Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Trip down the Bat Cave

As we have seen recently, when the director has something to say, rather than just milk a franchise, the sequels (Terminator2, Spiderman2, Clerks2, Munnabhai2, et al) turn out to be spectacular. This is Nolan's drama about choice, valour and loss. That it wears a superhero costume is incidental.

I so do wanna talk about Batman right now. But I am still too stunned to review The Dark Knight (2008)

For nostalgia sake, decided to revive another review, written when Batman Begins overwhelmed me on June 18 2005. You will find that most of the emotions still apply, even though The Dark Knight has raised the bar many times over:

*** Rewind to 2005 ***

Having not grown up with the Superman movies, being too young to appreciate Tim Burton’s dark yet campy introduction to Batman in 1989, yet being an avid comic-book reader since I’ve been 10 (thanks, grampa, for your infinite collection!), this is something I’ve waited for. After the dazzling Spiderman 2 which outshone its predecessor, here’s IMHO the best super hero adaption ever on screen!!

Batman Begins (2005) is a blend of the dark, gothic atmosphere of the first movie and the tormented, realistic portrayal of an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances we saw in Spiderman 1. In fact, all these stories have a common formula:

Phase 1: Traumatic or lost childhood
Phase 2: Loss of one or more loved ones
Phase 3: Unrequited love during teens and after
Phase 4: A motive to fight crime, usually personal tragedy
Phase 5: Tons of money to fund fancy gadgets and costumes
Phase 6: Years of adventures and duplicity ahead!

Then on, it’s 50 years of comic-book glory, while they go through daily lives as pathetic wimps--- morphing into masked crusaders to save the world!

But then, these are comic books. Not Pulitzer tomes. They reflect the dreams and fantasies of a tired society. They start by putting a smile on the lips, go on to scare the hell out of you and before “The End” make sure you sigh with relief. In that, they really save the world! Enjoy them as such and you will not be disappointed.

Anyone who has read the original Batman comics would notice the dull grey suit and blue cape that was replaced by a black body suit in the recent books and movies. To me, Batman had always been a poor cousin to Superman. Supey could really fly (not glide), he had true X-ray vision, he was Super-man because he had super powers . Batman was just an ordinary kid who developed some muscles, made friends with Superman and, with some effort, managed to glide from the third floor into an alleyway. He couldn’t dodge bullets, he couldn’t melt steel-doors. Hell, he couldn’t even be a rail-track while the train ran over him. So he goes to a tailor and gets himself a fancy “superhero” costume and some bright chaddi to wear over the pants. It still meant that he needed to piggyback on a true superhero, someone with asli talent. That was one reason why I loved the comics where Superman and Batman fought together. Like Sholay ? :=)

As I grew up and learnt the origins of Batman, that view changed completely. Ironically, in the decades later, Batman’s brooding proved to have a more lasting appeal than the glamour of Superman.

Both the heroes were created at the end of 1930s when America was reeling under the Great Depression. Crime and despair are just two manifestations of economic hardship. When two school-kids came up with the idea of an extraterrestrial superhero saving all our problems in one magic stroke, the audiences lapped it up. Comic book publishers commissioned a host of other such superheroes to ride the demand. Green Lantern, Daredevil, Green Arrow, Tarzan, Tomahawk, Turok, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Thor… the list is endless. “Birdman” was created by Detective Comics (DC) to rival the hot-selling Superman from Action Comics (AC). Bill Finger, the often-unacknowledged co-creator, suggested alterations to the original red costume and bat-wings to remove similarities with Superman. He added the “bat” touches, much like Fox and Alfred help Bruce in the movie, and gave the name-- Batman .

Batman works because he is a mere human. He is triumph of mind over body, of will over evil. He symbolizes the power of human effort over destiny. That is the foundation on which the later comics were built. Over time, the stories faded till Batman became just another swish-bang-boom superhero. Batman Begins takes us back to the 1930's roots. In a contemporary way, it chisels the personality of Bruce Wayne till we understand him as a human—not as a legend. Wayne had the suave charm of Cary Grant, the methodology of Sherlock Holmes and the seething anger of the post-Depression readers. In contrast, Superman was more action-oriented, more fantastic and larger than life.

Nolan's Batman, set in the present era, is as much a period film as a fantasy-thriller.


The performance by Christian Bale is rock solid. He showed his mettle as a teen actor in the Disney movies Newsies and Swing Kids that were popular on Doordarshan Friday nights, long ago. The direction by Chris Nolan, who made ingenious films like Memento and Insomnia, is guaranteed to breathe fresh life into the franchisee. Perfectly cast supporting actors helmed by legendary Morgan Freeman and Michal Caine got whistling applause from the audience.

For those who may not have seen a Batman movie yet, Batman Begins (2005) is just the place to start....

My wish-list for the sequel? An Asian Superman and an African Batman pair up to battle pureblood American villain. Hyuk!


Friday, July 25, 2008

Big Bang Theory

Today, there are reports of serial blasts rocking Bangalore. Key areas like Richmond Circle and Forum Mall seem to have been affected. Some people may have died, not too many. They have smartly blocked phones and refused to give meaningful information on websites. The inertia of authorities and lack of communication-facilities have probably done more damage than the blasts themselves.

If they shut off communication, at least they must engage popular websites to inform people on traffic status, route redirection, police presence and other instructions for a secure and orderly return to normalcy. Instead, perverted crisis-management mantras followed by our a-duh-ministers believe in preventing parents from reaching their children, scaring elderly persons by cutting phone and power, making it difficult to organise contingency plans and encouraging misinformation.

Every time there is a change in government, either riots or bomb blasts happen. As the recent trust vote showed, there is no Order of the Phoenix left in Indian polity. With a bunch of Death Eaters bribing and grabbing other Death Eaters, it is merely a match between Voldemort and Grindelwald. The Good vs Evil fight in India today is more like, How-do-I-Profit-from-It vs How-can-I-Save-My-Evil-Ass.

Bangalore managed to throw off the yoke of liars that took India's IT growth 50% back in the last 20 months. As a replacement, we have a party that prides fake encounters, ethnic cleansing and invoking "asmita" as their justification for creating a KGB-like state. Rights and Justice be damned. One can never really trust they will opt for sanity over the more lucrative option of turning this into a "The Muslims did it!" slugfest.

The fear is this should not escalate into a communal clash, since that seems to be the easiest distraction nowadays. With power cuts being a daily affair, water and fuel shortage and no real plans for growth in the near term, the government must be very excited that these blasts will keep "real" issues off the front-page newspapers for the next few days...

Praying that all Bangaloreans are safe and reunite with their family soon.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Baweja Fry

"I am glad that Harman has been accepted" -- Harry Baweja

This chap is in such denial! 5/10/15 years later, people will remember Love Story 2050 as a landmark, he says. True. The way we still remember and cherish Mithun da's Jallad, Raavan Raj and Gunda made in mid-90s. Must be Puppa Ka Pyaar for his Pappu....

On the other hand, don't miss Jaane Tu... a fantastic feel-good formula film!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Are You Being Served?

This post is a simple one: to make unsuspecting customers aware of faulty "Manhattan Murder Mystery" DVD being sold at 50% discount in Tata Croma stores (Bangalore, India). Unless I am mistaken, all disks in the batch being off-loaded stop 20 minutes before the end (at chapter 25), right when Woody Allen enters the phone booth to make a call. Friends who bought the 50% off disk at other stores also faced similar issue. We bought this Sony DVD some 6 months back and after 3 trips to replace the replacements, informed both Sony and Croma; yet the disk continues to sell. I took this picture last week at Croma in Eva Mall, Bangalore.

Despite their calls to end piracy, it is surprising how media companies in India cheat worse than those pirates. In any other country, Sony would not only recall all such disks but also pay compensation to whole bunch of buyers. In India, they shamelessly take the customer for a ride by offering blatant 50% off on disks they know to be bad. I had a similar experience with Disney and they sent me the correct disk after 1 month of follow-up. They were selling "The Incredibles", again at 50% off at the same store (Croma), without the special features disk but same catalogue code and DVD cover as the 2-disc edition!!

Perhaps the reason they get away is Indians are so used to bad service, they feel at least the vendor was good enough to offer 50% off on the bad disk. Or maybe we are just too lazy to demand our rights as a customer.

I think I have blogged many times before on the changing face of retail in India. How the shops are getting swankier, how more choices are available and how the latest and the best is available in India. So much so that going abroad is such a bore-- nothing left for us to bring from "phoren". Everything is cheaper and better back home. On the other hand, the experience of shopping itself is becoming more painful. Gone are the days of the ever-eager salesman who'd use both his glib talk and excellent product knowledge to alternately coax you and con you into buying. It was a charming game where you started off testing his knowledge, then he tested your gullibility, so you test how cheap he can go and he tests how much more he can sell you. By the end, the salesman would have made you feel that not only did you get a wonderful bargain but you are an astute shopper as well-- leaving you completely happy.

On the other hand, we have the daft floor staff today who couldn't care less about your needs. They are clueless about the items being stocked and return "No sir, we don't have" without batting an eyelid. They are completely immune to the lost opportunity, lost sales and probably lost customer. At stores like Croma, that boast the Tata name, shopping experience can be frustrating. More for the shameless disinterest shown by the staff than the price or quality of products.

The house of Tata has been know for their "human touch" even in days of Weston TV and Bajaj scooters. I look forward to seeing them get their Mojo back, baby...

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Haan, mujhe Marmite se Pyaar hai!

This is an article from the Times of India, 18 Jan 2002. The page no longer exists, so I extracted it from Google's cache, since it deserves to be preserved for posterity. I only found it while looking for shops in India that might sell a breakfast spread known as "Marmite".

My grandfather discovered Marmite during his studies at London School of Economics, way back in 1920's or whenever. Somehow we had a stash of the yummy gooey stuff when I was growing up, way back in 1980's. Then suddenly they both disappeared from our lives-- grampa and Marmite.

Last month I accompanied a cousin for some mundane grocery shopping in a Singapore mini-mart and what do I see, a gleaming bottle of Marmite, looking exactly as it did years ago, sitting there alone on the shelf. After a moment hesitation, I grabbed the $4 bottle and got her home. Alas, I fell in love with it all over again and so did my dad! I say alas because I haven't found any store in Bangalore selling this yet, including the often-dependable "Spar".

Until someone's coming over from Singapore, then, we can but scroogily apply the manna on our daily bread.... and pray.


Now for the article I found on TOI:

"Marmite is more than a simple food product: it is a cultural icon, a national symbol. Marmite toast soldiers (dipped into soft-boiled eggs, of course) are as nostalgic as any Madeleine, and as comforting as a pair of old pyjamas. Toddlers thrive on it, armies march on it, and it travels abroad in the suitcases of an estimated 11 per cent of British holidaymakers. This year (2002) Marmite celebrates its centenary and Marmite mania is upon the Brits as they salute the enduring, reassuring qualities of the gooey, brown savoury spread in its design-classic jar.

The use of spent brewer's yeast as a food source was discovered in 1680, but it was not until the 19th century that Louis Pasteur and the german chemist Justus von Liebig found that it could be made into a concentrated, savoury vegetarian food that resembled meat in appearance, smell and colour. It was first manufactured for commercial purposes by the Marmite Food Company Ltd in 1902, at a disused malthouse in Burton-on-Trent; today it is a top 100 food brand valued at #30 million, and the largest brand in the deliciously titled ambient spreads market.

In 1912, the discovery of vitamins helped to boost the popularity of the product when it was realised that Marmite provided a good source of five B vitamins (hence its long-running advertising slogan: the growing up spread you never grow out of). During the first world war, Marmite was given to soldiers to combat beri-beri; in the second world war, it became a valued dietary supplement in prisoner-of-war camps. In 1999, it was sent to peacekeeping forces in Kosovo after the company received a letter begging for jars to boost morale.

Realising how severely split the public was, Marmite launched the you-either-love-it-or-hate-it advertising campaign, with such brilliant micro-dramas as the couple who arrive home desperate to have sex. She has a bite of toast with Marmite, kisses him, and he gags disgustedly. As the ads point out, there will always be those who regard the spread as devil's spawn; when it comes to Marmite, there is no middle ground."


Wonder if any fans of Marmite in my readership?

A prayer and not much else that we can offer...

Heart-rending post by The Mad Momma

An excerpt:

"I listened to him in horror. It’s the kind of thing that can happen to any of us. Do you know where you child is right now? As you read this post? In the nursery? In school? In daycare? With the maid? In bed? Playing by your side? This could happen to any of us. The child falling off a table he has clambered on to and injuring himself, being rushed in for surgery and losing all his senses thanks to two idiot doctors who should be shot and chopped into teeny tiny pieces. How do they do it? How can you read a paper that says left eye and operate on the right eye? A person educated enough to be a doctor should be able to tell the difference between left and right. A person educated to be a doctor should know that precious lives rest in his hands."

Makes all the whining on this blog so insignificant by comparison. Wonder what keeps them going? God? That must be it, because for the life of me I can't think of anything else....

Go ahead and read it here.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Springtime for Mallya

I recently saw a movie where the producer generates finance for his Broadway shows by conning little old ladies. He wins their trust and shows them da love, only to pocket their "checkees". Air Deccan, that charming seducer who forever changed the way Indians view flying, seems to have gone down the same path.

Most people I know, especially the older lot who is not so familiar with the Internet and its resident evils, equate flying with Air Deccan and Air Deccan with the concept of e-tickets. They still believe that Air Deccan spells low-cost, decent quality travel, easy ticket booking and Captain Gopinath's idealism.

Enter Mallya.

Simplifly Deccan today, renamed and recolored, is only too happy to use the trust of those very same people to con them with fine-print and complicated web user-interface. The best part is most people, like Max Bialystock's little old ladies, would go on living happy lives in their blissfull ignorance. Which is good, in a way, I guess.

What they do is add a default insurance charge to every ticket. This lets them pick-pocket a cool Rs.99 in the blink of an eye when you book online. While this itself is not wrong, the way they do it is. Yes, the break up and total charges show up on top of the page.The option to refuse insurance is further down the page, lost among the terms and conditions. The idea being that once a certain price is OK, people tend to skip the fine-print and go straight to the "BOOK NOW" button.

Even a net-savvy person like me caught this only because the website I use to book my travel (god bless them!!) have put a warning below their Deccan listing to this effect. I wonder how many little old ladies have contributed Rs.99 to Mallya's PYT fund.


The story in pictures:

Deccan flight to Pune shows up as costing Rs.3175 on thoughtfully places a warning to alert users against Deccan's trick. This warning is not available to users of other travel websites or those booking direct at Deccan website.

The Deccan website now shows the same fare as Rs.3274 (instead of Rs.3175). An nominal increase of Rs.99 a layman might assume is merely another one of those "surcharges".

Option to refuse insurance does not come before the total fare is shown. It does not come even in the next section. It is cached among lots of T&C looking text, after the passenger details are entered (means, one has mentally moved on from thinking about fare related details)

The correct fare Rs.3175 is shown, same as Ixigo, once we remember to deselect the insurance charge.