Friday, September 30, 2011

Live (and exclusive!)

Who says the most popular music artists are the most talented?

In the end it took one song from Robbie Williams to get me to finally sit down and write this post. British boy band Take That's biggest ever hit Back For Good always has been and was always meant to be a slow romantic number. Its just that somebody forgot to tell that to Robbie Williams (ironically a member of the same band) at one of his concerts when he performed the rock version of what is a ballad. Surely not the most gifted of vocalists, with that one song Robbie Williams showed what really makes a singer special - the ability to experiment with & perform songs differently at live performances.

Robbie Williams

Take for example a band as popular as the Black Eyed Peas. They have had their share of hits over the years & they have ventured into solo careers to a fair degree of success. On the airwaves, their songs are reasonably catchy & appeal to a broad base but try watching them perform live and you will be left sorely disappointed as they fall flat on their face without the assistance of technology to mask their true lack of talent.

Why do I like albums from concerts? For one, the cheering of the crowd makes you feel like you've been part of the whole experience even though you were nowhere close to the real thing. The intro to an AC/DC song from a live performance has the crowd chanting for Angus before he launches into one of his typical long solos. There are also times when you want to chant along with the crowd as the band goes into the chorus. The examples are too numerous to list.

Secondly, live performances afford musicians creative liberties which they cannot take when constrained by studio recordings. Garth Brooks has an additional verse for his monster hit Thunder Rolls that he performs only at concerts. Several musicians also use live events to showcase the talents of their band members usually the guitarists who often get overshadowed due to the world's unhealthy obsession with lead vocalists.

DMB: The Central Park Concert

One of my personal all time favourite albums is The Central Park Concert by the extremely talented Dave Mathews Band. The album has several fantastic songs but Cortez The Killer and All Along The Watchtower are two standouts for me. Not only are these extremely well done covers, the band has also used the platform to thrill the audience (and the listeners of the album) with lengthy (not a bad thing in this case) songs. Which means you have an extremely entertaining 2 hour 44 minute long album with just 20 songs.

Jack Johnson: En Concert

The album En Concert by Jack Johnson is probably my favourite live album with some lovely songs including What You Thought You Need, Country Road (with Paula Fuga) and Home. It helps that Jack Johnson is incredibly talented but the fact that it is a concert album makes it even more special. It also is a very good documentary, definitely a must see if you're a music fan. Other notable inclusions are Home: A live concert recording with the Atlanta symphony youth orchestra by Collective Soul and Live 1975 - 85 Disc 1 / 2 / 3 by the evergreen and ever enjoyable Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band.

As for my all time favourite live song, it has to be Bryan Adams' acoustic version of Heaven. Great lyrics, a distinct voice & a live version. Who says Summer of '69 is his best work?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I need a Doctor

Being a book worm wasn't easy in the 90s (ok, stop back calculating and trying to figure out how old I am) in India as your reading options were limited to the usual Hardy Boys, Hardy Boys: Case Files, Famous Five, Three Investigators, Bobbsey Twins, Secret Seven and Five Find-Outers series. And when you were done with all the books you could lay your hands on and were waiting for someone else to buy a new set of books, you quietly read the odd Nancy Drew book (I can so imagine someone commenting on this).

That was until I laid my paws on my first Dr. Who book. For those of you who have never heard of the Doctor, he is a Time Lord who is able to move across time and space with the help of his extraordinary time machine called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension(s) In Space) usually with a human companion. To escape detection, the TARDIS looks like an ordinary blue police box from the outside but in truth, is much larger on the inside. The books that our school library was filled with were based on episodes from the long running BBC show (started in 1963!) that unfortunately never made it to Indian airwaves.


The best part about the books was that they took you to different fascinating planets (with the occassional earth adventure thrown in for good measure) and pitted the ever witty Doctor and his faithful companion against some truly formidable foes that included the dreaded Daleks & the Cybermen. The Doctor would regenerate on occassion to signify the arrival of a different actor to replace the existing one on the TV series which meant that the series continued across the years. The morally upright Doctor ensured that no fight for survival was ever boring even though the challenges quite often seemed insurmountable. Unfortunately I lost touch with the good Doctor and with that an integral part of my childhood.

An old school Dalek

All until I managed to get all the episodes of the Doctor Who series that starred Christopher Eccleston as the effervescent Doctor. The books had set the bar so high in my younger years that I was certain that the TV show would be a disappointment and I prepared myself for the worst. Boy, was I wrong! I'm 8 episodes into the adventures of the ninth doctor & I just cant get enough of it. The story lines are as good as ever, the visual effects are amazing (considering it is a TV show & not a Hollywood blockbuster) & Christopher Eccleston has added a whole dimension to the Doctor.

New school Cybermen

Research tells me there are a ton of old episodes out there on the internet. Which means I need to take a break from downloading MMA fights, wrestling matches & seasons of Top Gear (What? Its not like you dont have a hard disk full of illegally downloaded stuff). I also need to bring a temporary halt to the Everybody Loves Raymond episodes that I watch in the evenings now that I have the excellent company of the Doctor. Work however has increased which means I have to sleep less if I have to be able to catch the Doctor in action. Being an old school guy isnt easy in the 21st century.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The quote maketh the movie

He had a voice that could make a wolverine purr and suits so fine they made Sinatra look like a hobo. In other words, Ron Burgundy was the b**ls.

With the inclusion of that single line, the movie (if one can call it that) Anchorman automatically got upgraded from being an insufferable waste of time to a terrible waste of time. As I watched the movie drag on, scene by extremely painful scene, I realised that mercifully 6 months down the line, the only thing I would remember about the movie was that solitary 10 seconds of awesomeness. The agony of watching the remaining hour and a half of the excuse of a movie would not even be distant memory. Which got me thinking, what really makes a movie memorable?

Brilliant acting? Not really, we have too many talented actors these days. A great background score? Not when Hans Zimmer and co do an excellent job in so many movies. Great direction? Hard to say. A fantastic plot? Too many 'unknown' movies come with better plots than the industry pushed biggies. For me, it all comes down to a single quote that steals the show.

Intentional or not, Casablanca for all its greatness will always be remembered for its closing line

"Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

We performed the stage version of Casablanca a few years ago & as the co-director (Hey Abhinava, how you doing?) I had memorized nearly every line of the script. I have a ton of fond memories from the play (including the one time when our actors who were supposed to sit in the background and play a game of cards without uttering a line in a scene arguing during rehearsals over what game they should be playing while sitting on stage) but the one moment that will stick with me is that final line before the curtains came down.

So what makes a movie quote fantastic? I really have no clue how to explain that but I can list out a few off the top of my head.

"Ask any racer, any real racer. It doesn't matter if you win by an inch or a mile; winning's winning"

With that one line, Dom (Vin Diesel) was made. From being a movie that was made to provide adrenaline rushes to countless teenagers, the Fast & the Furious became a cult movie that made a star. Suddenly boy racers around the world wanted to be Dom while the real racers grimaced in disapproval.

"I really like you, but I can't be the invisible man. I'm tired of being the shoulder .... I'd like to be somebody's Gerry."

I am the sort of person who prefers to read a book before watching the movie only to see how well the movie director has been able to capture the vision of the author. Honestly, when I read P.S. I Love You I was shocked that such a lousy book could have become a best seller & I made a vow not to watch the movie. Fortunately I forgot my about my vow. The movie was really nice and the show stealer was the monologue leading upto I'd like to be somebody's Gerry. Im sure the silence in movie halls around the world would have been interrupted by Awwws after that classic line.

"The first time someone calls you a horse you punch him on the nose, the second time someone calls you a horse you call him a jerk but the third time someone calls you a horse, well then perhaps it's time to go shopping for a saddle."

Lucky Number Slevin was a sucker punch from nowhere. A movie I picked to watch for no apparent reason became a quick favourite of mine. Not difficult considering it had lines like this.

"You dont need your mouth to pee!"

Unintentionally hilarious moment from The Transporter when the struggling victim tries to scream indicating that she wants the tape across her mouth removed when Jason Statham loosens the knots that have tied her legs to let her use the facilities.

"Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it."

The Dark Knight ushered in the era of the dark villain as the Joker showed a maniacal side that terrified the audience & stole the show from Batman. Long time fans are used to the more light hearted & consequentially less dangerous Joker that was never a serious threat to Batman but this version truly showed how evil he could get. And this perfectly explained the mindset of such a formidable foe.

"Chicks like scars. It's like a roadmap of the soul."

I probably will never understand what that means but kudos to the scriptwriters of The Air I Breathe for coming up with it.

And finally from the very enjoyable movie The Holiday, probably my all time favourite movie quote from the incredibly talented Jack Black

Iris: Miles, you really are an incredibly decent man.
Miles: I know. It's always been my problem.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Save my readers campaign !

For some strange and inexplicable reason, middle class India seems to find it acceptable to drink and drive. I guess I missed the part where invincibility and sharpened senses come complimentary with a drink. Unfortunately as educated and street smart as they are, this is one lesson they will only learn the hard way. Which is scary if you know someone who does drink and drive. And I'm sure most of you do.

Sadly the only reason I see people not driving after drinking is if they know that the cops will be out with their breath analyzers (and very stiff fines) on a weekend night. The fact that their own safety (and worse someone else's) is on the line does not seem to bother them.

I could give you the ridiculously high number of people who die because of drunken driving on Indian roads but it isn't going to be of any use. Those who want to drive even after drinking and knowing the facts will do so. The numbers don't lie but in this case they don't mean a thing to anyone unless something tragic has happened to someone near or dear.

So the next time you or your friend is going to drive after drinking, think about it. My blog hardly has any readers, I certainly don't want one less ....

****** Madrasis !

Introduction: For all the non Indians reading this post (highly doubtful that given that this blog has only 3 readers and I know all three of them) it is imperative that I provide a snapshot of how Indians view the rest of the country. North Indians seem to have not the best of impressions about south Indians (also known as Madrasis to them) and do an excellent job of stereotyping them (negatively of course). South Indians in turn do their best to return the favour. In kind. But not too kindly.

Of course you might wonder what about the other 2 directions - East and West? Well, the only thing about west India that these two sets of people know is Bombay and the infamous Narendra Modi. East India, well noone really cares about east India least of all the Indian government which probably thinks its part of the next country.

And while an instant and fleeting claim to blogging fame can be mine for the taking if I launch into a scathing attack on my brothers and sisters from the northern half of this glorious country (cough cough letter to Delhi boy cough cough) I will not be traversing that path today. All because I have some not so flattering things to say about the wonderful people in Madras.

Bloody Madrasis!

The 2 words are forever on the lips of every north Indian (for no apparent reason) that pays to visit to what actually is a glorious city. A city drenched in history and culture, arts and sports, education and corruption. Each time I have heard these sacrilegious twin words been uttered by my friends (and foes) from the other side of the country, I have faithfully told them that the city isnt half as bad as they make it out to be and given an open mind (I'm not being sarcastic here ... I swear!) they probably would like the place. Of course my comments have always fallen on deaf ears but that has never stopped me from trying to help eliminate the racial stereotype that everyone is fond of nurturing. Until 3 days ago that is.

3 days ago all hell broke loose. I had driven down to Madras from Bangalore and had thoroughly enjoyed the 300+ kms of blissful highway driving with my able companion from Fiat. My happiness however came to a screeching halt as things took a surprising turn for the worse once I entered city limits. Suddenly all sorts of maniacs on two wheels and four continuously kept hurtling towards me from all directions while seemingly defying the laws of physics (Rajinikanth shtyle). It was almost as though they all wanted a piece of me or my Fiat and I had to do my level best to avoid contact with all of them.

As I drove into the heart of the city it grew worse. It was almost like going deeper and deeper into a cancer that relentlessly keeps enveloping you whatever you do. I am not the religious sort but I certainly did send up a ton of prayers over the two days I was driving around that forsaken town. There were at least half a dozen times I thought I was certain to run over someone who had just cut across my car with scant regard to his life and limbs. The best part is almost all the people riding bikes were doing it without a helmet so death is but a heartbeat away for them.

Driving through peak Saturday night traffic was the probably the worst driving experience I have ever had as my heart was perpetually in my mouth. The idiots truly are homicidal, suicidal and genocidal (trademark Sabu) and it took all of my driving skill and the blessings from the man up there to keep me, the people in my car and my set of wheels safe and sound. I certainly don't like to swear but two words were perpetually at my lips while I was behind the wheel - Bloody Madrasis ....

Sometimes a picture just describes life perfectly

The missing piece

Mouth watering home food. Check. Meeting a bunch of friends. Check. Hitting the road for a very enjoyable road trip. Check. Visiting family and having an excellent time. Check. Weddings to attend. Check. Good old fashioned non stop Kerala showers for company. Check. Rest & relaxation. Check. I had all the ingredients for the perfect holiday but there was still something missing that inexorably gnawed away at me that kept it from being the quintessential week long holiday.

That was until I stopped flipping channels when my eyes spotted a repeat telecast of a match from the ongoing rugby world cup. Now I’m no expert on the intricacies of the sport but I have been watching rugby for years and do understand and rather enjoy watching these matches. Actually modern day gladiatorial combat is how I prefer looking at it. Rugby combines the physicality aspect that a MMA fan looks for and the teamwork and skills that make soccer so popular. Plus there is no hiding behind layers of protective padding like cricketers do. I’m a big fan of MMA and soccer and find cricketers to be wusses. Which means I fit the bill when it comes to the requirements for being a rugby fan.

And so over the next few days I was glued to the tele whenever they aired the matches. Unlike cricket, the underdog story is very much alive in rugby as countries that were not in the esteemed top few list challenged the established order and put up a fight in every match that I watched except one. Now I know all 3 readers must be grimacing thinking it is a blood thirsty sport with men built like mountains crashing into each other while chasing a ball that isn’t even round. Misconception at its finest.

Rugby matches can actually be beautiful. Of course you do get the odd scrappy game and the occassional stomach churning tackle but more often than not there is a sublime grace that isn’t usually associated with large men who you would assume have the nimbleness of tractors if you were to see them off a rugby field. Besides which other sport lets you say words like Crouch, Touch, Pause and Engage before two groups of men rush into each other as part of a scrum (as pictured above) ? As an added bonus almost every team had a member with an atrociously long flowing beard. And I like long flowing beards.

Final piece of the perfect holiday puzzle. Check.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

When working out doesn't work out

It just wouldnt go away. I tried looking at in from different angles but it was of no use. Seeing as I wasn't under the influence I was pretty sure that my eyes weren't playing tricks on me. I tried taking a deep breath which worked but seeing as I could only hold it for less than a minute the plan wasnt of much use. My belt certainly wasnt deceiving me. I well and truly was another victim of the dreaded IT Belly.

IT Belly - eye•tee bell•e
The mass of abdominal fat resulting in an increase in waist size caused by excessive working in front of a laptop and the lack of any exercise except for walking to the cafeteria and / or the pantry. Specific to people who work in the information technology industry. No known cure found for long term patients. As common as the cold.

They say once you fall prey to it, you can never escape its clutches. I was determined not to let myself be a victim of this dastardly dreaded disease. I would not let the fact that I did not have time to hit the gym everyday be a problem. Like everything else in the world, there always is a work around if youre keen enough.

First things first. I had to get rid of the songs on my phone and replace it with 'inspiring' music. So out went Mr Sinatra and in came the OST of Rocky. Yes , the greatness of the music of all the Rocky movies contained in one album. Second, a recurring alarm was set for 07:00. Weekends included. This would ensure I got at least an hour of jogging every day.

Third, it was time to watch my diet. Which meant that my regular lunches were out and it was time to join the line at the salad counter. And no, I cant believe it either. And so from my daily sumptuous lunches of chicken biriyani and ice cream, I feel to the deep depths of eating leaves and fruits from a bowl so small that I would've felt guilty about starving a 2 year old baby had I fed it from that. And to make things worse, the miniscule portions of 'healthy' food cost more than my regular lunch that consisted of biriyani and ice cream. Combined. Ouch! Yes, I was paying more for less. Go figure!

Step number 4, more exercise at office. No more elevators for me. It was time to hit the stairs twice a day. Initially I took the easy way out and used the stairs for walking down but I realised that it would not help me trim my waist so I took the bottom up approach. Step 5, sign up at the gym where I was sure I would be making guest appearances but at least I would feel guilty about having spent so much on it (typical Indian mentality) and force myself to go.

Now all this continued for a month and I could honestly felt the difference. The weighing scale definitely wasnt wrong as it showed that I had lost close to 5 kgs with all the effort I put in. I didn't have to think about updating my wardrobe with new pants either. I could also relish the occasional dessert knowing that I could burn it all off over the next couple of days. Happiness was my new found companion.

Until the day I spotted my friends who hadnt seen me in quite a while. All of them said that I had put on some weight since they last saw me. Which was technically, physically, clinically and medically impossible. So I put it down to the tee I was wearing which probably wasnt too complimentary given the lighting conditions and the time of the day. A few days later I bumped into another friend of mine who also insisted I had put on weight.

Now Im pretty sure there is no global conspiracy to make me think Im fat and when I think about it, I have been missing my regular lunches. How many green leaves can a guy eat for lunch anyways? So I've thrown in the towel and recalled Mr Sinatra. And added Dean Martin as well. I've also got a partial refund on the gym membership. Which I will use to buy myself new pants when I do eventually put on. All because the comments that I have put on just dont go away .....