Monday, 28 July 2008

Shilonda Trek

Went for a trek this Sunday. Over 50 of us from the BNHS trekked through the Shilonda trail in the Borivli side of the National Park. This has got to be one of the best treks I have ever been on. Everything about it went right and it had all the elements that make up a legendary trek - lots of rain, a good nature sensitive crowd, strangers who became friends and valued good conversation, teamwork, a little risk and danger, good shoes that held up, lots of excellent scenery and a little wildlife spotting.

Landed up at the park at 7.30 A.M, met up with the group, and walked the half hour distance to the start of the trail, wherein our adventures began. Our three guides took every opportunity to point out interesting Flora like the Ghost tree and the Flame of the Forest .

On one such stop, while the group stood observing an interesting plant, an observant member of the group spotted a snake just a few feet away and well camouflaged in the foliage (which I never would have been able to spot), which our guide confirmed was a Russell's viper. It was exquisite. I never thought I'd see a snake on this trek. This was to be just the first of our experiences.

Later on, our guides spotted a Praying Mantis and Stick Insect, both very beautiful, graceful and camera friendly. We also came across long and short horned grasshoppers, hairy caterpillars, huge spiders with giant webs, and the usual rock crabs that abound during the monsoon. We finally reached the halfway mark at around 10 A.M, the mark itself being a gushing river that we had to cross, at which point the family members of the trek - the children and their parents, went back with one guide, and we decided to push on.

We manged to cross the river though it was a bit tricky and followed a narrow trail through the forest, running more or less upriver, until we came close to it's origin - a waterfall. It became clear to us that the only way to get to the mouth of the water fall - our final destination - was to climb up the rapids that it's waters created.

This proved most tricky - deep waters where you can't see where you're putting your feet aren't that much of a problem. With a little time and effort, you can always find a foothold, shift your balance, and do the same for the other foot. But what made this dangerous was the water pressure. The flow was heavy and it took a lot of skill to zig zag across the rapids, upwards into the waterfall.

If I ever had to keep an account of when I did something that frightened me, which I wasn't sure I would come out of alive and well, this event would defintely figure on the list. There were a couple of points in this struggle where I wasn't sure if I was going to make it, but forced myself to continue anyway.

I cannot stress the importance of good trekking shoes on a trek like this. They could save your life, or at least prevent you from slipping and falling and hurting yourself a lot, and definitely prevent sore feet at the end of the day.

Anyway, when we reached the waterfall's mouth and realised we could go no further, back we went.
However, it had been raining, the rapids had grown more ferocious and we were in no mood to tackle them again. Our guide managed to find a path parallel to the rapids, which we all gladly took, and soon doubled back to the original path back to the halfway mark, where we found a Gecko.

Now, the Borivli National park is famous for its flash floods, and when we got back to the halfway mark, we realised we were going to have a hard time crossing the same river we had crossed earlier. What was then a gushing stream and required a little effort to cross was now a raging torrent that truly frightened us.

But we had to push on and so began forming a human chain across the river. I, luckily was part of the chain at our end of the river, where the flow wasn't that strong. The guys who tried continuing the chain at the deeper end got it bad. The chain broke twice; once a guy was almost swept away by the river, and had to grab a tree trunk to save himself, and another time, three people were swept away. Luckily an outcropping of rock broke their free flow and what might have been certain death. They were in pain, but safe.

We continued building the chain, forming a double line instead, the line in front leaning into the current, the line behind pushing against and supporting them, much like a rugby defense tackle, the main difference here being that our opponent was a flooded river that seemed to be winning. Slowly and steadily however, and with a lot of teamwork, we managed to get everyone to safety and it was the chain's turn to cross, one by one. Each step was an effort, the water pressure was so forceful I found it hard to plant my foot down on the river bed and keep it there. Even when I did, the current tended to drag it along - so forceful was it. This crossing took great physical strength, we possibly strained very muscle in our legs fighting against the river to get to the other side, and I am grateful for whatever support I got from the remaining guys in the water.

We continued along our original path back to where the Shilonda trail began. I must say my new Woodland shoes really came in handy. I don't think I'd have been able to cross the river or trek through mud, moss and wet rock without slipping as easily, were it not for the fantastic grip that my shoe soles provided. Interesting finds during this last phase of the trek included a huge white rock crab - it's rare to see large ones and on the path itself. It probably came out with the rain.

Towards the end, we reached a wider motorable path, from where I caught sight of a lone Egret, and then lo and behold, a deer itself! A spotted deer! I had never seen a full deer before, and this one was out in the open, about a hundred feet away from the road in a clearing bordering the trees. I can't begin to describe how I felt. This was a rare sighting, a large mammal so close to a motorable road, and a perfect ending to a great trek.


Movie Review - The Maltese Falcon

Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammet (who also wrote the Thin Man series), directed by John Huston and released in 1941, the movie has Humphrey Bogart playing Sam Spade, a detective who walks a thin line between right and wrong, while trying to solve a series of murders connected to a supposedly priceless artifact. John Huston and Humphrey Bogart also worked together on High Sierra and Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

I love this movie, if only because of it's script - it's quick, witty and immensely psychological.


Friday, 25 July 2008

Movie Reviews: The Machinist, Death at a Funeral

The Machinist

Directed by Brad Anderson, this 2004 movie with Christian Bale is overrated. Though well directed and everything, it's a bit predictable and follows more or less the same storyline as other typical psycho thriller Hollywood fare like Hide and Seek, Secret Window and Fight Club. I'm tired of the Hollywood trend of exaggerating psychological phenomena and turning them into something fantastic and unrealistic, As Good as it Gets being the only Hollywood movie I've seen that deals with a psychological issue in a realistic manner.

Death at a Funeral

Directed by Frank Oz and released in 2007, a British comedy where a funeral keeps getting messed up. Quite funny, though not among the best comedies I've seen.


Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Movie Review - Fanny and Alexander

Again, I believe that Ingmar Bergman's movies are highly over rated. First, it was Wild Strawberries that wasn't good enough and now it's Fanny and Alexander, all 5 hours plus of it, originally broadcast on T.V in Sweden in 1984 in the form of a prologue, four episodes and an epilogue.

The Prologue introduces 11 year old Alexander as he finds himself in an empty house and his imagination goes into overdrive . Episode One introduces all the members of the Ekdahl family over Christmas in 1907, showing us their individual personalities, faults and relationships. Episode Two deals with Fanny and Alexander's father's death and introduces the Bishop. Episode Three deals with Fanny and Alexander coping with life in their new home. Episode Four sees them escape and follows Alexander in Isak's home until all are reunited. The Epilogue tries to leave us with a happy ending.

Generally, Bergman keeps the camera focused on a group of people until their entire conversation is complete. Each scene serves a definite purpose in the movie which is to somehow advance the respective character's relationship and give us a glimpse into their relationship.

The Prologue and fourth episode, to me, seem the only ones worthy of mention. The Prologue is an amazing little piece; it's unfortunate that Episode One, which follows immediately after, doesn't impress as much. I can identify with Alexander's imagination, his wanting to spend time under a table, his seeing things become alive and move. The first three episodes didn't live up to expectations, apart from the magnificent costumes, set design and atmosphere creation, probably because they're slower as compared to the fourth episode, don't really lead anywhere definite, and tend to get boring quickly.

Episode Four seems to me to be a masterpiece. I don't think there was anything about it I didn't like. Maybe its success can be attributed to it's focus on Alexander, as the bits in the movie that deal with Alexander alone tend to be the best parts - Alexander wandering through Isak's home/shop with the puppets and statues coming to life, his time spent with Isak's nephew Aron, and Isak's bedtime story all seem to be perfect. There are elements of darkness taking the shape of grandeur, and magical realism, that make you feel as if you're seeing this one episode mostly through a child's eyes, that make this episode all the more special.

The Epilogue seemed more or less unnecessary and a waste of time to me. Like I said, the fourth episode was great but the overall impression seems to be one of mediocrity and over-ratedness. I wouldn't mind seeing the shorter theatrical version though, just to see the difference between the two.


Tuesday, 15 July 2008

CEC Trek

Went for a BNHS trek in Goregaon on Sunday. The BNHS owns a 35 acre plot of forest land adjoining the National park and Film city in Goregaon (E) where they've set up a Conservation Education Centre (CEC) and use the forest for trekking, etc.

The short trek or nature walk we embarked on was non very remarkable - a nice way to get 2 hours of exercise on a Sunday morning. The only drawback was the fact that we were swamped with mosquitoes for a large part of the trek. It wasn't even possible to take a lot of photos with all the bloodsuckers around.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Movie Reviews: Since Otar Left, Thumbsucker

Since Otar Left (2003)

On of the best World Cinema movies I've seen, ever. I usually don't get a chance to praise a movie and more importantly recommend it to others but I have to make an exception in this case. This is one of the finest movies I've seen in a long time.

Directed by Julie Berucelli, this 2003 film based in Tbilisi, Georgia is about a grandmother, mother and daughter. The mother and daughter lie to the grandmother when the grandson dies, making her believe he's alive and well. Though somewhat similar in premise to Goodbye Lenin, which is in my opinion another member of the greatest world movies ever made, Since Otar Left manages it's own elements, right down to the different and touching ending.

Thumbsucker (2005)

One of the better products to come out of America, probably because it's an Indie movie. Directed by Mike Mills.


Movie Reviews: L'auberge Espagnole, Wild Strawberries

L'auberge Espagnole

When it comes to a movie about finding yourself, this is one of the best I've seen. Made in 2002 and directed by Fredrick Klapisch, it follows the life of a young French student and his multicultural roommates, all of whom are studying and sharing an apartment in Spain. Nationalities include French, Italian, German, English, Spanish, Danish and Belgian.

The movies main storyline is the French man's (Romain Duris') story and it show us scenes from his and his friends' lives over the course of a study year in Spain, including how he came to land in Spain in the first place, making friends, finding a place to stay, and various adventures and experiences that lead him to make a final life altering decision towards the end of the movie.

Wild Strawberries

A 1957 Ingmar Bergman film; in fact this is supposed to be one if his best, though I wasn't too impressed. It seemed like a watered down version of any movie adaptation of 'A Christmas Carol', the main theme being reconciliation.


Movie Reviews - Crimson Gold, 8 1/2

Crimson Gold

Another Iranian movie. Made in 2003 and directed by Jaffar Panahi and written by Abbas Kiarostami (who wrote and directed 'Ten'), the movie starts off with a jewellery store robbery, and then shows us all the events leading up to that point. We follow the life of a Pizza delivery man, his relationship with his fiance, would be brother in law, colleagues, customers, and other people he encounters over the course of a few days. Each of these encounters serves to highlight the contrast between the rich and poor in the city, showing us how a perfectly normal and mild man might be pushed over the edge.

8 1/2

This 1963 black and white Italian movie deals with a director who's facing director's block, and as such, is having a hard time trying to begin shooting his massive science fiction movie. He doesn't have a clear cast or script and his expenses are apparently skyrocketing, not that he can do much about it. He seems to have little or no creative input or interest in carrying the movie forward though he realises the seriousness of his situation and knows it must move in some direction.

The fact that he has a half hearted, hesitant approach towards the movie and his awareness of his helplessness form the main story. This is interspersed with scenes from both the director's actual past and his imagination and fantasies, that show how the director sees and interacts with people from his present and past in an alternate world, in such a way that we can't always identify which scenes in the movie are really happening and which ones are merely flashbacks or figments of the director's imagination.

The movie is about making a movie, and many other things. One perspective in which to see this movie is as a parody of itself. Towards the start, we view an exchange between the director and his writer. The writer says that the film they're making is a series of complete senseless episodes, which is what many would describe 8 1/2 as. Another perspective is to see this movie an an evolution or roller coaster ride of the director's expressions of love and how he deals with the fact that he cannot form proper relationships with people and if he manages some form of reconciliation towards the end.

The second Frederico Fellini movie I've seen after La Strada. Unlike La Strada, which was a movie that told a simple story, I'm not entirely sure what story I'm watching here. As a reviewer said, as a movie that leaves you with answers is preachy, most good movies leave you with questions and no answers, leaving you to discuss, think and figure the answers out for yourself. At the end of 8 1/2, however, you're still left wondering what the questions are.



They screened ‘The Incredibles’ in the office in the afternoon. I saw a bit of the movie – it was good – before returning to work and my computer screen, which, due to the lights in the office being turned out, left me both giddy and nauseous an hour later. I managed to reach home in one piece, skipped dinner and went to bed.

Woke up Sat morning with no appetite. Skipped lunch, and went to 'Not Just Jazz By the Bay' at Marine Lines along with some friends for a short film festival organised by a group called Shamiana. Here’s a quick review of what I saw:

1. Mission Good Morning (mostly silent) (India)

An interesting take on how millions of Indians start their day.

Dir: Tariq Mohd
Dur: 3 mins

2. Guided Storm (Korean)

A South Korean movie made by an Indian. Outlines the disillusionments and disappointments encountered in the search for someone. The scenes swing between the past and present.

Dir: Tascha Eipe
Dur: 15 mins

3. Freiheit (silent) (U.S) (1966)

A short about a man trying to cross the Berlin border and being shot to death.

Dir: George Lucas
Dur: 3 mins

4. Hridaytteieykku Oru Madakayathra (Malayalam) (2008) (loosely means ‘Journey back to the Heart’)

A tale of father-son conflict.

Dir: Abhinand Kumar
Dur: 15 mins

5. Muslim…but NOT a Terrorist (Hindi)

A story of a young Muslim boy and his ordeal and dreams. I found this film too preachy. Linked it here -

Dir: Douglas D’Gama
Dur: 12 mins

6. IMAGO (animation) (France)

A beautifully made movie about a young boy who dreams of becoming a pilot. Years later, he hasn’t fulfilled his dream but sees the same passion in his Grandson. 30 second clip linked here -

Dir: De Cedric Babouche
Dur: 12 mins

We headed off to 'Janata' in Bandra after the screening, got tired of waiting for a table, and went to Toto's, where we encountered the same problem. Finally got a place to sit at around 11.30 though.


Light Traces

Thursday saw me go to the St Andrews auditorium at 8 P.M to catch a show called ‘Light Traces’ and ‘Surkh’ by the Terrence Lewis Contemporary Dance Company in association with the American Centre. Luckily, I wasn’t alone. I called up TP about 15 minutes before the show started to tell him free tickets were available (I wasn’t sure before) and so had company. We took up seats at the top row.

The audience consisted of mostly young college going type people, some of whom didn’t seem too appreciative of the performers. That’s what happens when you let people in for free – you get the wrong type of crowd. Surprisingly though, I didn’t see any older or even middle aged people, and the auditorium was not packed to full capacity. I wonder why the older people stayed away. Maybe they got scared away by the free tickets (thought it was a scam or something), leaving the whole venue open to a young crowd. The crowd was so young, I almost felt like I was back in college attending one of the competitions that St Andrews College always holds in the auditorium.

It was all contemporary and interpretative dance. A little performance art as well I felt. I liked the opening of the Mumbai local performance. It started of with noisy scenes from a Mumbai local flowed by a fade to black followed by the same scenes fast forwarded. This was more of an acting and performance art piece which was then followed by contemporary dance which also formed the crux of all the other pieces. I didn’t really get the dance parts and did feel a bit bored watching them. How do you enjoy something you can’t understand or appreciate no matter how hard you try? I got the impression that most others didn’t get the performances either.

We went to 5 Spice at Pali afterwards for dinner with SL and Sang. Had a Long Island Iced Tea – lovely. Went to Boat Club later for a short while (it was Hip Hop night) before leaving for home.


Monday, 7 July 2008

Movie Reviews - The New World, 3:10 to Yuma, It Happened One Night

The New World

The Pocahontas story directed by Terrence Malick, the same guy who directed ‘The Thin Red Line’. The story has not been changed much from the original. Explorers arrive from England to America to found a settlement in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. They meet the natives and develop a choppy relationship with them. One of them, Capt. John Smith (Colin Farrell) falls in love with a local (Q'orianka Kilcher) and then leaves seeking new adventures. Believing him to be dead, the local remarries John Rolfe (Christian Bale) and later travels to England.

This movie is different from most other Hollywood fare. It could be described as what a poem would look like if made into a movie. The literal feeling that the movie induces in its viewers is one of poetry. In many parts of the movie, the storytelling consists of many not-so-related scenes cut and stitched together. In fact, a lot of the shots are stitched together to weave into the musical score. This film is not perfect, but it is an audio-visual masterpiece. It does get a bit monotonous at times, but the cinematography is brilliant.

Extra features on the DVD reveal a lot of interesting trivia. Shot on location, this entire movie was made with minimal technology; the cameras were mostly handheld, and the lighting was almost completely natural. Terrence Malick would actually follow his actors around with his camera no matter where they were, just to capture interesting shots, often to have them act in character even when not officially shooting. Colin Farrell once tested this by walking towards the crew, forcing them to dive for cover as Terrence’s camera followed him around. The crew also faced storms never seen before both in Virginia and the U.K during filming.

This movie also features Wes Studi, in perhaps his hundredth Native American role. I love this guy from the character Sphinx in Mystery Men.

3.10 to Yuma

Another movie featuring Christian Bale. The story revolves around a rancher who volunteers to help escort an outlaw to a train to prison. Complications arise as the outlaw’s gang chases them. In addition to this, they also have to deal with the outlaw’s mind games and escape plans.

A remake, this is a pretty good Hollywood western, directed by James Mangold, the man who gave us Walk the Line, Kate & Leopold, Copland and Girl Interrupted. Like all Hollywood movies, it does have its clich├ęs, but recommended anyway for being entertaining.

Interesting trivia includes the fact that the gun on the moving stagecoach at the beginning of the film is made of rubber so that the horses don’t get tired from dragging it along. Also, special exploding capsules were used during the shootout chases in the town to make it seem that the bullets hitting the wood of the buildings created sparks or splinters, not something that would have really happened as lead bullets don’t spark and just embed themselves in wood. This artificial effect seems to be quite widely used in Hollywood. Also, budget cuts prevented the crew from building the whole town towards the end and the scaffolding featured during the final chase is really what couldn’t be completed. Another piece of interesting information includes the fact that a part of the movie was shot at one the locations of the original Batman T.V series.

It Happened One Night

This is a 1934 movie directed by Frank Capra. Claudette Colbert, playing a spoiled socialite who has recently married out of spite and just escaped from the clutches of her over protective father, takes a cross country bus trip, hoping to dodge the press, police and private detectives. She meets a reporter, played by Clark Gable, who discovers who she really is and promises not to give her up in exchange for an exclusive story. Over the course of their travels, they fall in love.