Carpe Noctem

This article was first published in Echo, IEEE DTU’s Annual Magazine.

8AM. Eat breakfast. Concentrate on the food. It’s 8.20. Time to leave. Grab the bag. Walk down the stairs. Remember about forgotten keys. Run back. Get them. Get in the car. Turn on the ignition. Drive down empty roads. Try to block the sun out. Fail. Curse luck. Continue driving. Red light. 70 seconds. Contemplate sleeping for a minute. Decide against it. Good judgement. Green light. Continue driving. Straight roads. Car beside takes dangerous turn. Shout at her. Realise it won’t make a difference because the windows are rolled up. Reach college. Find parking space. It’s 9.05. It’s late. Run to class. Try to pay attention. Fail. Drift into sleep. Get jolted awake. Three hours pass. It’s 10. Nothing wrong with the watch. Run out for coffee. Run back to class. Survive. 1PM. Lunch. Talk. Laugh. Eat. Coffee again. Consciousness returns slowly. Drowsiness recedes. Eyes open completely for the first time. 2PM. Lab. Try to do practicals seriously. Fail. Laugh about it. 5PM. Another coffee run. Get back to car. Drive home happy. It’s 6. Watch TV. Eat fruits. Laze around. 8.30. Time for dinner. 9.30. Get to room. Open books. Try to study. Realise it’s boring. Close books. Open computer. New Game of Thrones episode. Start watching. More WhatsApp messages. Reply. Await reply. Converse. Facebook. Friends’ party album. 176 photos. See them all. Realise life is boring. 12AM. Headphones. Music. Full of energy. Feel alive. 1.30. Football. 2.30. Hungry. New Hide ‘n’ Seek packet. Empty in ten minutes. 3.30. Discuss football. Wish slow death upon referee and his family. 4. “Is there a movie to watch?” There is. There always is. 5. Tired. Want to sleep. Only fifteen minutes of movie left! 5.15. Progress with novel. 5.45. What’s that light? It’s the sun. Awake all night. No sleep. Force sleep. Fail. Manage a little sleep. 7. Alarm rings. Snooze. 7.10. Alarm rings again. Snooze again. Repeat. 7.45. Jolt awake. Rush to get ready. 8. Eat breakfast.

This has been my life since college began. Admittedly, some of these habits already existed in the final year of school, and they’ve only amplified since joining DTU. It’s unhealthy. I should be getting more sleep. My lethargy during college hours is evidence enough. It sounds easy, and it probably is. Falling asleep is the easiest thing in the world right? Hit the sack and count sheep, or make up implausible scenarios in your mind. Not for us nocturnes, or zombies as many of you prefer to call us. It’s not because we can’t sleep. Rather, we choose not to. Mostly because there’s so much to do, and it’s not just studies. There’s a reason I’m able to watch so many movies, watch football, listen to music, read books, catch up on TV shows and write useless articles like these despite spending half the day at college. The reason is sleep, or the lack of it.

Now, I’m not recommending this sleep cycle to anyone. I’m also not saying I’m unique in this respect. There are many who sleep only much lesser than we are told to and still function normally. The fact that you need 6-8 hours of sleep is actually a myth. Your brain needs two hours of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep (which looks exactly as spooky as it sounds), which it finds in those six hours. If you force it to, it will find those two hours in four hours of sleep, too. There’s just a smaller window now. I won’t bore you with details, though. You came here for reading an insightful article with life-changing advice (sure), not a scientific paper (wait for IOTA!).

You can adopt this cycle if you want to. Be forewarned! The initial stage is the toughest. Your brain will protest this sudden departure from schedule. You may not sleep for a week or two. You may also feel that the system isn’t right for and you’d be correct – it doesn’t suit everyone. You’ll certainly have bags under your eyes. Soon your brain will realise you’re serious about this and give in. Congratulations, you’re one of us. Have a cookie.

I would be lying if I said there weren’t any disadvantages. The weariness is an obvious one. You’ll also feel hungrier than usual, especially at night, and your cravings for chocolate and other delicious snacks will rival that of pregnant women. In short, you’ll gain weight unless you remain physically active during the day. You’ll also find sudden affection to coffee, and might spiral into caffeine addiction. Don’t. Caffeine is the most addictive substance in the world, so you might get hooked to it before you realise it. Drink coffee, but drink in moderation.

Till now, all you’ve seen is negativity. You find no discernible reason to stay awake unnecessarily. You probably hate sports, don’t even like TV shows (or watch them on weekends) and you want your beauty sleep. You probably detest coffee. All these are valid reasons (apart from hating coffee, that’s just plain wrong), until you realise that the advantages heavily outweigh the disadvantages.

When you find that you sleep less, you’ll realise you have loads of time. In today’s world, time is money. You don’t need special preparation to pull all-nighters anymore, because you pull all-nighters every day. When exam time approaches, you’ll find yourself with a lot of time to complete your syllabus, so you can stay awake all night on the day before the exam (because you study last minute anyway), managing to stay remarkably sharp because night time is your most productive period. You’re also tuned to stay awake during the day, so you can study in those times too. In short, you’ll find yourselves with many more hours than you believe you had.

It’s not just studies – it extends beyond that. As you progress through college life, you’ll get involved in societies and participate in projects that demand time. With great responsibilities, come many deadlines. And to meet them all, you have to work longer, harder and efficiently. Lower sleeping hours enable you to do all that. Sure you’ll feel physically exhausted, but mentally, you’ll be ready for any challenge.

When you begin to miss your long sleeping hours (you’ll know when you begin to day-dream about sleeping), there’s always the weekend to catch up! On Saturdays and Sundays, I sleep long hours and wake up late in the morning. Of course, this in no way makes up for the sleep lost during weekdays, but it provides the mental satisfaction of having achieved that good, long sleep twice a week and relaxes your mind. Two days of lazing around will do wonders to prepare you for the challenges that lie in the week ahead.

So go ahead, carpe noctem! Seize the night!

–Aditya Salapaka is known for not sleeping. That is literally the only reason people know him.

Hannibal

Hannibal

I recently finished the second season watching NBC’s Hannibal and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s one of the best – if not the best – crime dramas on television today (along with the splendid True Detective). Even if you don’t agree with this hyperbole of mine, a few episodes will be enough to convince you that it is, at least, an extremely underrated show.

It’s been twenty years since Jonathan Demme’s wonderful Silence of the Lambs released, and even then the film didn’t catch public fancy immediately. A murderous cannibalistic psychopath and a female FBI agent seemingly did not appeal to the average movie goer.  Irrespective, Anthony Hopkins’ fifteen-minute appearance as Hannibal Lecter was so terrifying and convincing, it was enough to earn the film the Academy Award Grand Slam (not that it matters). Tight scriptwriting and superbly envisioned characters gave us a memorable film. Hopkins did reprise his role as Hannibal in the eponymous sequel with decent success, albeit not to such a level. We wanted a greater insight into Hannibal’s life, which Silence of the Lambs did not provide, and although we had a glimpse in the sequel. It was a decent attempt.

However, the TV show has really hit the nail on its head with its adaptation of Red Dragon. Having not read the book, I cannot comment on the faithfulness of this adaptation, but it certainly is an enjoyable one. Although the show is titled Hannibal, it focuses primarily on Will Graham (played by Hugh Dancy). Will teaches at the FBI academy and tries to solve crimes by predicting the chain of event that might have preceded the murder. Dr Hannibal Lecter is his psychiatrist, and is often responsible for most of the events in the show.

While we’re not shown how a psychopath was made, we’re given an idea of one manages to be a part of society without letting the clouds of suspicion shroud him, or tarnish his reputation. This is the show’s greatest achievement. I’m in admiration of Mads Mikkelsen’s fabulous portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, which, while being quite different from Hopkins’, is worthy of applause in its own sense. There isn’t any specific reason to his madness – much of it arises from a sense of curiosity. Hannibal toys with others’ minds simply to see what would happen. (Before you Google, Mads is that villain from Casino Royale. Before you Google that, Casino Royale was the new Bond’s first movie).

The writers have shown him to be a skilled cook with an interest in various cuisines. To emphasise his love for exquisite food even further, each episode of the first and second season is named after an element of French and Japanese cuisine, respectively. Naturally, as his profile suggests, he likes to cook with human flesh. Something so utterly disgusting portrayed with an undeniable charm, generally set to light classical music. I say charm, because it’s fascinating to watch – almost as an art from, while you know exactly how horrifying the task at hand is. Mikkelsen goes over all this with such ease and slips into his character so convincingly, it’s hard to imagine he himself isn’t a psychopath. Mads Mikkelsen plays Hannibal with such disdain, coupled with expressions of mild interest while cooking human kidneys, plating the food and relishing it while sharing it with unsuspecting guests – it’s a privilege to watch him operate.

Importantly, the writers are aware of the pacing and don’t rush the show. Initially, I was sceptical of this gradual approach, but I realised it was important to glide through plot points, tying them intricately with one another. Anything different would make the plot seem convoluted. While the first season showed Will and Hannibal’s friendship blossoming, the second season takes it up a notch in ways I cannot explain without divulging too much information. The scenes in which they’re conversing provide some of the series’ most chilling moments. Each line is deliberately enunciated to create a tension which is deliciously thick, often leaving you gasping for breath. I was missing their interactions at the beginning of the second season, but it was fixed with brilliantly as the season progressed.

Of course, Hannibal isn’t without its flaws. After a while I was slightly sceptical of Will’s uncanny ability to perfectly predict the nature of a crime, which seemed more like tired writing than anything to advance the plot. Moreover, the romance in the second half the second season (which ends as abruptly as it begins) seems like an unnecessary complication. Laurence Fishburne, who plays Jack Crawford, head of the FBI Behavioural Science Unit, seems lost and utterly clueless about the events happening in his own department right under his nose. Even as a major character is killed off, their colleagues seem to weep only for three minutes, following which they completely ignoring their absence and not being bothered with it at all, which was a pity, as that murder, and the following scenes, were one of the most chillingly executed sequences in the show. Gore might also be a problem for some viewers, as the show is not at all reluctant in showing you organs or blood or other unspoken horrors. Certainly not for the faint of heart, but with the drama associated with the show, you may be able to tolerate the gore.

As the tension builds up, the second season concludes with two magnificent episodes. The second season’s finale was one of the best TV episodes I’ve ever seen (it’s also rated 9.9 on IMDb, for the curious). It is thematically different from the rest of the season, while still retaining the general tone of the series, giving us an unforgettable visual treat. The finale is emotionally satisfying and more – an impeccable end to an outstanding season. The inevitable cliff-hanger it leaves us with makes the wait for the next season even longer…

…which brings us to the bigger problem. Hannibal airs on NBC. Their viewership ratings aren’t that great (you probably didn’t even know it was airing in the first place). Call it poor marketing or niche interests… we arrive at the same conundrum. What happened the last time a genre-defining, ground-breaking, innovative show with a passionate fan-base failed to meet the high expectations of NBC executives? It didn’t exactly end well. NBC seems too trigger-happy in cancelling shows and I don’t want Hannibal to meet a similar fate. I hope that Bryan Fuller has more influence on the NBC board than Dan Harmon did.

At this point, I can only urge you to go on a quick two-season binge of Hannibal, and you’ll come out of it wondering why you hadn’t seen it before (you can buy me some cookies later).

For Indian viewers, Hannibal airs on AXN in the same week as the US! I haven’t seen an episode there, though, so I have no idea about the extent to which they will censor gore. It can’t be worse than Star though, who feel the book with Ishmael as the main character is Moby-**** (true story).

Mumbai or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Rain

So Mumbai. Here I am. Land of opportunity (wait that doesn’t sound right). Land of filmstars maybe. Land of too many people, that’s for sure. And land of constant rains. That no one will disagree with.

I have an opportunity to intern at L&T in the summer. Surprisingly few people knew about L&T at DTU, leading me to wonder if they’d ever looked at those Metro diversion boards which are, you know, spread throughout Delhi. What was even more exciting was the location of the office – Mumbai. I immediately signed up, and the thought that the legal age for drinking beer here is 21 didn’t cross my mind at all. Dad was pretty enthusiastic that his useless kid was actually going to learn something after twenty years of burning his paycheques (heh heh heh). I was wise enough to keep my mouth shut about the fact that it was going to cost more to keep in Mumbai than in Delhi.

Settle down, lads. Regular readers (if there are any from the few decades ago when the blog used to be updated regularly) will know about my obsession with detail simply because the mundane things are the most interesting. This will be a long blog post. Or as you fancy kids prefer to use – #longreads. (Using hashtags outside twitter still bothers me more than it should. Oh well. Have to change with the times.)

I received news in January that I’d be interning at L&T. So I booked all necessary flight tickets for a fairly busy schedule. My exams ended on 31 May, and I flew to Bengaluru to meet my grandparents on the fourth of June. After a week of stay, I travelled to Mumbai on 13th where I’d meet mom and dad who were flying in from Delhi. And then both would be flying back to Delhi, and then back to Bangalore and the back to Delhi again later this month. (Don’t ask why). I also booked tickets for my return to Delhi from Pune, where I have to meet more relatives. Add some hotel reservations for parents to this and dad’s blood pressure was significantly higher after the entire process ended.

My flight to Bengaluru was just a day after Gopinath Munde’s tragic death, which meant security was tighter than usual. I got into the airport at 8.30 when the flight had to leave by 9.15. GoAir systems decided that it was the perfect time to freeze, which left me stranded for twenty minutes at the counter. They reassured me that they won’t leave me because of “our own problem”. I badly needed to make a coffee run before the flight because I hadn’t slept a wink all night – charging devices and watching Warrior (great film). All these technical issues destroyed my wonderful plans and an incredibly long security line meant I already had three missed calls from GoAir telling me to hurry up. I was running to the gate and wanted to melt under their glaring faces.

Bangalore trip was great. It’s too pleasant there, kinda like the two days Delhi gets in a year. It’s changed a lot, though. What I hadn’t noticed before were the roads – they’re awful to drive on not least because of poor planning (thanks for great roads, Lutyens).

As expected, the BLR-BOM flight duration itself was shorter than the drive to the airport. Why even call it Bengaluru Airport if it’s not in Bengaluru? It’s in Devanhalli. (BTW, grandpa introduced me to The Ventures in the car. Nice tunes.) The airport is also severely lacking in fast food joints because masala dosa is clearly the only food every passenger from Bengaluru will ever have before leaving.

Saw an episode of Hannibal on the flight. Lady beside me was clearly freaked out. Will blog about Hannibal later (I swear).

Typical problems happened when I landed in Mumbai. My flight was delayed, and so was my parents’ and somehow both pilots completed the journey much faster than expected, and both of us landed at the same time, not half-an-hour apart as originally planned. All was well. Which meant that all was not well and something would certainly go wrong. Called up dad who told me to come to “belt 5”, which was confusing because there were only four belts at arrivals. After a few moments of confusion, I found out that Mumbai airport has two terminals for arrival. -_-

Fortunately, they aren’t too far apart. Fifteen minute walk at the most. Walking fifteen minutes with a bag, a suitcase, dead earphones and what felt like 102% humidity isn’t a nice experience, though.

I was united with my parents and we headed straight to their hotel in Powai. Ramada is a decent hotel (no, not that Decent Hotel). I was fascinated with the keycard entry, the safe in the cupboard, the remote operation of the lights from the bedside when I realised that this was my first stay in a hotel in six years. Apparently, these are regular features in hotels nowadays.

After like three minutes, I went to see my flat in Powai. I share a 3BHK flat with 9 (!) other people. These aren’t students, though. All of different age groups, so none of that Pyar Ka Punchnama stuff happens here. As you can imagine, privacy is out of the window. So is cleanliness. Fortunately there’s a maid for cooking food, cleaning the place and (thank god) laundry. There’s still no internet at the flat and I’m blowing off all my 3G data. There’s also no AC, but that would be asking for too much. There’s a TV, though which means I can still watch the world cup at night, which is all I care about, really.

Unfortunately, I don’t live in the good part of Powai. Not Andheri east or so-posh-it-feels-like-Europe Hiranandani. I live in NagaSakiNaka and it resembles a civilisation trying to find its feet in the aftermath of a nuclear accident. The lake even looks like a nuclear wasteland. L&T has like fifteen buildings spread out in the entire area. The whole place looks as if it exists only because L&T exists. (This is true, apparently.) My locality is fairly safe, though, given it’s a place where families live. So obviously, I tried to stay away from the flat during the weekend, choosing to sleep in the hotel on the bouncy bed for one last time in the AC.

*

Monday meant it was my first day at work, ever. Woke up feeling positively happy, excited and ready to take on the world. Put on a shirt and some pants and walked to the office (it’s that close) and reached the gate to enter… only to find that my name wasn’t in the approved list or something. :\

A few minutes and frantic calls later, it was sorted out and I walked to HR where I met a guy named two other interns named Drimson and a girl who’s name I don’t remember because I’m not even sure I saw this famed, mythical girl-studying-mechanical (there are like three in the country). Both of them looked at me like I was ET because they could not comprehend why I’d fly in from Delhi to intern in Mumbai by choice.

I didn’t have a chance to justify my actions because HR guy picked that moment to brief us about L&T, which understandably is a massive company. Chairman AM Naik recently approved a diversification plan for the company, which saw the birth of L&T Hydrocarbon (where I work at), and it’s already a $2 billion dollar company, despite being only three months old. It took some time, but he finally got to the important stuff – when we have food, where we have food, what we have for food, do we need to work on Saturdays (we do) and so on. HR also informed me that the clothes I was wearing were too informal.

After getting my ID card made, I went to my mentor and was immediately assigned some top secret project. For your eyes only, stuff like that. All I can say now is that we’re trying to find more Transformers lying in the ocean bed (we’re on the Decepticons’ side, though). Oil rigs are the perfect cover.

The vending machine has become a big source of income for the company since I’ve joined as I eat KitKats by the dozen. I also discovered the existence of a Café Coffee Day machine which prepared the elixir of the gods from coffee beans, not that crappy instant coffee powder. There weren’t any mugs, though. I expressed my displeasure at this to a friend who interns at RBS in Gurgaon, who said they don’t have mugs either. You have to bring your own mugs. Why can’t India’s largest construction company construct a few mugs now and then?

(Side note about RBS. Kilol sent me some photos of her workplace and it looks like that ship from 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are free vending machines and everything. There’s also a gym and a foosball table. The closest thing we have to a gym is giving a helping hand to the guys at the Heavy Engineering department. Getting your laptop confiscated is also nice for cardio. Oh, I haven’t got to that part yet.)

The RBS Workplace

Pictured: The RBS Workplace. Not Pictured: Foosball table.

Everything was going perfectly fine, so something had to go wrong somewhere. The universe punished me for working late. I left the office about half-an-hour later than usual on Thursday (confirmed Decepticon sighting!) and was immediately stopped by security at the exit. I wouldn’t have been stopped if I walked with the crowd, but I wasn’t because I was working late.

“Bag me kya hai?”

“Sir, laptop.”

“Gate pas hai?”

Shows ID.

“Laptop ka gate pass. Hai?”

Puzzled look.

“Andar saab se mil ke aao.”

“Saab” was the security in-charge. He cheerfully informed me that he’d confiscating my laptop. He made me write a statement where I proclaimed “hosh-o-awaz mein” that I’m an ignorant buffoon for not knowing the rules and security will now keep my laptop. I headed back to the office to take help from the mentor, but he couldn’t do anything as he didn’t have the authority to issue a gate pass. Red tape, man. It screws us all. Even in non-governmental organisations.

So I spent the night without my laptop, thinking about it all the time. Worrying constantly about its safety (so this is how mom feels). Friday couldn’t come sooner.

I ran to work the next day, rushed to the office and my mentor printed a laptop gate pass which the VP signed. I got the date wrong, so I had to get it printed again. Now here’s where I’d like to mention that all my bosses were super-cooperative. Everything was done perfectly on time, and there weren’t many hassles.

I jogged all the way back the entry gate where I laid the form down with a flourish… only to be rejected immediately. The form was for employees only. As a trainee, I’d have to draft a letter. I didn’t understand how it made a difference, but then again, the universe is a weird place.

So I went back to my office, typed the letter, and gave it for signing a third time. After I received it, I went back and laid it down with a little less flourish. The security head saw that I’m from Delhi, and started chatting about the city. He lived in Palam and Dhaula Kuan (poshmax!) for a few years, and was in praise of the city, being massively critical about the safety, especially at night, which is a valid point. Here in Mumbai you can roam the streets freely at 3AM without the fear of being gang-raped in a moving bus.

He signed off on the letter, and now I have my laptop back. I asked security if they’d finished my blog post on Hannibal. They hadn’t. I promised never to hurt someone I loved so much ever again. I can bring it to work every day now.

If you’ve stuck around till now, congratulations! You’ve read a two thousand word post and wasted a lot of your precious time when you could’ve been doing, you know, other productive thing (lol we both know you were going to Reddit anyway. Or 9GAG if you’re a tool). Nevertheless, I’m done with a week and apart from a few problems with the maids at home, I’ve settled into routine, apparently. If there is such a thing as routine. I’m not sure if I’ll blog anytime in the future, but that’s mostly because I’ve run out of ideas.

(Maybe you can leave some ideas in the comments?)

Of Movies And Big Screens

Four months into 2014, and I remember that I have a blog which I swore to maintain. Who did I swear to? Myself. Does this mean that I die if I don’t update my blog? No, since I haven’t updated it, and I’m quite alive. Does this meant that swears are pointless? Indeed. But why am I mentioning this? To increase the word-count of this post Because why not? Then why am I writing this post? I know you’re all dying to be blown away by another one of my literary masterpieces and the last few posts have made you hungry for more. And I decided to throw you all a bone.

A few days ago, I was sitting at the Nescafe in the college with Kilol and Fahad, when the topic of movies came up. FabFahad mentioned that he doesn’t watch English movies because “laptop screen pe movie dekhi nahi jaati“. Kilol seemed to agree with this sentiment, in the sense that everyone is entitled to their own opinions.

After my initial urge to smash Fahad’s head in with a hammer had subsided (not Kilol’s though, she’s cute), I began to wonder about this. What is a movie experience? How would you define one? Movies are unique in way – they’re completely different from other forms of artistic media of expression like books and music such that they’re specifically shot to be shown on the big screen. A book publisher chooses a typeface and font size, but the author may not specifically recommend one. A musician may want his music to sound in a particular way, but may not have issues over its method of distribution (digital or physical media). As long as they reach their customers, they’re happy.

Movies, though. Filmmakers are extremely specific in the way content is delivered. The choice of aspect ratios, the nuances in sound mixing and many more are pondered upon meticulously by them. Because they want the viewer to be lost in their world to guarantee as much immersion as intended. (This is the cornerstone of the smoking-message debate). I understand this.

Certain movies like Avatar and Gravity simply do not work outside the cinema hall. Avatar is probably the best example. I remember watching it in 2D at PVR and being completely blown away by the visuals. So profound was the effect that I convinced myself to ignore the (many) plot holes and errors in the film. Notably, Avatar and Gravity made a lot a money owing to their use of 3D, which convinces many studios to start producing 3D films and converting films shot in 2D to 3D during post-production. The re-release and subsequent success of Titanic and Jurassic Park to name a few reinforces the fact that the audience cherishes a grand movie watching experience. The rise in the sales of large-screen TVs, Blu-Ray players, home-theatre systems further provides proof of this phenomenon.

Till now, this felt like an essay I’d write in an English exam (basically full of bullshit to inflate the word count), but this post isn’t about the others. It’s about how feel. Looking back at all the hundreds of movies I’ve watched (claiming to be a movie buff in the process), I realized that most of them weren’t seen in the theatre. They were either seen on my TV, laptop or even a tiny phone screen. If you were to hold me at gunpoint and ask me to rattle off my favourite movies of all time, it would closely resemble IMDB’s Top 10 list.

I saw The Shawshank Redemption on my 21″ Sony TV on Zee Studio, which had censored a lot of portions. Just like it did then, Red’s concluding monologue about the Pacific Ocean gives me goose bumps till this date.

At the age of eight, when my beautiful little face was contorted by pockmarks (thanks a lot, VZV), dad brought home a VCD (remember those?) of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. My jaw still drops when the Battle of Helm’s Deep is fought.

Owing to its length and severe lack to time due to exam preparation, I saw The Godfather: Part II in four instalments on my 17″ monitor with god-awful speakers and running subtitles to decipher what everyone was saying in Italian accents. Al Pacino’s wide, bulging eyes, when he slapped Diane Keaton right across the face, will remain etched in my mind.

I saw JJ Abrams’s take on Star Trek on my 40” TV which begins with a stunning set-piece immediately followed by some of the most iconic movie themes I’ve had the pleasure to experience. In a hilarious reversal of status quo, I tried to recreate the experience by catching its sequel in the theatres, but nothing came close to capturing the sense of awe I had experienced with the first one.

There are many more additions to this list, notably Psycho, L.A. Confidential, The Dark Knight, The Matrix, Inception, Toy Story 3, Looper, Primer… none of which I managed to catch in the theatre, irrespective of their release dates. They’re all examples powerful, though-provoking, cerebral cinema which I aspire to watch whenever I decide to watch one. And I don’t think I need a cinema hall for that.

If I were a filmmaker, I’d probably be offended by someone remarking they were underwhelmed by my creation simply because they saw it on a smaller screen. By extension, I believe good cinema is only one which can convey the desired emotion irrespective of its medium of distribution. Otherwise, many classics won’t be held in high regard, as it’s safe to assume a majority of the movie-going population hasn’t seen many of them in a cinema hall.

This post/rant ends here. Have a drawn a conclusion? I think I have. But can I say this with absolute certainty? Definitely not. I clearly had higher expectation from this post. Part of me hoped I’d get a clearer answer when I end it, but that hasn’t happened. I can say that Fahad’s opinion is incorrect, but surely cannot vouch for the validity of mine as well. I can feel a sense of frustration welling up inside you, as you realise this post will end in the top wobbling. I’ll leave the decision up to you.

P.S: I wasn’t lying about the head-smashing. I can totally do that.

Head-smashing

Head-smashing

P.P.S: It just struck me that Fahad may be referring to poor posture leading to a general sense of discomfort. In which case this rant was totally pointless.

Review: Man of Steel

Man of Steel theatrical release poster

Man of Steel theatrical release poster

I was one of the rare persons in my friend-circle to not be too excited regarding Man of Steel. I’d read that Chris Nolan would be returning to reboot the Superman series, and having done such a fantastic job with the Batman series (which no one would touch by a long stick after the sad demise of Batman and Robin), I was intrigued. However, when I found out that he would be involved only in the production and story, and not directing, my heart sank a little. It plummeted when I found out Snyder had been handed over the directorial responsibilities. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of Snyder’s films. I disliked Watchmen, generally and hated Sucker Punch. Of course, I loved 300. I was worried that there might be too many slow-mo sequences in Man of Steel as well, which would destroy the movie like Sucker Punch. Nevertheless, a little Nolan touch couldn’t hurt, so I had to know how the movie was.

It all starts off in Krypton. The planet’s core has become unstable and will soon lead to the creation of a singularity which will consume the planet. Pike sends Kirk and Sulu to disable the machine which is killing the core. Unfortunately, it’s too late and Vulcan is dest–

Wait. Wrong movie. I can’t be blamed, though. Because this is exactly how Man of Steel opens. Krypton is being destroyed, villains to fight, too late to stop it, yada yada yada. There’s also some babble about some Codex or something (reminiscent of the babble in Prometheus) to be sent with Kal-El to Earth, which is seen to by Jor-El. Zod is there to ensure this doesn’t happen.

On Earth, Kal-El (now Clark Kent) hops from job-to-job, falsifying his identity and disappearing after being forced to reveal the full powers of his superhuman strength while saving people around him from dangers. In second act, the film alternates between real-time and flashbacks continuously as you see Clark’s childhood, teenage and young-adult days as he struggles to cope with his unusual powers. None of this is particularly confusing, and I personally felt this portion was handled nicely. Lois Lane (played well by the charming Amy Adams) is also introduced as a beauty-with-brains Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist who tries to decipher the Superman’s real identity. Halfway into the movie, Zod arrives to seek out Kal-El, leaving us with a massive and really, really long battle sequence which constructs the film’s finale.

Now you’d be an idiot if you walked into a Superman movie and detested the action. Clark Kent isn’t an intelligent detective like Bruce Wayne was. So there’s less of intellect and more of bad-guy bashing, upholding humane ideals and dealing out justice. The supposedly true embodiment of America. Here is where Zack Snyder seems to take over the reigns of the horse and boy does he race well. The action sequences are unlike anything you’ve seen before. This is CGI-porn at it’s finest. We haven’t been strangers to massive on-screen battles which leave large cities in ruins (consider the Transformers movie series or more recently, Marvel’s The Avengers), but watching just a few individuals battle it out is a sight to behold. There’s a particularly gripping choreographed fight sequence between Zod and Kent where they fly through the city trading blows. There’s no slow-mo involved anywhere and yet you’re able to keep track of the action.

There are a few problems though – ones which cannot be ignored. The film was shot in 2D and converted to 3D, which explains why the colours look terrible. It’s a pity Nolan (as Producer) allowed such a travesty to happen, as he’s always been particular to shoot movies in good ol’ normal 2D, opting for IMAX cameras only in The Dark Knight Rises, and ignoring 3D even then. When you see Superman flying over green pastures bisecting hordes of zebras, you want to see it in glorious, gorgeous 2D.

There’s also the excessive use of shaky-cam which may lead to bouts of dizziness for the inexperienced. Znyder also prefers to zoom in really quickly onto the subjects in certain scenes. This, too, is used a lot, but works to a large extent.

Maybe Znyder tries too hard. Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe it’s perfect. But many may not agree with his skills here, and opinions are certain to be divided on this.

But he does manage to extract great performances from his cast. Russel Crowe as Jor-El manages to make the otherwise boring opening act watchable. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane portray Clark Kent’s adoptive parents who love their son, but know that he’s destined for greater things. They’re instrumental in convincing Superman (and you) why he shouldn’t reveal his powers to the rest of humanity. Michael Shannon is terrific as General Zod. Here we have a villain who has a fairly justifiable agenda to conquer the Earth and pursue Clark Kent. He’s every bit as menacing as a villain and is equals Superman’s ability. He’s ruthless and unrelenting in his quest to fulfill his mission. Henry Cavill is also fantastic as Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, exhibiting just enough vulnerability when required, and bringing the action-movie-man looks when the time comes to battle. Surprisingly, however, it is Antje Traue as Zod’s sub-commander Faora who kicks ass in the final act. It’s difficult to explain how, or why, but you’ll understand when you watch the film.

While watching Man of Steel, my mind continuously wandered to Nolan’s Batman, and here’s where most of the film’s criticism lies. There’s hardly any humour. Not that there was much in the Batman series, but there was general amusement throughout the movies, something which is a staple of Nolan’s directorial flair. Not here, though. As a result, it pales in comparison to Batman Begins. It simply fails to be a satisfying reboot to reach the fairly high standard Batman Begins set (as a reboot).

What really binds the movie, though, is Hans Zimmer’s exceptional music score. You might complain that it is deafening during the final act, and you’d be right, but it makes the action sequences all the more exciting to watch. If you listen to the soundtrack while pooping, it would be the single-most epic poop you’d have ever pooped. The sound effects, especially when Superman takes flight, sound so marvelous reverberating through the hall while shaking your seats. It’s a visceral experience, with each sound punching your gut knocking the wind out of your stomach till you gasp for breath…

…which puts me in the unusual position of wholeheartedly recommending a film to watch at the cinemas, despite it being only a good film. Man of Steel isn’t the best superhero film, but probably one of the better Superman films. It is, however, an extremely promising reboot and I eagerly await the next edition. You must keep in mind that Batman Begins wasn’t the classic it’s successor was, so we can hope for a better Superman film from Znyder-Nolan-Goyer in the future.

My rating for Man of Steel: 7/10

Review: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani

I have a confession to make. I have a slight man crush on Ranbir Kapoor. He’s undoubtedly one of the finest young actors in the country right now. Not only are his acting skills impressive, his choice of movies is also generally unconventional and bold. A risk which no A-lister will generally take (referring to Wake Up Sid! and Barfi! in particular). So when I heard about his participation in YJHD, I was intrigued. Director Ayan Mukherjee had returned after a long time, his debut film being the surprisingly mature Wake Up Sid!. This raided my excitement level. The trailers didn’t look particularly promising, but hey. Don’t judge a book by its cover, right?
Never have I been so wrong.
Within the first five minutes, I knew I had made a huge mistake spending Dad’s precious money. We’re introduced to Deepika Padukone, a nerdy girl with biology textbooks being her only companion. She leads a frustrated lifestyle simply because she’s sick of studying and wants to enjoy life. So when she learns that her acquaintances (played by Kalki, Aditya and Ranbir) are planning an excursion to Manali, she leaves her place in an impromptu decision and decides to accompany them. The first half chronicles their adventures in Manali (actually shot in Gulmarg and passed of as Manali, much to Omar Abdullah’s annoyance). Initially shy and reserved, Deepika quickly loses her inhibitions when she bonds with her aforementioned acquaintances and showcases her wild side. Now since this is a Hindi movie, she inadvertently falls in love with Ranbir (named, I kid you not, Bunny. How does one fall in love with someone named Bunny?). Obviously, since this is a Hindi movie, she can’t be with him because Ranbir wants to travel the world, against the wishes of his caring father and step-mother.

This is typical Karan Johar. The cinematography and locations are prime with no blemish in sight. People break into perfectly choreographed dances given the opportunity. There’s even that moment when the leads know they’ve fallen for each other. Now since this is Karan Johar, he can’t seem to satisfy his endless appetite of marriages. So naturally, the second half there’s the wedding. That’s right. An entire half. The funny thing here is the second half is significantly better than than the first. You can imagine how the first half was, if I’m stating that I enjoyed watching yet another Karan Johar Big Fat Indian Wedding.

There are some inexplicable moments throughout the movie. An extremely experienced and adventurous trekker, Ranbir tires faster than Deepika, who you’d remember, has had practically zero adventures. The duo trek to an abandoned mountain completely obvious to their instructor who specifically advised them against it, without any repercussions. The narrative hinges itself on certain plot points which will leave you scratching your heads, most of which I cannot reveal because spoilers.

Credit where it’s due, though. The film isn’t entirely unwatchable. This mostly because of Ayan’s masterful direction. The friendship amongst the four is beautifully done and you can feel their troubles as they to through them. There’s a wonderfully understated romance between Kalki and Aditya, which tends to become a major plot point in the future. But Ayan doesn’t unnecessarily give us mushy-mushy scenes. It’s a refreshing take on relationships; a mature one – something he has proven he can handle in his directorial debut. Of course, the two leads do get together in the end but I loved the way the eventual fate of the other two was decided.

Some scenes stand out for the emotional impact they have on the audience, although these are few and far between. There’s a powerful, poignant moment where Ranbir reconciles with his step-mother as he longs for catharsis. It’s beautifully shot and never overstated. There are no words spoken and there’s no over-the-top crying. But it manages to moisten your eyes when you least expect it.

Then there’s the cast. The ensemble cast is excellent. This is not exaggeration. Everyone hits the right notes. Farooq Sheikh and Tanvi Azmi are nicely cast as Ranbir’s caring yet misunderstood parents. Kalki is a revelation as she fits well into the vodka- guzzling adventurous-girl role torn between love and stability. Aditya exhibits the right amount of vulnerability when required as he plays a financially unstable bar owner who struggles with his gambling problem and alcohol addiction (which I learnt was basically his role in Aashiqui 2). Ranbir is great as always, oozing charm, although his character seems a little too perfect to be successful in the real world. It’s surprising how Ayan managed to extract every shred of emotion from Deepika as well. In what is arguably her best performance till date, she’s able to essay her equally incredulous character with ease, never once failing to drop the high level of chemistry she shares with her (alleged) real-world boyfriend.

In the end, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani is essentially a flawed film, but only because of the incredulous plot. However it’s made immensely watchable by a fantastic assortment of actors. I’d certainly not recommend seeing it in a movie theatre, but it won’t be a bad idea to rent it on DVD (or those new-fangled Blu-Rays, if you’re classy) to watch it on a lazy weekend.

My Rating for Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani: 6/10

Review: Vicky Donor

That is right, sirs and madams! Your friendly neighbourhood unicorn is back to blogging with this delicious movie review!

The day I gave my final entrance exam the BITSAT, I wanted to go for a movie. Simply because I hadn’t been to one in what seemed like ages. And the last few shows of Vicky Donor were playing in Fun Cinemas, Pitampura and I could not resist. I had to go. I’d heard a lot about the film via Twitter.

Vicky Donor is the story of this Punjabi dude Vicky (Ayushmann Khurana, that MTV VJ) who lives in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar’s Refugee “Calonee”. Living with a widowed mother and an ultra-modern grandma with expensive taste (“ab maine bhi Sony da TV lena hai, woh bhi bayalee inch da”), all Vicky does is move around doing precisely what I’m doing during these holidays – nothing. His mother runs a beauty parlor in the house and often demands money for him as payment to stay in the house. Frustrated, Vicky reluctantly takes up sperm donation at the insistance of the infertility-curing doctor played by Annu Kapoor.

When I read the outline of the plot on the internet, I admit – it felt ridiculous. Another pointless attempt at cheap humour by our film industry which is running out of good ideas remarkably fast. And another MTV VJ trying his hand at acting, while two others have failed miserably? Looks like a poor idea already.

But I was in for a surprise! Despite the sperm donation plot device playing a major role in the development of the film, the writers don’t rely on it to extract cheap humour from the audience. Instead, they bank on the city the film is set in and it’s perpetually frustrated crowd. The dialogues have that Delhi-esque charm, that tiny attention to detail that makes such supposedly insignifcant films a delight to watch. Ayushmann’s accent as the Punjabi boy is impeccable and not overdone one bit. It comes naturally so you feel as if you’re witnessing a normal conversation rather than watching a film.

Back to the film’s plot which works surprisingly well, the writers don’t try to force too many subplots. They take advantage of a delicious little idea here and weave around it a hilarious tale about the Punjabi boy who falls in love with a dignified Bengali Aashima Roy (“Oh tussi Bong ho?”). Of course, you can expect the standard boy-doesn’t-reveal-embarassing-fact-about-his-personal-life type scenarios but they’re not stressed upon much. Emphasis is paid upon Vicky’s spelunking with Aashima and Annu Kapoor’s insistance on getting Vicky for sperm donation to save his clinic – both providing us with some of the film’s most hilarious scenes.

Of course, the film isn’t perfect. Far from it, actually. After a stupendous first half, the film stumbles in the second. It isn’t particularly bad, but it slows down dramatically, relying on the cast’s fine performances to compensate for the lack of plot here. It almost seems as if the writers ran out of ideas in the second half, knowing well enough how to conclude it (and setting it up for a probably sequel), but not entirely sure about what to do before the conclusion.

Of the cast, everyone performs admirably. The weirdly named Yami Gautam is believeable as the well-educated Bengali girl working in Delhi. Annu Kapoor as the frustrated doctor Baldev Chaddha is simply brilliant. Watch him as he deals with patients and tries tirelessy to convince Vicky to donate some of his sperm.

But the real revealation here is Ayushmann Khurana. He pulls off the role of vella Delhi boy effortlessly, adding small nuances to his performance which demands a powerful screen presence. It’s hard to take your eyes off the screen when he’s there. The film was marketed on his popularity as an MTV VJ and rightly so, as it was what drew audiences to the film in the first place and spread its popularity. It will be interesting to see Khurana’s career path now. But as of now, my perception of his acting skills can be perfectly expressed in a line spoken by the doctor in the film – “Baat hai. Munde vich kuch baat hai.”