Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The romance with Boxing day

My connection with Boxing Day started 21 years ago to this date. Since God didn't deem me fit enough to be a Christmas present to the world, he chose the next best day or should I say the next day, to send me in. But as much as it adds significance to the day from a very personal point of view my looking forward to the 26th of December has been due a whole different reason altogether. And its pretty much the same reason why I get up at 5 every boxing day. Those religiously oriented might assume that it's because of my sense of duty towards God and my eagerness to offer my prayers and thanks to Him. Close, my ritual is intended to pay my obeisance to the demi-gods on the cricket field. As the years have gone by, the Boxing Day tests have become occasions to celebrate the spirit of cricket. The overflowing crowds (and beer cans), their tremendous spirit and many memorable performances have gone a long way in making the occasion even grander.

Apparently the year I was born England trounced Australia by an innings and more. But guess that was just my amateurs luck rubbing on to the English team, for since then as much as millions of Brits would have wanted to see it happen again England have only been at the receiving end of such thrashings. Or as they say in many Tamizh films, "inime adhu nadakannumna oruthan porandu daan varanum". I have done my bit and now look forward to someone else sharing that burden.

The memories of the cold morning of 1999 when India were facing the heat down under while I was praying feverishly at the local temple, more for my sake than the Indian teams I should admit. It was also the debut of Brett Lee who ensured, at that point of time that is, that Rahul Dravid's worst record was in Australia and also as a side job just about end Sadagapon Ramesh's test career with a brutal bouncer. One more heart break was due 4 years later when despite a Sehwag blitzkrieg on Boxing Day India managed to perform to perfection the art of losing test matches away from home despite a brilliant start (Sehwag himself has "starred" in two of these defeats, the other one being on debut against South Africa). The tales of the other teams to tour recently are no different and India can look to take heart from the dismal performances of the others in recent times.

As they often say past is past and a new beginning is what was made today under the guiding light of the "Grand Old Warrior (man is too small a term to be used to describe him)" of Indian cricket, Anil Kumble. To say the least he made my day today. It was sheer delight watching him operate today and his celebration which followed each of wickets was similar to that of a rookie earning his first Test wicket. And looking at his celebrations I just couldn't help wonder whether the number next to the age column was just that, a mere number. It is with these thoughts that I look forward to what the future holds for me rather than look back at the 21 years behind me.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Billa 2007 - Fashionable Faux Pax

Its never easy to remake a classic. Don and Billa might not have been classics according to the critics but for millions of fan across the nation (which would exclude me for I have not seen Don or recollect having seen Billa either) those two movies touched a chord and elevated the status of their lead actors from that of stars to super stars. Thus having such a big precedent to follow one should be aware nothing short of excellent cinema would satisfy the cinema goer. As already established I have not watched the earlier movies which though putting me at a disadvantage when attempting to compare the movies or the stars gives me the advantage of a perspective that most of Tamil Nadu wouldn't have.

Watching a movie on the 1st day brings with it two aspects- one positive and the other negative. The atmosphere tends to be pretty charged for you have some of the most ardent fans of the star in attendance but the price you need to be prepared to pay is that you'll not be able to hear much of the dialogues for the first few minutes or maybe more. With the fear of having to maybe miss out on a few dialogues I entered the theatre. The mad scenes that one witnessed while having to force entry to the theatre proved to be a little misleading as once inside there was little noise and whatever little there was of it was only at the start. As the movie progressed the only noise one could hear was tones of discontent.

The start of the movie pretty much set the tone the rest of the movie. Extremely stylishly shot, Ajit at his dashing best and minimal dialogues. In a way the decision to have as less dialogues as possible seems to have either been taken with some foresight or forced upon them by the utter inability to come up with good lines. The strength of any movie lies in its dialogues and more so a movie which relies quite heavily on packing a punch with minimal dialogues and that's the biggest failing of Billa. Only once in a blue moon did that really mood lifting dialogue come by and the one about Lord Subrahmanya was certainly the stand out. Another negative point is that throughout the movie one is unable to feel any emotion towards any of the characters. To portray a character as aloof in nature is one thing but it not even remotely connecting with the audience is another.

It's all fine to say that movie's do not reflect reality and therefore need not always be logical. But Vishnu Vardhan carries it too far as there is absolutely no sense in any part of the movie. Be it the way that Nayanthara, a total stranger is inducted into the group with absolutely no back ground check done (for a gang thats supposedly been chased by police in over 11 countries one would think that its a rather basic thing to do) or the way in which Velu's escape has been depicted, no sequence in the movie is completely logical. As comforting as it is to know that the Malaysian police are as inefficient as our own, as per Tamil cinema i.e, its rather stupid to think that an officer who's been carrying a pen drive with him for days wouldn't have as much sense to copy its contents on to his computer rather than fight about having it hand it over after the above said period. The director has thrown logic to the winds at all points of the movie and this is an insult to the intelligence of the viewer.

In the matter of individual performances there's very little to comment on. Prabhu as DSP Jai tries to utilize his vast acting experience but yet again fails short of delivering that one good performance that we can rightfully expect from him. Raghuman though appearing in very few scenes seems to have understood the limitaions of the role and performed as the scope provided for him has allowed. The less said about the sidekicks of Billa the better for all they seem to do is just stand next to their Don with the the same supposedly serious look on their faces. "Ranjith" is the only one who seems to have gotten a chance to display some acting skills and he doesn't quite make an impact. Santhanam who had put in good performances in a few recent movies totally disappoints.

When you have Nayanthara and Namitha for heroines one expects the competition between them to be pretty hot but at the end of the show its pretty clear who has come up trumps. Though Namitha's role isn't as much a damp squib as it was in Azhagiya Tamizh Magan she'll still be pretty disappointed at the screen time she's managed here though the screen space she occupies is another problem altogether. Nayanthara on the other hand sets the screen on fire each time she enters and its tough trying to split points between Anu Vardhan for the sexy apparel she's chosen (at times bordering on the bold) or Nayanthara who seems to have worked out overtime to fit into those. Scorching every inch of the frame she occupied she gave quite a few fans in the theatre enough reason to believe they had gotten their money's worth. As far as histrionics go both of them are pretty much on even keel with nothing much to show unlike the costumes they sported.

Ajith as Billa and Velu comes up with a credible performance but definitely not soul stirring. Displaying an icy cool that his character Billa demanded Ajit looks at his stylish best but does little more than mouth stupid dialogues and shoot at will. Complete with designer sunglasses this role does nothing to show us Ajith the actor but instead showcases Ajith at his handsome best. On the contrary Velu provides Ajith an opportunity to explore his comic timing and he seems to have got it as wrong as Dinesh Karthik against Pakistan. The line "enna koduma sir idhu" is now more or less guaranteed to invoke laughter or in the least a smile from the viewer but when Ajith utters the line to Prabhu, the man we owe all the fun to, it just falls flat and this more or less epitomises his failure at comedy. Maybe he could do with a lesson or two from the hero of the original Billa and our beloved superstar who has over the years mastered his comic timing. But of the two characters its Velu that endears at least a little to the viewer and this is perhaps the only success that the director and writer Vishnu Vardhan has managed.

The locales in the movie are simply stunning and the camera has captured them splendidly but then one gets the feeling this is more of the Malaysia- Truly Asia campaigns that we have seen so much of on tv. Its all right to pack a movie with stunning visuals but that alone doesn't make the movie. It needs a soul and in this regard Billa has nothing to bare. On the whole Billa seems more the work of a designer who has tried too hard to display all his wares. Thus, in more senses than one Billa is a fashion show gone horribly wrong.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Of Chappels and Declarations

As one of the most ardent fans of Ian Chappel the critic, I lapped up every word of his on the issue of picking Sehwag for the Australian tour. Little did I realize then that there were 5 even more ardent fans of his, who have shown yet again that age isn't proportional to wisdom. If ever there was anything as playin right into the Aussie hands this is it. In a move a la bakra style the selectors have picked Sehwag virtualy out of nowhere. One does agree that the Indian domestic league isn't the best in the world in terms of reflecting the talent of the individual but it doesn help when the men who pick the national sqaud have absolutely no regard for the goings on there. On one hand we have Akash Chopra, a man who didn do too badly in the last Australian tour either, knocking on the door for a deserved call up to the team and Sehwag a man totally out of form. Maybe its the selectors who have suddenly gone out of touch with reality. One would like to them to remeber that only a few weeks back they dropped Rahul Dravid because he had not scored for 10 matches out of the 300 odd he's played and now to pick someone who barely averages double figures in Ranji trophy this season makes one squirm with disgust. Maybe its the selectors who need to be dropped because of lack of consistency. To make matters worse Sehwag has no place in the team. At a time when Dravid is being touted as a make shift opener to ensure Yuvraj finds a place in the team it reeks absolute callousness on the part of selectors to pick Sehwag who at 29 is not the kind who can tell the press about how much of a learning experience it was to be sharing the dressing room with the "seniors".

Next to the issue of the timing of the declaration in the last test against Pakistan onw wonders when these critics would stop asking people to do what they would never have done in their playing careers. It was indeed a refreshing change to see Mohinder Amarnath defending Kumble's decision during the match analysis on Neo. Here was one man who was more tuned to reality. The same critics who are after Kumble now would have lambasted him had Pakistan won. They would have wondered aloud as to why he had to take a chance when he could have done well enough to have sealed a 1-0 verdict. Maybe its all Kumble's doing. Had he not picked up those five wickets no one would have even thought that a victory would have been possible. To draw a small parallel one would be tempted to say that had he declared at lunch or earlier he would have done a Sreesanth, needless aggression, and by declaring when he did he displayed that remarkable facet of his, controlled aggression. And what's all this talk about what Australia would have done in a similar situation? One wonders how many times the Aussies haven't enforced the follow on in recent times just because of that very very special knock from Laxman at the Eden Gardens. Wouldn one term that as negative mindset? Maybe its time that there was a little bit more perspective in the views of a few of our legends rather than a rush to give their comments and be the 1st to say what everyone else might say. After all having played the game for so many years one would expect them to have a little more insight rather rthan hindsight.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Master and his Protege

For a moment it wasn't clear who had gotten to his century, Yuvraj or Ganguly. When Yuvraj cracked one of the best hundreds seen in recent times with him at the crease, fittingly enough, was his mentor Saurav Ganguly. Friend, philosopher and guide are words that flow too easily through the words of young achievers when asked to describe their mentors but in this relationship each of these words ring true, though at different times.

Ask any Yuvraj detractor, a list growing shorter by the day and including several illustrious names like myself (lol) , the first thing that is agreed upon is that he's indeed a special talent. No objections raised. But it is in translating his talent to performances that he has been found wanting. And it was Saurav who kept his faith in him throughout his lean patches and defended him often in the face of harsh public criticism. Strangely enough , the major part of his successes have come under the captaincy of Rahul Dravid when Saurav was struggling to keep his plae in the team. But one is likely to believe that the foundation for the mental toughness that he displayed during those excruciatingly close run chases were laid during Saurav's tenure. This was the guiding part.

A very special feature of his innigs today was the grit, the determination to put to full use this one opportunity given to him in extremely fortuitous circumstances, with respet to him that is. The basic philosophy was the same for both the batsmen in the middle, to prove their worth to the team and to answer critics and a lot of them. That Yuvraj had with him at the other end, a man who has realized the value of each innings would have helped him immensely.

Through the innings and during that rightfully exuberant celebration one could see that the retaionship between Yuvraj and Ganguly had matured, much like Yuvi's strokeplay. If one though that it was still a guru sishya reltionship where a certain distance had to be maintained, the hug was clearly the indicator to the contrary. While Yuvi was soaking in the moment Ganguly could well have patted himself for finding the right prince to hand over his legacy.

The Prince is alive and kicking, long live the prince.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Smiling Assassin

"I meant to spin it one way and the ball went the other way," Muttiah Muralidaran 03/12/2007

That people, was Murail's answer to describe the delivery which got Collingwood out bowled and handed him, for at least an eternity, the record of Test cricket's highest wicket taker. And it is these words that best describe the man. Humility in the greatest moment of his life. What a man!

To understand how much he means to Sri Lanka as a nation one just needs to look at the series of stamps which have been released to commemorate this feat. All through the series of portraits one cannot miss the intensity of his eyes and the intent which it conveys. His geniality is expressed in his bowling and his love for the game in his wide grin. I say love, for passion is not the word. Passion is owed in some part to an external stimuli but love is totally from the inside. It was clear how much this meant to him, for the ever present grin just got wider and wider and it took a few minutes before some sense of calm returned to the playing arena.

It isn't often that you see children in school uniforms assemble in such big numbers to watch a test match and in this case I presume they even had the permission from their teachers to be absent themselves from school to see the wizard produce one of the most poignant moments in recent cricket history.

Warne might have been the the most charismatic of all the record holders, for he revelled in his excesses. He may have revived the art of spin bowling but Murali helped in redefining it. He may not have had the most beautiful action nor the smoothest run up but then his wrists are worth a museum display. The rip he gives the ball and the turn and bounce he extracts off the wicket are just a reflection of the extraordinary talent that he is.

The critics may claim that he owes his wickets to his dubious delivery action and in part to the number of test matches that he's played and wickets he's taken against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. In all fairness to him and as he himself rightly pointed out its not his fault that Sri Lanka's itinerary are strewn with test matches against those teams. But if there's one thing which goes tremendously in favor of Murali its his record against India and in particular Tendulkar. He can claim to be the only spinner to have dominated against India and Indians will not forget too easily his destructive spells against them. On the other hand India remained as Warne's Achilles heel and this is something he'll have to carry with him to the grave. Warne's greatness lay in his craftiness and the way he worked towards getting a batsman out. On the other hand Murali believed in keeping it simple and his untiring approach was the key to his success. And it is this philosophy that has enabled him to maintain such poise when hounded by the critics.

In his unbridled enthusiasm and child like innocence cricket has found the character that its supposedly made for- the gentleman.