Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bangalore Skies

The only way I could see a grey sky in Bangalore.

Mma Ramotswe's Bush Tea?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I turn the key warily and push the door open. It doesn't creak. The television isn't blaring film music. The kitchen doesn't resound with the clang of vessels and the gush of water in the sink. No conversations are to be unwillingly overheard. I walk up the steps slowly, my bag slipping off my shoulder of its own volition. I peep up the banister at the door to my room. It is closed and there is no sliver of light underneath. I heave a sigh of relief and say a thank-you prayer to the goddess of my room.

I come 'home' to an empty house. Or do I?

She is there. My roommate with her hundred moods per minute. Locked in with me, gregarious one moment, crotchety the next. She wages a battle with her unwholesome thoughts- they refuse to be suppressed. She isn't a separate entity; she is just that part of me that stubbornly tries to sap and enervate me. My saner self wins- not always, but tonight, victory is mine, not the impostor's.

The bed, covered with an uncharacteristic pale pink sheet, is strewn with books. Charlotte Bronte, Friedrich Nietzsche, JD Salinger- who will speak to my soul today? My fingers hover over Villette- and then I gingerly pick up Franny and Zooey.

"I'm not afraid to compete," says Franny. What do I say? I cannot think. I like Franny's confidence, though- even if she persists in moving her lips in prayer whose effectiveness is yet to be proved.

I am still alone, and an immense wave of peace- misplaced?- washes over me.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Scarlet Clouds over Bahrain

If the Bahrain Grand Prix were an indication of things to come, then we indeed have a tremendously exciting season to look forward to.

A desert might be an unlikely location for a Formula One circuit, but the Sakhir circuit is vindication of the emergence of Asia as a strong market for motorsports. The season-opener today lived up to its expectations, setting the stage for what should surely be an extremely competitive year. Ferrari asserted their supremacy after a lacklustre 2009, Fernando Alonso taking the chequered flag in his first ever race with the Italian team. Teammate Felipe Massa, driving in his first race since his dangerous crash in Hungary, came in second, with Lewis Hamilton finishing third for McLaren.

The race could well have been Sebastian Vettel's but for the exhaust problems that forced him down the order after a decent start; he finished fourth. Alonso, starting on the clean side of the track and slotting in second ahead of Massa at the beginning of the race, lost no time in taking advantage of Red Bull's reliability issues, going past Vettel, followed presently by Massa and Hamilton. Mercedes put in a strong showing, Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher finishing fifth and sixth respectively. Schumacher wasn't quite his old self, and being overshadowed by his younger teammate is certainly not something he will take sitting down; flashes of his genius should come through sooner or later. Reigning drivers' champion Jenson Button came home seventh.

The first corner saw all the twenty-four cars come through relatively unscathed; Mark Webber locked up, spewing a stream of smoke across the track, and Adrian Sutil's Force India made contact with the Renault of Robert Kubica, but they managed to stay in the race, dropping to the bottom of the chart. Force India did manage to make it into the points, though, with Vitantonio Liuzzi's ninth-place finish. They are possibly the best of the midfield teams at the moment, with an unchanged line-up from last year. Webber finished eighth, with Rubens Barrichello rounding off the top ten.

The rookie teams struggled as expected. Karun Chandhok was out of the race almost as soon as it began; his teammate Bruno Senna didn't finish the race either. The Hispania Racing Team wouldn't have had any grand expectations from the race, but they definitely have a lot of work to do- there is a separate race at the bottom, with fellow first-timers Lotus Racing and Virgin Racing having put in a bit of testing already and not quite as raw as HRT. Lotus managed to finish the race, which should give them some confidence to build upon. But it just wasn't a day for the rookie drivers- Vitaly Petrov, Russia's first F1 driver, went into the pits, never to exit; Nico Hulkenberg spun heavily but managed to keep his Williams going, finishing in a creditable fourteenth place.

Some of the questions doing the rounds after the regulation changes have now been put to rest. The ban on refuelling during the race saw the fastest pit-stops happen under five seconds; we're probably going to miss the sudden fires, stuck fuel nozzles and falling pit mechanics. Safety car periods may also not have a considerable effect on pit-stops; in the past, the pit lane used to be the busiest part of the circuit whenever the safety car was out, but with tyre changes being the only priority now, it will be interesting to see what sort of pit strategies are employed. With only eight engines being allowed for the nineteen races this season, drivers will have to pamper their cars, especially considering that all the races will be started under a full fuel load- everything boiling down to reliability and skill, as usual.

The juggernaut rolls into Melbourne shortly; Ferrari currently lead the pack, but with four teams being touted as championship contenders this season, the wind can blow just any which way.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bahrain, Here We Come!

Say hello to the 2010 Formula One season.

Starting this weekend, another set of intrigues will be set into motion. Formula One has by no means been bereft of excitement of late; unpredictability was quite its hallmark last season, with an unlikely drivers' champion in Jenson Button. 2010, of course, will again see a number of drivers vying for the crown. Sebastian Vettel will be looking to avenge his loss from 2009, while Lewis Hamilton and fellow Brit Button- both in McLarens- will look to go one up on each other as they take a shot at a second title. McLaren will sure have its hands full with two ambitious drivers at the helm.

Ferrari, pretty impressive in testing, will go all out to recapture their lost glory. Felipe Massa, returning from injury, is bound to jostle with Ferrari newcomer Fernando Alonso- the Latin line-up is already raising eyebrows, and of course, we're all geared up for a fight.

The transition from the last season to this has by no means been placid- even into the last week before the season kicks off, teams are announcing their line-ups. US F1 has run into troubled waters and Campos Meta F1 has undergone revamping even before the start of the season, renamed Hispania Racing as a result of the takeover by a majority stakeholder. Karun Chandhok finally makes a breakthrough- albeit without any F1 testing experience under his belt- pairing up with GP2 teammate and Ayrton Senna's nephew, Bruno. This certainly won't be a team to look out for, but Chandhok's entry does mark an increased Indian presence in F1. The mythical Indian Grand Prix keeps alive its hunt for an auspicious season to make its launch in, but the interest in the sport should now be palpable- the Sports Ministry certainly doesn't have its eyes in the right place if it still continues to ignore this lucrative market.

Lotus Racing and Virgin F1 are the other teams kicking their F1 campaign off this season. Curious, isn't it, how airline magnates find themselves strongly attracted to motor racing. Tony Fernandez and Richard Branson already have a bet on (bound to be extremely embarrassing for the one who loses) about which of their teams will perform better, but that's a different story. Vijay Mallya, in the meantime, continues his ambitious drive to the midfield. Force India had a reasonably good season, earning their first podium position, and they will look to garner a few more, which, of course, is by no means going to be a walk in the park.

Formula One has created quite a bit of off-season news, with the rigorous shuffling and curious pairings keeping the recently renewed interest alive. However, it isn't just the juggling and the newcomers that are grabbing attention. Comebacks are the new rage in sport in general, and when the man who gave F1 its tag of 'predictability' and often frustrated certain fans with his clinical precision decides to stage a return, speculation is definitely rife and armchair experts discover a new adrenaline surge. Michael Schumacher returns from retirement- or call it a sabbatical- at the wheel of former mentor Ross Brawn's Mercedes team. Discussing his devotion to the sport would mean merely stating the obvious; what we now have to look forward to is a season of fireworks, and the arsenal of weapons he deploys against much younger rivals. Interestingly, his teammate is another German, Nico Rosberg, who has already made clear his intentions of not letting awe get the better of him as he drives alongside a much-decorated driver. Mercedes will definitely enjoy a lot of home support, as will McLaren.

Teams and drivers apart, the new rules and points systems will have a huge say in the way the results pan out. With twelve teams on the grid this season, the number of positions being awarded points has gone up to ten. Major rule changes include the use of narrower front tyres, no refuelling during the race- think blink-and-you-miss-them pitstops, heavier cars (though KERS is not going to be used). All is neatly wrapped up now, though, and we're extremely close to Bahrain and a massive rush of testosterone- which, sadly, it is going to be limited to; rumours or not, Danica Patrick is definitely not making her debut in F1 this year.

2009 witnessed a lot of trouble- the fracas over cost-cutting and the FOTA mess almost led to the formation of a new breakaway league. However, Mr. Ecclestone, with his inimitable suavity, has managed to rein in things yet again. The teams kissed and made up, and while budget considerations still cause a few pangs off and on, the testing flexibility allowed to teams that adhere to the budget cap should put some demons to rest.

This season will see the launch of yet another Asian track. South Korea makes its debut on the F1 calendar, and we'll just have to wait till to see what marvel Hermann Tilke has managed to come up with this time around. He pulled off a stunner at Abu Dhabi, and expectations will inevitably be high.

The weekend is almost here- so unfasten your seat-belts and chuck the earplugs away. Let the bloodbath begin!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

What does India read?

Has India really reached the nadir in terms of good reading? Going by this article, we actually have, and if we do not change the way our people read, pronto, there isn't much hope for the future of books. It is true that Chetan Bhagat has taken the markets over like no other Indian writer has been able to do in recent times, and it doesn't bode well for our literary traditions.

However, I do find this article a little exaggerated, because we enjoy all kinds of reading. It didn't go down very well with me, because we have varied tastes in reading, and the classics in India are definitely not dead. (And an article that mentions a certain "PJ Wodehouse" definitely raises eyebrows.)

'Mr. Singh's statement of their target audience being "single working woman who has money in her hands, the liberty to read, no responsibilities yet, no husband, children" reeks of sexism. I am a middle-class woman who would fit the bill perfectly, and so are many of my friends, but we do not necessarily depend on Mills & Boon for literary sustenance (and no, we're not literature students). Give us literature, imagery and brilliant writing any day, because we revel in the language and would rather exercise our brains than choose to entertain ourselves with potboilers of the Bollywood kind. I don't know if the reference to a particular sex is intentional, but I am interested in what middle-class Indian men choose to read- they're also a market, aren't they? We aren't desperate women trying to find succour and food for our imagination in saccharine, sappy love stories.'

(This is an extract from an email I have sent to the books editor of the Guardian. I am interested in how well researched this article is- have all these conclusions been drawn just from a visit to one book fair and interviews with the publishers who sell cheaper, more readable books?)

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Picture This

If I've been to two movies in two successive days, something is definitely wrong with the Universe. It also probably means total abstention from cinema for a minimum of six months. Spoilers aplenty ahead, so discretion is recommended.

My last movie at a theatre, before these mishaps occurred, was 500 Days of Summer during my last week in Singapore. How breezy and delightful it was! Sanity ruled then.

I saw Karthik Calling Karthik yesterday with friends. Utter joblessness and boredom were the reasons that drove me to it; everytime Deepika was on screen, I felt like I was watching an advertisement. Farhan, well, I didn't find him remarkable, and schizophrenia came as a dampening conclusion to what I was expecting to be a thriller- I wouldn't even have minded a supernatural story. The messages Farhan left himself seemed too contrived to have been recorded in hazy moments when the subconscious took control.

This afternoon came the turn of Ye Maaya Chesave (What spell have you cast on me- roughly translated), the Telugu version of the much-talked about movie Vinnai Thandi Varuvaaya (Will you cross the sky to come to me, more rougly translated). It started out as a grave, honest attempt to portray the regular religious tangles of young lovers' parents (because, of course, the kids are head over heels in love and don't mind anything at all), finally degenerating into a total farce. If the lovers did have to elope at the end of three years, they might as well have done it in the beginning and saved us all the trouble. The 'hero' resembles an infatuated little puppy, swearing to wait eternally for his mistress- sorry, Lady Love- the expression of a village idiot perpetually affixed on his face. The girl is pretty, bats her eyelids, frowns when she is angry, dresses well, goes to work, but can hardly ever make an important decision- which, to me, negates all the other advantages put together. The defining moment of the movie (sorry, couldn't find a less grandiose term) arrives when he asks her to marry him, because a few years on, she might say that the right moment passed them by and he didn't act, like she did a few years earlier. He describes how this beautiful girl who doesn't wear make-up (yeah, right- tell that to someone who actually doesn't wear make-up) rules his heart. Sigh. Lovesick people of this sort make you revel in your state of single blessedness. The only engrossing parts were the ones containing the rapid Malayalam conversations- I couldn't read the Telugu subtitles fast enough- so it was left to my Tamizh skills to try and decipher the wrathful discussions. I am glad quite a bit of the movie was shot in Kerala. Alleppey is enchanting, and I have found yet another place to add to my bucket list (when I do begin creating one).

The ordeal dispensed with, we wandered around Big Bazaar, and for once, I found something sensible there- 70% off on certain books. There weren't too many interesting titles on display, but we did find a couple of now out-of-print copies of Richmal Compton's William books. There were a number of copies of (by admission) an unauthorised biography of Hugh Grant- apparently, they haven't found any buyers. I picked up Alexander McCall Smith's The Kalahari Typing School for Men; Ice-Candy-Man by Bapsi Sidhwa (my first Pakistani writer); Thomas Hardy's Life's Little Ironies; Once Upon A Tender Time by Carl Muller (my first Sri Lankan author). A motley little collection, don't you think? All for the princely sum of Rs. 250. What a fruitful afternoon.

PS: This is my first ever post with the tag 'Cinema'.