Monday, April 06, 2009

Crazy piss and more!

This is an absolutely fascinating website. I chanced upon this list of strange psychotropic substances and can't get over my admiration for the spirit of experimentation that has led man to discoveries such as these:

Anafranil is an anti-depressant that causes people to have orgasms every time they yawn. Yeah. No joke. A 1983 article in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry found a case of a woman in her twenties who came every time she yawned! She even used it to her advantage: “She found she was able to experience orgasm by deliberate yawning.” This is one drug that had better not be outlawed. Now I just need to find a doctor willing to prescribe it!

At one time, Eskimos and tribes in Siberia were known to consume the urine of another person who had consumed fly agaric mushrooms (amanita muscaria). They did so for several reasons: Firstly, since there wasn’t an infinite supply of mushrooms, this approach help to conserve and economize them. Not only would drinking the urine of someone who had consumed the mushroom get you high, but also drinking the pee of the person who had drunk the first “batch” of urine would get you high! And so forth and so on, going up to 5 different “generations” of people! An added benefit was that pre-digested mushrooms didn’t cause as much nausea and cramps as just eating them directly. They loved this high so much, that they would butcher and eat reindeer who had also eaten fly agaric for a contact-high!

While you're at it, check out this fascinating video showing the effects of a famous experiment performed on spiders in 1965 with some very illuminating results:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mood snapshot: random tag from mail

1. What is your occupation? Student-about-to-become-corporate-slave

2. What color are your shoes right now? I'm barefoot :)

3. What are you listening to right now ? The Cranberries

4. What was the last thing that you ate ? Haldiram Khatta Meetha

5. Can you drive a stick shift? Yes

6. Last person you spoke to on the phone? A friend

7. Do you like the person who sent this to you? Yes

8. How old are you today? 23

9. What is your favorite sport to watch on TV? Don't watch sports

10. What are your favorite drinks? Vodka with ginger ale

11. Have you ever dyed your hair? Nope

12. Favorite food? Pizzas, paranthas, sushi :)

13. What is the last movie you watched? Tropa de Elite

14. Favorite night of the year? Birthday eve, maybe

15. How do you vent anger? Crib

16. What was your favorite toy as a child? Stuffed rabbit called Robu or some such

17. What is your favorite season? Just before winter

18. Cherries or Blueberries? Cherries

19. Do you want your friends to e-mail you back? Sure!

20. Who is the most likely to respond? The friend I last spoke with

21. Who is least likely to respond? The friend's best friend

22. Living arrangements? IIM hostel, called 'dorm' for a reason I cannot fathom

23. When was the last time you cried? When I was 16 :(

24. What is on the floor of your closet? Shoes, plastic bags

25. Who is the friend you have had the longest that you are sending to? Can't say, depends on whether we consider frequency of interaction and extent of involvement or merely time since first contact

26. What did you do last night? Watched JFK (the movie)

27. What are you most afraid of? Huge lizards, snakes etc

28. Plain, cheese, or spicy hamburger? Extra cheese!

29. Favorite dog breed? Dalmation

30. Favorite day of the week? Friday (new movies plus weekend ahead!)

31. How many states have you lived in? 4

32. Diamonds or pearls? Diamonds

33. What is your favorite flower? None, really

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Wake up!

There’s been yet another terror attack on our country, right where it hurts the most – in Mumbai. Materially as well as symbolically, these attacks have been one of the worst we can remember. There have been reams written about the attacks, who’s responsible, who’s been insensitive in public statements and who should resign. I’m not going to get into that.

Since the attacks, I’ve received many mails asking me to sign online petitions and mail them forward. Numerous Facebook groups have been started extolling the bravery of our security forces. As always, pundits and citizens have written about who should go and what should be done and how we’re a soft state and so on.

I hate what happened to Mumbai and to all of us. But I don't see much use in signing petitions and heatedly discussing news. I don’t believe we need a million online signatures to prove that we’re all sick to death with what’s been happening. I also don’t see much point in drawing assumptions that may be very off, and constructing action plans and pinning the blame based on those inaccurate assumptions.

For example, it is a common belief that the intelligence is out there and it only requires political will and coordination between forces to act on it. I’m not sure that’s true. We repealed POTA and since then, terrorist attacks have increased. While the Congress has been in power, the Indian Mujahideen have grown. However, was POTA the reason for relatively fewer attacks, and is the growth of the IM to be blamed on the appeasement of Muslims by the Congress, or have the times deteriorated? Is the hate and xenophobia that drives Islamist terror deeply entrenched in the Muslim community in India? How large is the lunatic fringe among Indian Muslims?

These are some of the questions that we naively answer for ourselves and then theorize till the cows come home. I do not advocate slow action in favour of excessive analysis, but I do believe the ordinary citizen knows little and often forgets it in her excitement and righteous passion. Much like cricket, everyone seems to know what to do with terrorism. Much like cricket, I think our best bet is to hope that the best people make the team and leave the rest to them.

Unlike cricket, however, we have more power over who makes the team. We can vote. Discuss, debate, write mails and circulate petitions by all means, but try your best to do the one thing that can certainly make a difference to the state of affairs – vote in the next general election sometime in March next year.

There is a beautifully designed and user friendly website – – that aims to make the exercise of one’s right and duty easier. Register on the website and ten minutes of interactive and painless form filling later, you’re done. You can register here if you’re a first time voter and even if you’re registered in another city and want to change your constituency. You may have seen advertisements of this campaign on TV. The website really works, and if they do what they say they will, this could change the landscape of politics in India by making youth participate.

Let’s talk about all that we ought to do, but meanwhile let’s do what we can.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Gangajal and cop-out endings

This thought originated from a discussion on the Prakash Jha movie Gangajal. I liked the movie when I first saw it some years back. I love movies that have characters speaking Hindi the way it is spoken in the heartland. These movies are often based on political or social themes. Though I am from UP and even lived in Lucknow for the first eight years of my life, I haven’t been in close contact with any of the themes usually tackled. However, I feel a closeness to people from the Hindi heartland, their way of life and the issues that occupy them. I therefore hungrily consume anything from the movie industry that taps into this sentiment. When I first watched Gangajal I enjoyed the characterizations, dialogue and the atmosphere. I felt - and still do – that these were pitched just right by a man with a deep understanding and identification with the socio-political situations he recreates in his movies.

I had read about the Bhagalpur blindings in relation to reports preceding the movie. A crucial incident in Gangajal was closely based on the real life incident in Bhagalpur. In 1981, policemen in Bhagalpur blinded 31 undertrials in their own police station. They punctured the undertrials’ eyes with bicycle spokes and needles, poured acid into them and then covered their eyes with pads soaked in acids. The movie depicts the policemen’s actions as stemming from frustration and anger at their impotent system. What’s more, the city population holds the police as heroes for having meted out justice to criminals who would otherwise have escaped the law. The movie seeks to make the point that people get the police they deserve. Perhaps the director means to show that a society as violent and degenerate as this ends up being protected by equally degenerate people. The movie goes on to show how this sentiment of punishing criminals by blinding them gains wide acceptance and starts being applied wantonly. Once faith in authority or the rule of law is broken, society slips into degeneracy and inhumanity. The protagonist – Ajay Devgan – speaking as the voice of the director in the final act, lectures people on the need to preserve the humane core within themselves that differentiates them from scum, represented by a father-son politician duo. He saves the villains from the frenzied mob, arguing that civil society must let the law take its course and must not lose faith in it. More importantly, he saves people from themselves, from turning into demons.

SP Kumar’s (Devgan) last lecture jars a bit for being so transparent. The five minute monologue as the instrument of educating the movie watcher does not do justice to a movie that, thus far, has been making its point through dialogue, acting and screenplay. It’s a little like the play in which the narrator tells you exactly what you are expected to take away from what has unfolded in the last couple of hours in the play. That, however, is a question of the movie’s aesthetics and the quality of screenplay or direction. What really turned me off when I watched the film again recently is what follows the monologue.

The father-son duo slip SP Kumar’s grip and run into the town. He follows them through narrow lanes into a home. They fight and in the course of the fighting, they are pushed back on to a furrow with many pointed teeth. Both are stabbed through their eyes and die in an obvious reference to the blindings earlier in the movie. Now the problem with this ending is that it is a cop out. The director wants us to believe we should not take the law into our own hands, continue to have faith in it, that an eye for an eye has no place in a civilized society. Yet, he feels compelled to show the guilty suffering for their sins through cruel, retributive justice just a minute after he has made his point. Though violence is not the answer to civil society’s problems, comeuppance for the villains arrives in the form of the very violence society must abjure.

From touching complex social issues rather deftly in the earlier part of the movie, Gangajal gets reduced to yet another ordinary movie where the hero must rid people of evil, but must at the same time be noble and righteous. Therefore, the villains, as a result of their inability to settle at being forgiven and spared by the hero, make the mistake of trying to escape and kill themselves in the process by a variety of ways. Sometimes, they fall into gorges and sometimes they end up shooting each other and at other times, the police shoots them when they pull a final trick. The question of whether they should have been killed in the first place or not is never settled.

In all these films, the explicit message of rising above retribution and trusting the law to bring the villain to justice is subverted by the narrative. It is not enough to merely communicate your message in the movie. The message – if there is one you want to convey – must be communicated through the narrative as a whole. Gangajal is an example of an inconsistent narrative diluting the message and confusing the viewer. There are a number of movies that show guns, gangsters, sex and drugs only to tell us that they’re things that bring us to a bad end later on. Many of them do such a good job of glamorizing the very things they later condemn that the moral message of the film gets lost and the viewer carries back a more glitzy image guns and drugs.

So many people make the point that it is necessary for them to show certain things onscreen for building the characters and making them believable and so on. This is also the argument routinely trotted out by Bollywood in response to the Health Minister’s effort to ban smoking in films. It calls for a separate post but I think any industry has a social responsibility and seeing their idols smoke in movies is without doubt a major factor in making smoking look ‘cool’ and hence in children taking up the habit. Perhaps the answer is to not show people smoking when it can be done without, i.e. in most cases. The larger point, however, is that the narrative should not end up promoting the very things your movie seeks to show as undesirable or bad.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Man With No Name

Everytime I look at your picture
I can always see an arm rest on your shoulder
Even though I know it's only your hair
And the folds of your dress
I can never quite resist
Following the imaginary arm
Over your shoulder blade,
Through your careless hair
Around your neck,
Out of the frame
The arm that isn't there
Just like the Man With No Name

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Once Upon A Time In The West

I saw Once Upon A Time in the West in the afternoon today. Many reviewers name it as the best Western ever made. Giving it close competition are usually other Sergio Leone classics.

I'm no expert on Westerns. It's not my favourite genre and I have watched only a few. I liked Unforgiven (though a Western, it was made in the 1990s) and some parts of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and of course, Sholay. I have seen some films with Ennio Morricone's music and it's been fantastic at least twice - in The Good... and my personal favourite Nuovo Cinema Paradiso. Sergio Leone is an acknowledged master of Westerns and Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson good actors. All these factors would be wonderful in any other setting but all of them come together so beautifully in this movie that a work of true sublimity is created.

The movie is memorable almost from the first shot. Its opening is bold and brilliant - nearly 10 minutes of ambient sounds and a long wait by three silent gunmen. The mood and the setting is perfectly evoked. Finally, when the train arrives carrying the film’s hero (also with no name), the first of many great moments happens. A mysterious man plays the harmonica and Charles Bronson makes his entry worthy of the hero who’s never known uncertainty or fear.

Harmonica: “You brought a horse for me?”
Frank’s minion (looks back, there are three horses for the three minions): “He he, looks like we’re one horse short.”
Harmonica (shakes his head slightly): “You brought two too many.”

Frank, played by Henry Fonda, makes an even better entry in one of my favourite scenes. A family prepares a feast to welcome the father’s new wife. A shot rings out. The father looks up from the well at the birds flapping about – none of them seem to be dropping lifelessly from the sky. He turns around. In the far distance his daughter teeters and then falls to the ground, dead. He starts running towards her and gets shot mid-stride once, then again. The older boy gets up from his horse cart and is shot where he stands. The camera moves inside the dark home and follows the youngest boy running to the door where he stops, transfixed, petrified. We see his face and then Ennio Morricone’s magic begins. One note, and we see in the far distance one, then another figure in a dustcoat and hat coming out into view from the clump of bushes. Through the swirling dust we see five figures walk towards the boy clutching his jug of water for dear life. In a brilliant shot, made all the more memorable due to the music, all five converge to the boy. The camera comes around his shoulder to show Henry Fonda and his clear blue eyes and we know we’ve seen the man Harmonica has come in search of.

In the next two hours we see the two other characters of the drama - the outlaw with a soft core and a sense of humour who strikes an unlikely partnership with Harmonica, the widow who becomes the unwitting focus of three men, all of who “have something to do with death”. All of them act on motivations not immediately clear and slowly get involved in each other’s lives. In the middle of it all sits Harmonica, sharpening his piece of wood, shooting people when the occasion demands, playing the harmonica, staring out into space, waiting.

It’s precisely this quality of the movie – and the genre – that gives it its charm. The patient viewer gets drawn into the story that unspools through long shots of faces, silences that convey nothing and everything, eyes that contain behind them terrible secrets and immense capacity for evil and lingering shots of the dust and mountains of the Wild West. We share Frank’s curiosity to know what Harmonica is after. When he saves Frank from his assassins we share Frank’s confusion and slowly, like Frank, we begin to realize there is a deeper current running between them. Frank is hooked and so are we. He may be evil but he’s still a member of a rapidly dwindling “ancient race”. He cannot ride off knowing he has a mortal enemy who is driven by such hate that he has to save Frank for the showdown his secret deserves.

And what a showdown! The moment of dying is reached. We know now we will know. What makes Harmonica’s need for vengeance so great that he cuts down assassins who want to kill Fonda, explaining that “saving him from them isn't the same as saving him?” It seems even Frank is dying to find out. The men start moving towards their battleground to take positions. Just then, the music begins again. The haunting tune breathes life into the final contest and invests it with all the weight of expectation associated with the revelation of Harmonica’s identity.

Frank wants to shoot down Harmonica. He knows if he doesn’t, he will be shot down. Yet, he knows nothing matters more than knowing why Harmonica saved his life only to bring him to this stage. He needs to know more than he wants to win. He keeps walking when Harmonica stops, looks to the side, looks up to the sky, blinks while Harmonica’s grey eyes follow him unblinking, unhurried, sure. They stop and take position and wait in silence. And then the music picks up again and we go back and see the full extent of Frank’s evil and understand what has been driving Harmonica to this inevitable showdown. Frank draws but Harmonica shoots just as well as he plays. His journey is over.

Once Upon A Time… has the actors, the director, the cinematographer and the music director Morricone at their very best. I wish I could watch it again for the first time.


Wrote this a couple of days back. I've been listening to the showdown tune almost in a loop since then. I also cannot count the number of times I've already watched the last showdown.
Paul Newman died yesterday. RIP Cool Hand Luke.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Worst movie ever made

I watched, as the title suggests, Singh is Kinng yesterday. Without beating around the bush, I'd like to tell you to stay as far away from it as possible. If you meet someone you don't know well and you want to know if he has brains or any sense of aesthetics or is worthy of friendship, ask him whether he liked Singh is Kinng. If he says yes, turn around very slowly and run. It's my new litmus test to wean out the unworthy and those who pollute our world.

The movie sets a new standard in poor filmmaking. The plot is wafer thin, the characters are cardboard cutouts and the script is a two line scribble. I don't know how people like the director, scriptwriter etc of this movie ever get the chance to create this drivel. As a creative person, if one year of my life went into making this, I'd just retire. Don't know how or why or even whether this is such a big hit (since media has sold out already, proof being the positive reviews for the movie, reports of it being a big hit might very well be exaggerated) but even if I knew it would make me a lot of money, I'd just feel pathetic at the sheer lack of quality of my creation.

There are exactly 7 minutes of the movie that are worth watching. The first five, which fall under the category of so-bad-it's-good cinema, which have a Sardar called 'King' (or 'Kinng'?) with a french beard leaping off a building and parachuting in pursuit of his adversary on a motorcycle, catching him and then taking off with him once again! I guess if you're a Sardar anything is possible. Or maybe if you're King/Kinng. Or maybe if you're in a Godawful Vipul Amratlal Shah movie. The other two are when the song "Teri Ore" plays against the pyramids and Katrina Kaif does her thing in a black sari. The loser that this movie is, it doesn't even have the complete song. It has some 3 paras and that's it.

Akshay Kumar looks like an idiot for most of the movie and for the rest, slips into "Namastey London" mode, brokering Kaif's marriage to her bf who she doesn't quite know whether she loves or not with Singh aka Kinng's shining star in both her eyes. She floats along looking pretty till her marriage where there is a comedy of errors the result of which is that she ends up as Singh's wife (oops, sorry for the spoiler) and all is happily ever after jee. Balle balle.

I also watched Rock On the day before. Should've watched these movies in the reverse order, because Rock On is actually a pretty decent movie. The music's good, quite genuinely rock-like, the acting's okay and the story's good too. True, execution could have been better but what the hell, it's watchable and doesn't make you come back questioning your faith in movies. Oh, but watch out for the extras in the last concert scene who have absolutely no idea why they're waving their hands at Magik (that's the band name). Their expressions are quite priceless :).

As you can see, I have a lot of time to watch movies and so on.

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