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Ray and the trains

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<A hastily written tribute the great man on his death anniversary>

He had a vast oeuvre, but Satyajit Ray is often remembered, quite justly, for that iconic scene in Pather Panchali where Apu and Durga see a train for the first time in their lives. The majestic steam train billowing black smoke in the backdrop of of the white kaash fields juxtaposed with the innocence of the kids makes it a memorable scene.

Thinking of this scene last night, it occurred to me that Ray had an eye for shooting in and around the railway tracks: from Apu looking out of the window as the train leaves Kashi in Aparajito, or a grown up Apu living next to a railway yard in Apur Sansar, the famous Feluda and company chasing a train on a camel in Sonar Kella, to Nayak, made completely within the cramped confines of a train over the course of half-a-day’s journey. Whatever was his motivation for shooting such amazing sequences, those of us who love anything to do with trains are richer for it.

There are others, but here are my three favorite scenes from Ray movies involving trains.

First, the Pather Panchali sequence as already mentioned:

This following scene from Abhijaan is rather under-rated. As such, Abhijaan wasn’t among Ray’s best works (Ray wasn’t even supposed to direct originally and took over at the last minute) – Soumitra as a hard-boiled, cynical Jat did not really cut it. But Rabi Ghosh, playing Soumitra’s side-kick really stole the show, especially here as Soumitra is trying to overtake a train on his car. Keep an eye for the tensed expression on his face:

And of course, the other iconic scene – camels chasing a train in the deserts of Rajasthan:

(unfortunately, this is not the complete scene but could not find the full sequence on youtube)

I have not come across any article talking about this particular aspect of Ray’s film-making, and not aware if he had any particular fascination for trains. But it is obvious from Ray’s own writings and others that the scenes from both Pather Panchali and Sonar Kella were shot meticulously (but then, meticulous attention to detail was his hallmark anyway). It is also amazing how some of these incredible scenes were shot on minimum budget, personnel and equipment. The story of how he was financially-strapped during Pather Panchali and how the movie still got made against all odds is that of legends. But even the relatively complicated scene involving camels and trains in Sonar Kella was shot with a single camera mounted on a jeep and finished in three takes! As Ray describes in Ekei Bole Shooting (This is What Shooting is About), three takes were required only because in the first one, the engine driver stopped the train when he saw Feluda’s signal! In the second instance, the engine driver’s assistant was busy watching the shoot and forgot to feed coal resulting in no smoke coming from the steam engine, which would have totally ruined the effect!

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

April 23, 2011 at 11:56 am

Oscar night imbibing

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It’s that day of the year again, when the ceremony that you love to hate but then end up watching anyway (because, who else will make those snarky comments) arrives on your TV with the pomp, pageantry and grandeur that only Hollywood can muster (add hyperbole to the list, like I just indulged in).

But, it’s not just the TV now, find yourself online tonite and you will have a barrage of live coverage, including live-blogs and of course the inescapable, live-tweeting. Why, even I had unleashed a live-blogging of the event many years ago on an unsuspecting public. And what did help me through that evening was several ice-cold martinis (Sapphire, stirred not shaken).

So here is a helpful list of alcohol that you could help you get through watching/tweeting/ignoring the Oscars ceremony later tonite. On a whim, I have tried to link them approximately to the theme of the movie nominated for Best Pictures. Since I haven’t actually watched all the films, feel free to share your own interpretive drink.

So here goes:

(Note: I am not liable for alcohol poisoning.)

Toy Story 3: Not that adults do not enjoy this movie (I didn’t, I still have fondness for the first in the series), let’s get the kid’s stuff out the way first. Drink some OJ; actually plenty of it, you need to stay hydrated for the real drinking, right.

The Social Network: The movie starts in a college dorm, so tequila shots and beer chasers might be appropriate. But unless you are in an actual dorm room, do try something other than Jose Cuervo Gold, and Budlight.

Take a shot at Patron or Don Julio blanco with a craft brew lager from your area. East coast people should try Yeungling or Boston Lager (though neither are strictly craft brew). East coast

And stop reading further if you think Corona Extra with a lemon slice is the epitome of classy beer drinking. And no, neither is Heineken. Or Stella. No matter how suave their ads are.

The Fighter: Continuing on the beer theme, but upping the ante: drink some hard-core, in your face hoppy IPA or Imperial IPAs. Dogfish Head’s 90min or Avery’s Maharaja is recommended.

True Grit: Shots of bourbon or rye whisky, preferably with names such as Tanglefoot, Forty-Rod, Tarantula Juice, Taos Lightning, Red Eye, and Coffin Varnish. Drink neat.

127 Hours: Pause now, and drink some water. Gotta keep that hydration thing going.

Inception: This one is too easy – a shot consisting of several layers. B52 – with Kahlua, Irish cream and Cointreau – is recommended. Unfortunately bars nowadays prepare B52 mostly as a mixed shot and not in layers. But try the layer, and even better, flame it before drinking.

The Kids Are All Right: One of the four nominated movies that I did watch .  Kept scratching my head about how it got nominated. But then, we are talking about a category that felicitated Shakespear in Love and Titanic.

Eithery way, drink-wise the movie shows a lot of fine reds. So you could go with that.

Or any of the more sophisticated cocktails – such as a well-made ice-cold Martini (prepared the right way), or perhaps a Side-car is ideal. But for heaven’s sake, don’t have a Cosmo!

Winter’s Bone: Probably the movie that should win the best picture category, but probably won’t since very few people have seen it, and it was released ages ago. Was really moved while watching. Given the themes of drug abuse, can’t think of any drink. Perhaps down a lot of cheap scotch and brood.

Black Swan: Hmmm……ballet, lust, jealousy. For some reason, I see absinthe in the picture. Make a drink with equal parts of gin and dry vermouth, half parts absinthe (Green Chartreuse if you can’t get hold of the green fairy), shaken with ice and strained into a martini glass. Add a splash of dry white wine.  Careful with this.

The King’s Speech: Hopefully, they will introduce this movie at the end and you can start sipping some port. Or a single-malt scotch.

Happy imbibing. Don’t drink and drive, tweet instead.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

February 27, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Posted in Films, Fun, Martinis

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Monty Python: Almost the Truth

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I have been in a Monty Python-induced state of silliness nirvana over  the last few days. IFC is showing a 6-part documentary, Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer’s Cut), on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the six guys getting together to create some of the funniest, most  irreverent and of course, the most parroted comedy sketches of all time.

There is always a danger of such documentaries to turn into a fluff idolating piece. However, this series (so far) has not shied away from some of the controversies  among the group members. Part three had interview footage of Chapman where he talks openly about his coming out and his troubles with alcohol and how that affected his relationship with the other members.

But on the whole, the documentary offers some delightful insights; tracing the evolution of the group, from the social background of each member, through their Oxbridge revue experiences (or comic-book writing at Occidental College in the case of Terry Gilliam), early work on the Frost Report and how Monty Python’s Flying Circus came into being, quite by chance.  The best bits are when they talk about how some of the most iconic sketches came about, e.g  the Lumberjack Song, which was apparently thought up in just 20 minutes at the end of a day only so that they could segue from the Barber Sketch.

Later episodes cover the tumultuous  making  of the Holy Grail, and the famous interview of Cleese and Palin with Malcolm Muggeridge in response to the religious backlash against their supposed blasphemous depiction of Christ in Life of Brian. There are also tributes by current British comedians, actors and writers and other who have been influenced by the Pythons (including some interesting snippets with Sanjeev Bhaskar – of The Kumar’s at No 42 fame – who talks about how his desi parents really disapproved of him watching a show where men dressed up as women, till they learn that all these actors went to Oxford and Cambridge).

In short, a must watch for any Python fan.

And of course, the post cannot be complete without linking- so here goes the Philosopher’s song, well suited to singing at the top of your voice after downing a few pints.

Speaking of a few pints, before they sang it during their Hollywood Bowl show, Eric Idle quipped:

We find your American beer like making love in a canoe. It’s f$%king close to water.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

October 22, 2009 at 11:37 am

Quick Oscar-nite musings

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A big pat on the back of those who actually stayed awake to watch the entire Oscar’s night live; I had recorded it and even with the benefit of fast-forwarding through really boring bits and the commercial breaks, I wish I could even say ‘meh’ !

This was undoubtedly one of the most uninspiring, insipid and boring Oscar ceremonies I have witnessed. Allright, so Hugh Jackman can sing, he can dance, he can self-reference during his song and dance routines, and yeah, yeah…he is the sexiest man alive, or something. But he did not bring anything extra as a host – the best one could say is that he was not as irritating as Ellen Degeneress two years ago. But that’s not really saying much.

And, that was the best choreography they could come up with for O saaya and Jai Ho: A bunch of dancers in ethnically confusing pink dresses !? Jai Ho was slightly better, but only just. they should have left it to the professionals in Mumbai ?

The moments barely enjoyable included bits of the opening routine, Tina Fey and Steve Martin’s banter, and Jerry Lewis’ acceptance. Of course,  Jai Ho to ARR and Gulzar for winning Oscars.

Finally, Kate Winslet: For fugs sake – stop the crying already and show some dignity. Meryl Streep was sitting not very far – she has won the award three times and nominated a zillion times, learn something from her.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

February 23, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Oscars again (and Slumdog comments)

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Unlike last year, they are actually showing the Oscars live down here (on Cable TV though). Could have something to do with the fact that an Aussie, Hugh Jackman, is hosting the show.  Unfortunately, work beckons and anything interesting that happens will have to be caught up with later tonite.   Before leaving for work, I did notice though that as many as four different channels are showing the Oscar red-carpets !

Nothing much to say about the actual awards. The only film I have watched is Benjamin Button and that really doesn’t deserve an Oscar. As per smart people, neither does Slumdog Millionare, but since when is the Oscars about deserving. It has been mostly about hype, publicity and sometimes a bit of politics.

Re: Sulmgog, I find the hoopla and controversy surrounding the film bit pointless. Among the western audience, everyone seems to lap it up. The Indian audience is divided into three views: one that absolutely hates the movie, and the hatred is based on the fact that the film only shows poverty and a very tired cliche of what westerners would lie to perceive India as, and totally ignores the so-called ‘modern’ India. The other camp believes that poverty is very much a reality and Indians should face up to it. Neither of these are very rational views.

Thankfully, there is a saner camp in-between, and quite a few erudite bloggers have pointed out that they do not like the film just because it is not good cinema. This blog probably sums it up best:

Having lavished praise, awards, and money on a movie with atrocious acting, cringe-worthy dialogues, a plot that bends disbelief beyond its event horizon, characters with the depth of a chullu and a script more packed with cliches than the Virar fast during rush hour; white people have proved that colonial guilt makes better goggles than beer[2].

To be fair, I shouldn’t be commenting too much on the issue as I am yet to see the film myelf.

However, what I am hoping for – and admittedly this is a bit irrational too – is for Jai Ho to take the Best Song award. Liek many ARR compositions, this one took me a while to get used to, but I just love the catchy beats now. Certainly not the best ARR-Gulzar collaboration, but certainly award-worthy.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

February 22, 2009 at 10:24 pm

Emoossional Attyachar !!!

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Immensely enjoying  every bit of endless looping of this song on my ipod (from Anurag Kashyap’s latest film Dev D):

The wedding brass-band version above is certainly a hoot (and an inspiring decision by Kashyap to want to do this), but for a serious listen, I would recommend the other, very grungy, rock version . Possibly the best rock song ever sung in Hindi (apologies to all the Hindi punk-band-in-a-garage I am ignorant about).

And ummm…for further fun (or not), do check out this x-rated remix as well:

NSFW depending on where you are – certainly use ear-phones or keep the volume down if you are in India. Certainly not the most of polite of languages – reminded me intensely of some conversations during the hostel days.

In case someone still doesn’t know, Dev D is Kashyap’s re-imagining of the sappy love-triangle, Devdas. As part of the minority that absolutely loved Kashyap’s earlier venture, No Smoking, I am quite looking forward to this movie.

[Also wondering when some custodians of the Bangali-kalture will call a strike in Kolkata due to perceived slight on Sarat Chandra’s legacy and asking the govt to ban the film there!

Me, I am quite happy – I have always hated the mushy, tear-jerking sentimentality and pyan-pyanani nyakamo (sorry can’t translate) aspect of many of Sarat Chandra’s works (to be fair, he created some fairly strong, adventurous characters as well), and am happy that someone is hacking it.]

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

February 11, 2009 at 3:46 am

Barberian idiocy

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This:

After courting controversy days ahead of its release, Shah Rukh Khan’s latest film ‘Billu Barber’ will see the term ‘barber’ dropped from its hoardings and posters across the country following objections from an association of hairdressers, terming it “derogatory”.

The actor-producer, who spoke to representatives of the Salon and Beauty Parlors’ Association over the issue, on Sunday said his production house Red Chillies Entertainment will ensure that the term ‘barber’ is removed from all hoardings.

“We will put a piece of paper on the word barber wherever it can be done in India. We will send teams,” Khan said.

Once again, I am compelled to point out – this is not an Onion-like satire piece, but a sad, sad truth.

Sigh !

Henceforth I demand that ‘post-docs‘ be considered a demeaning term, and our underclass be referred to by the more descriptively appropriate FUUGSS (f$%#ing unbelievably underpaid glorified sweat-shop scientists). Thank You.

(link via a comment by the GreatBong on Facebook)