Saturday, February 28, 2009

Vivekanandan delivers a stunning pro-performance on ISS 2008

It is only recently that I have been watching ISS more frequently unlike ISS 2007. Vivekanandan was my initial favourite but later fell out in favour because of poor performances. But he is slowly making a comeback and yesterday was a smashing comeback performance.

In fact I was surprised at the low praise that Sharath and Venugopal gave for Vivekanandan after yesterday's awesome performance in the Fusion round of the competition. Being proficient on the violin Vivekanandan used it to enhance the total effect of the fusion song where he stretched his vocals to the limit including even a little pop-like vocal. The video actually showed judges completely blown by the performance. At one stage Sharath's mouth was literally open.

Vivek's long performance is in two parts.

Highly appreciative was Didi's comments but when she said something about George Benson, that was when I was really fell for what she said. So obviously I am going to explain what George Benson does and how Vivekanandan performed a similar thing.

George Benson is more popularly known for making hits such as "The Greatest Love of all" which became a huge hit for Whitney Houston in the late 80's. But what many don't know is that George Benson is one of the greatest guitarists around. His style is predominantly jazz but his style seems to transcend all genres. He plays a custom made Ibanez guitar and besides his melody and virtuosity what he is popularly known for is his "scat" singing, i.e singing along with his guitar licks and solos the same note that he is playing on the guitar. He does it with precision and speed. Check out his song "The world is a Ghetto" from the album "In Flight".

So what George did using his guitar Vivekanandan did playing his violin and Vivekanandan did go another further step in that that he was singing Carnatic swarams simultanesouly playing the same notes on the violin. Vivek's was difficult because he had to use his vocals while simultaneously supporting his violin below his chin.

Earlier Gayathri's ghazal wasn't bad either. She could have slowed down a bit.

Friday, February 27, 2009

More good performances at ISS 2008

Rahul springs a lovely surprise by singing the best ghazal so far in the competition. My only regret was the duration of the song. It could have been longer. Rahul can pull of a victory in the competition if he could use some killer instinct towards the end of the competition.

Sonia does a great job at singing "Ninnukori Varnam" effortlessly. I fully agree with Sharath's comments as those were the only errors I could make out. She was spot on and with a voice as this she did full and more justice to the original. Even where I thought Chithra strained in the original Sonia did it with utmost ease.

The Prashob Durga duet lacked lustre. But looking forward to some big performances today.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The simple formula to win Idea Star Singer

Or for that matter any singing competition in India.

The contestant be allowed to choose his/her song to perform.

The contestant that chooses the best songs that matches his or her style and voice will emerge winner. By best songs I also mean rare and old songs, not necessarily hits.

Looks very simple isn't it. But that is the truth.

Unfortunately contestants are offered very little creativity to exercise. Most of the songs they are singing are co-erced upon them by someone going by their own list of favorite songs. There are just too many hits and in a competition like Idea Star Singer where you can sing Tamil, Hindi and other languages besides Malayalam the list of hits are almost infinite. Many hits have yet to be sung. The others are mismatched with the wrong singers in the competition.

So a contestant with decent singing skills only need to get to know the good songs to perform. So the winner will also be one who has good taste and isn't it a good thing if the winner is also a person of good taste?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A R Rahman and uniting India

"Can't you speak even one word of Hindi?". I was asked this unpleasant question twice by my fellow Hindi-speaking Indians during my stay in the U.S. I passed them off lightly though I did want to give these chaps this answer - "My employer doesn't want Hindi and so I didn't care either". In the U.S no matter how hard these guys try to fight their identity crisis with all the Hindi they can speak loudly no U.S employer actually cares for thier Hindi. Translation services do want Hindi speaking people but then H1 visas aren't granted for them. Unless you want to be employed in some Indian gorcery store or gas station run by some Hindi speaking folks there Hindi is of hardly any use in the U.S. I was surprised when I was told by a Tamil boy how a friend of his (another Tamilian) was chiding him for not knowing Hindi. And even though the Indian paper currency uses other languages I am not complaining why my Hindi speaking questioner doesn't know Tamil or Malayalam.

What many of these Hindi speaking folks in India and abroad don't know is that many in India whose mother tongue is not Hindi have actually learnt Hindi at least up until the X standard and that many can even converse, read and write Hindi quite well. In the south we love Hindi movies and songs. Down south Hindi has never been a problem to understand or to learn or to speak. In TamilNadu, only the imposition of Hindi has been opposed. Most of our singers from the South such as Yeshudas, S P Balasubramanyam, K S Chithra and of course Hariharan and now Shankar Mahadevan sing in Hindi with ease. Hariharan even made inroads into Ghazals and has carved a niche for himself in this genre before making it big in film songs. On the contrary the many Hindi stars who made it big in Tamil movies like Simran, Jyothika, Nagma can hardly speak a decent word of Tamil and that too after decades of being in the film industry in the South. Khusboo is the exception. What to say of those South Indian stars (some of them who still rock Hindi cinema) like Sridevi, Rekha, Hemamalini, Vyjayanthimaala, Waheeda Rahman and Padmini. Both Juhi Chawla and Kareena Kapoor have openly confessed that Sridevi was their sole influence.

South Indian directors also make Hindi movies. Manirathnam, Ram Gopal Varma and Priyadarshan have made big hits in Bollywood with originals.

And now there is one more person from the South, Chennai's very own A R Rahman who not only composes songs for Hindi movies but also sings them. Hindi film music has never been the same after "Roja". Besides introducing elements such as the real good drum beat (as in "Roja Janeman"), "Reggae" elements as in "Choti si Aasha" and a number of other techniques A R Rahman also proved to the Hindi masses that you could be a single composer and yet make good music instead of working as a "duo". That way in the south most composers work alone and not as combos.

Today the nation is singing one tune because of A R Rahman. What a way to unite the country using music. Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu composers have even made singers from the north sing south Indian language songs. Though the diction is still far from perfect (Shreya Goshal being the exception here) the south is always open to experimentation without complaining. Imagine Adnan Sami singing Tamil but that's what Yuvan Shankar Raja has done in his latest offering.

....and we from the south are asked for our knowledge of Hindi???

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Some others who share my opinion on "Slumdog Millionaire"

Popular writer Salman Rushdie has criticised "Slumdog Millionaire" saying it piles up impossibility upon impossibility. Here are others who share the same view as myself on "Slumdog Millionaire". Follow the links.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A R Rahman wins Oscars

For all what he has been composing and entertaining us A R Rahman deserves the two Oscars he has won if not for "Slumdog Millionaire" because I don't consider it to be A R Rahman's best. Lyricist Prasoon Joshi also said the same today while speaking about ARR's Oscar triumph.

Congratulations to A R Rahman for bringing the honour to India.

Feel happy for Kate Winslet and Sean Penn too.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The disaster called Delhi 6

What a waste of A R Rahman's beautiful songs and music and the beautiful Sonam Kapoor. Viewers beware! This is no romantic flick. In fact the romance is hardly there. Instead the director is trying to send out a social message through this film.

Among the couple of beautiful things in the movie are the lovely picturization of the songs particularly "Dil Mera" done in Times Square. "Masakkali" was good too.

Abishek is not as bad as I thought he would be and the tall and beautiful Sonam still has a long way to go but both were not put to good use in this film.

Has the Amitabh-Abishek combo on screen ever clicked? Yet I wonder why they are constantly paired. The collective sound of "My God" from the ladies sitting further closer towards the screen when the duo-appeared was enough to describe the feeling. And it happens a second time in the sci-fi moments of the film.

In the end it turns out to be one long, boring and nothing-really-happening film.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A memorable Weekend in Bangalore

As long as I can recall Bangalore has always been the place where I spent some fun filled moments of my life and this last weekend in Bangalore was another one. I spent some great moments and that includes the Iron Maiden concert with Binny. I also spent time with Minu and Sanjeev. I was meeting Minu for the first time. Minu has been a loyal reader of my blog for sometime. She took me by surprise as I had no idea that she would be the little girl riding around in a Reva. Then there was JP my principal I have been visiting regularly since 2005, Benji my friend who moved several months ago to Bangalore from Chennai and of course Binny and family with whom I stay whenever I go to Bangalore.

The events in reverse chronological order.

But first the Iron Maiden concert. Being an audiophile I must say that I didn't like the sound of the concert. I first thought it was because Iron Maiden could have used equipment in India but then didn't they bring it with them on their plane. With three lead guitarists the wailing sounds only drowned each other. The lead solo's were not distinctly audible. My favourites "Alexander the Great" and "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" weren't played but "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" a song that I like was performed. It was a joy to see the indefatigable and forever-smiling Steve Harris, the bassist with his one-of-a-kind bass sound, Bruce Dickinson the enthusiastic vocalist and Dave Murray one of the lead guitarist play their parts so well. Earlier Lauren Harris, Steve Harris's daughter performed with her own band but many in the audience were simply showing her the finger. Her bassist annoyed with the gestures reciprocated with obsence gestures at the crowds.

Other bands seemed just ok. Parikrama was the last band to go on stage before Maiden came on. They were surprisingly good particularly their vocalist but with seven or eight members they were too big for a band. Tabla and violin were lousy additions although the violinist seemed to strike a chord with the audience once. Vocalist also spoke well to the crowd about Iron Maiden.

By the way here is "Alexander the Great" being performed live by an Egyptian Heavy Metal band. A surprisingly very good live performance from the Egyptians who are performing in a closed hall. It is sad that I couldn't find even this clarity in the live performance in Bangalore. The classic song is such a difficult one but the Egyptians perform it outrageously easy. Just check the original with this one. The singer could have shown some more passion and professionalism and may not replace Dickinson but just check out the instrumentalists. The solo guitar piece which in the original was done with two guitarists is being done with one guitarist and accompanied by the drums and bass sounded just great. Even this clarity of audio that I see in this amateur handheld cam video I did not get at the concert.

Earlier that day I spent the morning and afternoon at Minu's place. Her husband Sanjeev was an interesting person too. Minu sang, cooked Aalu Paaranthas and conversed on so many topics that we never were running out of things to speak on. Best of all on the return trip she let me drive her Reva and it felt so good. The Reva is not so tiny or crammed-up as viewed from the outside.

The previous day at my Principal's place was so refreshing. It felt so happy meeting the 79 year old Mrs.Peters who had tonnes to tell me about teachers, school mates and other friends as much as I had to tell her. Her husband is 85 and what a joy he radiates from his personality.

Before visiting JP I shopped at S P Road. Binny was right. S P Road is Bangalore's equivalent of Ritchie Street in Chennai. Did I get the DVI-D cable I was searching for? You bed I did.

And what a joy to take the autos in Bangalore. Except for one everyone else used the Autorickshaw meter without any question or fare bargaining. Auto drivers are polite and don't mind if you don't have a rupee or two rupees less to pay if you run out of change. What to say then of asking more than the meter fare.

Meeting my friend Benji and his family in Ulsoor on Saturday morning was another joy. Being an avid "walker" (he averages 100 km per month) Benji has invited me for trekking later in May. Let me see if I can make it.

A memorable trip. For other pics and some interesting ones check out the side bar which will take you to the pics on Picasa.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Do not remove the side panel of your computer to cool your PC

Actually by doing that you cause more heat inside. Why? Because your computer desktop's case is designed for something called airflow. It is this airflow that cools your computer and not just the dispelling of hot air by the fans. So one is naturally inclined to think that by opening the side panel and exposing the hot components to less warm air on the outside of the case the components will be cooler but that is not the case. Only when the case is properly enclosed you promote airflow. Your case might have come with one, two or more fans. Remember you were taught how hot air rises up. The fan(s) at the top of the case dispell this hot air through vents in the case. And as hot air rises up the components are cooled inside the case. In some cases there are additional fans on the side panel and most importantly at the bottom. This bottom fan pushes the hot air even faster to the top of the case. So with the side panel left open the fan at the bottom and the fan on the side are rendered almost useless. This is another reason why even the temporary slots for adding audio/video cards on the sides of the PC are provided with those removable metal plates. In the absence of these cards even these slots are to be kept closed.

There are a number of temperature checking programs that tell you the temperatures of the CPU, GPU, Hard Disk etc. Run the program and monitor temperatures of components both with the side panel open and with the side panel closed. You will see the difference.

Idea Star Singer 2008 brimming with good performances

After Sonia's duet yesterday it is the turn of Gayathri who makes a comeback with "Kavithai Paadungal" from Punnagai Mannan in the Ilayaraja hits round.

But it was Prashob that stole the show with his Gazhal performance. My only question is should everyone singing the Gazhal give an introduction to the song in Hindi/Urdu?

It is in two parts. Here is the first.

and here is the second.

There were mistakes but Prashob's performance was much better than Vivekanandan's "Chupke Chupke".

This was followed by the "Sing with a 2007 ISS singer" and Rahul did a good job singing his duet with Vani Jayaram. Rahul is getting better with each stage and in my opinion Rahul and Prashob both stand a good chance of winning the competition from among the men.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sonia delivers a stunner at Idea Star Singer 2008

I couldn't help watching ISS 2008 today when I knew last years winner, Najim Arshad was singing a duet Sonia. After watching today's performance I thought there was a female winner of the competition in Sonia. This was the second time Sonia was teaming with Najim and today's song was even better than their first. I tried watching the song with my eyes closed and I couldn't help admire Sonia's brlilliant beautiful voice. Coincidentally Sonia gets 84 that she won last time for her earlier duet with Najim. I wish Sharath was here today to see her perform a great song and like he did last time I am sure he would have heaped his marks and praises on her. The only sad thing was that no one seemed to be appreciating Sonia as much as they were about Najim.

Here is the video of the peformance.

and if you missed her previous duet, here it is.

But Sharath would not have appreciated Vivekanandan who sang Ghulam Ali's immortal Ghazal "Chupke Chupke" very poorly. Except for the diction Vivekanandan was trying to imitate Najim in last year's show in costume and introduction (which really looked so lame). Judges including Usha Uthup were praising the performance and I wondered why.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Hype and marketing success called Slumdog Millionaire

I finally watched "Slumdog Millionaire" yesterday and I am wondering how a movie as this is finally going to win multiple Oscars having taken both public and jury for a ride. Worst of all it may even win Best Picture. Imagine a movie as "Slumdog Millionaire" being in the same league as "Gandhi", "Titanic", "The Lord of the Rings", "Saving Private Ryan" and the host of other great Best Picture winners. Instead if it is going be snubbed by the Academy that would be justice to this mass-hype and marketing gimmick called "Slumdog Millionaire".

So how come the hype:

1. Catchy words - "Slumdog Millionaire", the first steps of good marketing, a catchy movie name. "Silence of the Lambs" is a good example. Considering the global recession a story as this is certainly a welcome break for the times. Reminds me of reports of how during the days of "great depression" in the U.S people would go and watch plays showing men and women coming out of their poverty and earning wealth. It was a way of satisfying themselves in the hard times. The rags to riches story of "Slumdog Millionaire" and its name could have been one such choice that the makers of the film made.

2. Nothing big about the story. Protagonist from extreme poor background winning a game of millions against all odds and emerging victorious in the end was anybody's guess. But what was ridiculously coincidental was the wild chances of every question being strongly associated with events in the main character's life. In the news it has already been reported that one of the Questions in the movie as to who sang "..Ganshyam.." does not actually have the right answer as shown in the movie.

3. Exaggerated visuals - a. The shit scene where the boy dives into the shit-pool was too much to take, though most of it is true. Where is the good side of developing India? There are homeless people, dirty people and things so bad and dirty in the U.S and other developed nations but how many Americans are showing these in Hollywood movies?

b) Children living atop train-tops by climbing on them using ropes? And again children doing trapeze-acts from these rooftops like dangling from a rope to steal food from the windows of passengers below? These are the concocted stuff of the directors/story tellers from the west about India. Having travelled a good portion of my life in trains in India and even witnessed all kinds of untoward events including a suicide, chain-pulling (to stop train), and almost a burglary and a watch-snatching, these things being shown in "Slumdog Millionaire" is pure crap. Like the famous rope-trick from India many of these things from India are nothing but myths made by people in the west.

It is not that the director was trying to capitalize on showing the scenes of poverty, squalor, dirt and the poor living conditions of this country but why exaggerate them for visual appeal instead of showing just the truth.

4. And where is the music man? A.R Rahman is great but the music of "Slumdog" hardly makes an impression considering his other works be that songs or scores.

5. Hindi or English? Either the movie could have been entirely in Hindi (in which case it would qualify for the Foreign Language category only) or in English. Starting in Hindi and then the kids suddenly speaking English and that too as guides in and around Taj Mahal was too much to take. And then dialogues about Mumtaz, Shah Jehan's wife, pregnant, died in a Traffic Jam etc was outrageously silly.

6. And finally I am not sure about the other movies running for this year's Oscar awards. Didn't any of the rest offer any competition. I must see them to compare with "Slumdog Millionaire".

Among the good things I liked were the photography and the other (and I wonder if all viewers got it) was the fact that besides all what happens (physically/emotionally) your love for someone is what matters and will endure all adversities.

In the end, "Slumdog Millionaire" is good for India, winning awards all over the world, giving up and rising stars like Freida Pinto and Dev Patel big breaks although it does keep India as a poverty stricken, dirty country in the minds of many viewers in the west and outside India who know little of India.

So is "Slumdog Millionaire" worth all this hype, awards and lauding? Certainly not.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Looking forward to a great weekend getaway

Jaya and Chaithu will not be able to make it to Bangalore with me but that doesn't stop me. I talked this morning to the only School Principal I ever had and Mrs. J. Peters' cracking voice echoed the joy she had in going to see me this weekend. I pray, God, keep her healthy and pain free.

Have got everything in place. Just waiting to go.

CD/DVD/Blu-ray burning - Why install a huge program with addons and tools when you can do the same with a 5MB one?

I was amazed when I looked into the Add or Remove Programs window in Windows to see how much space my Roxio CD/DVD making program was taking up. It also installed a bunch of other software like Album Cover Maker, Image editor etc all that I hardly use. Totally the programs ran into several hundred megs. If you are just buring data for backup or creating iso's you could do the same with several free programs that are hardly over 10 Mb like this one that I use called BurnAware. The free version can do most of your CD/DVD and Blu-ray burning tasks and best of it all it is just 5MB in size. Why load your computer with a huge chunk of .dlls that you may never use?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

How to say if an Indian is having an identity crisis outside their country

1. They try and speak only in their native languages as much as possible. All of a sudden a peak in their affinity for India, its culture and Indians grips them.

2. They speak loudly in their native languages in public places and particularly in the midst of foreigners.

3. They speak (many a time loudly and in groups) in their native languages in offices, office elevators (lifts), restrooms, restaurants etc. Sometimes the topics of discussion are outrageously silly too.

4. They take part in public gatherings of their festivals displaying to the fullest extent possible their native attire, music, dance etc.,

5. Getting over-actively involved in India related group-activities such as Politics, Bhajan, discussing religion, visiting temples, forming associations and groups.

6. Forcing (that's the word) their children who were born in these foreign countries to imbibe, be in constant touch, imitate and absorb aspects of Indian culture, particularly dance, music, acting etc.

7. Organizing and playing cricket regularly at a public place particularly in non-cricket playing countries like the U.S.

8. Making visits to Temples, Churches, Mosques and places of worship an outrageously regular habit (things they would have never done back home). Organizing Homams, Poojas, Annadhanams etc which they would have never dreamt of doing while living in India. One guy I remember was making such a scene of his "Namaaz" that almost in the middle of the hall where guests and friends had gathered he streched out a blanket and started his prayers.

It is Thaipoosam now and you have no idea what goes on in Singapore during the "Theemithi" or fire-walking ritual. Can you find Indian men (most of them Singapore born) walking barefoot, barechested in and around temples and streets in Singapore? Well you'll see scores of them during this festival scorching their feet in the red-hot coals. In Malaysia it is even worse. Indians, mostly Tamil folks pierce their skin and body with all kinds of sharp instruments and parade in the streets and up the stairs of the Bhatu caves bleeding. Is this true devotion to God? Can there be a better example of escapism than this?

By the way in India all these body piercing practices are supposed to have been officially banned. The late Arthur C Clarke and a professor in Astrophysics in Sri Lanka proved in a documentary how fire-walking and and body piercing procedures can be done by almost anybody and that there is nothing religious about them.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Two solutions that could fix your computer freeze problem

Does your computer freeze randomly. By freeze I mean the screen locks up doing whatever it was doing and the mouse cursor does not respond to mouse input. Keyboard input also fails which means you actually cannot do the Ctrl+Alt+Del either.

Here are two solutions that may fix the problem.

1. Remove and re-seat your Video Card and RAM in their sockets. It may sound simple but this actually fixed my erratic freeze problem.

2. Use a Graphics card in your PC instead of depending on onboard graphics. Many a time this is the reason why your monitor turns a blue tinge or shows an affinity to a particular color tone (your monitor is perfect). Over gradual use the motherboard becomes strained. So why not let the Graphics board take over that role. Additionally most Graphics cards support DVI and HDMI and dual monitor capability and don't cost the roof. Your movies and games also look much better on these cards.

Disclaimer - Perform the instructions carefully and at your own risk. Don't hold me responsible if something were to go wrong.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A quick one day trip to Thirupathi

Actually Thirumala, the richest temple in the world. I decided I wouldn't go to the temple after my last trip there in 1987-1988 but I had to accompany Suji.

In over 20 years of my last visit a lot has improved, almost stone-age to civilization difference. Inspite of the dusty environments I was surprised to find Thirupati and Thirumala green, clean and tidy.

The one day trip is organized by AP tourism office and operating from the Thirupathi temple in Venkata Narayan road the trip was very well conducted. For Rs.960 you are taken via an Air Conditioned bus and back to Thirupathi. To the hill top a locally running Government Bus is arranged. The trip includes a Buffet style Breakfast and Lunch, a stopover at the Padmavathi temple (on the return trip) and not to forget the Rs.100 special darshan ticket at Thirumala. We took the trip on a Thursday and even for a working day we had to spend close to 3 gruelling hours in the queue and for which reason alone I would never recommend anyone to go through this torture. How many times I recalled Jiddu Krishnamurti's words on "Burn the temples, mosques and Churches..." I don't know. In the Rs.50 queue and the free queues you end up waiting for 7 hours and more.

Being a religious trip I didn't want to fire away pics but I did take my camera along. Here are two amusing pics that I took from inside the bus that took us to the hill top at Thirupathi.

Novel handles for the standees that also advertise the Chief Minister's humanatarian activities.

Safe and secure Car Stereo box, that can be locked.