Author Archives: airborne

Indian Coffee House, Bangalore


ICH is how Indian Coffee House is referred to by its patrons. Nestled in between the biggest names of the international restaurant business, its plain white name board is easy to miss. You either have been there before or you keep your eyes peeled for it right after you pass Ruby Tuesday on Church Street.

On my second visit here, the first thing I did was to open the Foursquare app and find out what this place was best known for. The most popular was coffee. Mutton cutlet and various preparations of scrambled egg followed. By the time I had salivated over all that, ten glasses of lime juice had already been ordered. Lime juice was not worth the sugar that was put in it, if at all there was any. Masala dosa came in when my ratings for this place was at the lowest. The chutney looked ignorable  but when the first bit of dosa, with the lightly flavored mashed potato filling touched down on the tongue, I closed my eyes in relish. I grew ignorant of the table side conversation and the fingers were licked clean each time they delivered a morsel. There was very little oil on the dosa when you compare it to what the MTR kitchens roll out.

Scrambled eggs couldn’t have been better. Recommend saving this place for the end of the month, when you are close to pauper-hood. And, before you troop down there you may want to check out their swanky website.

The fast car experience

I remember the last time I screamed along with a revving engine. It was 5 years ago in Kerala, in a stripped down Maruti Esteem, and by stripped down, I mean the rally-car way. Factory fitted seats replaced with 2 Sparco bucket seats and 4 way seat-belts, a roll cage, a free-flow exhaust and all that you need to generate enough torque in a 30 metre run-in enough for a decent drift.

For those fifteen minutes, we felt every pebble that the tires crushed, and all of that ended in a smooth 360 degree stop. If I had had a driving license or a fair amount of experience behind the wheel, I may have had a chance at that car.

That short trip down memory lane was a result of watching the Fast Five at the theatre yesterday. The grunt of the GT40 would be wasted on you if you don’t have theatrical sound. Boy, that was the beginning of a parade of muscle and beauty. The only places where better choices could have been made were the monster SUVs which The Rock arrived with and the silvery sissy looking car standing beside Vin Diesel’s beast towards the end. The SUVs seemed ill-designed and bulked up to match Rock’s physique. The rest of the cars have my approval.

Fast five is years ahead of Tokyo Drift (the third of the sequel) in entertainment value. That said, do not fly to the theatre if you sniff a good story here. If that’s what you are after, the trailer is enough. To put it in short, this could be the work of a director who has a Michael Bay’s craziness for trashing good lookin’ cars (but has a much better idea of how to) and a fetish for the Tarantino-Rodriguez style of bringing things down with a machete. I sometimes wish director Justin Lin would rope in an intelligent script writer suggested by Chris Nolan and then continue stealing vaults the way he did this time. I would love him for it.

It’s a must-watch if you don’t have a fast car or a car at all. Those who do can learn to drive during the movie. The best way to rob a bank is to rip out its vaults:

Lebanon (2009)

Lebanon (2009) is a claustrophobia-inducing tank movie. I stress on claustrophobia, cause once you see the sea of sunflowers and hear the wind gush through it at the beginning of the film, there are high chances that you would be more than just relieved to see it once more in the end.

The film is supposedly based on the true story of a four-member tank crew and a dozen soldiers on a short clean-up mission of a gutted town in Lebanon. Inside the tank are puddles, walls with oil dripping down them like rain on a glass window, gauges which dim as the engine draws the battery to come to life and an exhaust turned seemingly into the cabin. Sometimes the town does feel a lot better than the tank itself. We are soon made to realize that a tank is not merely a weapon but a living quarter for its crew too as we shrink back repulsively making connections with examples of scuzz around us. Our attention is brought back to the mission by the respect-demanding mission commander, Jamil (Zohar Shtrauss) , who is not as emotionless as he seems to be at first.

We follow Shmulik’s (Yoav Donat) observant gaze as he acclimatizes to his first day at his job and at war. Assi (Itay Tiran) portrays the struggling tank commander who finds himself explaining his decisions to the ever questioning Hertzel (Oshri Cohen), whose seniority also seems to be the source of Assi’s insecurity. Yigal (Michael Moshonov) plays the homesick tank driver.

Director Samuel Maoz portrays a clear picture of the tragedy of war, primarily with the help of Shmulik’s constant battle with his conscience over firing at human life, and his monoscopic survey of the gory scene after it. When his reluctance results in a casualty (called an “angel” in military code), the tank becomes a temporary hearse. As the petty mission becomes more dangerous, each encounter weighs down on the newcomers, empty ammunition boxes become urinals and the mind becomes numb from the jarring sound of the tank engine. The hydraulic whine of the turret moving with the gunsight adds the only sound to the haphazard movement outside. The “angel” is soon air-lifted with a rope tied around it and is replaced by a Syrian POW. Once in the tank with the lid closed, you see only what the crew see or hear. Being inside it  limits your senses to the extent that after a short span of less than two hours, when the tank finally breaks into a sunflower field, you realize that you had been taking shorter, quicker breaths all the while.

Samuel Maoz scripted Lebanon from his scarring experience of working as a gunner in the first of the Israeli tanks during the 1982 Lebanon war. Hence, it was criticized as a deterrent for young men to join the army and is yet to receive a wide release.The film won the Golden Lion in 2009 Venice Film Festival but received rejects from Berlin and Cannes Film Festivals.

Verdict: One of the few unbiased war movies around, that are anti-war. 7.5/10

Cell 211 (2009), a thought provoking riot

It all begins with a deafening silence which lasts through a long sequence of opening credits up until the lazy click of a cigarette lighter. What follows then is an ingenious work of making a sharp-edged weapon with a cigarette butt, a look of hopeless despair, and a slow suicide timed only by the sound of splatting drops of water. A simple reminder that “here” anything could be lethal, even a spoon.

Alberto Ammann plays Juan Oliver, the nervous, eager-to-impress guard being shown around the prison, each sight and sound of which seems to rattle him. The prison’s constant state of construction lands rubble on the new guard, rendering him unconscious. The guards carry Juan to cell number 211 which has been recently emptied even as Malamadre (a lifer played by Luis Tosar) manages to take a guard distracted by the accident hostage. The prison soon erupts into a riot.

The sequence of events – Juan getting injured, Malamadre taking a guard hostage – might have seemed staged and resulted in Cell 211 becoming another prison break story, but Juan’s visit is made to look voluntary and that saves it from the fall. As the guards assume defensive positions, Juan is left to fight the prisoners with his own wit as the entire block is cordoned off. From here, Juan plays the new prisoner who makes sound strategic decisions to keep his job and the situation under control.

Director Daniel Monzón uses the black and white muted video feed from the security cameras effectively to frame a judgmental point of view of the rioting prisoners. As you absorb the scene, a loud-colored camera feed hits you hard, flooding your senses with the scenes someone in the riot would have witnessed.

As Juan is left against hardened criminals to test his will to do what is right, the audience is tossed to and fro between the two points of view – that of a prisoner and that of the outside world (read: the cruel penal system). Monzón narrates the prison break in flashbacks, each one weakening in its impact as the prison scene spirals further out of control. Juan is clever at improvisation and a delight to watch. Not to say that the others give dismal performances, but they seem to have fallen off the main picture while Juan gets all the attention and Malamadre fights for it.

On the whole, the film is a thought-provoking thriller and deserves the eight Goyas (Spanish Oscars) it won.

(Malamadre, as seen in the poster above, resembles an imposing demonstrator standing against the riot police in a photograph by Danny Ghitis, during the run-up to the US presidential elections of 2008.

Five funny ways to die!

Chris Morris brings his decades-long experience of being a radical satirist and a creative force across UK’s TV and radio to Four Lions, as a director. The movie, which Morris claims to have spent three years of research on, is admittedly a farce. It was exclusively screened to former  Guantánamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg (much to his liking) to check if it would hurt UK-Muslim sentiments.

A movie that could easily have been  just another feature film about terrorism becomes a scary view into the dynamics and lives of a ridiculous terrorist cell. The cell consists of four young Muslim men who turn fundamentalist and decide to become suicide bombers. Omar (Riz Ahmed) and Waj (Kayvan Novak), who attend a terrorist training camp in Pakistan, actually fall a little short of terrorizing their trainers, much like the American army. Add to this the fact that disillusioned Omar’s revenge for the ill-treatment of Muslims around the world is the most exciting idea that Waj has ever heard or thought of. In fact, it seems Waj has left all the thinking to Omar all his life. Barry (Nigel Lindsay) is a white convert to Islam who advises the others to eat their sim cards to stop federal forces from tracking them down. Waj wants to know if he can cook his before eating it. And Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), who in all his daft-hood trains crows to blow up “slut-houses”, sits down and begins contently chewing on the sim card. You wouldn’t find a more content cud-chewing bovine animal anywhere, not even on the streets of India!  While Omar and Waj are away at the training camp, Barry picks up jihadi-rap singing prankster Arsher Ali (Hassan) at an Islamic conference.  Together they are The Four Lions (yeah, not five, something happens in between). And they won’t stop at anything to blow themselves up, intentionally or accidentally (more likely), to send a message to the capitalist regime that gave them their better lives.

Four Lions turns into a comical tragedy at the pace of a misfired missile while all the good work done by the flying jokes peters out into the bleak reality of terrorism threatening us. Perhaps, a richer soundtrack would have helped the cause.

Rated: So funny, terrorists might die laughing. With their un-pinned grenades in hand.

The trailer can be found here.

monsantoed

So my morning began with this – an irritable method of finding out what Greenpeace thinks about most well known edibles-manufacturing companies, one product at a time. If you try that link, you will know why I find it irritable.

And this is what a verdict looks like –

Kurkure is produced by Pepsico. Pepsico is ranked as Red in the safe food list. This company is irresponsible as it has not taken any concrete steps to provide Indian consumers with GM free food for now or in future.”

Ironically, only one Pepsico product is listed by Greenpeace, so are the rest of the lot good for a toast? But wait, didn’t you just question the entire product line of the company?

Only Dabur and KRBL were ranked safe.

I felt that Greenpeace was taking its credibility as a whistle-blowing organization to the edge of the cliff at ninety miles an hour – the reason being its incomplete yet report-card-like ruling. They could have as well said, “Pepsi, you slut! You’ve got very low grades this time and if you continue staring at that boy’s butt like a horny school girl I’ll tell Daddy!” I concur with them when the theme of walk-the-talk is like preventing a port in Orissa from going industrial which would involve push many species into extinction, but this is different.

The facts behind their allegation though are very grave and should be taken very seriously. Genetically modified foods have entered the mindset of the Indian politician under the aegis of a company, Monsanto, which has since 1901 been a manufacturer of chemicals. It was barred from manufacturing DDT (an international ban on its use because of its hazardous nature, though India still uses it in plenty) and recently has slid into agriculture through mergers and acquisitions. Monsanto was also the producer of a defoliant – Agent Orange, which the American army extensively used during the Vietnam war, only to find out later that it was carcinogenic and ban its use. Roundup was another brand launched by Monsanto, which was a “bio-degradable” weed killer. The bio-degradable tag was soon found to be a marketing ploy and later removed. Roundup was a biotechnological genius in itself. It strengthened only the DNA of the soya-bean plant against itself and not that of the weed, hence exterminating the weed wherever sprayed. The company also introduced 1000 percent more expensive cotton seeds than the normal ones into India, the world’s second most populated country. These seeds were also called “terminator-seeds”, meaning that the trees that these seeds produced were sterile, leaving the poor Indian farmer to purchase expensive seeds every crop season (that were priced at 10 Euros for 100 grams), and at the hands of  merciless money lenders and truant monsoons.

I’ll leave you with some interesting links on the subject :

An interview of an ex-MD of Monsanto by Tehelka, Monsanto and the Indian farmers and a documentary of their dirty work.

Onam pangs!

While I was in Delhi (eh, yeah), Onam was a word that rendered all the devout-Mallus feverishly excited (my parents included). I didn’t get the Onam fever even when I was in Kerala for four years, where I earned (yes!) my engineering degree. Out of a class of 44, I was one of the 4 or 5 who decided not to wear the white mundu. But I was the only one who would have liked to read some yellow-paged dog eared book tucked in the cosy bed at my hostel rooms. The other non-mundu wearing fellas fled instead for the feast.

Meanwhile, the intermittent trips to Dilli were turning into a check-if-Mallu-now loop. The first day at home, a starched mundu lay on the bed alongwith the other clothes I was supposed to change into. Only on the first day. I never put it on, so my parents usually got the message and it stopped finding itself starched and whiling its time away on the bed.

Today, I would do anything to get my hands on that Onam sadya, to feel the crunch of that papadam, the tangy taste of the inji pulli as it arouses a tongue smack, the countless curries that await your taste buds. By this time, the tongue is a victim of the the countless tastes that it cannot describe. Then begins the main course – featuring a mixture of matta rice, sambar and crushed papadams. This is the time all the talking around the table stops and people just focus on what’s served on the leaf.Gorging on lip-smacking food is a high in itself. And then there is always the onam payasam and the sharkara varettithu , saved for afterwards.

While the above lines were happening to me, I was chewing on a chicken puff, with a headache  as the aftermath of working a 12×3 weekend, and all I could feel was the taste of avial waltzing around my taste buds

Days on, I still can’t get over the Onam pangs. So I decide to put it down this way.

A better next Onam to me.

P.S: This wasn’t how I had imagined the great Onam weekend of Bengaluru to be!

On the weekend coming up to Onam, I wasted an hour before the gate-opening time and an hour after it, almost kneeling (in half-devotion and the other half because of the lactic acid awakening my lazy muscles) at the gates of the grounds where Avial was supposed to perform. This ground happened to be a little clearing just behind a cancer hospital, the irony of it all! Or may be not, may be the Catholic priests who run the institution believed in the ‘healing powers of good rock music’. Either way, we were gonna make the best of the concert.

Avial made it to the stage after the St. Johns College’s band, The Gig Bang Theory, failed to come close to banging anything, except our hopes of a good show. Five minutes of running sound checks and what not, the first evening-saving act stood there- in a green mundu, with a clean shaven head and “Nada Nada Nada”.

That song made me believe in universal brotherhood; I was surrounded by strong North Indian accents mouthing the absolutely correct Mallu lyrics. An entire album rolled by within a span of forty five minutes. Since then, this song of theirs has been on repeat, sometimes alone and sometimes with the rest of their album, for hours together without my ears complaining. Do check out their rest of the album, here if you havn’t.

Epic, really?

 July 2010 just saw the release of a web browser called Epic, built by an Indian software company.

We used it for some time and here are a few things we learnt  –

  • Epic is built on the Gecko layout engine (by Mozilla). (What is a layout engine? It’s that part of the browser that interprets the HTML and draws it on the screen for you to see.)

 

  • Has a transliterator which can work in twelve Indian languages. ( This add-on uses Google’s help for transliteration. Here, there is a momentary lapse after the spacebar is pressed for the conversion to happen. We are wondering if this lapse increases, on slower computers and/or  running slower net connections. We are running  a 2Mbps internet connection on 1ghz/Pentium 4. )

 

  • This is also the first web browser with an inbuilt antivirus by ESET. (  Interesting! )

 

  • There is also a cute side panel which holds a large number of shortcuts – from popular social networking sites to computer explorers, and a number of apps, skins and wallpapers for further download.  (  Thanks, but no thanks. Though convenient, the panel  slides across open  upon clicking one of the icons is narrow and breadth restrictive. It would be useful to check for any new emails, but I would rather read them in the bigger window.)

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  •  Liked the well-thought-of featuristic notepad (called Write) but….(the icons in the Write window seem blurry, just clear enough to make do. It also seems to swallow the cursor at times when you paste an image onto the Write window and then you are on your own, counting your way out of a sentence, one letter at a time. But the biggest flaw seems to be the fact that the stuff you write can be saved only in .txt and .html formats. There is a need for support for more formats and a better exporter, coz the embedded images and text were found to be hyperlinked and embedded in html code, and What You See Is Not What You Get. This is not something that you expect from a “word processor”that you intend for  everyday use.)

 

  •  This browser has an annoying habit of  displaying websites on your screen in a strange shabby format that it chooses to. (For example – people like me who love the Twitter homepage are bound to be annoyed (gaze at the  screenshot above, so much like GPRS internet!!). Twitter on Epic does seem like a Neanderthal website.)

 

  • We  liked the Privacy button and the button for clearing browser history. (a Mozilla feature that’s nothing more than but directly accessible here.)

Epic browser Official website: http://www.epicbrowser.com/

What we think –

     Epic is an epic fail if this is what Alok Bhardwaj (CEO, Hidden Reflex, the company that built Epic) meant by innovation in software technology while saying, “We want to prove that India can be a hub for innovation in software and technology.” Though it functions well as a web browser, Epic seems more like a bouquet of popular shortcuts than a web browser  trying hard to ride the Indian tricolor wave to glory.We think you can definitely live without this browser.

Do let us know of your experience of the Epic browser in the comment section below.

mysore

This I thought, would be the most boring of all trips. Honestly. But I successfully convinced a guy blinded by a hangover to ride his Enfield Bullet to a place which was almost 130 kms away from Bangalore city- and that was an ego boost to my people-motivation skills.

Okay, ignoring the hour wasted in finding his house, then finally meeting up at a restaurant which was overflowing with more people fighting for good coffee than for better food,  and that too at eight fucking thirty on a Sunday morning, everything seemd perfect (keeping in mind that it was cloudy even at 9 that morning). To make matters worse,  Ashish called in with fever . Now, it was justthe Enfield guy and me, and we decided to do the trip for record’s sake.

A short 15 minute criss-cross through the morning traffic brought us onto the Nice road. And  does it live up to its name! A toll booth later, we were flying down the highway with me surprised by how the surroundings change – we were in a traffic jam a few minutes back and now, we were riding at heights more than that lush coconut tree groves with lakes of water in between.

Now, this is where I start lauding my Yamaha‘s performance. To begin with, it’s got a “feather light handlebar” which gives you the smoothness of a banking aircraft  on those long bends interrupted only by mangy mutts in the middle of such roads mulling on whether to cross or not.  Occasionally, you would come across carcasses of victimised dogs and crows playing relay races in a similar fashion. Another realization that hits you soon enough is that while the Karnataka government was planting speed breakers, it forgot to put warning signs in advance and sometimes, skipped them altogether. Poor mileage, though an issue, was pushed aside by breathtaking scenery,  and three hours later, I was at a  200 year old church.

A few minutes of stretching and soothing the side-B, I started the ride to the place where it all began – the Mysore campus. We revisited the old training rooms, food courts and libraries. The walk back to the hostel room from the training centre used to be a long one, taking 1-2 hrs, which included warm chocolate milk shakes, diaphragm exercises accompanying the accomplished guitarist, leg pulling, weekend planning … the problems of a simple mind which are now nowhere to be heard of.

I spent time recounting memories with all whom I could find from my training days and after I slept off the tiredness, witnessed a musical fountain dance to some (repetitive,) pop music with the glow of the enormous, second training centre for stagelight. Now, that building, is  money well spent. Our stomachs growled and a thought of the good ole masala buttermilk ran through our heads. Two years earlier, there used to be just one crowded punjaabi dhaaba with  finger-licking food. Now, there are many with bland food. We ordered butter nan, paneer bhurji and dal tadka , and got sweet dal, burnt nan, some bland paneer bhurji and this conversation: –                                                                               

 To the waiter,” Boss, isme(dal tadka) namak nahi hai!”
The spineless jellyfish(waiter) pointing at the salt-pepper dispenser,” Dal lo!”
Friend retorted:”Dal,pyaaz aur masala bhi de dete, khud hi banake kha lete!”

I don’t know what I should hold against him – the ‘best’ dhaaba around or the free movie that we missed by sleeping away at the dorm. I forgave him(had to, I was spending the night over at his place and he knows Kung-fu) and spent the night looking at a curtain thread swayed by the cool breeze. We turned around for Bangalore the next day at around five thirty in the morning and reached home in three-and-a-half hours – and that’s another place struck off and nostalgia shrugged off the shoulders.

Papillon (1973)

Papillon translated into English means ‘The Butterfly ‘. Watching it was exactly like watching a butterfly; it was slow and beautiful. Had it lasted any longer though, the characters portrayed would have died of old age.

The movie is based on Henri Charrière’s identically named novel where  he plays himself and is nicknamed ‘Papillon’. Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman) has been convicted of  counterfeit and meets Henri ( Steve McQueen) who has been falsely implicated of murdering a pimp, on the boat to Devil’s Island where they are to live out their terms in captivity. Papillon offers Dega protection at the notorious prison island and in lieu wants Dega to finance his escape bid. This barter evolves into friendship, but this metamorphosis is very unclear and it has to be beaten into the viewer’s perspective with sudden acts of heroism in Charriere saving Dega’s life, which is very much in danger at the hands of the many people who had invested in the 1928 national security bonds, and those of the prisoners who are after the money Dega has hidden inside his body. And without Dega’s loud verbal realization the metamorphosis would have been invisible.

There are some aspects of the screenplay which seem very un-staged and draw the viewer into believe in its veracity. Sample this- a prisoner exhausted by the heat faints and falls on a brood of hens which leaves a hen maimed and floundering. Natural but painful screenplay for today’s animal lovers!

As McQueen ages in long years of solitary confinement and loses his charm, you start looking for supporting actors who could make his escape less tiring, where there are none to be found. And to negate the good effects of the screenplay, McQueen, or rather every actor, speaks fluent American English throughout. This made me doubt if French Guinea were actually French colonies or French named-colonies. One of McQueen’s escape attempts lands him into living the comfortable life of a tribesman for awhile, just because the tribal chief wants a tattoo similar to the one McQueen has on his own chest. Captured and back in the confines of the same prison, he plots his next bid.

There are so many failed attempts to escape in a decade of imprisonment that the brain (which has been put through a continuous flow of Charlie Wilson’s War, Seven Pounds and a lot of Family Guy) just wants McQueen to build himself a rocket and fly away to glory. A fatigued me finds sleep soon afterwards.

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