Friday, June 24, 2005

Then and Now

2 years back the conversations that we (2512,ferry & 1619, crest) had were predominantly about movies, 'attractive' women in movies and real life, sports and very rarely politics. There also used to be passionate debates about whether Windows or Mac had the better GUI sprinkled with fiery onslaughts on how Linux was way better compared to Windows, vice versa. Well, "people who know me", I know you are a little dazed to hear that I participated in these techno geek debates. Let me assure you the only part I played was to separate the bickering parties (K & C) from killing each other. Most of the non-geek conversations usually end up with about 6 guys ganging up on one poor tortured soul who would be a little too adventurous to adopt a slightly different stance on an issue which would predictably end up in teasing the living day lights out of him.

A week back I almost choked on my coffee when I heard D talking about how he had offered his dad some suggestions on cutting down costs on a house they were building back in India. Well D is the kinduv guy who lives for the present and to put it mildly the only planning that he does in life is ensuring that there is toilet paper in the toilet before he goes to crap. I imagined that 'Saving for a rainy day' was something that D could never do. I guess I should never form opinions because people change as circumstances change. Never hurts to change for the better. Now,mostly all the talk in the house centers on comparing job offers, possibilities of doing a Phd., the H-1B regulations and future plans. Never remembered the last time when I was so serious. Infact all I do now is take advice or give advice [the latter is so much easier ;) ].

Friday, June 10, 2005

Insecurities of a Middle Aged Indian Expatriate- Part 3

Appan while opening the door to Dr. Hassan's office was thinking about his interview with Neyveli Lignite Corporation. It was his first job interview after graduation and he was terribly nervous, so nervous that while going into the room he tripped on the 'welcome' mat and fell down. The interviewer, a balding, middle aged Tamil Iyer, managed to lighten up Appan by remarking "Son, looks like you have fell into the right place." That line somehow eased the pressure on Appan and he managed to perform the interview decently well to get that job which guarateed him 160 rupees a month plus a home allowance of 60 rupees. Uncomplicated times where the stakes were lower, Appan thought. On entering the room, Appan saw that Dr. Hassan was talking rapidly in Arabic on his cell phone. He motioned Appan to take a seat. Appan didn't know enough Arabic to follow the doctor's conversation but he could clearly make out that Hassan was unhappy. Appan was closely scrutinizing Hassan's appearance. He looked a dapper young man, extremely fit, probably a shade short of 6. Then, Appan shifted his attention to Hassan's office, a neatly arranged shelf containing a lot of medical books. Appan was wondering how many of those books would have been read completely.

"The Doctor who previously occupied this office got too bored with those books that he left them here, I haven't read a single one, if thats what you were thinking of. I prefer reading lighter things." Hassan motioned to the Tintin comic lying on the table in the far corner of the room.

Appan, as expected was startled by Hassan's sudden interruption and his eyes followed Hassan's hands to the comic book which immediately brought a smile to his beleagured face. Probably, the first time his lips curled skywards through out the day.

"So, Mr. uh uh (bending down to get Appan's file from the cabinet) ah there it is, Mr.Uhppaaan. Did I get that right? Is it Uhppaaan? "

Yeah, thats perfect."

Appan stopped caring about how people pronounced his name 15 years back, the day he set foot on this country. But it still became increasingly difficult to keep track of the different pronunciations despite his name being all of 5 letters. Hassan was deep in thought as he leafed through Appan's file. That made Appan a little nervous and Appan was doing the best a waiting patient could do, think about what the Doctor would eventually say, " Appan, I am going to SEE you in entirety. Lets do an X-ray, CT scan and an Ultrasound to nail that tumour and send you home "

Before Appan could think of other creative lines, Hassan remarked

" Man, this file is so ancient that I need to take it to Egypt and put it in the Giza Pyramid where it should rightfuly belong. I have to get some new files into this place."

Appan looked clearly offended, and it showed on his face. So much so that Hassan realized his folly immediately and moved on to the next topic.

"So Sir how long have you been in the country?"

Appan realized that the sudden deference was because of the fact that Hassan saw his date of birth on the file.

"About 15 years."

"Thats, quite a long time."

Appan, didn't like how this conversation was shaping up. Appan knew he was old and the hints that this young doctor was dropping weren't getting any subtler. First the file now this what next?


Appan was almost about to say "You must have been in diapers when I started my career ." just like how those ageing hollywood stars with oozing sex appeal would say it with a toothy grin. But, Appan knew he neither had the sex appeal nor a multi million dollar pay check to back that line up.

" Sir, I have 10 more minutes for a coffee break. And, I have a pounding headache so I think I would be needing twice as much of turkish coffee of what I usually consume."

Appan couldn't believe his luck, if he made some coffee for this arrogant bastard he would be off the hook. Poor Chapparwal and Sen, but for a coffee they could have kept their jobs. But there seemed to be a minor problem, he didn't know how to make Turkish coffee nor did Vasantha. Coffee for a career, a governement doctor in India would have asked for a lot more. These guys have a lot to learn about making most of an opportunity.

Hassan continued, "So what do you say we head down to the cafeteria take a premature break and then call it quits. My treat."

Appan was perplexed, so does that mean he is medically unfit even before the health checkup. If that were the case Appan was quickly thinking of the different lawyers he should approach.The sad part was that he didn't know any, the disadvantages of being a law abiding resident.

"What about my Medical test ?"

Hassan gave Appan a wicked smile.

"You are perfectly fine, you just had a test 2 years back. You are good for another year. They have changed the rules, its now once in three years and not two. I think someone messed up somewhere and didn't realize that you are good for a year."

Appan couldn't believe his ears and was speechless. He already started making a list of dos and donts. No more Heinekens, Yoga classes, No more unnecessary spending, Save a lot more for Sanjana's wedding, Start looking for grooms for Sanjana, maybe its time for him to dye his hair like Ghelot and coverup a few years.....

"Mr. Uhppaaan, are you alright?"

Appan immediatley snapped himself out of his reverie and blurted out, " I am perfectly fine doctor, lets go to the Cafeteria "

While on their way to the Cafeteria, Appan was thinking what could have possibly happened if he had given the health test. He mentally made note of approaching a private health center and getting a complete check up done, he didn't mind spending the money because he really wanted to know how healthy he is. He is not getting any younger, checkups and medication might be as regular a feature as paying phone bills. Appan strangely realized that the days of offering a silent prayer to Tirupati for his well being and the token 100 rupees in the Hundi has gone by.

The cafeteria was overcrowded and Hassan shouted over the din to Appan saying

"Ironically, the owner can never pray for the health and well being of his countrymen because that would mean he would have to close his Cafeteria."

"Coming to think of it you can't too."

Hassan laughed heartily

"Well said Mr. Uhppaaan. So what will you have, you should try the Turkish coffee?"

"I don't drink anything caeffinated, I think I will have Tomato juice, a rich source of anti-oxidants you know." (Concluded)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Review: Cinderella Man

Cinderella Man Posted by Hello

First up, I always thought it was Cindrella until I went for the 9:50 pm screening of Cinderella Man at a local theater. Okay, I am not being completely honest here. Once I saw the title on the screen, I thought the they made a typo. Jeez these guys make 100 million dollar movies and they misspelt Cindrella. 13 year old 'Indian' kids could have easily got that right. Its an unwritten rule here, if you are 13 and you are of Indian origin you must either be a spelling bee champ or a math olympiad winner. I was so confident that I googled cindrella just to confirm how stupid Universal Studios and Imagine Entertainment were. And no surprises gentlemen, google returned did you mean cinderella?, it was yet another unpleasant reminder from the higher ups that cockiness and a fresh grad like me are like Ganguly and runs. Secondly, about a year back when I read that Ron Howard was making a movie called Cinderella Man with Crowe, all I could think was, why a girlie movie after movies like Gladiator.
After seeing the movie, I would have to thank the cast and crew of Cinderella Man for helping me realize that even though I am Indian and 23, I am not a spelling bee champ and it also reminded me once again that Crowe=Testosterone. Well actually, I have to rephrase that, Crowe is not all Testosterone, this role has given him ample scope to emote like he did in 'A Beautiful Mind'. Alright, now its time to give you an idea about what I thought about the movie. Although, I have to forewarn you dear readers, if I like something I tend to over glorify it to such an extent that I become an unpaid PR. So spend your 7 dollars wisely, Revenge of the Sith could be a safer bet as it could atleast make you qualify for the "oh I am so cool because I know star wars" club.
Cinderella Man is a biopic about an American boxer James Braddock in the depression era. Russell Crowe lives and breathes the role of James Braddock. Braddock a New Jersey native is a 2 time state boxing champion and is also known as the 'bulldog from Bergen' before he got the more famous sobriquet of 'Cinderella Man' for all the amazing upsets that he manged to pull of on his way to the heayweight title. Braddock is happily married to Mae Braddock, very ably portrayed by Renee Zellweger. Renee definitely looks thinner compared to the last time I saw her in Bridget Jones. Her role as a boxers wife seemed to remind me a little of Talia Shire from Rocky. James and Mae have three kids and a lovely house in Jersey. The movie begins with Braddock pummeling yet another opponent. His Manager Joe Gould played stupendously by Paul Giamatti minus the beard (the guy who starred in Sideways) pays Braddock 8000 odd dollars for winning the fight and also tells him that he would soon get a shot at the Heavy weight title. Paul Giamatti's presence could have easily gone unnoticed considering the fact that he was sharing screen space with an actor like Crowe, but Giamatti at timesmanages to steal the thunder from Crowe with his amazing dialogue delivery and realistic portrayal of a fidgety manager.
A little while later the movie cuts to the year 1932, the depression era. The Braddocks's residence doesnt resemble anything like the sprawling house that they had in Jersey. Instead its a rundown shack like apartment where the Braddocks struggle to pay their bills, drink watered down milk and dream of good food. Braddock's boxing career is almost nonexistent after a couple of defeats in 1929. Braddock loses all his money on the stock exchange and works as a labourer at the docks. But his job is not entirely permanent as there are many days where he would have to sit on the bench. Braddock decides to fight for a 50 dollar purse inspite of his broken hand so that he could pay the pending gas and electric bills and keep his children warm and safe from pneumonia. The fight tuns out to be a no contest and such an embarassment in the eyes of the president of the boxing commission that he decides to revoke Braddock's boxing license. Mae sends the kids to her parents house so that they could atleast stay warm. By now you would be thinking, ok another weepie sob story.But Howard doesn't let the movie wallow in self pity. Instead he intersperses the hoplessness with very strong emotional scenes that portrays Braddock's never say die attitude and how he served as a beacon of hope to his compatriots in the those testing times. The latter half of the movie is about how Braddock gets a second chance to box and how he clings on to it because he realizes that he is no longer boxing for fame or fortune but for milk, electricity and other basic amenities. I wouldn't call it a typical rags to riches sports movie because there are many other things that this movie has to offer.
Three Scenes that I thought were fabulously directed and wonderfuly acted are as follows:
1) Braddock's son steals a salami from the grocer. Braddock takes his son back to the grocer and retuns the salami. His son then lets him know about how the kid next door was sent to his aunts house because his dad couldn't pay the bills. Braddock assures the kid that he would never let something like that happen. Its a very powerful scene that tells you how depression could delve past the psyche of kids and create a sense of insecurity in their fragile minds.
2) The scene where Braddock takes the shoe polish and brush when his wife tells him that he can't find work because of his broken hand.
3) This is the best of the lot. Braddock is portrayed as a dignified man with self respect. But when his wife sends the kids to her fathers because of Braddock's inability to pay the electric bills, Braddock swallows his pride and goes to the 'relief for the homeless' to get some money. He still falls short and decides to go to the Boxing commission and ask his friends for some money. On his way to the commission he sees a man and a woman walking out of a store with expensive clothes and getting themselves into a car. You can immediately sense what must be going on in Braddocks mind. 4 years back he would have been walking on this very same street in that mans expensive shoes. He walks into the commission office and explains his plight and makes his hat a makeshift begging bowl. That particular moment hits you really hard and can make the toughest of nuts to crack. Joe Gould's eyes become moist when he sees his once illustrious friend been reduced to such depths and drops the required money into the hat. Braddock cries and says that he is so sorry and Gould wipes the tears and says that there is no reason why he should be sorry for. Superlative acting and I am curious to know if that really happened or if the story writer just thought that the scene would look good.The director should be commended for the way he has deftly handled the scene. It brilliantly captures the emotional turmoil that a once wealthy man would be going through when he charters the unfamiliar territory of turning to his friends for money for survival.

There are other scenes that are so wonderfully executed that it reminds you about what life would have been for the people of that era. Like for example after Braddock makes it big in his second innings as a boxer he dines in an expensive restaurant and the waiter clears Braddocks plate even though it has a piece of steak. Braddock politely lets the waiter know that he still hasn't finished. Mae even secretly wraps her leftover pieces in a napkin to take it back home. It reminded me of my grand mother when she took the sugar, salt, spoons and forks from the aircraft on her first plane trip when she came to vist me in Bahrain. She always used to tell me that I should not waste a morsel of rice because she has been through such hard times when she never knew what she would feed her children for the next meal. She jokingly called it the 'next meal planning' commission. I callously waste food as I have grown up in a world of surpluses. Movies like these and the painting of how a vulture is waiting to make meal of a kid that is clinging on towards the last straw of life, makes me aware of my good fortune. I consciously make sure that I dont waste anything for the next few days. But as expected the resolve slowly vanishes just like all my other resolutions. However, like how a smoker promises that this one is going to be his last one, I am not going to waste any more food.
There are some negatives in the movie as well.
1. The heavy weight champion Max Baer is portrayed as a villain in the movie. He is depicted just like the archetypal villain: over confident, arrogant and loud (yeah just like Mogambo from Mr. India). I dont know if that was how Max Baer was really like. Maybe Ron Howard would have been tempted to spice things to up so that he could bring an interesting lead up to the climax.
2. There are instances where Braddock tells his friend Mike Wilson that forming unions is not going to solve problems that have been caused by greed. Later on in the movie Mike Wilson dies in Central Park in what I think was an anti-establishment and pro communism rally. Did the director really have to glorify Capitalism over Communism in a movie where the central theme was the resurrection and triumph of a man who was not long ago down and out ?
3. Unecessary jump cuts during the otherwise well choreographed fight scenes.
4. A few corny and cliched dialogues here and there.

On the whole the positives outnumber the negatives. In my opinion this movie is worth the money. The amazing duo of Crowe and Howard have once again delivered a film that can proudly stand toe to toe with its illustrious predecessor 'A Beautiful Mind'.
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