Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ship of Theses

Ship of Theseus, to sound snobbish, is a delightful intellectual exercise.  Unlike what most mainstream reviewers (in this I mean those whose profession is built on the number of stars that they dish out) say, this movie is not just about an organ transplant changing the character of the individual, or not.

 This movie has a bit more soul in it than that, or rather it deals a lot more about  the soul. The movie is a modern day take on the immortality of the soul and the time bound decline of the body.  So, while we have always believed that our soul exits our body and enters another as a continuation of our life cycle, here we have the kidney and the heart and the liver, move on to another body to extend the lifetime of the organ and the individual. Therefore, while our soul may only enter one other body, our organs can enter multiple bodies. Behold the miracles of science!

It talks about re-birth, not just of the soul, but of the body. And therefore, when the monk curls up into a foetal position and calls for his mother, it is representative of his second birth. The mother is a recurring theme. We get to see the Aliya’s mother and only hear about her father (and a very minor appearance in the hospital scene), the monk calls for his mother and not anyone else and the fundamental cause for disquiet between the stock broker and his grand-mother, is her influence on his mother. Therefore in its own way, a movie which glorifies the advancements in science is lso an ode to the mother, without whom there would be no life, human or otherwise.

It is about the frivolous nature of man’s concern for animals and reiterates the simple 6th grade learning of the survival of the fittest. So, while Maitreya goes about to save animals and acts as their voice, he is eaten up by the tiniest of bacteri/virus, therefore mocking the enhanced stature that he had given himself as the protector of the weak.  Who are we to give ourselves that exalted position, when we are ourselves just a toy for organisms which we cannot even feel, let alone feel for?  We are but just a speck on the universe, and the shots of the monk’s retinue making the journey through vast nothingness is just a reiteration of the same.

It is about the everyday doubts that seize us, inhibits our thinking and hinders our progress. It is as much about one’s body part being transported to the alien environment of another body, as it is about the individual’s journey to an unfamiliar environment.   So, Aliya is thrown out of her comfort zone not once but twice – once when she loses her eyesight and then when she regains it.  And the story transports Navin from the unfamiliar confines of a hospital room to the slums of Mumbai and to Stockholm. At each stage, the discomfort is writ large on his face. In what is perhaps the cruellest twist in the movie, the stock broker’s act of kindness is spurned mid-way by the practicality of the daily labourer. It is a delicious irony as it only reaffirms his mantra in life – a large dose of comfort coupled with a limited display of ‘humanity’.

It is about portraying individuals on screen, and not the stereotypes associated with them.  The visually impaired girl displays a lot of spunk but loses some of her confidence when she regains her eyesight. The stock broker is as devoid of emotion when he cleans the bed pans of his grandmother as he is in front of his trading screen. When asked if the soul exists, the monk answers ‘pata nahi’, not as an angst ridden philosophical response but one delivered in excruciating pain.

It is about all of the above and so much more!

So while, this may not be the best of indie productions (as this cannot be judged by someone who hasn’t seen anything else), the accidental release of the movie in the mainstream, holds hope that more such movies with spirit will find their way into the homes and hearts of millions. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Serve & Volley RIP

The 2001 classic.

A forgettable affair, 2010 final

Two of the most common sets of photos in a newspaper in India are from obituaries and VLCC type before & after ads.

Obituaries usually are accompanied by a photograph of the deceased by which the loved ones often wish to remember them by. The screen shot on the left is from the classic Wimbledon final from 2001 featuring Goran Ivanisevic and Patrick Rafter.

Pictures in before & after kind of advertisements are used to convey a sense of betterment, the after effects of using a product or a service. The above 2 pictures though are a Benjamin Button kind of take on the same. The 'after' picture represents the worsening of the state of the game.

Till the early part of the previous decade, there existed a brand of tennis players called the serve & volley players. As soon as they gave a sweet little thunk to the tossed up ball on their serve, they set off towards the net, much like a rampaging bull after a imaginary matador. The player on the opposite end of the court then gave himself a single shot to win the point, for he knew that if the return was within stretching distance of the server it would be disposed off with a deft volley. As a consequence, there developed a second set of players. The baseliners. The strength of these players were the return of serve and an array of passing shots. Over the course of a match, the crowd would 'ooh' at a drop voley and 'aah' with a down the line passing shot.

And then appeared on the scene, two would be legends and all time great contenders. This on a normal day would mean cause for much celebration in the tennis fraternity. The two have over the past 5 years given us many a fabulous contest. They have at times put up such individual displays that their place in the all time best virtuoso performances in a sporting arena is but a formality. Neither of them, though, were natural serve and volley players. That is not the downside though. When the leading players of a generation both play in a certain style, the youngsters who look up to them tend to copy that, in the fatal hope of replicating their success. This has led to a virtual abandonment of a style of play which has given us great viewing pleasure. Besides, in the near foreseable future, it raises the prospect of not having a single serve and volley player be part of the action on the second Sunday.

That would be the perfect Midsummer Night's Nightmare.

(Technically Speaking :

The screen shot on the left : The arrows are the usual path trajectories of the player serving. Thus, in the days when serve and volley was still employed by a large percentage of players, as the tournament wore on, their movements caused a certain pattern of wear and tear on the grass. This is what the picture on the left depicts.

The screen shot on the right : The arrows in this case indicate that approaches to the net have come down considerably, as is visible by the fairly uneroded stretch of grass in the no-man's land. The approaches are happening after a reasonably long rally and from various parts of the court.)

(This is a replug of an earlier Facebook note

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cricket - Sport or just a game?

It has just started and it already feels like everything is over. The romance, the thrill, the joy, the despair, the chatter, the excitement and the innocence, or whatever was left of it.

Personally, this particular series of revelations about spot fixing and betting could not have come at a better time. Till last year, there was a chance that this kind of news could have really hurt. This season it is a mere confirmation of what was no longer just a hunch. Pollard dropping 3 in a row (practically pushing the second one off his hand after catching it), RP Singh bowling a couple of Mohammed Aamir balls in the same match, Hussey not being given run out by the third umpire, McCullum ducking under a catch.And even typing this out hurts as hell - Dravid tapping the ball away after catching it cleanly to allow a second run.(No. I am not a Dravid baiter. Quite the contrary. Proof? , ). If any of this had been an isolated incident in any other age, it could have set alarm bells ringing. That all this and more happened in a matter of weeks was just confirmation of the fear in the mind. Am I certain that all of these are incidents of match/spot fixing? No. Do I fear that all of these are incidents of match/spot fixing? Yes. To be in denial would be like saying that Titanic was a myth perpetrated to ensure better safety on ships. Let's face it. The IPL was just an extension of the board-room games that gigantic corporations play. It was just an additional playground on which politicians could score points against each other. For the top cricketers it was like an year end bonus.

But then to believe that the rot is limited to T20 is to hope that global warming is only about the summer getting hotter. The same cricketers play in all the formats. And it would be new twist to corporate ethics if they chose to cheat only in one format and not the other. The same bookies network would hound them even when they play for their national or state sides. Would they resist them in that scenario? When the stakes are higher? Place your bets.

Will this whole charade of allegations, counter-allegations, arrests, investigations and more arrests clean up cricket? No. The incidents in the lead up to the investigations merely indicate a shift of power - from one camp with shady antecedents to another. A sponsor and team owner, also the subject of a high profile investigation and has gifted huge tracts of land to cricketers in a state where the party in the ruling coalition is headed by a former BCCI/ICC head, pulls out in the week before the allegations. The investigations against the current chiefs son-in-law is being handled entirely by a police department different from the one which unearthed the spot fixing claims. The sponsor returns to say that he would be happy to continue as Indian team sponsor if the ex-BCCI head returns to power. The head spins with the possibilities of what could have been and what could be.

In the midst of all this we, the paying public, are just mere spectators to a game which has ceased being just a sport. So, the next time you pay for the ticket to a cricket match, you could also be getting the added service of being taken for a ride.

So, will this mean we will stop watching cricket? No. The lure of watching Sanju Samson's cover drive and Pujara's hook would be too great to resist. Why? Because, as Sundar Raman, the CEO of IPL, succinctly put it (in a different context), we are all :