Friday, May 28, 2004

First a Ferrari now a West McLaren Mercedes

Photo Courtesy: PTI/NewIndpress

Re-visiting Bond - II

This blog shall be re-visiting (periodically), pre-Brosnan Bond movies probably in chronological order. The series continues today with a look at "From Russia with love", the second James Bond flick.

From Russia With Love (1963) Rating: **/*****

The second installment in the James Bond franchise was “From Russia With Love”. Sean Connery plays Bond again with Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana Romanov, the Russian cipher clerk who defects from the Iron Curtain. Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya play the villains Red Grant and Rosa Klebb in this 1963 flick directed by Terrence Young.

The movie opens with the now customary pre-credit sequence. “Bond” is trying to find his way out of a maze of hedges and is being stalked by a killer. After a brief fracas, the killer takes “Bond’s” life. We find that it is actually someone else masquerading as Bond and that it was a test for the killer.

Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal) is a chess grand master. He is also #5 in SCEPTRE (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion). He draws a plot to serve to serve atleast three purposes – obtain a Russian coding machine, the Lektor and kill James Bond and in doing so, avenge the death of Dr.No. He reports to #1, a bald man always petting a furless cat and whose face is never shown. #1 enlists #3, Rosa Klebb (former Smersh high ranking official) who in turn recruits Red Grant, an English criminal (the killer from the opening sequence) for the purpose. As per Kronsteen’s plan, Klebb contacts Tatiana Romanov, a cipher clerk at the Russian mission at Istanbul. Feeding her the story that she’s working on a secret assignment for the motherland, Klebb persuades Tatiana to contact MI-6 with an offer to defect with the Lektor. Tatiana claims to have fallen in love with Bond after seeing his pictures and wants Bond to come to Istanbul and escort her to London.

Meanwhile Bond’s back from Jamaica after destroying Dr.No’s lair and is in a picnic with a lady (the same lady he meets at a casino just before he leaves for Jamaica in Dr.No?) when he receives M’s call. He meet’s M who briefs him about the developing situation in Istanbul and that he has to leave to Istanbul immediately to escort Tatiana back to London. M and Bond suspect a trap but the lure of the Lektor is too good for the MI-6 to ignore and of course for Bond, the gal’s a offer he can’t bear to refuse. Bond leaves for Istanbul with the latest model attaché case developed by Q.

Bond gets to Istanbul and with the help of Karim Bey, a MI-6 sympathizer with a large family (all his trusted employees are his sons) gets Tatiana into the train (the Orient Express?) bound for the Yugoslavian border. Red Grant is obviously following them and gets on the train too. He kills Karim Bey and then contacts Bond in the pretense of being a MI-6 agent sent to contact Bond and accompany them to London. He drugs Tatiana and pistol-whips Bond to unconsciousness. Bond wakes up to find the pistol pointing at him, but manages to overpower Grant with the special tear gas and a metal wire included with the attaché case. When the train stops at a point that has already been decided up by Grant, Bond gets off with Tatiana and commandeers the truck that Grant has arranged to pick him up. After fighting off SCEPTRE agents on a copter and a trio of speedboats, the lovers reach Venice.

Meanwhile #1 puts Kronsteen to death by lethal injection delivered from the heel of a shoe and warns Klebb that she’ll face the same fate if she does not deliver the Lektor to him. Klebb gains access to Bond’s room dressed as a maid. Tatiana recognizes her, but after a brief scuffle with Bond, Tatiana, who has really fallen in love with Bond, kills Klebb.

The movie introduced the pre-credits sequences in Bond movies. It must also be only of the very few Bond movies to introduce the villain too. Speaking of introductions, this movie introduced Q in the “obviously disgusted with Bond’s juvenile behavior” demeanor as we know him. Blofeld’s character is anonymously introduced as #1. It is only in You Only Live Twice that we get to see Blofeld’s face. This movie also introduced the concept of the special gadgets. Bond was never the same again.

Trivia-wise, this movie has a couple of junkets. The “Frau Farbissina” character in the Austin Powers franchise is modeled obviously on Rosa Klebb. Ian Fleming is supposed to be in one of the frames of the movie when Bond and Tatiana get off the train after killing Grant. There’s one anomaly in this movie. Ian Fleming wrote From Russia With Love in 1956. However he did not create SCEPTRE till 1961 for his book, Thunderball, which incidentally was filmed as the fourth installment of the Bond franchise. Hence, technically SCEPTRE should not have been a part of this story which is set before Thunderball.

This must probably the only Bond movie where the villains motive is not world domination – at least not directly. This movie is considered to be one of the very best Bond movies ever, though I fail to see why. The girl first feigns love for Bond and then ends up falling in love in real and this in the space of a minute or two. If she believed Klebb’s intentions were real, even while falling in love with Bond, she hides the emotional tug of war that happens usually. She never clarifies to Bond what her intentions where, even after Klebb dies. And some of the lines are corny, even considering that Bond lines are as corny as they can get. Hence, overall this movie did not touch base with me.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Shrek Redux - Twice!

Note: Some minor spoilers ahead.

I was so bowled over by the antics of "Donkaiy" and the witticisms of "Puss" that I caught the second installment of Shrek's adventure with his noble ass.. hmmm..steed and his (un)lovely new wife Fiona two times over the weekend.

For starters, overall I think the movie does not surpass the original. But then which sequel has upstaged the original? Even the Wachowski's cannot boast in this regard. Mebbe George Lucas and Steven Speilberg can, but they are the exception rather than the norm.

Having said that, however, I have to admit that the movie is as enjoyable as the first. Donkey's metamorphosis into a blond maned "bronco" (as the voice-over on the live coverage mentions) and Puss's imitable Latino charm play no small parts in this regard. And this movie has much more references to pop-culture movies and events that any other that I've seen in recent time. Sir Justin and Saxon on fifth Avenue indeed! I actually watched the second time mainly to soak in on these references and the underlying humor that you don't usually catch the first time you watch a movie.

I do think that as compared to the first movie, the humor in this one is sometimes subtle and very adult. It would take at-least a fifteen year old (here in the US, much older mebbe in India) to grasp what's being meant. Visually however, the kids are gonna enjoy this one and Hemanth, looks like your Shrek DVD will finally get some rest once this DVD comes out.

Again graphics wise this movie is much more advanced. The visual characteristics of the people providing the voices have been incorporated very well. For example, Donkey's facial expressions reminded me a lot of Eddie Murphy's SNL skits as "Velvet Jones" (the guy behind the "I wanna be a Ho" self help book) and "Buckwheat". Awesome job by the animators here.

Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots, in an obvious take off on his Zorro role, simply rocks. His latino accented drawl and the characteristic sword play, not to mention the "emotional feline blackmail" he indulges in whenever cornered is one of the strong points of the movie.

However if I noticed one thing that stuck me as out of place, it was in the case of Fiona. Mebbe its just me, but I did think that Fiona looks a bit differnt (when in the princess garb).

Shrek also seems to have lost his Scottish accent that was so striking in the first movie. However it could just be that I have gotten used to it so much that its not obvious any more.

The first movie was all about the 4 main characters. Here however, a lot of secondary characters have humorous interludes mixed in with the main trio of Shrek, Donkey and Fiona (with fourth spoke in this wheel being Puss ofcourse). This is where the movie has both its strong points. I am not gonna give away so much, but the secondary characters raise much more laughs than the first movie. But they are as unintrusive as they can get and help keep the focus on the main quartet.

Go ahead and watch the movie, even if you are not under the age of 10. Infact if you are part of the "above the PG-13 rating" audience you are going to have more fun than the under 10s.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Is this what they call humility?

Rogert Ebert has reviewed Shrek 2 and is not too impressed with the movie (when the movie's compared to the previous one). During the course of his review, he goes on to say this.

The movie has several songs, none of which I found very memorable, although of course I am the same person who said the Simon and Garfunkel songs in "The Graduate" were 'instantly forgettable'.

Can't stop chuckling ever since I read those lines. Regardless of the slightly negative reviews, I am still watching it. Hopefully tonight! Anyways, read Ebert's review of Shrek 2 here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

“It’s so easy to classify a film, isn’t it?”

For Mani Ratnam, every project is a high, a fever! Samanth Subramanian caught up with Mani Ratnam a few days ago and here's what Mani Ratnam had to say.

The germ for ‘Aayitha Ezhuthu’ was something that happened very long back, based on an incident at Osmania University. It was very exciting to read about it, and I tried working it a couple of times, but it wouldn’t click. That happens often. I was supposed to develop ‘Alai Paayuthey’ instead of ‘Dil Se’ for a Hindi audience, and I couldn’t tie it up satisfactorily. So I left it, did ‘Dil Se’ and then came back to do ‘Alai Paayuthey.’

For more of this chat and for more about "A writer and his web-blahg", visit Samanth!

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

How far was Gary Payton from losing it last week!

Date: May 8th, 2004
Place: Laker's locker room
The Man: The Glove

"You all can blame me for everything, I don’t care. Whatever. Blame me. I could care less. I’m going to go home and play with my kids. Ain’t no problem."

"This is a team game. If we focus on stopping him, we can do that. You can put it on me, whatever you want to do. I can be the scapegoat. Put it on all five of us, then. Go ahead do what you want to do. It's Gary Payton vs. San Antonio."

“It’s just like they play defense, they help. That’s just the way we have to play basketball, too. If we all work together, if we played the way we’re supposed to, we’ll win.

"Rumsfeld thinks he has it tough, I have to do this every day."

Date: May 18th, 2004
Place: ESPN Studios
The Man: The Glove

Question: Last week, you were 0-2 against the defending champions and Parker was going strong. How far were you from losing it?

The Glove: "No, I was never close to losing it man.". (Touches nose)

Another possible case of the Pinocchio effect?

Bala Machaan!

Now we know the face behind the cries of Bala Machaan during the Pakistan series. Anil Kumble? Incredible!

Saturday, May 15, 2004

AE - My expectations after watching Amores Perros

Amores Perros

I watched the movie last night. Racy screenplay. But the point is, if the techinal aspects of the movie were to be replicated in India, I doubt it would ever reach the masses. 12B was such an experiment that failed miserably.

Amores Perros rocks because it doesn't tell us anything other than a story (or rather three stories that criss-cross at a point) and I think thats how a movie should be, just like Mouna Raagam was or mebbe even Nayagan (two of Mani's previous movies that did not have a "Superhero" or a "Super heroine" :p).

A director should not try to talk to the audience directly. Its the movie that should talk. Alejandro González Iñárritu (the Mexican film-maker whose resume incl. a short film to showcase the BMW X5 3.0i on did that brilliantly last night and knowing Mani, am sure he'd do a good job of ensuring this in his own way.

In Amores Perros, the characters from the three independent story lines have just minimal contact and dont have any frames common to each other (apart from that accident) and this is where the strong point of the movie lies. I would want AE to function that way too, but then the ignorant shall be given voices that crow a single word - "copy" (they already say that Thiruda Thiruda's a remake of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but my question is have they seen both the movies?), so I would leave it to Mani ideally his own way.

And once in for all, I have to say that if Amores Perros was a trans-atlantic flight on the Concorde, AE/Yuva would be the equivalent of a trans-atlantic cruise on the QEII. By this i mean that though the short tagline for both the movies would the same, I expect both movies to be as different as the Concorde is to the QEII regardless of the opulence associated to both the journeys.

On an aside, check out all the movies on There are eight short movies (all part of a series called "The Hire"), each one featuring a BMW vehicle and directed by the likes of John Woo, Guy Ritchie (featuring Madonna) not to mention Alejandro González Iñárritu (the director of Amores Perros). Each movie features Clive Owen (Bourne Identity, Gosford Park etc.) as a hired chauffeur who seems to have much more talents than just driving a BMW vehicle for his customers.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Re-visiting Bond - I

This blog shall be re-visiting (periodically), pre-Brosnan Bond movies probably in chronological order. The first of this series starts today with a look at Dr.No, the first ever James Bond flick.

Dr.No (1962) Rating: *** / *****

As the first movie on what has become a money spinning franchise, the Terrence Young-helmed Dr.No had the envious task of setting a platform and introduce a number of concepts and ideas that were to become a staple of part of every single Bond movie (not to mention countless other take-offs) ever since - the martini, the Walther PPK etc. It also had the dubious distinction of setting the framework for numerous parodies ever since not to mention the caricature of a villain and the one-moment-clever-another-moment-stupid-sidekicks.

Plot-wise, it was pretty basic. A sinister half-Chinese decamps with a million dollars worth of gold from the Chinese Triad. He also is a brilliant scientist. He just commandeers an un-inhabited island close to Kingston, Jamaica and proceeds to mine bauxite in a sweatshop like atmosphere while secretly developing a beam to disrupt missile and moon rocket tests in Cape Canaveral.

Bond is asked to investigate, by M, when the MI-6's station head in Jamaica and his secretary get bumped off by three supposedly blind men (with the Kingston Calypso, a song about 3 blind mice, an obvious reference to the fairy tale, playing in the background). Bond gets to Jamaica, but his reputation precedes him and he has to bump off a fake chauffer who gives up with surprising ease. He also encounters a half Chinese secretary in the Government House who tries to lure him to his death with her sultry charms, but fails, not to mention a crooked scientist who runs a lab in Kingston in league with Dr.No.

Bond finds that the killed station head suspected foul play at Crabtree island and decides to investigate with his sidekick Quarrel (who he inherits from the dead station head) and CIA agent Felix Leiter (who gets to do nothing in the whole movie btw). They encounter a un-imaginatively named (aren’t Bond girls named that way,always? Pussy Galore indeed!) half naked woman (Ursula Andress, at her best undressed self as Honey) searching for seashells in the island who joins them and come face to face with a mechanical fire-breathing contraption that Dr.No passes off as a dragon to scare away intruders from the island. Quarrel dies as a result of his quarrel with the dragon and Bond lets himself be taken captive and is lead with Honey to Dr. No's "underground lair".He comes face to face with Dr.No who has a metallic claw for a hand and when Dr.No goes to launch his "beam". Bond foils it and kills him while blowing the place to smithereens.

From a quizzer’s point of view, this movie presents an interesting sequence leading to the forced change of Bond's weapon of choice from his 10-year-old Beretta to the Walther PPK. Bond resists the change, but is reminded (by M) of the fact that the Beretta had jammed at a critical point in Bond's previous mission. Bond is forced to make the change and he even unsucessfully attempts to flick the Beretta right from under M's eyes. And Halle Barry's entry in the “Die Another Day” is a direct reference to Ursula Andress's entry in this movie when she walks out from the waves in a white (and obviously wet bikini). If you have seen the Austin Powers series, the Dr.Evil character is obviously based on Ernst Stavro Blofield (who was named after the father of Henry Blofield who had been Ian Fleming’s school-mate), but the scene in one of the movies when Dr.Evil and Scott Evil go to a group therapy session and Dr.Evil talks about his childhood etc. is obviously based on Dr.No’s similar description to Bond when they discuss things over dinner.

The movie marked the debut of the John Barry - Monty Normal created theme that has been Bond's signature ever since. But it's another single, "Underneath the Mango Tree", that has been going around my mind for the last two days now.

As for the gadgets, the novelty stops with the perfunctory appearance of Q’s predecessor Major Boothroyd in the early scenes - albeit at M's orders to give him his new Walther. The gadget level stayed at abysmally low levels, with one failing to understand how the obviously mechanical dragon could raise hell or was Quarrel plain stupid and did Honey Ryder's knowledge was limited to just sea shells!

It is interesting to note that the moment I saw a Oriental looking man sing at the bar when Bond meets with Quarrel and Felix Leiter, the first person that came into my mind was that famous half Chinese in cricket and the eponymous creator of the Chinaman - Ellis Achong. This first gave me doubts as to the significance of the convenient presence of Oriental looking individuals (including a sexy woman working at Government House) half way around the world in the Caribbean, but then I realized Dr.No's supposed to be Chinese.

Overall, a sloppy movie when you compare it to the later movies. But then, as it often happens, stupidity like this seems to grow on you and you start liking it. This is perhaps true of Dr.No too and one movie gave way to two and then more. James Bond has never looked back since.

As for the actor playing Bond, Sean Connery seems to be angry at someone all the time, regardless of his role, be it in a Bond movie or Entrapment, Indiana Jones or even Finding Foresster. It is also interesting to see where the uppity-all-knowing-better-than-thou potrayal started from. It is not surprising that Connery's potrayal of the executive of unknown rank from Universal Exports, has been ranked by "experts" (source. V.Gangadhar in The Hindu) in the top 5 all time dramatic lead roles (the all time number one being Brando's Don Corleone from Godfather). Frankly speaking, it now seems to me that Sean Connery never stopped playing Bond ever since.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Changes in Blogger?

The newest release of Blogger seems to incl. a commenting service, post pages (every post gets its own HTML page in the archive, with permalinks pointing to these pages, rather than the anchors on the same page).

My take on the features (from what I have seen):

* Comment blocking probably a blanket service. So you can't block a particular person from commenting. And I can't just understand this concept of "only members comment" feature.

* The link to the comments in each post is not visible in the main page, unless someone posts a comment. So the first person....blah blah blah blah blah....only with the first poster.

Rejoinder: Well, I muffed up the code on this one. I did not have all the lines of code that it required. Now it works perfect! And notice the nifty button that I have used to replace the script generated text link! I customised the button with this awesome interface to a cool button maker application!

* Titling of posts should be carefully done. Why can't just incl. another feature like "Page Title" or something that the user enters while posting (just like they incl. the title bar). That way user can decide how to name his pages and also do it in a concise manner.

* The archived post pages open on the same template that we use for the main page. So if your main template... blah blah blah blah blah......any of the trappings of the main page?

* The archived post pages have screwed up the archive scripts...... blah blah blah blah blah.... pull down menu or the calendar like links.

Rejoinder: Ok, I shot my mouth off. Blogger's Help Desk has finally compiled a comprehensive list of available template tags and explained them quite a bit on this page. For making your post pages load faster and make sure, use the conditiontal tags provided by Blogger. You can actually prevent javascript/images etc. which you need ONLY on your main page, from appearing on the Post Pages and the Archive Pages. Cool or what?

Saturday, May 08, 2004

A Mother's Day edition of "Samaithu Paar"

“Take the kadai”, “Aaloo endral urulai kizhangu endru ellarukkum theriyum nu nenakaren” were two favorite lines that me and my sister used to laugh about so much. When I came back to Chennai for good from Thanjavur in June 2000 (after my college hostel days), we found that my mom – she of the 9 to 5 (ok for her it was 9:45 to 5:30) government job, had picked up a sudden interest in those cooking shows, particularly one in which this lady used to drone in a monotonous voice about the aaloo and its equivalents. I have forgotten the name, but she definitely had us in splits.

And though I was sure that I had to use that one year (at home before coming to the US or to the B-schools) to pick up some cooking skills, my repertoire in which consisted of a kadai-fried onion and nothing else (oh yeah, Maggi!). But having a mother who obsessed on the right way to, hear this, stir the dish with only my right hand and not my left hand and several other idiosyncrasies like this, put paid to any miniscule intent that I had to overcome my laziness and enter the kitchen. And my father’s reaction to the whole issue was a frown and the words – “Wait, you are going to go out there and find out that you cannot cook and hence you won’t have anything to eat when you come back from class". Dad, haven't you ever heard of Taco Bell? Good Fellas Pizza? Mac?

The progression from a novice cook whose idea of saambhar (which like Nana Patekar says in “Ab Tak Chappan”, is staple food for a Chennai-ite like me) - consisted of adding saambhar powder and fried onion to the cooked lentils with salt to taste, not to mention the roasted cumin and red chillies as garnish to today’s more than adequate cook has been a progression that has taken the most part of two years.

First, a couple of cooking experts who stayed next door thought that they had enough of me gorging on their good food for 4 days a week and then treated them to rubbish the fifth day when it was my turn to cook at my place. They took it upon themselves to drill the knowledge into me with ever sarcastic repartees whenever I extolled the virtues of my saambhar (which by the way was almost everyday, the loudmouthed troll that I am). From them I learnt that saambhar is not just a pot-pourri of spices, vegetables and lentils. That it is much more than that – an art form that requires supreme patience and the perfect saambhar masala.

The last mentioned I had in surplus, an overzealous aunt being the one I should thank. These neighbors of mine – A, R and to a certain extent P and M made sure that I perfected the technique in the six months of this endeavor. By the time A moved to Virginia and I moved to Mill Street with R and M also moving, I had picked up the ropes pretty well. What was left however was the practice that makes the perfect saambhar.

In six more months, I had enough practice to even experiment. And experiment I did. The result – a reputation that has bordered on celebration of the talent and the magic hand, i.e. mine! My keera kootu – palak daal for the uninitiated and keera molaguttal being my private nomenclature, is quite well known. More recently, another of my recipes has turned a number of eyes (and noses and tongues). And that is a tasty sweet and spicy rasam made with pineapple chunks (in unsweetened juice). I present here the same.

Ingredients for Pineapple rasam
1 tin of pineapple chunks (in unsweetened juice)
¼ tin of diced tomato (optional)
Rasam powder (to taste)
Thuvar Dal (amount judged by the number of people intending to eat)
Tamarind (amount judged by the number of people intending to eat)
Salt (to taste)

For extra masala
1 handful of thuvar dal (thuvaram paruppu)
1 handful of channa dal (kadalai paruppu)
1 spoon dhania
3 or 4 small red chillies
A small amount of coconut gratings

For garnish
Kothammalli - amount varied by taste
Karuvepalai (for taste)

Cook the thuvar dal in the cooker till the whistle sounds thrice and set the cooker aside without opening it.

Grind the thuvar dal, channa dall, dhania, coconut and red chillies with a bit of water to a coarse paste and keep it aside.

Put the stove on simmer and boil tamarind paste in water and once it starts boiling add rasam powder and salt (to taste). Keep it on the stove till it starts boiling again.

Open the tin of pineapple chunks and the tomato. Add the pineapple and some tomato to the boiling tamarind water and then add the ground paste and the cooked dal to it too. Bring this mixture to a boil again and remove from the stove.

Wash the kothamalli and karuvepalai in a bit of cold water. Chop the kothammalli (not too fine though) and use it to garnish the rasam along with karuvepalai. Serve warm with rice and any side-dish as required.

Note: My sister jumped up at the mention of coconut as an ingredient in rasam but as my mom clarified (to her), this is a Mysore style rasam. Actually it was essentially intended to be a hybrid incorporating the virtues of both the Mysore rasam and the Tamil marriage style pineapple rasam. Also, I expected my mom to point out (she actually did not) that the grinding of the raw thuvar and channa dals as being redundant because of the use of the rasam powder being used. And I think I missed grinding black pepper with the masala. I don’t know why I did that, but the final result was very good. So do it my way and work your way into people's hearts and stomachs.

Comments from tasters:
1. Sooper rasam machi!
2. Dei, kalakara po! Eppadi da pannina?

Sunday, May 02, 2004


What in the world does this mean? And for heavens sake why? Wouldn't it be more sensible to find a better date for the two teams to agree upon? Or is the bigger picture (i.e. conflicting schedules) unknown to us? Looking at the schedules of the two teams, we can see that both teams have no commitments between April and September of next year. So whats the point of the ICC's Test Championship or would the ICC step in?

Update: The BCCI has since denied this report, but Wisden's Steve Lynch makes an interesting point at the end of the article that I originally linked to (which was probably added much after I posted, since it was not there last night). If England can be threatened with fines and censure and forced to tour Zimbabwe, how on the earth did India escape after their "the players are too tired" ruse to shy away from the Bangladesh tour!