Friday, 31 December 2010

Things that kept us online in 2010

Well, another year of news-worthy events has passed us by, and in keeping with tradition, here's my list of what made the news, kept us glued to our screens and scratching our heads for one-liners to post on Twitter in 2010.

1. Hockey team Strike
2. No Pak players in IPL 3
3. Shiv Sena vs SRK & MNIK
4. Nithyananda
5. Shoaib Malik - Sania Mirza
6. Haiti earthquake
7. Chile Earthquake
8. Pune German Bakery Blast
9. Sachin hits 200 in a ODI
10. Lalit Modi vs Shashi Tharoor
11. Mumbai local railway motormen strike
12. Dantewada
13. Pratapgarh Stampede
14. Gyaneshwari Express derailment
15. Kasab Judgement
16. Celebrities on Twitter
17. BP Oil Spill
18. Mumbai Oil Spill
19. Mangalore plane crash
20. Bhopal Gas Sentence
21. Ayodhya verdict
22. Football World Cup
23. Commonwealth Games
24. Kalmadi
25. Adarsh housing scam
26. Chilean Miners
27. TISS rape verdict
28. Obama in India
29. Mahut vs Isner 
30. Zulqarnain Haider disappears
31. A.Raja & the 2G spectrum scam
32. Big Boss 4
33. Antilla
34. Radia Tapes
35. WikiLeaks
36. Julian Assange
37. Varanasi Bombing

As before, please let me know if I've left anything out.


Thursday, 16 December 2010


Everyone gets lonely sometimes. Especially around weekends. And holiday season. When you're at home without any plans. When all your friends have their own plans. When you wish you had something interesting to do, more friends to hang out with, more people to talk to, to party with. When you wish you didn't have to go to bed so early.

This is normal. It passes. Just concentrate on your hobbies, your likes, what excites you. Do what you like to do - read books; watch movies; go to plays, concerts, performances, screenings, seminars; travel; take a walk; take photos; play a sport, games, etc. You will meet people. Talk about common interests. Stay in touch. Over time, you'll gather like minded souls to you. Don't worry about the intermittent lonesome days/nights.

While I'm on the subject, I remember one of my psychology professors back in college telling our class about depression and that even though more men than women suffer from depression, men are better able to cope with it, as society allows men more freedom to do things that might counter depression. For example, a man who's feeling down can always go out for a late night movie by himself. Not so for women as much.



Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Lady and the Stranger

July 5, 2008. Toto's Garage. We're just about to leave. The 3 people at the table beside us are also leaving. 2 of them get out of their seats. The 3rd person remains seated, his head down. He seems tired, drunk, asleep, I can't tell. He's nodded off. The lady from our group decides to have some fun. With a nod to the stranger's friends, she sits down next to him, her shawl around him and her head on his shoulder. I immediately see, as if on cue, at least 5 people around me fish out their cameras to click pics. I do the same. Lot's of laughs all around. The stranger is oblivious to all this attention. He's still in dreamland. As we go out, I see the stranger's friends wake him up and tell him what's just happened.

I haven't met the lady or seen the stranger since that day. I wonder what they're doing now.


Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Movies Seen: Kick Ass, District 9

A 2010 superhero-themed action-comedy directed by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust) and based on the comic book series of the same name. Loner kid decides to be a superhero, and in the process meets real superheroes with a vendetta, becomes a target for a crime family & has the adventure of a lifetime.

The narrative is good; the acting is good; it's well written, funny; it has a good score, lots of action. This is one of the freshest and best films I've seen this year.

A 2009 sci-fi movie directed by Neill Blomkamp (his first feature-length film).

The film begins in documentary style, giving us a short history of how alien refugees who landed in Johannesburg are presently settled in a temporary shelter which is now a slum. The government, through a private military contractor, is now planning to move the aliens to a new camp. The documentary then follows Wikus, an employee, as he visits the slum to help coordinate the transfer. He comes into contact with an alien liquid, and gets sick. The rest of the film resumes normally, following the next few days in Wikus' life as he is experimented upon, escapes, and joins forces with the aliens to find a cure for himself, while the government hunts him down and the aliens have plans of their own.

One of the best films made in 2009, and one of the best films I've see this year. The movie has a good story, the script is realistic, the narrative is excellent, the editing is crisp, and the special effects are above par. It's emotional, personal, raw & action-packed. This is quite simply one of the finest sci-fi movies ever made.



Monday, 6 December 2010

Independence Rock 2010

So I went to Independence Rock at the Chitrakoot grounds in Andheri with friend ND yesterday. It was much better than I expected. I was prepared for hot, loud, crowded, etc. but it was all O.K. We got in easily. Entry was free. We had arrived a bit late, maybe 6.00 p.m, so lines weren't a problem. The area was reasonably cool. We had space to ourselves. And the music was great. The only pet peeve I have is that so many people there were wearing black t-shirts. I mean come on, how cliched can you get. Isn't Rock supposed to be about rebellion? Independence? Why the uniform?

Sheets were laid out across the grounds, and people were using them to sit down on and relax, at least towards the back, which is where we headed to, near the snack area. The area near the stage was wee bit too loud and crowded for our taste. No mosh pits for us. We settled down, simultaneously talking and listening to the metal-heavy music of Scribe & Demonic Resurrection, and then the singing guitars of Axetortion, before Farhad Wadia and gang came on to play more nostalgic stuff. We left at 9.00.

Here's the quick Indiecision review of the event. 

I hadn't met ND since he left the company a few months ago. His new job took him to Oz for training, and he had just returned, so we had a lot to catch up on. He told me he didn't miss Australia until he was caught in traffic coming to Andheri from Bhandup today. He stayed in Perth, which was a mostly dead place. O.K for families maybe, but not bachelors, even though he was rooming with both male and female colleagues. There just wasn't that much to do out there, he says. And that he was closer to Indonesia than to Sydney. And saw more Chinese people than locals.

But there were good and interesting experiences too. He recalls how everyone is so nice and polite over there, and how they all drink black coffee, and do things themselves, like build their own holiday homes, etc.


Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Movies Seen: The President is Coming, Little Zizou

A 2009 satire directed by Kunaal Roy Kapur (his directorial debut) and shot in documentary style. The U.S President is coming to India, and 6 young Indians from different backgrounds have been shortlisted for a competition that will see one of them shake hands with the head of state. As they're put through the rounds, we get a look at at not just their quirks and faults, but their reasons for being there.

Fellow ex-Andrian Anand Tiwari plays money-obsessed Gujju stockbroker Kapil Dev. You might remember him from the Tata Tea Jaago Re campaign. Konkona Sen Sharma plays a very unique Bengali writer/social worker. Namit Das plays the closet homosexual IT guy. Vivek Gomber plays a US-returned accent coach. Ira Dubey (from Chicks on Flicks) plays a rich airhead. Satchit Puranik plays a Maratha traditionalist. Shivani Tanksale and Sherrnaz Patel play PR reps in charge of the competition.

The movie is fun and light. Not a perfect movie, but funny in many many parts. I particularly like that the documentary style narrative is regularly broken up by animation showing the contestants on a  race track. Yes, there are unrealistic parts, but the unique characters with their typical Indianisms kind of make up for that.

A 2009 English, Gujarati & Hindi film directed by Sooni Taraporevala (her directorial debut too), about the relationships between 2 Parsi families in Mumbai. 

Xerxes, or little Zizou, is a football-crazy boy. His older brother Art, a school dropout and artist. Their father Khodaiji is some kind of new-fangled Parsi spiritualist/evangelist, harking back to tradition and advocating the creation of a Parsi army. Then there's the Pressvalas - Boman, who takes pot shots at Khodaiji through his newspaper, his wife and two daughters. The wife looks after Zizou, much to the younger daughter's chagrin, while Art has a crush on the older daughter, who likes someone else. And through all this conflict, we manage to find resolve, closure and a happy ending.

Warm, homely and beautiful. Again, not a perfect movie, you're not sure where the story is going at times, but you don't seem to care, which is why this is highly recommended. The acting seems natural. Boman Irani doesn't disappoint. Watch out for cameos by John Abraham, Kamal Sidhu, Cyrus Broacha & Kunal Vijaykar.


Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Taking Good Photos With Any Camera

19 Sep, 2009 - During a train ride, a photographer friend borrows my Powershot A570 IS and shoots the stains on the window sill in macro mode. I'm impressed with the result. Proof that a good photographer can do wonders with relatively basic equipment.

It's been said before, but I'll say it again. 

1. You can take good photos with any camera. 
2. You do not need an SLR to be a good photographer. 

These sound like cliches, but they're true. Why then, you might ask, do professional gotographers use SLRs? Because SLRs offer benefts that Point and Shoot cameras don't . They have larger sensor sizes, and more features, and are more versatile, offering their users more options, allowing them to take better photos in adverse conditions, and better quality photos overall. But these benefits won't make much of a difference unless you know how to utilise them. The single greatest camera feature is still the photographer. 

Yes, an SLR is a better buy if you're looking for superior image quality and certain other features, but If you own an SLR but can't make use of what it has to offer, you've simply wasted your money. On the other hand, you might own a simple Point and Shoot, but if you're smart enough to know how to get the most out of it, you can take excellent pictures that match and even surpass those of SRLs. It's not just about what you have but how you use it.

The point I'm trying to make is, every camera can take spectacular shots, though some offer you more options than others. But what really counts are your skills as a photographer. So go ahead and buy an SLR if you want to, but take the trouble to learn what makes a good photo, and your camera's features. Don't just end up shooting JPEGs in Auto mode without an inkling of how your shot is composed.



Friday, 12 November 2010

Movies Seen: The Notebook, What Doesn't Kill You

A 2004 sappy film, starring Rachel McAdams & Ryan Gosling. Stay away if you don't like that kind of thing. Rachel McAdams is much better kicking ass in Red Eye.

A 2008 gangster street film, written and directed by Brian Goodman and based on his life story, about 2 friends who get into a life of crime at an early age, their life on the street, their struggles, their stint in jail, and coping with life outside. Realistic, gritty and a good watch. Mark Ruffalo & Ethan Hawke are cast well.

The soundtrack is good too. Here's a sample:



Thursday, 11 November 2010

Why We Travel

                            Market in McLeod Ganj - 11 June, 2009

I've always wondered why people travel. And what the whole point of travelling is.

People didn't always travel for leisure, did they? In ye olden times, most people only travelled because it was a means to get things done, for civilian work or military purposes. Travel was never an escape, it was a necessity. If anything, it was just the rich who travelled, to experience something new, a change in scenery perhaps, or an activity to kill boredom.

Maybe that was it. The only people who did travel for enjoyment, did so because it wasn't a necessity for them. Maybe when something becomes a necessity, it's no longer enjoyable? So in order to enjoy travel, you had to have the luxury of not being forced to partake in it? Reasonable? 

Over time, travel spread to other sections of society. As more and more people got the means to travel i.e money, and the time away from work, travel became a popular pastime.

Still, many people don’t travel today – they're happy doing what they always do – going about their normal everyday jobs. These people, you will observe, are mostly involved in traditional occupations - farming, fishing, etc. - that involve a lot of time. Also, the people in these occupations just don't seem to want to travel. They are happy as they are, with no urge to see the outside world. Contrast this with modern professionals who might be busy, but still dream of travel.

What separates the traditionalists from the modernists? The non-travelers from the travelers? Do some people get the travel itch? Or is it peer pressure? Or something else? It's difficult to say. Maybe all people get the travel itch, to some extent, and some just suppress it, while others act on it.

But what exactly is this travel itch. What makes people travel? What motivates them? Is it the desire to see or experience new things, peer pressure, an opportunity to give yourself bragging rights? Some people travel to experience new sights, sounds and smells. I guess that's O.K. Many people travel to just take photographs. I can identify with that. But what about going that extra step, finding out about the story behind the photo? I'm talking about new wholesome experiences rather than just sights, sounds and smells. It seems few people want to do that. Travel for most is travel for the sake of change.

I think I've identified at least 3 trains of thought above - the evolution of travel, why some of us don't travel, and what travel really is. 

Your thoughts are welcome.


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Movies Seen: The American Astronaut, The Illusionist

A 2001 space-western & musical film - weird, visually striking, artsy and boring. Great colours and camera work. Got the feel of a Western. But a story that's too strange to follow seriously. An attempt at a cult film gone flat.

A 2006 film directed by Neil Burger. A lower-class magician falls in love with an upper-class girl. A doomed romance. She's engaged to a possessive bully, from who the magician helps her escape.

The film's got a bit of a fairy-tale feel to it, with some amount of predictability. It is watchable but not as good as that other movie released in 2006 that also dealt with magic - The Prestige. The Illusionist is more romance than rivalry. The major saving grace here is the acting. Paul Giamatti, Ed Norton, and Rufus Sewell perform well as always.



Monday, 8 November 2010

Why there are No White People in Khandala

    Khandala, 29 Aug 2009. I don't see any foreign tourists here, do you?

Recently, I was speaking with an American gentlemen who happens to be a regular traveller to Mumbai. One of the questions I asked him was why most foreign tourists to Mumbai only hang out around Colaba, when there are beautiful places to see outside the city. I assumed this was because most guidebooks aimed at foreign tourists only publicise the town bit (see Dear Lonely Planet India), which of course brought up another question - why the guidebook focus on town?

His answer was, most foreign tourists who come to India don't have much time to see the whole country. Many of them have taken leave from work to be here, giving them maybe 2/3 weeks for their trip. And then they try to fit in as many places into that time period, leaving them with maybe just 2/3 days to see Mumbai. As such, the guidebooks try to reflect this reality, giving those people interested in spending only a few days in Mumbai the relevant information they need i.e. the must-sees like Colaba, Elephanta, Haji Ali, etc.

And here I was wondering why I don't see white people in Khandala.


Sunday, 7 November 2010

Movies Seen: The Hangover, Robin Hood

A 2009 movie directed by Todd Phillips. Reminiscent of previous bachelor party films. An okayish comedy. A few laugh out loud moments. The second Bradley Cooper film I'm seeing in a month. He's come a long way since Alias.

A 2010 Ridley Scott film, exploring the origins of Robin Hood. Excellent sets/props as usual, what you'd expect form a Ridley Scott film. I enjoyed the history lessons too, but being big-budget Hollywood, the narrative is just a little bit too simplistic. Still, I was with it until the end, when little kids on ponies help defeat the French army. That was a bit too much.



Monday, 1 November 2010

India Music Event Listings

I was asked recently about Indian websites that list live music events. It seems one of the main ones - Gigpad - is now shut. I wasn't too sure about alternate options, but I've since done a little research and included what I've found below. Please feel free to add to the list.

Collative sites:

After I sent out a tweet, Yorick pointed me to NH7, a new music everything site with news, reviews, upcoming gigs and interactive features.

And friend NS sent me a link to Indivibe, for updates on the Indian clubbing scene, and Submerge, for the EDM scene.

Burrp also sprang to mind. Though primarily aimed and food and restaurant listings and reviews, they've expanded into all types of events - art, music, dance, etc. I love their web interface, subscribe to their newsletter, and think it's a great way to keep updated about events in your city.

Book my Show is another site I remembered. The site lists a lot of gigs, even non-music ones, and you can book and pay online.

Kyazoonga also lists a few live events and lets you book online.

And there's Reverbnation. They list local events and let you follow groups you like.

Music Venues:

For venue-specific listings, you could always visit or subscribe to feeds from websites/blogs or e-newsletters of places in your city that host gigs, like the NCPA, Hard Rock Cafe, Blue Frog & B69 in Mumbai.


For those of you in the music business, the Indian Music Conference site might come in handy for upcoming meetings, places to network, and a few live event updates (hat tip - textualoffender)

Updates anyone?


Monday, 25 October 2010

Movies Seen: Alice in Wonderland, The A-Team

A 2010 film. Directed by Tim Burton, who is way off on this one. A spin-off/sequel that both follows and combines story elements from the books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, this film takes us 10 years into the future, where Alice, now 20, returns to Wonderland to save it's innocent inhabitants from an evil queen. Boring.

A 2010 film. Directed by Joe Carnahan. Based on the T.V series, 4 incredible men come together, perform amazing feats no one else can or wants to, get framed, and break out of jail to prove their innocence.

An action-packed film with a ridiculous story and out of this world action sequences that don't make a lot of sense. You can tell that the writers have taken pains to add a bit of edge to the script, to prevent it from being cliched, and have succeeded to some extent, but at the cost of even more logical narrative. O.K for timepass purposes.

Plus, it seems like Liam Neeson is in everything these days.


Friday, 1 October 2010

New Rickshaw & Taxi Tariffs for Mumbai

For those of you new to Mumbai or looking for meter conversion charts to make sense of the rickshaw and taxi meters in the city, this post will help.

Firstly, as a note to new visitors to Mumbai, the meters in the city are out of date. Meaning the number you see on the meter is not your actual fare. The actual fare is slightly more and you might need a tariff/rate/fare conversion chart to convert the meter number into actual rupees.

Furhermore, the autorickshaw and taxi rates in Mumbai were increased in June 2010. The minimum rickshaw fare is now Rs.11 (from Rs.9 earlier). For taxis it's now Rs.16 (from Rs.13) for the first 1.6 kms, with Rs.10 for each successive km. And a 25% increase from 12.00 - 5.00 A.M. 

You can view and download the new conversion charts for both rickshaws and taxis from the official Mumbai Traffic Police website below.  

All the ricks and taxis will have switched over to the new system by now, so even if the meters look old, they've been re-calibrated to the new rate, and you're supposed to be billed accordingly. Also, the drivers are supposed to carry the new tariff charts with them, so don't let them con you by saying they don't have any conversion charts because of the switch. They're just using that as an excuse to set their own rate.

I carry printouts with me for quick reference at all times. I suggest you do the same.



Thursday, 30 September 2010

Movies Seen: A Perfect Getaway, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

A 2009 suspense thriller directed by David Twohy. A couple (Steve Zahn & Milla Jovovich) on their Honeymoon in Hawaii suspect that other couples they encounter on a camping trip are serial killers.
Not bad at all. Unlike a lot of second-rate thrillers these days, this film has a riveting story, good direction & strong characters that you care about. And Timothy Olyphant (Die Hard 4.0, The Girl Next Door) is highly entertaining and looks like he's having a lot of fun with his role.

A 2007 film directed by Andrew Dominik, based on Ron Hansen's 1983 book, which is based on the true story of Jesse James' assassination, with a focus on strong characters and personal relationships rather than typical 'western-style' events.

A bit slow at first, and that along with Brad Pitt's deadpan expressions leave you with initial misconceptions about the film, but you won't have any regrets when you watch it till the immensely satisfying end. Excellent cinematography and acting. Sam Rockwell is always a pleasure to watch, but the real scene stealer in this picture is Casey Affleck, who does a shifty, nervous and yet enraptured Robert Ford.

By the way, movie buffs will be interested in the fact that Steve Zahn and Casey Affleck appeared together in Race the Sun (1996).


Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Places in Mumbai that Serve Beef

I present to you a work in progress; all the places in Mumbai that serve beef. Feel free to add to the list, in the interest of the greater common good.


Sundance Cafe


New Martin Hotel - Goan - Beef chilly
Cafe Mondegar
Cafe Churchill - Continental - Beef burgers and steaks
Leopold Cafe
Cafe Basilico
Indigo Deli
Woodside Inn
All Stir Fry
Wich Latte - Continental - Beef sandwiches


Mocambo Cafe
Yoko Sizzlers

Nariman Point

Fenix, Oberoi Hotel

Girgaum Chowpatty

Salt Water Grill


Sarvi - Beef kebabs

Mumbai Central

Noor Mohammadi


Olive Bar and Kitchen

Lower Parel

Blue Frog


Hard Rock Cafe


Goa Portugesa

Bandra (W)

Jim-me's Kitchen - Chinese - Beef noodles
Candies - Continental - Beef (Bolognese) spaghetti
Cheron - East Indian - Beef burgers
Mikneil - Goan/East Indian - Beef & tongue sandwiches
Mac Craig - Continental - Beef rolls
Yellow Tree
Cafe Basilico
Salt Water Cafe
Yoko Sizzlers
Pali Village Cafe
Eat Around The Corner


Hotel Pradeep


Cafe Mangli

Santa Cruz (E)

China House, Grand Hyatt
Lotus Cafe, JW Marriot

Santa Cruz (W) 

Yoko Sizzlers


Lake-View Cafe, Renaissance

Andheri (E)

Pan Street, Peninsula
Just Kerala

Andheri (W)

Indigo Cafe

Jogeshwari (W)

Yoko Sizzlers

Farid seekh kebab and paratha - Beef kebabs

Malad (W)

Yoko Sizzlers

Malad Gymkhana - beef roast (must have!), beef chilly, pork chilly

Kandivli (E)

Yoko Sizzlers

Borivli (W)

Ustad's (I.C Colony) - Beef seekh kebabs, khiri & boti

Updates anyone?


Monday, 27 September 2010

Movies Seen: 2012, Henry Poole is Here

Another Roland Emmerich disaster film. Massive sun flare causes tectonic plate shift and pole realignment, causing destruction and creation of new land masses. Woody Harrelson's zaniness doesn't do much to balance this 2009 film's disturbing portrayal of mass deaths.

Picked this film at random out of the 100 plus unseen movies on my HD after seeing 2012. Imagine my delight when I saw a slightly younger Morgan Lily, who also acted in 2012, among the cast. What are the odds?

Henry Poole is Here is one of the better American movies I've seen recently. A 2008 kind-of-dark movie directed by Mark Pellington, an angry cynical man tired with life retires to suburbia to waste his life away, but his neighbours won't let him.

Luke Wilson is enjoyable to watch, Radha Mitchell is a lot more enjoyable to watch in this film than the last movie I saw her in (Thick as Thieves), and Morgan Lily is adorable.



Sunday, 19 September 2010

Mumbai Trains - Handicapped Compartments

Here's the funny thing about the handicapped compartments in Mumbai's local trains. You can only travel in them if you are permanently disabled (missing limbs, digits, organs; polio; cancer, etc.) and have a medical certificate from a railway official saying the same. This means that injured people (who don't fall in the permanently disabled category) are automatically excluded from travel in handicapped compartments and have to travel either first or general class, even if those cars are packed.

Sounds strange? Let's take it one step further. A lot of permanently disabled people aren't really in a position that makes it difficult for them to travel first or general. This means that a person who's broken or fractured a limb and who genuinely can't travel in a crowded train, can't make use of the handicapped car, but a person who just happened to be born with one toe less and who is otherwise completely healthy and normal and in no way physically unable to travel first or general, gets a lifetime handicapped pass. Unfair?


Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Movies Seen: Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time

A 2010 remake of the 1981 film (which I loved as a child). Directed by Louis Leterrier. Like the original film, this one has nothing to do with the Titans, and the plot has undergone a few changes. In short, Perseus, a demi-god, leads a group of soldiers on a quest to find a way to save a princess, encountering monsters and gods along the way.

Watch this film for the special effects, cause there's not much else to go on. The film does have a bit of an epic feel to it but again that's mostly because of the cinematography, music & effects, not the script or narrative. Narrative flaws abound. But the mythological creatures are awesome. Especially the Kraken at the end. And I loved that they sneaked in a scene with that mechanical owl from the original film.

As far as characters go, Gemma Arterton is a pretty face, Liam Neeson does his usual indignant righteousness act, Ralph Fiennes does his usual dark lord act & Sam Worthington does his usual conflicted character act. As one film reviewer wrote, Sam Worthington needs to stop playing conflicted characters. In Avatar, he was a man who wanted to be a Na'vi. In Terminator: Salvation, he was a machine that wanted to be a man, and in Clash of the Titans, he is a demi-god who wants to be a man.

The whole proud to be a man thing is kind of the the main theme running through this film, culmination with our demi-god hero finally realising his place in the world. Worth a watch if you have noting better to do, but not worth a lot of money.

Directed by Mike Newell, who's movies I've seen parts of and liked, this film clearly takes him out of his comfort zone, and it shows. The 2010 movie tries to create an 'epic' feel about it but only ends up feeling as small as the 'Scorpion King' when compared to 'The Mummy Returns'. The plot isn't worth mentioning.

Too many narrative flaws. Like in Clash of the Titans, the films characters seem to almost instantaneously travel to a far flung part of the world in a day or two. The amount of time it takes to traverse long distances just hasn't been factored in. The script is over-simplistic, dramatic and the music tends towards irritating, especially when Hassansins appear.

Gemma Arterton gets more screen time and dialogue here than she does in Clash of the Titans, though this film is a lot worse.

Have you seen these films? What do you think?


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Never lend a girl to a book

I'm the kind of person who likes keeping his books in good condition.

In my senior college days, I lent a book to a friend of mine, who happened to be a girl. That book was In His Steps by Charles Monroe Sheldon. It was returned to me in a somewhat different condition than the one in which it was lent. Have you ever got a book or one of its pages wet? And waited for it to dry? And seen the difference? The pages, though still bound together, appear somewhat crumpled in a rippled sort of way. They don't quite place evenly within the books like they used to. Also, they're all discoloured. What this tends to do is ruin the book and the reading experience.

In my first year of work I, having not yet learnt my lesson, foolishly lent another book to a female colleague - A Case of Need by Michael Crichton. This too came back to me with a rainy-day story attached, greatly disturbing me. And to make it worse, a small piece of the front cover was actually torn off. The Horror!

These two incidents left an indelible mark on me. I resolved from that day on to never again lend a book to a girl. If you want a book, ladies, buy it off me.


Monday, 13 September 2010

Movies Seen: The Outer World of Shahrukh Khan, City of Ember, Afro Samurai, Long Weekend, Observe and Report, My Bloody Valentine

So what do you do when you have a long weekend and you're stuck at home because you couldn't go on that Ganpatipule trip because you fractured your arm and it's in a cast and you can't go travelling anywhere? You catch up on your movie collection. 

The Outer World of Shahrukh Khan

A documentary where a crew follows Shahrukh Khan and gang on their 2004 Temptations tour across the U.K, U.S and Canada. I did find it honest and open, looking at what happens backstage, the rush, hard work, costume changes, interaction between the stars and crew, security, what they do with their free time, and interviews with the troupe and audience.

There are flaws though. The producers have chosen a more free flowing approach as opposed to a structured one, patching together multiple haphazard backstage scenes from the various venues visited, the only structure being the linear order of the venues themselves. After a while however, all backstage activity looks the same, no matter where the troupe is, meaning you tend to feel as dislocated as the troupe. Some sort of story or build up over the length of time spent on the tour would have been more riveting, as that would give us viewers some kind of context with which to follow the scenes. 

City of Ember 

A 2008 post-apocalyptic film directed by Gil Kenan. Some narrative flaws, but excellent art direction, and superior production values.

Right from the start, the futuristic, sci-fi, fairy-tale element of the story, with background narration and music, totally grips you. Moving on, you're taken in with the city itself and the characters within. Caricatures, some of them, but planned caricatures, and all the while that great music. The lighting is amazing, and you can't help but watch the film through to the end. And this probable the most cheerful family-friendly post-apocalyptic film I've seen.

The movie reminds me of Logan's Run and The Island, in that it also consists of a closed community whose individuals aren't allowed to leave, believing the world outside non-existent. 

Afro Samurai 

More of a T.V mini-series than a movie. Released in 2007, with 5 parts totalling just over 100 minutes of some of the best anime I've seen. What's unique about it is the mix of African-American and Japanese samurai culture along with some mutant and sci-fi elements thrown in for good measure. Yes, a bit slow at parts, but worth the watch, with more attitude than a lot of recent anime. 

Long Weekend 

A 2008 horror movie directed by Jamie Blanks. A couple with relationship problems go camping on a deserted beach and end up fighting nature-fueled insanity. 

The film starts well, with panning shots of the Australian wilderness. It then moves to a slowish but steady pace. Not everyone's cup of tea, given the questions it raises.

A 2009 dark comedy about a mentally unstable mall cop. Graphic, and almost certainly a waste of your time.

My Bloody Valentine

Yet another slasher film. Made in 2009. Average, if you like that sort of thing. If not, don't waste your time.

Have you watched any of these films? Leave a comment.


Monday, 9 August 2010

Dear Lonely Planet India

Dear Lonely Planet India,

I bought a 2007 copy of the LP in May 2009, to take with me on a May-June 2009 backpacking trip to Ladakh and Himachal. Though the LP is written primarily for foreign visitors, I being both Indian and a resident of Mumbai for 10 years, still managed to find the LP very useful, primarily because as a backpacker, and a first time visitor to Ladakh and Himachal, my travel needs were not very different from those of most foreigners there. 

Here are some thoughts:

I found the lists of places to stay, with their rates, and places/things to see, most useful. The maps and public transport info were also much used. These are probably the main reason anyone would really want to own a Lonely Planet guidebook.

I liked the add-ons too. I liked the little ‘boxed’ information offering useful tips/information, and warning people of possible dangers like not to wander about the Parvati valley forests alone, or get involved in drugs, or get taken for a houseboat ride scam. I also liked the little snippets of history and general information all over the LP. It gave me context.

Now that we’re done with what I liked, can we commence with a few suggestions?

First, the North:

I like that the LP is compact enough to carry around. But I do have a request. Could you please issue state-wise or region-wise LPs for India, in addition to the full India LP? That would be so much better for us travellers who are only visiting one or two states/regions and don’t want to lug around a big fat LP for the whole of India. Carrying a smaller issue would be lighter on the back and pocket, don’t you think? I know that you currently issue specific LPs for Goa and the North-East. That’s a good start. How about one only for the North, like Kashmir-Himachal-Delhi?

I’d be happy if you could elaborate on the Old Manali–Solang Nullah ‘trail’ through Goshal village that you guys have mentioned in the chapter on Manali in Himachal Pradesh. I tried looking for it but only managed to stumble across a full moon rave party that had gone on for too many moons.

Your map and information about places in the Parvati valley in Himachal Pradesh are woefully inadequate, even in the 2009 LP edition (I checked). You need to mention that there’s a bus route that goes upto Versaily, which is the last bus stop in the valley. It would also be nice if you included more specific route information from Versaily to Pulga village and Khir Ganga and the hot springs there, given the number of foreign visitors to the area. Also, Tosh village (near Versaily) isn’t even mentioned in the LP, despite the fact that it’s become a destination with its own charm and decent accommodation. Maybe you could have your writers talk to a few Israeli tourists in the area? They seem to know more about the layout of these places than anyone else.

And now for Mumbai:

The LP entry on Mumbai seems skewered in favour of South Mumbai. While this is understandable to some extent, there’s a lot of stuff happening in the North that you could be mentioning, like clubs, restaurants, etc. For example, there’s so much to see and do in Bandra, like the numerous old Churches with their attractive architecture, and the original Wall Project on Chapel Road. And so much to see around Bandstand and Carter road. And so many eateries & pubs in Bandra that you’ve missed out on.

You’ve not mentioned Powai lake or the controversial Hiranandani architecture close by.

Further north, you’ve just given the Sanjay Gandhi National Park a passing mention, when there are so many well-worn trekking trails within the park that you’ve left out, like the Shilonda waterfall trail, the trek to the highest point in the park, the trails to Vihar and Tulsi lakes, and the trails commencing from the entry points in Goregaon and Thane. Do you know how many groups of people trek here each week during the monsoon? As far as entry points go, you’ve only mentioned the Borivli gate. And the only activities you’ve included are the lame safaris and the crowded Kanheri caves. There’s so much more for nature lovers. Plus, you’ve excluded the Aarey milk colony adjoining the park, also a popular green zone.

You’ve not even mentioned the giant Pagoda at Gorai (next to Esselworld), a breathtaking structure and Vipassana centre that's been reeling in curious onlookers. For that matter, what happened to Gorai, Manori and Uttan beaches? No entries on them, though they remain the cleanest beaches within Mumbai limits, and non-crowded to boot. Same story with Madh island and Aksa beach (though Aksa can get as bad as Juhu or Chowpatty). Where are the write-ups?

Further north, you’ve not mentioned Chinchoti falls at Naigaon, one of the few real natural waterfalls within Mumbai city limits, and one that gets crowded on weekends and has been responsible for a lot of drownings. You've also left out Bassein fort at Vasai, and Arnala fort at Virar. Are you not aware of the existence of these places?

Navi Mumbai fails to find mention in the LP. I find this strange since you could have used this opportunity to present the popular Karnala bird sanctuary and fort (near Panvel) and Peth/Kothaligad fort (near Karjat) to interested readers. There is accommodation nearby, but given their proximity to the city, I'm sure foreign visitors based in Mumbai wouldn't mind day trips.

And moving on to the rest of Maharashtra:

North Maharashtra doesn’t seem to exist in the LP. You’d do well to know that the towns and beaches of Vangaon, Dahanu and Bordi, along with nearby Parsi strongholds, make for interesting exploring.

The North East of Mumbai, beyond Kalyan, holds a few well-known gems. I’m referring to Malshej Ghat, one of the most beautiful drives from Mumbai that’s heavenly possible, and Shivneri town, home to the massive but crowded-on-weekends Shivneri fort, birthplace of Shivaji. The fact that you’ve left out what constitutes one of the most beautiful and fulfilling day trips I’ve been on makes me want to cry.

You’ve made a passing reference to Igatpuri in the ‘Around Nasik’ section but have failed to mention its main attractions – beautiful Bhandardara lake, Mt. Kalsubai - the highest peak in Maharashtra, and a trekkable one at that, and a few waterfalls.

Talking about the Nasik region, you’ve left out the hill stations of Jawahar and Vikramgad, about two hours drive from Mumbai, with attractions such as the palace, Dabossa falls, caves & mountains, and excellent valley views.

Your entry on the Konkan coast begins on a bad note - describing the food as being monotonous. I hope that’s a joke. Or maybe I just dreamed up those delicious fish dishes and mutton thalis I’ve eaten there.

The rest of the entry on Konkan is bare at best. You begin with Murud-Janjira, move on to Ganpatipule, then Ratnagiri, and end with Malvan-Tarkali. You’ve missed out at least 7 beaches between Mandwa jetty and Murud – Kihim, Awas, Alibaug, Korlai, Kashid, Naigaon & Nandgaon. Alibaug, Kashid & Naigaon are popular beaches and get quite crowded on weekends; you don't have to recommend them but you shouldn't leave them out. You’ve also left out Alibaug fort, and the entire villages of Revdanda (built within the ruins of a fort) and Korlai, home to the beautiful Korlai beach, lighthouse, and fort, all situated on a little peninsula, and one of my favourite places in Maharashtra. How could you be so cruel?

And moving south of Murud, you seem to have bypassed Diveagar, Srivardhan, Harihareshwar, Guhagar & Vengurla beaches, amongst others, and Chiplun town, amongst others. Diveagar tends to be secluded though you can have a hard time finding a guesthouse that isn't full, while Harihareshwar tends to get crowded due to it being a pilgrimage centre, though it is vast.

Moving to the hill stations, I find no mention of the famous Khandala at all, with its beautiful valley and trekking routes. You have mentioned Lonavala, but have left out information pertaining to Korigad fort, and the trek to nearby Rajmachi village, with its twin forts, temple, caves and pond. You’ve also left out the fact that there’s a direct motorable road to Lohagad-Visapur forts from Lonavala, or the fact that the forts are engulfed in mist during the monsoon, giving them a magical feel. You need to give people a reason to visit a place. 

I also find no mention of the very beautiful Pavna dam/lake or nearby Torna fort, or the route to Amby valley. In fact the only attraction you've listed about Lonavla are the same ole same ole Karla and Bhaje caves. Give me a break. There's so much more. I do see with some relief that you haven't noted disastrous Bushi dam, though whether this is out of purpose or ignorance I do not know. It might be fair to include it in your next edition, if only to ward unsuspecting travellers away.

These then are some of my suggestions of places to visit in and around Mumbai. Places I've been to and had loads of fun. Places that are beautiful, clean, mostly non-crowded, and worth travelling to. Places that any foreign traveller would enjoy. Places that for some reason are not listed in the LP. And then you wonder why foreigners only hang out at Colaba. You've built up this image of Mumbai as revolving around the town area (by the way, please have your writers stop referring to Worli as North Mumbai), with the only external locales worth venturing to being spots like Elephanta. No wonder you don't see any foreign tourists at the well known beaches, hill stations, or forts. They don't know about them. And they depend on you to enlighten them. And you could do a lot better.

Please let me know if you’d like my help with updating the next LP with any information pertaining to the suggestions above. I’d be happy to contribute. Also, if you should find these suggestions out-of-this-world useful and in your immense gratitude feel like gifting a copy of a more recent version of the Lonely Planet, or feel like offering me an author’s position at your esteemed publication, I wouldn’t say no.

Edit - 11/Aug/2010 - LP have written in to say that a lot of these places have been left out due to space constraints. Also, the Pagoda at Gorai wasn't included due to it being incomplete at the time of publication.


Monday, 19 July 2010

Inception And Other Dreamy Movies

Near future. People can get into other people's minds when they're dreaming and extract their secrets. Dom Cobb (Leonardo diCaprio) is the best extractor. He's hired for one last job that will allow for charges against him to be dropped so he can go back home to his kids. The job involves inception, planting an idea into someone's head, something he's not used to. He assembles a team. That's half the movie. The next half is the job itself. Complications emerge. Cobb has to deal with guilty secrets from his past that appear as bad projections in his dreams. Essentially a heist movie and not a psychological thriller, despite the theme.

A really good watch. Classic Nolan stuff. Exciting. Fast paced. Suspense. Action. Good script. All done very well. Recommended. But overrated compared to the hype. I expected more. Like all Nolan films, slick but flawed. Parts of the movie reminded me of The Matrix. I couldn't empathise with Leo's character. He's a criminal. Who cares if he sees his kids again? Ken Watanabe's character is more irritating than anything else. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the straight man and assistant to DiCaprio's intense unstable character. With his dapper look, it feels at times like he's a young Keanu Reeves.

The movie is relatively complex i.e complex compared to a dumb movie, but not hard to follow. It's a linear story with no major twists and no surprise endings, and not as complex as Nolan's The Prestige, which was layered big time. The people who don't get this movie are probably the same ones who couldn't get The Matrix the first time around.

I'd watch Inception again. Here are some other films I've seen that took us into the minds of others. Spoilers ahead.

The Matrix - we've all seen this, so no comment.

Vanilla Sky - Tom Cruise's character can't figure out why his reality is falling apart. Turns out he's in a dream world that he's paid a company to create in his mind, for his mind to live in, while he's cryogenically frozen, so he can forget his real problems. And they only tell you this at the end of the film, which means you've spent all that time watching what you thought was a psychological thriller along the lines of Fight Club, only to find out you've been watching some lame SF movie with a lame deus ex machina ending.

The Cell - Psychological thriller. Jennifer Lopez's character is a shrink who goes into the mind of a serial killer in a coma to discover where his latest victim is before it's too late. A more visual than substance film directed by Tarsem Singh.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Jim Carey's and Kate Winslet's characters get specific memories of theirs erased to forget each other, but end up together again anyway. Primarily a romantic film. Not straightforward. Full of flashbacks and non linear storytelling. Most of the film takes place in Jim Carey's character's mind; he relives his memories as they're being erased one by one.

And I still have to see Paprika, Dreamscape & eXistenZ.



Thursday, 24 June 2010

Bike Travel vs Car Travel

Apart from my two long outstation trips last year, to the extreme South and North of India, and to a number of ATMs, I also did many local day and overnight trips to places around Mumbai, mostly during and after the monsoon.

Though some of these were solo or group trips involving public transport like user-friendly S.T buses, the majority were with travel buddies, pooling our bikes and cars to get to where we were going, which many a time left us pitting our wits against over-friendly S.T bus drivers.

The car & bike trips I did in 2009 were:

Khandala - 1 car - 5 people
Vikramgad - 1 car - 4 people
Lohagad - 1 car - 5 people
Pavana Lake - 1 car - 5 people
Shivneri - 2 bikes - 4 people
Kashid - 1 car - 4 people
Korlai - 3 bikes - 5 people
Diveagar - 2 cars - 5 people
Yeoor Hills - 3 bikes - 6 people

So that was 6 car trips and 3 bike trips in 2009, all to beautiful locales (or wet and cut-off, depending on your point of view) a few hours (or many long boring hours, depending on your point of view) drive or ride from the city. It was at this time that I noticed how different bike and car travel can be. I've noted the differences below, using whatever categories I could quickly rustle up in my mind in order to give this post some semblance of intelligent thought mixed with quality writing drawing on extensive travel experience.


One bike carries 1 or 2 people, while a car can carry 1 to 5, or more. The consequences of this mind-blasting fact (not mind-blowing, mind you) follow below.


A bike trip involves at least 100%-50% of your group spending their time riding (note the clever but unnecessary use of percentages). Even pillion riders have little to do apart from pretending that their weight acts as a counter balance that helps the rider control his/her bike at curves, and trying not to fall off.

Driving a car, on the only other available hand, involves 100%-20% (and even less in higher passenger capacity vehicles) of your group driving, at any one point of time. This frees up a lot of time for the rest of the group, giving them a (usually wasted) chance to be more productive.

Driver/Rider recycle rate

If you have two people to a bike, and both take turns riding, your rider to vehicle ratio is going to be 2:1, assuming both have licenses, and I don't mean the two licenses at the front and back of the bike.

A car just needs one driver (surprise!), so with a group of 4 or 5 taking turns to drive, the driver to vehicle ratio is going to be 4:1 or 5:1 respectively (or more in higher passenger capacity vehicles), meaning the group gets to conserve more of their (usually wasted) energy, which leads to the next point.

Driving exhaustion

Bikes leave you relatively more tired than cars. It doesn't matter if you're riding alone or with a pillion rider. Driving a car is less exhausting than riding a bike.

Group interaction

Even with a pillion rider, a bike doesn't allow for a lot of chit chat while travelling, especially with helmets on. Unless you make use of some body/head tapping sign language, you're forced to talk to each other only during breaks or when you reach your destination. 

No such problem in a car, in which you even have the freedom to read each other's tweets. Cars enable you to depend on your group to keep you occupied, especially if the scenery is monotonous and you're more socially inclined.


A rider & a pillion can both carry medium sized (around 30 litre) backpacks, though this would be somewhat uncomfortable for the bike rider as he/she might have to carry his/her baggage around the front rather than at the back, when carrying a pillion. This lack of baggage space discourages longer biking trips with a pillion, for want of comfort, forcing you to ride solo. And solo or not, you'd have to arrange to keep your bags dry during rainy trips.

In a car, there's room for more baggage, especially the heavier kind, like bottles of alcohol, iceboxes, tripods, U.F.O detection apparatus, etc. Furthermore, this cargo can be stored in a dry space specifically meant for it, and not on your back out in the open.

Speed and Time

On a good wide straight road, cars are generally quicker, safely travelling at over 100 km/hr, though on most other roads, both are more or less the same, travelling at speeds varying between 60 and 80 km/hr.

During rainy trips, cars would make better time, as bikes would be forced to slow down or stop completely if the rider has a case of hydrophobia.


Bikes are cheaper to run - their mileage is twice that of cars.


No car trip compares to the feel of a bike ride. The freedom, the world passing you by, the (natural A.C) breeze. A car window is no comparison.


Cars have the upper hand when it comes to most of the factors above. They're better in terms of comfort & luggage space; for trips involving rain & monotonous scenery; and if you don't like extended bouts of solitude.

Bike travel is better for travelling light and saving money; for exploratory trips involving lots of quick stops, detours & U-turns; and when you want the entire journey to be an incredible travel experience like no other and not just a means to an end.

Got an opinion on the subject? Share it.