Saturday, December 31, 2005

"The Hindu" beat me to it on this one

I noticed that some of my posts preceded similar articles that appeared in "The Hindu". Both my "A Bevy of Beauties from Kerala" on this blog and "Yuvan's latest offering, a must listen" on my music blog preceded similar articles published in "The Hindu". I am in no way trying to imply that I am competing with the newspaper but it was interesting to observe the similaralities in the points of interest. I could have really nailed another big one had I only posted my article on the up and rising singing star from Kerala, Manjari. Ever since I watched her on one of the Malayalam channels and after Illayaraja's mega concert where she even dueted with him I thought a post was long overdue. Last Sunday "The Hindu" published an article on her. Anyway it is better being late than never having written at all. Read all about it on my music blog titled "Who is likely to replace Chitra".

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Shame on Aachi Masala's "Ungal Choice"

I am so upset at the horrible incident in today's episode that I didn't care to watch one bit of it afterwards and I give a damn for the show hereafter. I am sure even regular viewers would have been shattered at what happened. Karunas, the comedian, was the new guest of tonite's show. After the boring formalities by Uma I found Karunas beginning enthusiastically and humbly in the programme. Then the first caller called. She was asking Karunas several things to do, such as asking to say a favourite dialogue, a song to sing etc. all of which Karunas conceded to in perfect fan-gratifying fashion. Then came a question out of the blue and it hit all of us like a thunderbolt. The dumb caller had the stupid audacity to ask him, "How do feel now that you look like a negro?" Our jaws dropped. What the **** was that? Karunas must have literally given a slap in the face of an answer to that abominable caller but we should thank his modesty for not doing so. Uma did try to offer some solace but that wasn't enough. She should have never encouraged the caller or the question. But why would she do that? What is she and the production interested more in? The dignity of the host or the ratings of the program?

Although the show has had a very successful run Uma's lines have become very stale over the years. The fact that her star-interview-show (I don't remember the name) flopped so badly is testimony to the fact that she is unsuccessful with personal interviews. Without the ambience of her "Ungal Choice" show she will not be good at interviewing her current hosts either. Even if she could why watch a programme that is so poor both at controlling caller behavior and protecting the dignity of their guests.

How favouritism even goes for hosts. If the show can censor (how they fool viewers into believing it is a live programme) unfavourable questions asked to Uma why not do the same for the stars and guests of the show.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Unfortunate Kushboo

I just read in a previously dated issue of The Deccan Chronicle that Kushboo has once again been asked to appear in court. This time for something that she said about the abuse and murder of a minor girl in a hotel in Chennai. It seems as though her woes are not going to end for sometime though her T.V show seems to be proceeding unperturbed. I am hardly interested in the political connections to her stories but here's a look at some other related stories and news.

Months ago, before the Kushboo incident director Thangar Bachan made some derogatory remarks about the heroines and female artistes of the Tamil film industry and for which he was forced to make a public apology. A photograph also appeared in the "The Hindu" of the director doing so.

I am sure the public must be having their last laugh at all this. Their letters in "The Hindu" express their anguish at all this hypocrisy. What are we supposed to believe? That debauchery and excesses hardly exist in the world of showbizz?

Way back in the 80's (I am sure it was the years 85 - 86) an unusual article appeared in the magazine Sunday (it might have been another magazine, I am not sure which one) but the article was titled "Sexy Sania bares it all". It was the talk of the hostel when we visited our classmate's room there. It was all about a low key actress who had spilled the beans on all the affairs and relationships she had had to ascend her way up the ladder of stardom. From someone who made a pass at her to physical relationships she mentioned every major guy she was involved with. I remember she mentioning Dharmendra, Sunny Deol and Vinod Khanna although I do not recall exactly the relationship she had with them. She also gave details of the wild partying and other similar gatherings in these circles and the wild things that had happened to her there. I also clearly recall how she frankly spoke of her fascination for some of these stars too. Mind you, this was in the 80's. Two decades have gone by and you can imagine the situation now.

Next the acclaimed and moving Malayalam film "Lekhayude Maranam, Oru flashback" which actually depicted the life of the late tamil film actress Shoba comes to mind. Even if it were a first hand account of the exploitation and excesses about the film world and their nexus with the network or pimps and customers there was hardly any outcry. What shook my out of my senses was a film made in Malayalam ridiculing the ways of the Chief minister of Tamil Nadu and her friend/aide and even politically there was hardly a protest. Besides depictions of real life stories and happenings, the scale of violence, vulgarity of language (I couldn't believe it, you can almost hear Vijay say the "O" expletive in the movie "Sachin") and obscenity in the scenes have all reached intolerable levels and yet, all of them are forgiven.

My tip for the stars and directors is this. Do whatever you want, say whatever you want on film and you can get away with it. Off screen, MUM's the word.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

My music blog goes live

For all you audiophiles this is to inform that my blog on music from India went live today. I will be posting reviews regularly. So if you want to be in touch with the best of the latest in Fusion, Indipop, Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi and other music from India this is one place you need to check regularly.

Madras Bee, blog named after the popular short wave radio station in Chennai where I listened to a ton of great music in the late 70's, the 80's and the early 90's.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The unusual story of how I saw Catherine Zeta Jones

Now that her movie "The Legend of Zorro" just finished playing in Chennai's cinemas what better time to write about the interesting situation of how I saw her, than now.

It was late November 2001. I would have hardly guessed that my days in North America were coming to an end. I was in Toronto, Canada with my sister who was having her first baby. My mother was also there. 9/11 had just happened and I was also wondering if I would have problems getting back into the U.S. My brother was in the U.S.A too just across the border in Michigan on a company assignment and it was only natural for our mother to visit him too. However she needed a US tourist visa to visit him. This could be obtained at the US Consulate in Toronto.

November the 21'st, 2001 was a cold day. It was raining softly but not snowing yet. Dampness was everywhere. After meticulously checking and re-checking the visa application and attached documents I drove my mother to the consulate that was located downtown. So after exiting off the freeway I made some turns into streets near the consulate. I may have to refer to Google earth for the street names. But then as I was just passing through one of them I almost screamed in delight when I saw a very familiar sight. It was the triple arched entrance of a building that I have seen a thousand or more times on the cover of one of rock's greatest albums, "Moving Pictures" by Toronto's very own band RUSH.
I had seen this triple arched entrance in a friend's album in Toronto and even asked them where they took it but forgot all about it later. I tried to drive as slow as possible and savour the sight and at the same time commit to memory the name of the street, St.Mary's street that I now realize that I might have got wrong. The actual entrance featured on the cover is of the Parliament building at Queen's Park located in the same vicinity and after some investigation I doubt strongly now if that was the building that I saw or another with a similar entrance. Maybe it was another entrance to the same building (like the backside). I just told myself I would come here some day to take a pictue. Anyway this surprise was no match for what was in store inside the American Consulate.

Having stood in the mile long queues from 4.30 A.M in the morning at the American Consulate for my H1B visa in Chennai (the situation was just the opposite at the U.S consulate in Singapore though) I knew the situation in Toronto wouldn't be that bad. By the time we got there the queue inside the consulate's compound was slowly moving into the office. Even if we had to stand outside the office it wouldn't have been a problem as the area was fully roofed. Once inside there were several counters. Already an Indian family were having a tough time with the person behind one of the counters. Of the applicants present 90% of them would have been Chinese. The atmosphere seemed very tense with the apprehension of the prospective applicants. As I realised it would take some time for our turn I asked my mother to sit in one of the seats and wait for my call when our turn to move to a counter would arrive. The waiting was frustrating. No one seemed to be even talking. The crowd inside was also swelling gradually.

Then it happened. Just as I was looking at the tinted glass of the counters a familiar face suddenly appeared behind it. It didn't take long for me to recognize the face and form that had cast a spell on everyone who saw the "Mask Of Zorro".
"That is Catherine Zeta Jones", I screamed to the Chinese guy standing in front of me who only responded with the most dumbest nonchalant look that I could ever elicit as a response. I frantically looked for my mother but she was seated somewhere I couldn't see and I didn't want to make a scene about what I had just seen. How slender and beautiful Catherine looked. She was being introduced by a sharp dressed man to the personnel behind each of the counters and some were so busy that they didn't even seemed to care. But my eyes didn't want to spare even one second of her view. It followed her like a hawk. For a couple of seconds I tried to look at the people in the hall and to my surprise not one seemed to know who was in the house. "How strange", I though to myself. Maybe no one expected such a thing. The tinted glass was the real deterrent.

I was only wondering how it would have been if I had been at one of those counters when she passed by. (Imagine screaming to CZJ and asking for an autograph when you are being interviewed at one of those counters!) One thing was sure. I wasn't going to be called at one of the counters before she left the scene. The whole introduction thing would have lasted just a few minutes and she was gone.

When it was my turn I went to one of the vacant counters. Mother quickly joined me as she was looking at the counters too and there was no need to call her. The interview for the visa was fun partly because of the comfort created by CZJ's coming and going and the rest because of how mother was answering her questions. Here are two of the questions and her answers to them.
Interviewer: "Maam, are you sure you will not overstay in the US on your holiday there?"
Mother: "No. I have to go back to my daughter who just delivered. I have to look after her and the baby."
Interviewer: "Maam, can I take it that you will not apply for a Green Card while in the US."
Mother: "No. No. I don't want to stay that long. I have to hurry back to my husband in India. He is alone there." I almost laughed for this one but concealed it with a big smile to maintain the seriousness of the interview. I was confident that things would go fine. We were then asked to go to another room for something (I now don't remember for what) but I was just waiting to get out of the tense room. Outside there was a cheerful looking security person at the door dressed in an attractive uniform and to whom I couldn't wait to ask, "Wasn't that Catherine Zeta Jones a short while ago?". The unforgettable reply "Amazing girl, isn't she?" confirmed who I had seen that morning.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Chetan Bhagat's One Night @ the call center

After working for over two years with a Multinational that also does Technical Support of their products via a call center here in Chennai and being associated with people working in call centres I have finally decided to not read any further this book that is being talked about so much. It literally bored me to death. Why read pages and pages of things that go on in the lives of characters in this book that you see almost everyday. The irritating part is this. I am on page 134 out of the 289 page book and I cannot wait any longer for the dramatic turn of events. In fact I am beginning to wonder even if there is one. The teaser on the back cover of the book tells you that "...they got a phone call. That phone call was from God." So far that has not happened (the reference to God might have been something else too) and neither do I care. But what really puts you off is this. Chetan admits this story was told to him by a girl he met on a train and that too in the middle of the night. It's obvious that 134 pages of bullshitting merely served as fillers Chetan has done for the book so far (maybe to say something later). But is he trying to say that the girl on the train told him all this. Give me a BREAK! One thing he does well though, is describe beautifully, beautiful girls. I found the characters in the book, too touchy, rebellious and unusually bright (Bagat needs to know the I.Q of call center folks as they can be quite different from those at I.I.T or I.I.M). I even found situations where the book can feel racist like in a call center training class where the trainees are taught that the I.Q of a 10 yr old Indian equals that of a 35 yr old American. Why belittle the U.S when the author an ex I.I.Tian himself will know that an exodus of students from the I.I.T's move to the U.S for higher studies or jobs every year.

After weeks of reading in fits and starts (that should give you an indication of how interesting the book is) I am promptly returning it to my friend who I am sure is not going to be very pleased about it or about this blog. I certainly have better things to waste my time on. Maybe I am old for these books but I also do not subscribe to this style of writing. I am sure even younger audiences and even young things working at call centers are going to find it boring. Maybe if you are those one-novel-in-a-day reader you could give it a try.

At this point I don't think I will care for his earlier work Five Point Someone either.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Oh Sivamani, What a let down!

It was the early 90's (must have been 1990). The scene, the Western Music Finals of the Mardi Gras cultural festival at I.I.T Madras. The last but one band to go up on stage is a band called "3.00 A.M" fronted by I.I.T's very own Prasanna on lead guitar. However my attention is drawn to the drummer dressed in white shirts and pants who is already dishing out mini solo's on the modest drum kit there ever was. Soon the name Sivamani is in the air. This was the first time I was watching him and I knew instantly why the crowd was going ga-ga over him. For the rest part of the band's show Sivamani played the drums like a man possessed grabbing solo's whenever he could in the middle of songs. Playing numbers like Rush's "Freewill" and Santana's "Open Invitation" (also played encore) 3.00 A.M went on to win the competition (although in my opinion they deserved 2'nd place). But that was Sivamani in his good old heydays.

Over the years I have read about him and also watched him but nothing could compare to that Mardi Gras performance at I.I.T. I then watch him at the A.R.Rahman's mega concert at Toronto. Sivamani was not in charge of the drums that night but he had an impressive set up of drum and percussion equipment on stage almost burying his huge figure. He had also changed his playing style (that's how I have seen him ever since) from a sitting position to a standing one. It didn't look cool. Well it could have if there were some real playing. Another drummer shared the limelight that evening, even during a tabla/mridangam-drum "jugalbandi" session. Moreover his stick antics were becoming too stale.

I then remember watching him on T.V where he played with Shankar Mahadevan in a concert in Singapore. Again stale stuff. His solo's were getting nowhere. Drum solo's tend to gradually ascend to a climax but the guy seemed to anticlimax repeatedly during his solo's and this can be a real turn off.

So when I was told that he did a 20 minute solo as a finale for Illayaraja's recently held concert I watched with fanatic enthusiasm for three consecutive Sundays (it was telecast in parts) hoping I could see something close to his performance many years ago at Mardi Gras. But what a let down it was. So little from such a huge set-up. The guy anticlimaxes again and again and after a while I totally gave up on him. He hardly touched the cymbals or the snare and I can't imagine what a drummer can do without the snare drum. This guy must watch what Neal Peart of Rush pushing 50 can do now instead of wasting his time on stick gimmicks and "saavu melam".

I even watched the frustration on Chithra's face when a beat (actually not poorly timed) was jerked in between, when she would just finish her charanam and get back to the pallavi again on the classic "Ninnu Kori Varanam" film song.

Not that he is incapable of putting on another great performance but he'd better remind himself that the drums is best for ROCK.

But then does that mean we don't have another drum hero. Is all hope lost? No, not in this country of percussionists and drummers. I have been reading quite a bit on Tirlok Gurtu but I am yet to see or hear his work. But there's a new kid on the block and his name, Arun Kumar. I think it's high time we give more time, appreciation and credit for other drummers in the country too. Check out the new fusion album from the violin duo Ganesh-Kumaresh called "Colours of India" (more on that lovely album later). Arun is the drummer and you'll know what I mean.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The person who executed U.S.A's 1000'th capital punishment victim

The U.S just executed their 1000'th death-row victim after capital punishment was resumed in that country from 1977. Kenneth Lee Boyd was put to death after a lethal dose of drugs was injected into his body.

My question on this event is this. How is the person who injected the lethal drug into Boyd's body any different from any other homicidal killer? Boyd is being put to death for two people he had murdered. By injecting the lethal drug into Boyd's body isn't Boyd's executioner also doing the same, i.e murdering someone. Just because the law permits the execution how can the executioner's act of taking Boyd's life (or killing Boyd) not be a crime? Is there no sin in the act of putting Boyd to death? How does the executioner feel when he/she goes to bed that night? Elated at having done a job (killing someone) so well?

Boyd's last words were "God bless everybody in here", probably refering to the executioner and the others who were overseeing his execution. Reminded me of what Jesus said of his executioner's as they nailed him on the cross, "Oh God forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."