille had large chunks of various vegetables cooked in tomato sauce. The crunch of the vegetables and its freshness was delectable!
The potato en carozza had boiled and thickly sliced potatoes cooked in a cheese-tomato base and was equally great in taste. The au gratin was also served hot in a cheese gravy with fresh and crunchy vegetables. Words will not suffice to describe this wonderful main course.

Next we had the lasagna which was quite tasty too. Though I am not a big fan of lasagna, I loved the way this was cooked with right amount of cheese covering the tomato sauce and layers of lasagna beneath.

I usually go light on desserts. But for the first time in a buffet experience, I took a second helping of the desserts. For a person with a sweet tooth, this is heaven on earth. I tasted five of them though there were a few more.
What literally took the cake was the Tres leches cake. Cooked in three types of milk, (evaporated milk, cream and condensed milk), this is a not-to-be-missed one at all.
All others, though good in taste stood only second to this. In order of taste, the next was the strawberry cheese cake, truly lovely, third was the caramel custard, again perfect in its caramelization, next was the kiwi pannacotta, a little dense and the last was the custard which was just about okay.

The excellent freshness of the dishes, the exact flavors, the ambiance...the super clean plates on one hand and the washrooms on the other, the well-informed waiters who bend backwards to bring a great service... all these made a great impression.
Rs.610/- for this fare is a good value for money.
They can work a little on the starters to match the tastes of the wonderful main course and desserts.

This fare may not appeal to the spice-lovers' palate.The dishes all have the right condiments in a great balance but are definitely not spicy.

Monday, January 25, 2016


Watched 'cinema' after a long time (and not merely an exorbitant indulgence in a PR exercise).

To confess, I haven't watched any of Akshay Kumar movies in the theater apart from 'Special 26'. This, plus his 'Baby,' made me want to watch more of his movies. And, 'Airlift' didn't disappoint at all.
Airlift, without wasting much time in the preliminaries, quickly gets into the thick of the action. 
Airlift is about a successful business man (Akshay Kumar) in Kuwait, who considers himself a Kuwaiti and not an Indian, though he originates from India. He leads a perfect life, comfortable and cushy with a small family. 
One night he awakens to sounds of Iraqi attacks on the city. He convinces himself and his wife (Nimrat Kaur) that this is just a freak attack and everything would be back to normal in a week's time. 
The next day when he sets out in his car, he is devastated to find the town ravaged. His driver is killed and he is captured and taken to meet an Iraqi Major, who was in charge of Akshay's security on his previous visit to Iraq. He guarantees a safe passage to Akshay and his family in exchange of certain favors. He is an example of how mice become tigers when circumstances are in their favor. Subsequently, he tries to milk the situation many a time but is ultimately defeated by Akshay's superior negotiation skills. 
The first thing Akshay does after meeting the major, is ensure the safety of the driver's family. This random act of his kindness triggers hope in the other Indians. The initial 500 throng quickly turns to 1.5 lakh. Akshay  takes upon himself to take care of all these people who look up to him with hope.
He relentlessly seeks support of the Iraqi government, his contacts in Iraq and the Indian government respectively to help the Indians get evacuated. 
The plot is about the travails he faces when some things work and some don't. We also get to view the politics behind the Indian External Affairs Ministry's very apathetic attitude to the gravity of the situation. 
It is only a conscientious 'babu' and his dogged pursuit that helps set up the Air India flights to get them all back safely to the Indian shores. Watching the Air India logo as the planes take off, is such a goose-bumps experience!
Though the movie, in one line, is all about getting the Indians safely back, its twists keep you engaged throughout. Not for a moment does the movie allow your thoughts to wander. 
Akshay brings a great honesty to the role. This movie seems reflective of his hard work and discipline in his real of those rare times when we get to watch Akshay underplay his role to portray a character so well.
Nimarat Kaur supports him by standing by him through all his decisions though she was initially opposed to his staying back to help people not related to him. 

The movie deserves awards for:

1. Great acting by many of the characters
2. Casting: every character fits the role so well! 
3. Beautiful and authentic-looking sets
4. Very, very crisp editing. 
5. Excellent direction by Raja Menon in his first big venture
6. Some great lines (unlike the cheesy ones in the movies by the big stars). Sample this, "Lekin jab chot lagthi hain, tho Maa ko hi yaad karthe hain na" : Akshay Kumar on being questioned about why he has started calling himself an Indian now.
To really nit-pick, perhaps the songs could be done away with, though thankfully, they don't distract you from the plot.
The movie must be watched till the end credits roll, as we get to see photographs of this real-life incident that took place in the year 1990. 
After the recent happenings in India, the dialog at  end of the movie by Akshay Kumar will draw seeti-maars as he speaks about staying back in India despite all its problems.
For me, a near 5 on 5 experience.