Sunday, January 29, 2006

Back to Bedlam - James Blunt

There have been quite a few people who criticize James Blunt's voice. I say to them "Open your minds a teeny tiny bit". All voices are not created equal. But at the same time, each has its own charm.

Whether it is the smooth crooning of Frank Sinatra or the husky renditions by Mark Knopfler, they have their own individuality and character. What's the fun in listening to cookie cutter voices ?

James Blunt is one such artist. He is a singer-songwriter from the United Kingdom. Before his musical career he was a soldier with the British Army. He was station in Bosnia for a while.

This is his debut album. And surely he has won this battle. The War? We will have to wait and see.

Most of you must be familiar with the track "You're Beautiful". It has been playing on radio stations for a while now. That illustrates the main characterstic of James Blunt's music. It is the passion, hurt and love which shines through in his singing.

My favorite song from the CD is "Goodbye My Lover". It is very much like spoken word poetry. Very little music. Just a few piano notes finishing the silhoutte of Blunt's powerful expression of heartache.

My other favorites include "No Bravery" and "Tears and Rain". All in all a delightful collection of songs.

My rating: 4/5

Just so that you know, he is performing at the Warfield in San Francisco in April. I hope to be there.

Airport Musings

I had to fly down to NY for a business meeting. 10 hrs inside a steel bird for a 2 hour meeting. I would have wriggled out of this if it was any other city. New York, is well New York !

But this post is not about New York. It is about my love for airports. Why you might ask? Well, it must surely stem from my insane liking for people watching. Also in many ways airports are like movies - very good ones at that.

Nothing is more engaging than watching a kid explore the terminal

Nothing is more romantic than observing an old couple taking care of each other as if it was still the first date.

Nothing is more heartbreaking than watching a goodbye hug.

Nothing is more endearing than seeing a welcoming hug

And of course...Nothing is more funnier than the prices at the airport stands. Is homeland security paying attention to this? I guess not.

PS : I don't love airports that much when they announce 3 hour delays.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Weekend Recommendations - Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004)

Before Sunset and Casablanca are the two movies that I have watched the most number of times. They share a lot of qualities which makes them dear to me - Brilliant individual performances, sharp dialogue and of course both are beautiful love stories.

The majority of the sequels made, stem from a pure commercial interest. And usually occurs within a few years of the original to take advantage of the energy generated. Very few of them are created from a genuine need to revisit the lives of the characters. Before Sunset is one such movie.

Before I talk about these two beautiful movies, let me give you suggestion. Don't watch these movies back to back (It can be very tempting once you finish Before Sunrise). Wait a day and let the first movie sink in and let the anticipation build. It will certainly enhance the pleasure. Hey, rest of the movie goers waited nine years. You can certainly wait 24 hours :)

Before Sunrise (1995)

This is the first installment. It signalled the arrival of a talented director - Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Slacker, School of Rock). It also was one of our initial glimpses of the incredibly beautiful and talented Julie Delpy.

The movie is set in the beautiful streets of Vienna. It is the story of how Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meets Celine (Delpy) on a train to Vienna. He convinces her to make a detour from her journey to Paris. And how the few hours they spend together changes their lives forever.

I know I am being very vague. But mentioning anything more will take away from your movie watching experience.

My favorite line - "If there's any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know, it's almost impossible to succeed, but... who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt."

My favorite scene - When Jesse and Celine are standing inside the listening booth in a record store. Watch for the body language. It will bring a smile to your lips.


Before Sunset (2004)

This is my favorite of the two. While the first movie is driven by the passion and exuberance of youth, the second is grounded in reality but lined with the yearning to breakaway.

The movie is set in Paris and nine years have passed since Jesse and Celine first met (The actual movie releases are also spaced the same way). The beauty of the movie is that it is set in real life - i.e; the length of the movie (77 min) is same as the timespan of the events depicted.

There are so many beautiful nuances in the movie which I want to talk about. But it is tough to go into them without spoiling it for y'all.

My favorite line - "Memories are wonderful things, if you don't have to deal with the past."

My favorite scene - The cab ride that Jesse and Celine share from the docks of the Seine to Celine's apartment. So intense and beautiful.

And the use of Nina Simone's music in the movie is an added bonus. Watch for some lovely shots on the Seine.

The chemistry between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy is mind blowing. They actually co-wrote the script for the second movie. Julie Delpy is of course the superior of the two. She portrays that beautiful blend of fierce independence and vulnerability with hardly any effort.

And to add a slight warning, these are two movies which are not suitable for passive watching. The intricacies of the body language, the background score, the beautiful dialogue and the fabulous cinematography demand your full attention. Do yourself a favor and give that to it. And you'll be thankful that you did.

If you are a man or woman, who uses his/her head for something other than poking under a hair dryer, you will appreciate the way how these movies show that human emotions are not colors splashed across a canvas. They are more like the gentle outlines that provide the definitions to who we really are.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Happy Birthday

According to my friends, this is one of the best pieces I have written. Hopefully y'all will like it too.


The illuminated hands on his Omega read 11:10. New York was still buzzing with activity. After all it was the holiday season. For a few moments he stood before his window overlooking Central Park. It was a full moon that night. It added an edge of magic to the glistening silhouette of Central Park. Maybe it was the holidays and magic was truly in the air. Probably not. He had stopped believing in magic a few years back.

He had gone over these moments in his head a couple of days back. He pictured himself pacing up and down in his bedroom or living room. Maybe flipping through the channels without blinking. All the images he had seen in films in the same context rushed back to his senses. He never imagined he would be in a situation like this. So he didn't have any real thoughts about it. In the absence of real thoughts, the mind reaches for the nearest fantasy world. The images that were played were just instances of that.

But unlike these images he had, he was feeling unusually calm. Almost as if a shield of serenity surrounded him. And it felt nice.

He looked around his vast bedroom. Not too many people would have such a bedroom in Manhattan. The d├ęcor was meticulously done. Classic but yet sleek. That had always been his signature style. Also it helps having the best interior decorator in NYC as a good friend. He remembered the hours he and Todd spent poring over designs. But the effort was worthwhile. It was truly a masterpiece.

His bed was unassuming and simple. It took up very little space in his vast bedroom. The bulk of the floor space was taken by the shelves which almost encircled the room. They were choc-a-bloc with his books, CDs and DVDs. All arranged according to genre and alphabetically.

A lot of the books were unread. No creases. No pig-ears. Some CDs and DVDs were still inside their shrink-wrapping. A new bunch of CDs and DVDs which he bought last week were still sitting in the white and red 'BORDERS' bag at the foot of one of the shelves.

“I don't even remember what I bought. It really doesn't matter now I guess” he said. His lips curled up into a wistful smile as the words left his mouth.

He walked across to the CD shelf and started browsing through the CDs. His eyes were searching for something specific. The intensity in them meant that it was a prized possession.

“Ah! Here it is!” He said that in the upbeat tone of a school kid finding free candy.

It was a CD in a plain plastic casing. No leaflets or markings. It was a home made CD. He had burned it when he was around 25. For a moment he marveled at how quickly 15 years had gone by so quickly.

He took the CD out from its blue translucent flimsy plastic case and popped into his music system. It made a few sputtering noises and the CD tray popped out.

“Damn it!” he cursed as he took the CD and wiped it on his t-shirt and popped it back. This time it started to play.

He sat down at his desk and slid down in his chair so that he could rest his neck on the chair's back. After a few moments of static, the music started to flow.

TRACK 1: I go crazy – Paul Davis

Somehow that song always stirred some strange emotion in him. Usually certain songs gain a place in our psyche because of the events one correlates with them.

But this was different. There was no such event he could relate this song to. Neither did he share a few special moments with someone, with this song as a backdrop. But he hoped and hoped that someday he would. The image in his head was crystal clear. Almost as if, it really happened.

The stage is his apartment. The dinner table is set. Food is ready. Candles are lit. This song is playing. And he is slow dancing with his girl. There is this slight smile on his face as he looks into her eyes and lip-synchs to the words of the song.

He hoped it would happen someday. That he would be able to look into the eyes of someone the same way he imagined it. But it never happened. Not even once.

TRACK 2: Same Old Lang Syne – Dan Fogelberg

He always claimed that this was the most tragic song he had ever heard. At least in his book. Maybe it was just because it reminded of someone whom he passed up on in his early days. He was young. He was stupid. When you are young you think there will be many people whom you will meet, with whom you connect and it feels right.

But the wisdom of years had taught him that it doesn't happen often. Heck! You are lucky if it happens once. And when it does, one has to hold on to it and never let it go. No matter what happens. No matter what you have to sacrifice. Unfortunately this wisdom occurred very late to him.

TRACK 3: Love is a battlefield – Pat Benatar

Admittedly, it was a very girlie song. But he couldn't deny its charm. During his mid-twenties it had helped him live through a few heartaches. It always gave him hope that there is someone/something better around the corner.

“Maybe I have been just missing all those corners. Maybe I have been walking the wrong streets. Hope at times can be a dangerous thing. It makes one live in the future,” he thought.

He let those thoughts hang in the air for a while. Brooded over them for a few brief moments and then he walked across and switched off the music.

He walked into the living room. If the bedroom was huge, the living room was humongous. But it was almost packed. His big-screen TV, the Dolby home theatre system, his simple but elegant couch filled the vast space. Then there were the shelves filled with the accolades he had received. He had kept every single one of them. Right from the small memento he received for fundraising when he was 25 to the lovely plaque he was given last month by the NYPD, naming him as one of the 'Citizens for Social Change' for the work he has been doing for the children in the Bronx.

Initially these meant so much to him. It brought him so much happiness. The sense of achievement and accomplishment had been one of the driving factors in his life. But now they failed to evoke any extreme emotion. Of course he still took pride in his work and felt good about a task well done. But awards and accolades just failed to elevate the emotion any more.

He remembered saying to his friends a long time back “I am willing to give up my personal life as long as I do something worthwhile with my life.” And he truly meant it. At that point in his life he was truly driven by the pursuit of success and sense of accomplishment.

At different times in our lives we are driven by different factors. At times, by money. Sometimes, by fame. And sometimes, by plain good will. Some motivations are more materialistic than others. But during these phases, very rarely do we realize that these cannot be the motivations for our life forever. Without someone to share life's moments with, all these motivations die a painstaking death.

“Why do we have to be with someone? The sheer concept that we need someone in our lives to make us truly happy is almost…sadistic.”

“So if this was God/Nature's grand scheme for achieving human harmony, where did my equation fall off? Where did it go wrong? In a city filled with millions, why didn't I ever run into that someone? That someone with whom there are no false pretences or images? That one with whom it is ok to be yourself?”

“Maybe it is destiny. Maybe I am just one of those people who is destined to be alone.”

“Loneliness is a weird thing. You suffer its pangs only when you are alone. So no one really sees what you are going through. To the observer, I live a charmed life. A fabulous career, more than enough wealth and possessions. My demeanour too doesn't give too much away, I guess. Life of the party, the timely jokes and all this philanthropy too. They must be thinking 'Now here is one guy who is truly happy'. I have seen it in people's eyes – sometimes in the form of jealousy and at times in the form of admiration.”

“That's when I have wanted to stand up and scream. 'My life is not hunky-dory. Look at me. At forty, I come home to an empty apartment. I eat alone. I sleep alone. I didn't sign up for this'.”

“Would I give up all this to be with that special someone? Absolutely! In a heartbeat.”

He glanced at his watch. It was 11:55 pm. “Enough. Enough now.”

He walked back to his bedroom. From the top drawer of his dresser he took out a box of pills. He poured himself a glass of water. With the glass of water in one hand and pills in the other, he stood before the large mirror.

His mind was calm. There were no longer any revolting thoughts rushing around. As the clocks struck twelve, he looked at himself, smiled and said

“Happy Birthday, John.”

* * *

Rob hated winter mornings. Especially, when one gets called in for work so early. He got woken up at 6:30 am today. He was driving down to Manhattan. There was hardly anyone on the streets. It was a Saturday after all. He pulled up in front of a huge apartment building next to Central Park. It was a suicide. Overdose of pills it seems. The maid had found him dead.

He took the elevator up to the 11th floor. It was a beautiful apartment. “Must cost a fortune,” he thought. He went straight to the bedroom. The forensic folks were finishing up their work.

He looked at the body. The face was so familiar. “I know him! I saw him at the NYPD function last month. We honored him as one of the respected citizens of the city. I remember reading about him and thinking such a noble man. But why would he commit suicide? Why?”

His train of thought was broken by one of the forensic folks. “A clear case of suicide,” he said. “Oh, there was a note too,” he handed him a paper sealed in a plastic bag.

It was just two lines written very nicely on high quality stationery.

I have read somewhere that “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
So is the unshared one.
~ John

For a moment he was puzzled. Then he walked around the apartment and looked around. A forty year old living alone, no signs of too many visitors, no photographs on the walls or elsewhere. It started to make sense to him.

He got lost in the thoughts for a moment. Then he quickly picked up his cellphone and dialed his home number. It was the sleepy voice of his wife at the other end. “Honey, still in bed? I had to rush to work without saying. Sorry about that. I love you, Honey. Maybe we will go out to your favorite French restaurant for dinner today. I will see if I can get reservations. Will see you in the evening. Bye.”

He read the note once again and headed outside for a smoke.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Stevie (2003)

Directed by: Steve James

Once in a while you come across a movie which is very difficult to watch. Not because it is a bad movie but due to the nature of the topic it deals with. A similar movie which comes to mind is The Woodsman (Kevin Bacon gives an outstanding performance as a man released from prison after serving time for child molestation. And the direction by Nicole Kassell is absolutely brilliant).

Any movie which deals with child abuse is somehow very difficult for me to watch. It is a mixture of disgust and curiousness that engulfs me when I watch this. While the acts of the protagonist makes me squirm, there is that part of me that is curious to know what made them that way. It also makes me wonder is there any way to change them.

Stevie is a documentary made by Steve James (of Hoop Dreams fame). This is the story of a boy (Stevie) the director came to know through the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program. The director returns to Southern Illinois after nearly 10 years to see how his 'little brother' is doing. And the picture he sees isn't pretty.

Probably because I have been part of a mentoring program for nearly 2 years, it makes this movie a little extra special to me.

Stevie's childhood is nothing short of a nightmare. An absuive and violent mom who abandons him (We later find out that she was using him as an outlet for her anger towards his father who left her), raped in a foster home, never really cared for except by one set of foster parents.

Now in his mid twenties, Stevie has been arrested numerous times for variety of crimes. During the course of the movie, he is also charged with molesting his 8-year old cousin. The movie's latter half follows this trial.

While the director doesn't use the troubled childhood as an excuse for the crimes Stevie has committed, he tries to show us that Stevie really never had a fair chance at becoming a real person.

There are a variety of characters who appear in this landscape of trailer parks and rural towns. There is Bernice - Stevie's mom who finally returns home, Brenda (Stevie's sister) and her husband who care for Stevie despite his flaws and Stevie's girlfriend Tonya who loves Stevie all the same.

Quite a few critics of the movie have criticized the director for being too involved in the movie. But according to me, they are overlooking the fact that it is Steven's story to some extent too. He is a part of Stevie's life and a story of that is not quite complete without him in it.

The movie ends with Stevie being sent to prison for 10 years for the molestation charges.

A moving depiction of the intricacies of human nature, it leaves us with a whole bunch of questions.

What if Stevie's mom was better to him ?

What if Steven had been his mentor longer ?

What if Stevie's favorite foster family had been able to keep him longer ?

Well....I guess we will never know.

It left me wondering how will I react if I too saw the same bleak picture of my mentee 10 years from now.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Politically Incorrect

People who know me are very familiar with my liking for non-PC jokes. Given the over-the-top-PC-ness that exists these days, I think we need more of these.

So here goes. A collection of non-PC jokes. NICE !

What do you call two Mexicans playing basketball?
Juan on Juan

How do you make an asian blind?
Put a windshield in front.

What is a Yankee?
The same as a quickie, but a guy can do it alone.

What is the difference between a Harley and a Hoover ?
The position of the dirt bag

Why is divorce so expensive?
Because it's worth it.

What do you see when the Pillsbury Dough Boy bends over?
Doughnuts

Why is air a lot like sex?
Because it's no big deal unless you're not getting any

What do you call a smart blonde?
A golden retriever.

What do attorneys use for birth control?
Their personalities.

What's the difference between a girlfriend and wife?
45 lbs

What's the difference between a boyfriend and husband?
45 minutes

What's the fastest way to a man's heart?
Through his chest with a sharp knife.

Why do men want to marry virgins?
They can't stand criticism.

What's the difference between a new husband and a new dog?
After a year, the dog is still excited to see you

What makes men chase women they have no intention of marrying?
The same urge that makes dogs chase cars they have no intention of driving.

Why don't bunnies make noise when they have sex?
Because they have cotton balls.

What's the difference between a porcupine and BMW?
A porcupine has the pricks on the outside.

What did the blonde say when she found out she was pregnant?
"Are you sure it's mine?"

Why does Mike Tyson cry during sex?
Mace will do that to you.

Why did OJ Simpson want to move to Arkansas ?
Everyone has the same DNA.

Why do men find it difficult to make eye contact?
Breasts don't have eyes.

Did you hear about the dyslexic Rabbi?
He walks around saying "Yo."

Why do drivers' education classes in Redneck schools use the car only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays?
Because on Tuesday and Thursday, the Sex Ed class uses it.

Where does an Irish family go on vacation?
A different bar.

Did you hear about the Chinese couple that had a retarded baby?
They named him "Sum Ting Wong

What would you call it when an Italian has one arm shorter than the other?
A speech impediment.

What does it mean when the flag at the Post Office is flying at half-mast?
They're hiring.

What's the difference between a southern zoo and a northern zoo?
A southern zoo has a description of the animal on the front of the cage along with... a recipe.

How do you get a sweet little 80-year-old lady to say the F word?
Get another sweet little 80-year-old lady to yell *BINGO*!

Why is there no Disneyland in China ?
No one's tall enough to go on the good rides

What's the difference between a northern fairytale and a southern fairytale?
A northern fairytale begins "Once upon a time..." A southern fairytale begins "Y'all ain't gonna believe this shit..."

Y'all have a good weekend !

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Breakthrough - Mary J Blige

Well, I haven't listened to the whole album yet (except for miniscule previews on iTunes). But I downloaded one of the songs of MSN Music (Yeah, I use em'. iTunes' thinks its songs are too good to be played on mp3 players other than the iPod. They can eat dirt. I love me my Zen Micro, thankyouvurrrrymuch).

Oh..where was I? Ah...the new Mary J Blige album. The song I dowloaded was "Be without you". And I think I have played it umpteen times since then.

The song is pure R&B at its very best. It is poetic and heartbreaking. For me R&B has always been the genre which expresses heartache the best. Maybe it is the slow beats in the background, maybe it is the lovely use of the piano or maybe its MJB's powerful vocals. Whatever it is, the song leaves us without a doubt about the tragedies of the heart.

I will add the review of the rest of the songs once I get my hands on the CD.

Till then, smile and be good.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Extraordinary Machine - Fiona Apple


We thought it would never come. Maybe she was abducted by aliens. Maybe she got married, bought a Volvo dealership, moved to the suburbs and became a soccer-mom. But the wait is over people. Fiona Apple is back with a new CD. And her voice as smoky and smouldering as ever.

The title track 'Extraordinary Machine' has a very playful nature about it. The music gives me a old school Disney movie feel. My favorite track is Get Him Back. The piano seems to just to sway along with Ms Apple's effortless singing.

"O' Sailor is the song which showcases her voice the best. And it also has that touch of sadness and a hint of anger too. "Tymps " is such a fun song. You almost feel like clapping along with it. Maybe even do a little jig.

All in all, it was a CD worth the wait. In a time when too many musicians seem to be thriving on gimmicks, it is good to know there are still artists around who don't need anything more than their music.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Salt of this Planet

This is my latest swing at writing short stories. Am still learning the nuances. Feel free to rate/trash it.

He glanced at the time on his cellphone. The digitized haze of the screen announced it to be 12:55am. He had just drifted into sleep. “Walden and Civil Disobedience” was lying, face down on his nightstand. He remembered putting it down and checking the time. He had turned off the reading light at around 12:40am.

He was woken up by the ringing of his cellphone a few minutes later.

The caller id flashed the name “Susan” in luminescent blue letters. He didn’t have her picture in his cellphone. Otherwise it would have shown that too.

He almost didn’t pick it up. But he knew he had to. She wasn’t doing well lately. As with most women her age, the reason for her agony - relationships.

He picked up the phone and trying to sound as energetic as possible, he said “Hey! What’s up girl?”

And sure enough there were some words said at the other end. But he couldn’t figure it out because most of it was muffled up by the sobbing. And finally he heard an audible sentence.

“I still can’t believe it” She said. It trailed into a stretch of exaggerated sobbing.

This was the 5th day since her boyfriend broke up with her and the 5th day he was getting a call from her past midnight.

She had been with this boyfriend for nearly 2 years. Actually the boyfriend in question broke up with her a few days before completing their second year. Apparently he announced the breakup when she started talking about doing something special for their second year together.

Even though this was the 5th day the conversations followed a similar pattern.

Stage 1 – The memories of the good times she had during the relationship dominated this stage of the conversation. It spanned everything from their getaway in Hawaii to the walk in the park. This stage varied in length depending on her choice of “memories for the day”.

Stage 2 – This was usually a mixture of disbelief at him breaking up with her and a rant about how she was too good for him.

He hardly spoke during these two stages. He just added a light sprinkling of “Yeah”, “True” and “Very much so”. Most of the time he was lost in his musings on the topic “Why the friggin’ hell don’t some men breakup in a decent manner?”

Stage 3 – This was where she went off on an endless tirade about how men are assholes. Right from her high school sweetheart to the last guy she dated got dumped into the bin labeled “ASSHOLE” in bright red.

This stage prompted the most out of him. Partly because, as a man he felt the duty to defend his kind (at least some of them anyway). And partly because he didn’t want her to go off on a mindless rant. Moreover his sleep starts to kick in at this point.

But his efforts have hardly any effect on her, except making her intersperse her rants with “You are different”, “I am not talking about you” etc.

Stage 4 – This is the stage where he did most of the talking and she listened trying to hold back her sobs. Most of this was about assuring her that she will not end up alone for the rest of her life and trying to convince her that there is nothing wrong with her. This stage usually concluded the conversation.

Today’s conversation was no different either. By the time he put the phone down it was 2:40am. “Great! I have to head to work at 7:00 am. Damn it!” He cursed.

* * *

It had been a very long day. These meetings seem to be so taxing. Classic case of “Too many cooks spoil the broth”. Hours of useless discussion and at the end people bring up the very same point discussed in the beginning. The frustration is what made one weary more than anything else.

Fortunately he did get time to sit down and have a nice lunch. Curried chicken at the nearby “hole in the wall” Vietnamese joint. Now he was starting to feel really sleepy. The fact that he had very little sleep last night didn’t help either.

He was starting to doze off in front of his laptop. That’s when his cellphone rang. It was Richard. He was glad that he had a room and not a cubicle. So he could afford to answer calls in peace. He answered the phone and the first thing he heard was a loud scream.

“I got it!”

Richard had been trying to make a huge career move and there was this job (in his words ‘his dream job’) in a global corporation he was gunning for. He had been helping Richard prepare for this interview for a few days now.

They spent quite a bit of time working on his resume, preparing interview answers. He even picked out the suit for Richard to wear.

“Thanks a lot, buddy! I owe you big time!”

“Nah, you are the one who attended the interview. Not me.”

“Don’t kid yourself. You know how much you helped me out.”

“If you say so” He chuckled. “So let’s go out and celebrate your new job and make some headway into spending your fat paycheck.”

“Oh! I can’t. Lisa wants to go away to Vermont for a week before I start my new job. I am flying out tonight. Sorry about that buddy. We will celebrate when I get back.”

“Don’t worry about it. Have fun in Vermont. Say ‘Hi’ to Lisa for me. Let me know if you guys need a ride to the airport.”

“Will do that. I’ll talk to you later then. Bye”. And the phone went dead.

He let out a sigh and put down his phone. He had a quick glance at his email to see if there were any important ones which he needed his immediate attention. There was none.

He just leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.

* * *

He glanced at his watch as he stepped into the diner. It was 6:55 pm. Most of the tables were vacant. This was a diner frequented by the late night crowd – the clubbers, the students, the late shift folks, rather than by the dinner crowd.

The waitress, who seemed to double up as the hostess, came up and said “Good evening! How many people?”

“Two, please”

“Oh, go ahead and sit at any table you want and someone will be right over to take your order.”

He picked the table in the corner. That seemed to be the quietest spot. Far away from a group of folks who seem to be having an after-work dinner.

He was just looking out of the window at the passing cars when the waitress came up to him. She must have been at the most eighteen. Could still be in high school even. She had a striking resemblance to Meryl Streep.

“What would you like?”

“Just a cup of coffee. I am waiting for my friend. I will place my main order once she is here.”

“Would you like cream and sugar too?”

“Yes, please. By the way have you ever been told that you look like Meryl Streep?”

She giggled and said “No”

“Well, now you have. You have a striking resemblance to a young Meryl Streep”

“Thank you! I will be right back with your coffee”

He saw her walk up to the girl working with her and whisper something. It was probably about his comment as he saw them smiling and throwing glances his way.

He always liked his coffee really sweet. He was emptying the third packet of sugar into his coffee when Anna walked into the diner. She looked beautiful as usual.

Her beautiful free flowing dark hair framed her classic high cheek-boned face. She wore a dark skirt with a baby blue turtleneck. A dark brown leather jacket completed her outfit. Stylish, minimal, elegant - that was her signature style. She epitomized the Coco Chanel rule - ‘Look in the mirror and take one thing off just before you leave’.

He had started dating her three months back. He met her at a friend’s party. He saw her sitting on the steps when he stepped out for a breath of fresh air. That was what she was – a breath of fresh air.

Prior to that he had been through a long series of bad first dates. He was starting to be very picky and increasingly skeptical about dating. Women who were well balanced seem to be obsolete.

Anna was different. She seemed like the girl he had been waiting for all this time. All the other women he had ever been with were mere distractions.

They shared the same passionate approach towards life. They discussed the sad state of education in the country with the same passion with which they made love. From the first day they met there were no games or false pretences. It seemed that they had just shattered each other’s defenses. He loved the way she made him feel. And she appreciated how much he adored her.

She seemed to have seen him. She waved. He waved back. Somehow things felt different. She had a forced smile on her face and seemed to be weary from sleeplessness.

She sat down and took off her jacket and laid it on the seat beside her.

“Have you been here long?” She asked.

“No, just a few minutes. You look flustered. What’s wrong?”

Her face went a bit pale. She looked at him for a while. Then she covered her face with her hands. He reached across and gently removed her hands from her face. She was crying. The little makeup that she wore was starting to run down her cheeks.

He pulled out a few napkins from the box on the table and handed it to her and said “Here, wipe your tears and tell me what is wrong”

She took the napkins and wiped her tears and cleaned up the make up which had run down her cheeks.

She was silent for a few minutes. He didn’t want to push her. So he waited. Then finally she spoke.

“I still love him”

“Him? Who?”

“Matt. I have never told you about him. We were together when we were in college. Then we were always on and off again. Couple of weeks before I met you, we had a big fight and broke-up. At that time I thought it was over forever. Otherwise I would have never gone out with you”

“So now what changed? Did I do something wrong?”

“No, you did nothing wrong. You never did anything wrong. These last three months have been the most romantic time I have ever had in my life. Very rarely have I felt so desired and cherished”

“It is not me, then? So what is it?”

“As I said, I still love him. Couple of days back, I met one of our mutual friends. She told me that Matt has been wreck ever since I left him. And finally I met him yesterday, after nearly four months. She was right. He was indeed a wreck. We talked for nearly 4 hours. By the end of it, both of us were in tears. That’s when I realized that I still have strong feelings for him”

“So what now? Us? Over?” His voice was starting to break. His throat seemed to be straining to get those words out.

“This is not easy for me. Somehow you have shown me how wonderful it is to be so cared for. The selfless way you love me, almost makes me feel guilty now that I know that I have feelings for someone else. This is so difficult. I am having a tough time making that decision”

He wanted to pull her close and ask her never to leave. He knew she was special and letting her go would be a stupid thing to do. But often the right thing also appears to the stupid one.

He took her hands in his and said

“Look at me. All of us have only a finite amount of time on this beautiful planet. This time is too precious to be wasted thinking about the ‘what-ifs’. I would rather do something and live with the consequences rather than suffering the pangs of regret. My rule of thumb when it comes to this kind of decision is always this – The right decisions are always the tough ones. That is why very few people make them.”

“How can you stay so true always? I know you love me even though you haven’t said it. How can you let me go?”

He smiled and said “I love you so much that I can let you go. My love wouldn’t be true if I held you back. You have to follow your heart. The only sin is to deny what your heart truly feels”

She wiped back the tears starting to well up in her eyes and said “Somehow, I expected you to react like this. You make it so difficult for me to sit here and not feel guilty. It would have been easier if you had yelled at me. Do you mind if I leave now?”

“Actually, I prefer that you did. Not that I want to be alone. If you are here, I can’t flirt with the cute waitresses, right?” He chuckled.

“Okay. I will take off now. I want to meet up again when I have better control of my tear ducts”

“Sure thing”

As she walked away from him, he so badly wanted to call her name and ask her to comeback. But he refrained from it.

That’s when the Meryl Streep look-alike waitress came up to take his order.

“Your friend left so soon”

“She had to leave. Some emergency”

“Oh. That’s a bummer. Do you want to order something else now? Or are you planning to leave too?”

“No, I am hungry as hell. I would like a grilled chicken sandwich with everything. But no mayonnaise or cheese”

“Do you want fries with it?”

“Yes, please”

“Anything else?”

“No, that’s about it”

“Alritey. I will be back with your order in a few minutes”

All this had happened in such a hurry. He was still trying to come to grips with what just happened.

“What have I done? I finally meet the girl perfect for me. And I let her go without a fight? What kind of sick person am I? I shouldn’t have let her go like that. I should have convinced her to stay. After all she did say that these last three months were the most romantic time she ever had. And I let her go. I am so stupid”

These thoughts were raging inside his head when the waitress brought his meal.

“Enjoy your dinner”

He managed to interrupt his thoughts and blurt out a “Thank you”.

A few of those revolting thoughts were still bothering him. But in the heart of hearts he knew he had done the right thing.

“You can never force anyone to love you” He thought.

His mind wandered on to his rotten luck as far as relationships are concerned. He had never been in love. He was almost certain that he was in love with Anna. But she got away before he could say so. So his track record of not having said those beautiful three words stayed intact.

“There are people who don’t succeed in their careers or friendships. Maybe I am one of those people who don’t succeed in love”

“Shakespeare did say that ‘All the world’s a stage’. All of us cannot be principal actors, right? There can be no story without a supporting cast, right?”

He thought about it for a bit. “That doesn’t seem quite right. For my friends and family am much more than a supporting actor”

“Well, maybe there are people who succeed in career, love etc. And then there are people who are essential for them to succeed.”

“Just like salt is to cooking. On its own it has no real value. But it is so essential. Without it, even the fanciest dish would be bland. It helps the rest of the ingredients exude their best qualities.”

“There must be people who fill that spot in the gourmet kitchen of life”

“They are the salt of this planet. And I am one of them”

His train of thought was interrupted by an "Excuse me" from the next table. He looked across.

A gorgeous blonde, mid 20s, sporting a beautiful smile said "Can you please pass me the salt?”

He almost wanted to burst out laughing. But he just smiled and said

"Of course"

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Rain

I wrote this a while back. Rain always reminds me of life back home. Sipping a cup of hot tea and watching the heavens open up is one of those beautiful simple pleasures of life.

I wrote this during one such rainy day the last time I was back home. Hope y'all like it.

Like a bride's veil
Shielding all the turmoil inside
The sheets of rain thundering down
Dissolve everything in a blurry haze

The blowing wind once in a while
Guides a reluctant drop inside
My skin tingles under its touch
Almost a gesture to join the dance

The rain spatters off the leaves
As they try in vain to catch a few
Like a lover clutching the sands of hope
Waiting for that long lost love

A few trickle down the metallic power lines
Only to fall to the ground in mid journey
Akin to the rat race we reluctantly run
Only to know failure is just a mis-step away

The first step is the toughest
As the first few drops sting my skin
Then it is just a heavenly cleansing
But...what I need is a rain within.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

My 'Pick of the Flicks of 2005

Syriana

Absolutely rivetting. Very few movies of the year with a really well written and thought out script, which demanded the audience to stay focussed. Captures the dynamics of middle-east politics without taking sides or building an agenda.




Good night and Good luck

Captures a key period in history without any frills and fancy. In a time of fluctuating ethics and commitment, this movie was so relevant. But sadly, very few people paid any attention to it. George Clooney proves he can don the director's hat the same way he wore the white coat in ER. Hats off !



Shopgirl

For me, this movie was all about the performance of Claire Danes. Radiant, funny, poignant - all these adjectives can be used to describe her work. But I just chose one - brilliant !





Me, You and Everyone We Know

Romantic comedies need not always be about the really beautiful and accomplished people. It can about the quirky individuals amongst us. The multi talented Miranda July is definitely someone to look out for.





Junebug

There have been many movies about the "meeting the parents" thingy. But very few have done it as well as this. Amy Adams' portrayal of 'Ashley' has to be one of the standout performances of 2005.





Wedding Crashers

One of those movies where you could never stop laughin. Everyone could use a buddy movie like this from time to time. Vince Vaughn seems to get more brilliant with every movie. Maybe Jennifer Aniston is teaching him a thing or two. :)




Lord of War

In a movie about an inscrupulous arms dealer it very easy to do one of these two things. Either get too preachy or glorify the arms dealer lifestyle. And that is where this movie stands apart. It does neither. The memorable quips and humorous moments in the darkest situations, is reminescent of Catch-22. Probably the reason why the movie really worked for me.



Batman Begins

The caped crusader has to be one of the most complex characters of the superhero pack. A superhero without superpowers. Almost an oxymoron, right ? Chris Nolan is content to let the human side take the centerstage and the superhero be the side show. The movie is more about Bruce Wayne rather than Batman. And in Christian Bale, Nolan has an actor who can portray that unique blend of strength, vulnerability, anger and guilt almost effortlessly.



King Kong

What can I say ? Absolutely spectacular ! Some people may crib about the excesive computer graphics. But for me it made King Kong and Skull Island more real that ever before. Peter Jackson's talent for painting huge canvases comes to the fore yet again. And have Naomi Watts in it was an added bonus :)



Chicken Little

There were other movies which would have fitted in the top . But my top 10 list of movies without an animated lfick in it wouldn't be ....well, me ! Wallace and Gromit was good. But I liked this better. It is tough to beat a chicken wearing glasses doing the 'running man' :)



There were a few movies I didn't see which would have probably made the list. They include Capote, Brokeback Mountain, Walk the Line and The Squid and the Whale. I plan to see them and you can expect reviews on them soon.

Some other movies of I really enjoyed this year include Sin City, March of the Penguins, Mad Hot Ballroom, Murderball and Hustle and Flow

My Oscar picks

Best Actor - Philip Seymour Hoffman
Best Actress - Claire Danes (very unlikely. Am hoping she would do a Mira Sorvino)
Best Supporting Actor - George Clooney
Best Supporting Actress - Amy Adams
Best Director - Woody Allen
Best Movie - Syriana

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

In the Mood for Love (2000)


Director: Wong Kar Wai
Cast : Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung

Even though this was on the list of my movies to review, it was not on top of the stack. But today I had a conversation with one of my friends about moral high ground. That prompted me to pick this up.

This is an old(er) movie. But not many may have seen it. So this is my way of recommending it to all the readers of this blog.

Also in a time where morality seems to be measured by whom (race, gender etc) you love rather than by how you love, this movie speaks volumes.

The plot is fairly simple. A simple story of neighbors - a man and a woman, who find out that their spouses are having an affair. Somehow this catalyzes a strong friendship between them. And that is the only thing simple about this movie.

The treatment of the movie makes the viewer almost feel like a voyeur - lurking behind doors and corners watching them as they keep denying their longing and love for each other. By the latter half of the movie one is rooting for them to shake off these bonds and embrace their attraction.

The movie is set in the 60's Hong Kong, a time when women still wore beautiful dresses and men were gentlemen who wore suits and jazz was the preferred genre of music. (I always contend that the world was a much better place when men wore suits and listened to jazz.)

One is driven to think "Why don't they get together? Their spouses are already cheating on them."

That is where their sense of true fidelity and decency comes to the fore. It makes the case that morality is not a relative term. It is a set of ideals that one has to strive for no matter what turmoils surround you. And using someone else's immoral conduct to justify one's behaviour is just a poor excuse for our own weaknesses.

'Random Hearts' starring Harrison Ford and the oh-so-beautiful and charming Kristin Scott Thomas, did try to explore a similar subject. But for any story dealing with human emotions, subtlety is the key. And Wong Kar Wai literally gives an education about the art of silent glances and unspoken emotion in this movie

My final word on this is a quote from this movie itself.

"You notice things if you pay attention"

My Rating : 4.5/5

Monday, January 09, 2006

Memories of My Melancholy Whores


Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez,
Edith Grossman (Translator)

I picked this up at the Vegas airport while waiting for my flight. I am a huge fan of Marquez's style of painting vibrant pictures with the simplest of characters. And it has been a while (10 years) since Marquez's last work of fiction came out. So I had no hesitation in picking it up. Also the fact that it was a novella, made it an ideal candidate for flight reading.

First things first. The plot of this book may seem creepy to some. A 90 year old bachelor (not a virgin) deciding to have celebrate his birthday with an adolescent virgin is not exactly a picture of celestial romance. Some may even feel that it is in bad taste.

But I did manage to look beyond that aspect as I read the book.

The book reveals a central character who is fragile physically due to age and probably fragile of mind too. Time seems to have caused atleast a few fissures. This man (who is never named) has never loved, has a near-marriage and all the women he slept with were paid for their 'services'.

At this point I was finding it difficult to decide whether to sympathize with this man for whom death looms ahead or to just reject him outright as a womanizer. I was unable to do both. Probably because as a reader one's duty is not to judge a character but merely observe.

Well, there were shades of the Marquez that we are so familiar with. A poignancy expressed in a very subtle fashion, a hint of highly refined erotica and beautiful imagery.

But does that make a good book ? For me atleast it doesn't. It seemed a bit too laborious and at times pointless. Maybe it was meant to be that way. Finding love when you are at the doorsteps of death, may make your life seem pointless no matter how big your accomplishments are.

Maybe I am so accustomed to the beautiful tapestry of events in Marquez classics like the '100 years of solitude' ? Maybe that is why I felt a bit let down.

So my final verdict ? A good read for die hard Marquez fans. For someone starting out, I wouldn't recommend this as an appetizer for the feast which Marquez is capable of.

Rating : 2.5/5
Match Point (2005)
Director : Woody Allen
Cast : Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Scarlett Johnansson.

During the course of the movie, as the screen fills up with luscious images of the beautiful British country side filled with meadows and mansions, atleast momentarily we think "Such a life wouldn't be bad". Well, that is the central theme of the movie.

Humans by nature, have aspirations to lift themselves and their lifestyles above what they grew up in. Some do it through hardwork while others seek easier means. In a more family oriented society, marrying into a higher strata of society (while not always acceptable) is a means of doing that.

More often than not we learn from our mistakes but for that we need that element of luck which will let our mistakes slide. That forms a core element in this movie.

This is not a movie where the Woody Allen style is splashed across the pages. His style is content being the subtext to the story.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers steals the show with his beautifully understated performance. The zealousness to rise in life couples with a deep sense of vulnerabilty to make the character of Chris Wilton truly memorable.

Same is true for Scarlett Johnansson. The seductiveness is just a cloak over the inner struggles of a girl trying to build a career and find love. Nola Rice like many young women clings to blind hope that maybe her married lover would be hers someday. Very few actresses these days are as talented as Miss Johansson.

All in all a movie not to be missed both for its cinematic value as well as for the beautiful shots of the British countryside.

My Rating : 4/5

Welcome to my lair...

Doesn't matter how you wandered in here. Just sitdown and make yourself comfortable. Have some wine and cheese, if you prefer. (Ah ! You have to buy that. I am not a paid columnist yet, dammit).

Writing is a skill which can honed only by writing more. One of my new year resolutions is to do just that. Trying to find topics to write about often is a little bit difficult.

But then I realized I watch an insane number of movies, read too many books, watch too much T.V etc. So why not write reviews about it. If it saves y'all a buck or two, why not ? (I accept cash and paypal :-p)

So this is my sacrifice for YOU !