Wednesday, June 30, 2010

v for verisimilitude

One of the many videos over at NDTV's portal confirms the following:
  1. despite the fervent attempts of those who wish to preserve the dignity of subjective and objective pronouns, who is soon set to acquire whom with all its assets and promptly effect a reduction in force to stand alone to represent subjects and objects
  2. date joins the list of unfortunate verbs in danger of losing their status as transitive verbs (unless those who made this headline were trying to imply that Sonam Kapoor was working on an archaeological project)
  3. NDTV, like Rediff, is guilty of manufacturing quotes that make catchy headlines and attribute them to the helpless speaker in the article or video

Saturday, June 26, 2010

the first casualty is language

Predators, the "reboot" of the Predator franchise is all set to hit theatres on July 09. It's produced by Robert Rodriguez and directed by Nimród Antal (who made familiar genre material engrossing and suspenseful in Vacancy). It's got Danny Trejo, whose face alone tells several stories. It's got Laurence Fishburne looking more like Mohanlal than the skinny Tyron Miller from Apocalypse Now. There's a lot of material up to whet your appetite until the big deal shows up at the marquee. There's a lot of repeated footage and there's one line uttered by Danny Trejo that is likely to be more horrifying than anything the film has in store for you, especially if you cringe each time you hear someone uttering one of those incorrect verbs derived from nouns: Does this look like a team-orientated group of individuals to you?

this plan is stupid

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem is the second child of the marriage of the Alien and Predator franchises and continues to mine the field of prequels trying to set things up for the Weyland-Yutani corporation while exploring Darwinian evolution for the predatory species on display. This child works slightly better than the first one, which was a boring mindless disaster. But its success is not because of the people behind it managed something interesting like Freddy vs Jason. It's because of dialogue that's mostly uninspiring and sometimes funny (Eddie, people are dying; we need guns; I'm not getting killed for no $6.25 an hour); it's because of the tendency to introduce characters, generate some interest in them and get them bumped off (we sometimes find out the person's name after he/she has been reduced to carnage). The film also seems to offer lessons in morality and comeuppance in a rather bizarre way: A woman on TDY (an interesting gender twist offering a sop of empowerment) returns to her husband and daughter (who loves her father) and the mother/daughter relationship is too cold to mean anything; the mother is disappointed at the state of affairs; enter an attacking alien at night, who consumes the father, while the mother and daughter escape; Now mother and daughter will get a chance to bond and revive their relationship. If you are a fan of either franchise, you can spend your time nodding at the references. You can also sit and wonder if Dunnison, CO was chosen because of the beer cans labelled for Aspen, CO in Alien.

You may also notice that the Predator's entry once the aliens are loose on Earth owes a debt to the classic entry of the Terminator: Arnold Schwarzenegger played the Terminator and also played Alan "Dutch" Schaeffer, who survived the encounter with the Predator in Guatemala. Since this encounter technically occurs in the future, the makers of this film are probably suggesting that the Terminator also had something in common with the Predator. Perhaps the Predator transferred its katra to Schaeffer and he went on to sell his secrets to Cyberdyne, except he did it after he went through the witness protection programme and became Sergeant Candy. You see, it explains everything.

If you are not a fan (why the hell are you watching this then?), you can learn what a 10-66 is (radio code for a suspicious person), spot Nokia cellphones and posters for ICOM 756 PRO II. Aside from showcasing the Predalien as it evolves in life, this film really offers naught in the departments of engaging story, satisfying thrills and sartorial gore. It's all splatter and no guts. [January 31, 2009]

Sunday, June 20, 2010

rediff reviews: all words, no matter should consider hiring a competent editor for its movie reviews. It should also consider hiring some professional writers instead of bloggers. One of the many new additions over the weekend has been Pavithra Srinivasan's review of Raavanan. This review, as with several on the portal, doesn't offer much in content. It also does this with a strange choice of punctuation and the use of incomplete sentences -- a style more appropriate for amateur blogs -- and clichés. Here are a few examples of lazy writing that could have been fixed had there been a useful editorial presence involved. The original text is presented in italics.

But whether the movie satisfies the enormous hype it's generated story-wise, is something else, altogether
Had I edited this piece, I would have replaced it's with it has, simply because although the contraction it's is used for both it is and it has, I am more likely to read this as it is first, before figuring out that the writer meant it has. Note the adventurous use of the comma in a most inappropriate place.

The scene: The forested areas in the vicinity of Ambasamudram, or Megamalai, as it's so eloquently expressed in the local papers. Areas that are inaccessible to outsiders; only the local residents know the place; even then, its treacherous.
Note the use of incomplete sentences and the strange use of semi-colons. The incorrect use of its appears along with the correct it's (which now stands for it is). The last two fragments also seem to be predicated on the unproveable assertion that if the residents of a town or village know an area well, it no longer remains treacherous.

Intensely loyal to his people, his background is supposed to be a gory one.
As constructed, the sentence implies that his background was loyal to his people. The writer surely meant to convey two separate ideas and was driven by deadlines or laziness (or both) to combine them into a single senseless sentence.

There's a hurried song, "Kalvare", that shows her love for her husband and she does exhibit her loyalty to him throughout the film but it's does secondhand, in the way she resists Veera's attempts to subdue her.
One of the two uses of "does" in this extract is incorrect. I leave it to the erudite reader to determine which one that is.

Her dialogues are corny, artificially arrogant; one of her first lines is to taunt Veera with a recital that's so jarring you can barely believe it.
This fragment employs the word recital in a curious way. There is nothing in the review that helps you understand what recital the reviewer is referring to: a recital of music? a recital of verse? a narration of some other kind?

He's in character, sympathetic as the situation demands it, and comes across as realistic, despite the caricature-like portrayal.
This is another confusing line. If the actor is in character, how can the portrayal be caricature-like? Perhaps the reviewer means to suggest that this part is poorly written and the actor playing it improves things with his interpretation.

There are no twists and turns, nothing in the narration that shows intelligence leaving the viewer detached, with nothing to relate to.
This is a fragment that works better when spoken aloud with the appropriate pauses. The commas are misplaced and more than one sentence would have helped matters greatly.

Friday, June 18, 2010

the stars shine down: and down was where sheldon was headed

The 90s marked a decline in the quality of Sidney Sheldon's writing (something I noted not so long ago). He started with a sequel to one of his earlier successes. He followed that up with The Doomsday Conspiracy (post coming soon) and then The Stars Shine Down, another by-the-numbers tale of a strong woman who had tasted success, fame and power after a tough childhood and youth, after surviving a cruel world full of lascivious evil men. The book taught me what to do a Dun and Bradstreet on a firm meant, but made up for it with the Italian flashback, which was marked with the most violence I remember in any Sidney Sheldon book (take your pick from dismemberment of private parts, murder and rape -- not necessarily in that order, mind you). It's a pulpy page-turner with a twist you don't really care about. I leave you with yet another description of intimate achievement, as could only be written by Mr. Sheldon:

They were making love, and it was without a beginning or an ending, a river that swept him along faster and faster, and the tide began to pull at him, sucking him down and down, deeper and deeper, into a velvet darkness that exploded into a thousand stars. And the miracle was that it happened again, and once again, until he lay there panting and exhausted.

"I can't believe this," he said.

Same here.

movie morons

dear A P International,
I recently attempted to watch a DVD that you had supposedly produced -- it's hard to miss your name since you made sure that you stuffed several seconds of unskippable content as soon as the DVD player began playing the DVD. You made sure I looked at a bland (and occasionally gaudy) montage of your catalogue. I also like how you made sure that the DVD menu was not a simple one but a little movie in itself. I was so relieved to get to one of the items under it, but when I hit the Menu button on my remote control, I was quite shocked to be taken not to the main menu but back to your unskippable auto-fellating slideshow. Live long and prosper.

PS: Calling chapter one of the movie "starting of movie" was a stroke of pure genius.

PPS: needless to say, you were quite compliant with the rules of the Conglomerate of Indian DVD Makers in presenting your logo on the screen (bottom right, to be precise) during the songs (or "interludes" that appear to be songs). Unsubtle to the core. Evermore.

woe anglais

The sign on the truck that drove past the intersection included the words "fresh-baked cookies." Fresh-baked? Since when did adverbs (freshly) get replaced by adjectives and a hyphen (fresh-)?

Yahoo! Mail now shows me a column to the right called "Trending now"; I don't remember seeing trend used as a verb but Merriam-Webster confidently provides an entry for it. Coincidentally, there's an article dated today over at The Economist about this trend (no pun intended). It's titled verbing nouns; that's a nice title, but when did verb become a verb?

Monday, June 14, 2010

W: stone me twice

any kind of government will do, as long as it's a democracy

Oliver Stone's W. assembles a great cast led by a marvelleous performance by Josh Brolin as the worst American president in several years in a film that is remarkably restrained; in fact, if you considered Born on the Fourth of July, Platoon and Natural Born Killers as representative films of the director, you'd possibly be stupefied to find out that Stone had helmed this. This doesn't imply that W. was a terrible film. With a judicious mix of the present and flashbacks, interesting musical cues and research, Stone delivers the tale of a less-than-worthy son, who struggled hard to get out of his father's shadow and unfortunately strode into national politics despite knowing little to nothing about governing a nation. It's a muted horror story, especially for those who have lived through both his presidential terms. There's also humour and a sampling of the famous howlers that GWB delivered to the press. The film curiously works as an intimate look at famous figures from the outside. The distance is telling, because at the end I felt short-changed: I would have loved to see some balance for Thandie Newton's role as Condoleezza Rice, some more frames for Ellen Burstyn as Barbara Bush and perhaps a more intimate exploration of the man who seemed to succeed by pure determination and by being able to seem to endear to the hearts of many.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

are you afraid of the dark?: the whimper of whipped sheldon

Sidney Sheldon was one of those writers you had to read at some point growing up back home. He, along with Irving Wallace, Harold Robbins, Clive Cussler, Robin Cook and Robert Ludlum (to name just a few) marked a new phase of reading as you grew up. You had graduated from reading The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (it's the same blessed syndicate, so don't start getting wise about boys reading adventure books meant for girls; besides, there were guys who devoured everything that came from Mills and Boon). His books were easy to read, peppered with mercifully brief passages demonstrating that the author had done some background research, seasoned with twists and topped with the occasional scene of intimacy (referred to in most publicity blurbs as "steamy s*x scenes"). Given the prudish state of education back home, you often got a lesson in anatomy thanks to Messrs. Sheldon, Wallace and Robbins.

Then you graduated to the next milestone of reading and left Sheldon's books behind. Years later, you experienced a moment of nostalgia and were tempted to take a look at the books, which entertained you as you were growing up. But you had grown up, you had read more, you had read about these authors, you had read about the structure of popular writing and you had also developed a certain withdrawn suspicion of the stuff that had entertained you -- you had "realised" how manipulative some of it had been. But you still yielded to temptation and picked up a few of those old page-turners.

Are You Afraid of the Dark? is one of only two novels by Sheldon published in the 2000s. It also ended up being his last book. Unfortunately, it did not offer any hope for the quality of writing, which has begun a steep descent in the 90s (coincidentally, this was the time I had stopped reading his stuff, otherwise the disappointment would have been severe enough to dispel any nostalgia several years later). The novel packs the familiar tropes (conspiracy, women protagonists -- a Sheldon trademark, twists, intimacy) along with sloppy writing and some outrageous howlers that would be more at home in sophomoric writing than in something written by the man who wrote The Naked Face. One wonders the "invaluable contribution" of his assistant Mary Langford, to whom special thanks go in the opening, involved writing most of this book (Sheldon was about 87 years old at the time and I wonder just how much writing he actually got done). Here's an extract from chapter 32 (page 235):

When they walked in, Diane went to the card vending machine
to purchase an hour of Internet access.
When she came back, Kelly said, "Where do we start?"
"Let's ask the computer."
They found an empty cubicle and sat down.
Kelly watched as Diane logged on to the Internet. "What happens now?"
"First we do a Google search to find the names of the other victims who were employees of KIG."
Diane typed "" and then typed in her search criteria: "obituary" and "KIG."

Why do I think this stinks? Perhaps because it just seems so amateur (I wasn't expecting William Gibson or Neal Stephenson, mind you).

Having our leading ladies use the names of famous writers (Emily Brönte, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary Cassatt) makes sense only in a world where such names would not raise suspicion. The book isn't without its moments. I liked how the sequence where Diane and Kelly argue and hate each other's guts worked like a sequence between the leads in a buddy film (since Sheldon loves to put women in the lead, he could have done a Thelma and Louise but he decides to try Lethal Weapon with Melanie Gibson and Danielle Glover). I also liked the little surprise at the end of chapter 41 but the xylocaine in Chapter 43 destroys it. The two ladies unravel the mystery of KIG (Kingsley International Group) and we get an ending that should satisfy at least a few people, who took the trouble to read till the last chapter. It's time to return to the stuff from the 70s and 80s and wash off this unpleasant experience. I will leave you with my favourite sample of sloppiness. This is what an editor should prevent the writer from doing.

Chapter 38: he [Sam Meadows] dropped his shorts, and his organ was engorged.

Chapter 43: he [Harry Flint] dropped his shorts, and his member was stiff and turgid.

Thankfully, the book did not have more male characters inclined to doing this sort of thing. I dropped the book and its pages were thin and lifeless.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

recommended additions to every software developer's lexicon

There's a thread over on Stack Overflow dedicated to jargon from the world of programming. Some of these are old nuggets familiar to fans of Dilbert and The Jargon File; others are eye-opening revelatory catalysts for belly-aching laughter. My favourites so far are the taxonomy of bug reports, the amazing moniker (why didn't I ever think of this before?) for the Sun standard for braces and a delicious alternative to spaghetti code. If you've been a student of computer networks, hot potato and hot potatoes seem so appropriate as slang for HTTP and HTTPS. Excuse me while I fetch my guts.


behind locked doors a woman under the influence in the bedroom where the wild things are up in the air when it rains before the devil knows you're dead saw shadows squirm away from her on the waterfront one day in september across the universe under siege from dusk till dawn following heavenly creatures in the mood for love in bruges

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

axioms of bollywood

In traditional logic, an axiom or postulate is a proposition that is not proved or demonstrated but considered to be either self-evident, or subject to necessary decision. Therefore, its truth is taken for granted, and serves as a starting point for deducing and inferring other (theory dependent) truths. [source: wikipedia]

Everyone knows that the simplest way to disguise yourself in Bollywood is to wear a pair of sun glasses. In order to accommodate a slightly more intelligent mainstream audience, the said pair of sun glasses has ceded the throne to a beard stuck on with insufficient spirit gum.

Last names are irrelevant in the Bollyverse. Honorifics are applied directly to first names (Mr. Suresh, Miss Mala) and the surname is only heard, if at all, in court scenes when summons are read. The 90s have tried to reinstate the importance of the last name, but the likes of Tyson, Jibran, Jorrat and Jindal never really entered the standard court room at Filmistan.

No fingerprints will ever be left behind on any item of evidence by any police officer or any investigating entity; the only films that are allowed to violate this directive are those in which the guilty party happens to be a police officer or investigator either pretending to go through the motions or arriving to clear his/her tracks.


I had heard of Mort Walker thanks to the Beetle Bailey strips adorning the Sunday Times. Years later, I found out about the The Lexicon of Comicana and relished the pleasure of screaming grawlixes! as an alternative to cussing (mostly in private, however, for fear of being strapped and led away in a white van). The lexicon helped me bridge the gap between his most famous comic strip and what was to offer me the most interesting comic book experience since Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and Sandman, his collaboration with Jerry Dumas.

image courtesy:

Sam, the title character of Sam's Strip, runs the comic strip Sam's Strip and is fully aware of being in the comic strip that he runs. Each strip offers a gag (and the occasional political nod) featuring Sam, his unnamed sidekick (later to be christened Silo in a follow-up series) and cameos from other characters from the world of comics (Blondie, Popeye, Charlie Brown) and fiction (Humpty Dumpty) and real life (Charlie Chaplin). The gags and jokes often challenge the world of comics -- characters know about the conventions of the strip they exist in; all the tropes (gloom clouds, black eyes, sleep logs) of comic strips are available in a cartoon prop closet; there are howlers and groaners, nice and terrible puns, interesting takes on famous jokes and scores of famous names dropped about.

The collection subtitled "The Comic About Comics" offers all the strips along with an introduction and an appendix of notes. Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

universal hawas

The Indian subtitling industry should file a patent for the process of converting any G-rated or PG-rated film into something that only adults can appreciate. The industry has enough prior art to support the claim too (YT has written about this before). A video I recently caught (courtesy: Baradwaj Rangan). The song's from a film called Kaakkii Chattai (that means Khaki Shirt, I believe) and recognisably an Ilayaraaja creation. Being a true professional, Kamal Saar complies with the disco fetish of the time and dons an outlandish costume. His co-star Madhavi and the supporting dancers do the same, while Sathyaraj (who was also the subject of a couple of posts hereabouts). The subtitling department has not only introduced mature content but has also done so with the brevity that marked some of Ghalib's verse. For a song that runs for 3 minutes and 40 seconds, you only have a pitiful handful of subtitles and quite a few are repeated. Here are all of them for your reading pleasure once you have enjoyed the video augmented by S. Janaki's sighing.

a young matured girl is dancing by kick
dear! come here/dear come here
he asks my sari at night and it disturbe[sic] my king
shall i play music instrument on your body?
i am straving[sic] for you very much.
shall i see your secret parts without taking risk?
i didn't see any wounds by love
we are getting fired in lust

If you're wondering what the costumes have to do with a half-saree, you're not alone. But I don't think anyone really cared.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

ash and sin: the sequels

(extracts from an internal memo at a famous production studio discussing possible sequels to Paap ko Jalaa Kar Raakh Kar Doonga)

The first sequel should be called राख को बुझाकर खाख कर दूँगा and it should accommodate enough pulpy violence and high drama to ensure that fans of the first film are not disappointed. While doing this, the film must also attempt to include a metaphysical meditation on the themes of morality, guilt and rage: one of the ways that this could be achieved is using a conversation scene featuring the top two starrers jogging and working out on a foggy morning in some hill station; the conversation could include an explanation of the title (which suggests that dousing of ash is not only possible but also effective in eliminating the presence thereof); this literary liberty could be reinforced by the diegetic use of the Gulzar/R. D. Burman classic मेरा कुछ सामान (translation: some of my goods) as our heroes trade nested flashbacks, suggestive looks and gulps of Vat 69. The inclusion of a rape scene is crucial in order to secure an advertising partnership with a leading dealer in saris and a swimsuit chain -- the substitution of inner wear with a suitably tasteful swimming outfit would, I believe, be an acceptable compromise. In order to reach a larger audience, we must ensure that this scene is filmed in pitch darkness and we must rely on effective sound design as well as some suitable lines of dialogue to let the audience know what is happening ([name of sari dealer] की साड़ी को फाड़ते हुए बुरा लग रहा है मेरी जान मगर क्या करूं ... and [name of swimsuit chain] का swimsuit?? तुम्हारी पसंद तो लाजवाब है जान-ए-मन)...

The second sequel must offer less violence and fewer salacious acts and be made for the younger college audience. It must have a tragic ending but otherwise maintain a lighter tone from the start. It will be challenging to balance essential narrative elements such as the destruction of the nuclear family, the corruption of the joint family, the morally compromising temptations rife in middle-class life, the obligatory presence of a pure villainous entity and the defoliation of damsels as well as two item numbers that must feature the matriarch of the household (the producer has been kind enough to relax this need in the first sequel; we will need to express our gratitude for this creative freedom). We could learn a thing or two from masters such as Alfred Hitchcock, who managed to explore personal themes and ideas and fulfill creative aspirations while making films that appealed to a large audience and were commercially viable. In keeping with the goals of the film and in order to remind audiences of the heritage of the film, I believe पाप से राख तक would be an appropriate title.

Friday, June 04, 2010

r d belafonte

On a whim I had checked out the first three volumes in the series Troubadours of the Folk Era from the public library. It was nice to hear San Francisco Bay Blues, Pete Seeger singing Turn! Turn! Turn!, Buffy Saint-Marie singing The Universal Soldier and the Brothers Four singing Greenfields. Two tracks after Greenfields had faded away, The Tarriers began belting out their hit version of The Banana Boat Song, which has been most famous as Harry Belafonte's signature song (arguably this is the song most popularly cited when people think of calypso). The melody was familiar, but the addition of Hill and Gully Rider was a nice touch. As I hummed along with them on Well, I sleep by sun and I work by moon, I suddenly realised that I had heard this melody before. It was in a Hindi film song that had interestingly blended lyrics addressing a boatman with the ambience of a dance number. Numerous articles about the song had called it a "cabaret boat" song although the video was evidence that the only thing on the minds of the filmmakers was a dance of the fisher folk (and hence the boatman was no longer an interesting device but a natural choice). The film was Bandhe Haath and the song was ओ माँझी (a transcription by yours truly appears here). The man behind the song was the late great Rahul Dev Burman. The a-ha! moment comes at the start of each a.ntaraa and continues till the turnaround. Wait for प्यार ओ माँझी तेरा झूठा है / मीत बनके तूने लूटा है / भरी दुनिया में अकेली हूँ / जान घायल दिल टूटा है at the 02:27 mark in the video and then for तू मेरा है मैंने सोचा था / यही सपना था निगाहों में / तू खिवैया होगा रे जीवन का / पार उतरूँगी तेरी बाहों में at the 04:21 mark.

elsewhere hereabouts: thoughts on the title song of the same film.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

both sides of the wall

challenge: is there anybody there?
response: nobody home

challenge: stop
response: run like hell
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