Thursday, May 21, 2009


I plan to re-vitalize the underground movie club I helped set up in my company this January. RAGe (Roshan, Aravind/Aditya, Glenn entertainment) provided an excel sheet with the movies set for 'release' every Friday. The sheet had details about the movies like the running time, size, quality, parental guidance (eg- Naomi Watts goes nude 45 minutes into the movie, so be sure to shoo your parents away round about that time), awards or nominations won. There was also a link to a one-page review of each movie we covered.

RAGe started off really well, but lost steam as time wore on. The company's annual day, pressure at work, lack of feedback and appreciation for our work were the chief culprits.

Reproduced below is the first review I wrote for RAGe. Its on one of my favourite movies, Thank You for Smoking:

Thank You for Smoking

Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Katie Holmes
Director: Jason Reitman
Review: Aditya Changavalli
Don’t hide the truth, just filter it.
I’ve got a confession to make. I absolutely love to argue. Nothing brings me out of the dull stupor of daily existence as a nice, long, pointless argument whose result is as non-consequential as its subject. I chose ‘Thank you for Smoking’ as it’s as much about smoking as about the arguments surrounding it. The central character actually makes a living out of his penchant for sparring with words.

I should probably warn you though - it is not your typical movie, with a love story and some action sequences thrown in around a loose plot. No movies I select are going to be like that. There is no love story. No action. It’s a wonderful rendering of innovative story-telling.

The plot revolves around Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a guy who ‘pays his mortgage’ by talking. He is a ‘lobbyist’ (a Public Relations guy) for the tobacco companies. He hops from one News channel studio to another ‘to defend the defenseless’, as he calls it. His rationale will be familiar to those who watched The Dark Knight: “If you are good at something, never do it for free”. Yes, Nick Naylor is good at his job. In fact, he is so good at ‘spin control’ that he has the anti-smoking campaigners running for cover at every live TV encounter.

As the movie canters along, the director manages to expose not only the unabashed greed of the cigarette makers, but also the self-serving and publicity-seeking politicians, the ‘art’ of product placement and the under-the-covers brand of journalism – without ever getting didactic. Slip in a sprinkling of a blossoming father-son relationship, and the picture is complete. The twist in the tale comes with Nick, just when he looks like he can never lose, loses his job and, nearly his life. Here, the exchange between Nick and his son is worth going through the movie for, if nothing else.

The climax is a Congressional hearing and the ‘happy’ ending is one that you don’t often get to see.

Watch ‘Thank You for Smoking’ for its ability to convey serious issues through light-hearted and refreshingly direct treatment hardly witnessed in the world of cinema. Watch it for the dialogues and the clever play of words used. Watch it for the sub-text and subliminal messages that it sends out through suggestive scenes. (There’s one where Nick and his friends - PR for guns and alcohol - are all having a ‘piece’ of a pie with an American flag sticking out of the middle) Watch it for the director’s amazing ability to use the smoke-screen of tobacco to paint a masterpiece portraying the dynamics of human relationships and glimpses of what goes on behind the scenes in the corridors of power.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What NOT to do this Valentine's Day

An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.
- Niels Bohr

I consider myself an expert in matters of the heart. I have given loads of people advice in all kinds of different situations. It’s another matter that most of them never actually used my advice, so there is no way of knowing how effective it is. But, I have surely made all the mistakes that can be made (and some more) in this not-so-narrow field. I will not bore you with the common amateur mistakes. Here is an example of me going overboard with the ‘being different’ mantra. I bet you never thought of this way to court a girl’s attentions.

A few Valentine’s days back, I sent a mail to a friend I had a crush on and wanted to impress after an evening walk with her.


As we were talking the other evening, you mentioned how guys are essentially the ‘same’; in the sense that ALL of them view girls as sex objects. When I heard it, I had trouble accepting it. So, I decided to ask some of my friends.

ALL guys accepted, without any sense of shame, that when they looked at a girl, they did ‘a quick overview of her physical characteristics’. But all of them decried it being characterised as ‘objectifying’, the common refrain being that it is a ‘natural instinct’. So, I guess you were right. Guys do ‘objectify’ girls in some sense of the term. There was none - including those who have never watched any kind of pornography - who said he looked for the girl’s personality before the appearance. All our ‘reasons’ for this behaviour can be easily seen as superficial justifications.

But is this behaviour so unacceptably profane?

Is there no difference between how a common lewd man in the bus stop stares unabashedly or passes comments, and how decent (if I might use the word, for the lack of any other adjective) guys who just size up a member of the opposite sex in a quick, if not furtive, glance? If you actually feel that even the glance is obscene, we all feel you have got it all wrong. Being the fairer sex, it is quite natural for you to be gauged on your ‘fairness’. Arguing with this logic leaves no common meeting point.

All of us have outspoken contempt for the vulgar looks or snide comments that you have to endure, day in and out. If you can trust me on this, none of the guys I know of does it or even defends those engaging in it. But, to paint all men as vulgar is to miss the fine line separating us from them. It indeed appears as if most men do it. But, that perception is purely because extreme behaviour always gets noticed. How would you feel if we characterised all girls as superficial and supercilious? It is a common perception here in the hostel. But we understand it cannot be a generalisation.

How is viewing girls as purely sex objects any different from your prejudice against all men? Both thoughts stem from the complete non-comprehension of the other gender’s psyche. If we can try and comprehend the problems you face, I think it is not difficult for your Machiavellian intellect to understand our just aspersions for being quashed between a vulgar majority of male chauvinists and the feminist ideologue.

Please, not all of us are like that. All of my friends agreed that though ‘checking out’ precedes anything else, it is a prelude for us, not at all THE most important aspect. It is true, even if you do not believe it. We are not as narrow-minded as that.

Not the typical Valentine’s Day mail, I know. But keeping in mind the efforts of Saint Valentine, I think it is essential for both guys and prejudiced and disgruntled girls to discuss such issues together, rather than in their respective bastions. Be it the boy’s hostel or Gargi College.

I was so proud of my effort, that I sat back and admired it for a few minutes before pressing the send button. I imagined how guys all over the world will applaud the sentiment expressed in such an eloquent fashion. I was sure the girl in question will be struck by my clarity of thought and quality of expression.

Needless to say, the two of us never got together.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Sutra to the Perfect Gift

Glenn had his birthday coming up. I called up everyone to seek ideas for an appropriate gift. In vain. "He has everything!" was one exasperated opinion. Some thought out of the box and came up with really practical gifts like skate-boards. I gave up and went straight to the mall with Arjun, hoping to spot something.

At the mall, we hacked around for the 'right' gift. Although books were ruled out initially, we gravitated to the book store as a last resort. After sifting through countless books, we were still clueless.

I had quite a reputation to maintain in office. After buying many 'right' gifts, I could not afford to lose the plot now.

While selecting a gift, there are three things I look for:

- Would s/he like it?

- Would it be a talking point?

- Would it cost within 800 bucks (our usual budget)?

So I sat down and went back to the basics. What would Glenn like? What would all men like? Well, that wasn't a possible gift. So, what else? While I was thinking aloud, Arjun came up with the clincher - Kama Sutra!!

Now, we could have sought the help of the store-keeper but thought it will be more fun to try to find it ourselves. We had no clue how difficult it was going to get.

First, I tried the Indian Fiction section. It was the closest and it was possible that some idiot put it there, considering it is 'Indian' after all, if not exactly fiction.

Right next to it, was the Indian Performing Arts section. Surely, it should have been here. That would have been most appropriate. I mean no collection on performing arts will be complete without a guide to the art of performing THE act.

It wasn't there in the Science section either. This really disappointed me as I had always approached the subject as a Science with a lot of theory but little practice.

After going through the Reference section (without success), I went to the Graphic Novels. Since I had seen 'Kama Sutra' titled books before, I was sure they indeed fit the description of being 'Graphic'.

Coming to the Self-Improvement section, I was reminded of an India Today cover page article on how a vast number of marriages break down due to problems in the bedroom. But I guess the store-owner had not read it and did not deem it necessary to delve into self-exploration and improvement.

Finally, I found it in the Health and Fitness section. This really pissed me off. I mean Kama Sutra has nothing directly to do with either Health or Fitness. If it was put under a category with such flimsy logic, it could have easily been under any of the other sections I looked at!

Anyway, Glenn was pretty pleased with the gift and he has agreed to have a knowledge transfer session soon.

PS - Arjun and I have announced voluntary retirement from picking any more birthday gifts. We shall offer our opinion purely as consultants and on a case-to-case basis. We wanted to hang up the ribbons on a high

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Happy New Year*

January 1, 2009 Midnight

I could not think of starting the New Year in any other way. I am not a great fan of New Year celebrations – my rational mind tells me it’s just like another day, with a fancy name. But, maybe it’s important for the populace to give hope for a new prosperous year. Its almost like people believe a mere increment in the date will get rid of the soiled baggage of the past. I empathize with them. It may not be logical but its about hope and getting motivated. Starting over.

Of course, it’s no surprise that most people live in continuity from the previous year and little changes. But the New Year’s frolic provides, apart from windfalls to the cellular and greeting card companies, a push against inertia.

Hope is particularly relevant this year, with recession at a global scale ominous in its imminence, diminishing savings, nose-diving investment and impeding the relentless ‘progress’ of human endeavour. Jobs are not secure, banks are not secure. So life, as we know it, is not secure.

The New Year also brings Barack Obama to the White House. The whole world waits for him to ‘waive’ his wand for all problems to disappear. Wonder what he can do for my love life.

from my journal