Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Reader:A Vague Query!!

“The Reader” is based on a German novel of same name by Bernhard Schlink. The plot is based in West Germany; the movie starts with a lawyer Michael Berg’s (Ralph Fiennes, Sad looking) narration of his teenage days in 1958. As a 15 year old boy, he (David Kross, Charming) had an intense physical affair with a 35 year old lady Hanna Schmitz. (Kate Winslet)

Hanna is controlling, has a no nonsense and tough attitude, and loves listening to classic literature narrations. They establish a ritual of Michael reading classic stories to Hanna and lovemaking. Hanna remains emotionally distant from Michael despite having a passionate physical affair with him; however Michael falls head over heels in love with Hanna. He even avoids his friends and family to be with her.

After few months, Hanna leaves the town without leaving any trace and without informing Michael. Michael gets devastated, gets badly hurt but moves on anyways.

The story takes an eight year leap here and we are shown Michael as a law student. As a part of a special seminar, he has to observe a trial of six women who were accused of letting 300 Jewish women die in a burning church when they were SS guards on the death march following the 1944 evacuation of Auschwitz camp. Michael gets the shock of his life when he sees Hanna as one of the six defendants.

Here, we come to know that the movie has a Holocaust angle. From an Indian context, there is not much awareness about Holocaust. Let me explain what it is: Holocaust is the term generally used to describe the deliberate mass murder of approximately six million European Jews during World War II, by Adolf Hitler. Hanna was a guard at Auschwitz concentration camp, so her “job” was to “select” certain people each day for killing in “Gas Chambers” built specially for the brutal murders.

Michael gets terribly disturbed by the situation, gets sad by Hanna’s tragedy but feels guilt and betrayal for having blindly loved and trusted a remorseless criminal.

During the trial, Hanna gullibly tells the truth by stating that Auschwitz was a concentration camp, unlike her fellow defendants.

And why did she take up this job? Because they were “recruiting”!!!

The other guards then accuse Hanna of planning the church fire and writing the report on it. The judge asks for her hand writing sample for verification of the allegation. Hanna gets greatly uncomfortable and finally admits having written the report without giving any writing sample.

Michael suddenly realizes from his past with Hanna that she had hidden something more to him than her Nazi past. She is an illiterate and is so embarrassed about admitting it that for her; the shame of being illiterate is bigger than the shame of having burned 300 women alive!! With Michael’s horror, this act leads her to the life imprisonment.

During Hanna’s imprisonment period, second and final phase of Michael and Hanna’s relationship is shown and like almost all the classics, this one also ends tragically.

Imagine this: A passionate and tragic story of a Nazi SS guard. The story should have been deeply moving but it fails to connect with you in anyways. Maybe because “The Reader” is Michael’s story and not Hanna’s; and Michael’s story (an affair with an older lady and his subsequent failed relationships with the women in his life) isn’t that moving.

Hanna’s character is extremely contradictory, and vague. During her affair with Michael, she comes across as a manipulative and controlling lady who has no qualms in seducing a "kid" and sleeping with him, but during the trial, she innocently tells the truth unlike the other defendants, why is that? How did she suddenly turn so gullible?

Why did she prefer life imprisonment rather than the confession of her illiteracy? Why did she consider illiteracy a bigger crime than mass murders? Why? Why? Why?

Unfortunately, above questions remain unanswered and as a result, you neither feel sympathy nor any hatred for Hanna. Not a hint of Hanna’s background is shown in the movie.

I wish “The Reader” was Hanna’s narration instead of Michael’s. The ending of the movie is equally weird, with Hanna deciding to give her money to the daughter of the camp survivor. On Hanna’s part, was that the act of Repent? Gratefulness? Generosity? Apology? God Knows!! Just way too many questions!

Avoid this movie if you are not comfortable watching nudity and sex. I suggest watching this one on a DVD instead of movie hall; because despite giving it an “A” certificate, a lot of sexually explicit scenes have been cut, which are vital for the story and which spoils the flow of narration. When will our censor guys grow up? (That Sick Indian Mentality!!)

Technically, the movie is brilliant. Intimate scenes between Kate and David Kross have been presented very aesthetically. Kate’s makeup as a 66 year old lady is unbelievably real. It’s an out and out Kate Winslet show. The lady has given her 100% for this courageous, complex role and quite deservingly won every prestigious award for this one.

To summarize, “The Reader” is a love story that doesn’t really portray love; it’s a Holocaust movie which doesn’t really deal with Holocaust. Because of its inexplicability, “The Reader” leaves you with a vague feeling.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Revolutionary Road: The Road to Escapism

Revolutionary Road is a 1950s based movie, it’s about lives of a couple Wheelers living at Revolutionary Road in suburb of Connecticut. When April (Kate Winslet) and Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) met for the fist time, April was studying to be an actress and Frank didn’t really know what he wanted to do in life. After few years, a marriage and two kids, April Wheeler is a miserable housewife who occasionally does insignificant roles in insignificant local plays. Frank Wheeler has a marketing job at Knox Business Machines, same place where his late father whom he never wanted to emulate worked for 20 years at same position. Frank hates his job, is dissatisfied with the monotonous 9 to 6 routine and occasionally goes out with an available young secretary in the office.

Wheelers have a picture perfect middleclass life comprising a decent house, stable job and cute kids. They also have love for each other; yet, they have frequent fights and are anything but content with their lives. Why? There is no sadder sight than an ambitious person stuck in an inconsequential, mundane life. Wheelers always thought that they were “special”, but did nothing particularly different from their “ordinary” neighbors.

April and Frank are all about unfulfilled dreams, ambitions; yet an inertia to pursue them. Sounds like a familiar story? Well, there are countless Aprils and Franks in any middleclass society, living “secure and stable” life almost in a same predictable pattern that their parents lived ; content in their limited social circle; having the sole aim to raise their kids well.

Twist in the tale comes when Frank returns home on his 30th birthday and April proposes a plan to break free from their current Hopeless and Empty life. She proposes to move to Paris because that’s where Frank lived during “The war” and always felt that is the place to be; In Paris, April would work as a secretary and Frank would “find out” what to do with his life. After initial hesitation, Frank gets convinced and an excitement of new life revives them and their relationship as well.

Neighbors get shocked with their plans and express skepticism over this “unrealistic” venture. After all, this is the message that society gives us: Don't take unnecessary risks, Follow family traditions, Play safe. Who are you to think that you can change the system? Stay in your cocoon. Accept your lot in life, and make the best of it. Go with the flow, and don't rock the boat. Your only hope is that your current life will pull you in a favorable direction in future, till then; just take it as it comes!

Wheelers still decide to execute their plan; but Frank gets a promotion and pay hike in his current job and an unwanted pregnancy happens to April. Do they still choose to move to Paris? Rest of the story revolves around Wheelers trying to salvage their lives.

I’ve named this article as “The Road to Escapism” because every character in the movie tries to escape from real problems instead of facing and solving them; e.g. April decides to move to Paris for the sake of Frank’s unfulfilled and yet unknown dreams, but what about her own unfulfilled dream of becoming an actress? She wishes to break free from the mundane routine of life here (in Connecticut) but won’t a life of a secretary be monotonous as well? This seems to be the path from the ordinariness to indeed, more ordinariness. She’s afraid of pursuing her own dreams so wishes to indulge in a reflected glory of Frank’s probable success, in turn escaping her ambitions. The delay she makes in informing Frank about her pregnancy and the subsequent efforts to end it, her impulsive sexual encounter with the neighbor all indicate escapism.

Frank says he wants to “feel things”, but prefers to escape discovering himself and evades reality in various ways. (Affair with secretary, Reluctance to pursue his dream life despite having a set up for it) The last scene of the movie epitomizes this escapism where an old man (Mr. Giving, Wheelers’ neighbor) puts off his hearing machine to avoid his nagging wife.

The movie ends on an unnecessary tragic note and manages to send a very disturbing message. This is not a story of optimism, achievement or redemption. Do watch this one for the powerhouse acting. Performance from both, Kate and Leo are marvelous. Kate’s surely a Goddess of acting but Leo gives equally brilliant performance as a confused, tad chauvinist, and coward man. Kate is effortless, raw as an ordinary woman, hopelessly in quest of an unordinary life.

Revolutionary Road is meant to be appreciated, not enjoyed.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

My Favourite Websites

Hi All, Internet has become a vital part of our daily lives and if used constructively, it can enrich your life immensely. You can get virtually any sort information, provided you have time and patience to surf thoroughly. Here, I’m presenting a list of my favourite websites which I find immensely helpful and can work for you as well.

1> Mouthshut.com: First is our very own mouthshut.com. It’s a great platform to share your opinions about different consumer products or the other issues that invoke your interest. The best thing about this site is: reviews/articles are written by the real people like you and me and not by so called “experts”. It’s a good place to develop your writing skills and network with good writers. But I don’t understand why it’s called “Mouth Shut”. Since it encourages consumers to “speak up” and voice their concerns. The site sometimes encourages companies to communicate and answer consumers’ complains. (Check out corporate blogs) So, no body’s “mouth” is really getting “shut” over here. :)

2> Ultimate–guitar.com: This site is a blessing for all the Guitar junkies like me. It has a huge database of chords, tabs of numerous songs. You can locate chords of almost all the English songs here. In 90% cases, the chords are accurate. You can of course change the scales as per your preference. The quality of chords is much better than that of tabs. You can also see the chord diagrams here, which makes it very user friendly. If you play Guitar, don’t forget to add this site to your Favourites list.

(To non-musicians, excuse me for using musical terminology…)

3> Indianguitartabs.com: This is the Indian version of ultimate–guitar where you can locate chords and tabs of Hindi songs. It’s pretty useful, but not as accurate as ultimate – guitar. You’ll find many versions of same song here. If you can have patience for browsing through different posts and trying out different scales/chords, this site can be quite useful.

4> stevepavlina.com: This is a completely different from the previous sites. It contains Steve Pavlina’s personal development blogs. Steve is Las Vegas based writer/blogger. Generally, I do not read self help jargon and find it pretty useless. Most of the self proclaimed “life coaches” present unreal and exaggerated theories which are precisely, just “theories” with nil practical use. But Steve’s blogs are pleasant exception. This guy surely knows his stuff and writes complete truth. My favourite article from this site is “10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job”. Steve’s articles are very straightforward and practical to the core. He has written articles about almost all the aspects of life, ranging from simple articles about cooking to complicated relationship issues. Recommended for everyone.

5> Youtube.com: It’s a video sharing site and a bit controversial for its possible “misuse”. Here, I’ll concentrate on the positive aspects of youtube.com. Youtube is a revolution in itself; you can virtually share any videos be it your family function, your talents, or just your thoughts with the entire world. It’s best for “How To” videos (for e.g. how to exercise, how to cook, how to play a particular musical instrument etc.), News clips, Movie clips, Song clips, Concert Clips, and TV show clips etc. I use it extensively for its useful Guitar videos.

As far as its objectionable content is concerned, it’s a side effect of technological progress. Some perverts use mobile phones also to transfer offensive content, but that doesn’t stop us from using it constructively.

6> Orkut.com: Orkut is a social networking site; it is a twin brother of facebook.com, which is considered more popular than Orkut.com. However, Facebook has never worked for me the way Orkut has. I reunited with so many of my college mates, school mates, ex colleagues on Orkut, none of this happened on Facebook. Orkut’s also more user friendly. You can protect your scraps and pictures by access filters. Orkut also offers different “communities” which act as a great platform to network with people having similar interests.

7> Howstuffworks.com: This site offers systematic explanation on various topics such as technological terms, money matters, Astrology, Science, Psychology; you name it and you have it on this site. The best thing about it is: It explains complicated terminology in layman’s language very convincingly. The articles here are very well structured and classified. Its name is quite self explanatory, so if you want to know “how” certain “stuff” “works”, visit this site.

8> Wikipedia.org: Wiki is an online encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone. It’s hugely popular because of its highly resourceful articles. You can find information on anything and everything under the sun. Be it books, celebrities, technology, songs, movies….the list is endless! There’s hardly any information that can not be found here. However, the articles here do not have any standard structure and are not categorized systematically, unlike howstuffworks.com. The articles can be elaborate or short depending on their respective editors. I always resort to Wiki incase of information crisis and in 99% cases, Wiki has never disappointed me.

9> whatis.techtarget.com: This is a technical Wikipedia; very useful for techies because of its vast collection of technological definitions (not articles). Its user friendly and lucid format makes it resourceful for non techies as well.

10> Dictionary.com: As the name suggests, it’s an online dictionary; highly useful for its simple explanations of English words and audio pronunciations. They also mail Word of the Day daily, very helpful for improving vocabulary.

11> And last but not the least is the God of internet Google.com. Google has been my gateway to most of the sites I mentioned above. Google has become integral part of our lives; imagine what we would do without it!!! Countless books and articles have been written about the success story of Google. It’s so user friendly that even a 5 year old can use it quite comfortably. Google has revolutionarized internet and quite deservingly, it’s called the “Most powerful Brand” in the world.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Milk (Movie): Don't Miss It.....

“Milk” is a biographical movie, based on the life of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay American politician and Gay rights activist to be elected as a member of San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The movie depicts political and personal life of Mr. Milk from 1970 to 1978. He was assassinated in 1978 by his colleague Dan White because of professional Issues. As this is a historical movie, the plot is universally known or can be accessed from numerous sources so I’ll straightaway head to my analysis of the movie.

Moviemakers have beautifully portrayed San Francisco of 70’s and used several real clips of various gay parades, demonstrations of those times to give audiences actual insight of the events. Cinematography is superb. Editing is first rate with hardly any dull moment but the strongest point of the movie is undoubtedly the Acting of lead protagonist (Sean Penn) as well as supporting actors.

As far as the acting is concerned, Sean Penn has transcended all boundaries of excellence in this movie. Playing a historical character is the ultimate challenge for an actor because you have to understand and live through the person you are enacting. You can not put your imagination and perspective to the character, unlike a fictitious character. If you want to know what it’s like to “get into the skin of a character”, watch Sean Penn in this movie. He has literally undergone physical and emotional transformations to portray Harvey Milk.

Physical Transformation: Watch Sean’s looks and mannerisms in the movie and watch photographs or clips of real Harvey Milk. You’d get the feeling that Harvey Milk himself is present on the screen. Sean has aptly portrayed the journey of self conscious Milk to a showy, witty politician. As far as emotional transformation goes, watch the scenes where Milk (Sean) is with his lover(s). He communicated so much with eyes and body language! It must have been certainly very difficult for Sean to play love scenes with a guy, but he did it effortlessly. The man has done his job with 100% commitment.

Sean’s portrayal of the gay man (Milk) was so brilliant that during 81st academy award function; this is what Mr. Robert De Niro had to say “How did he do it? How for so many years did Sean Penn get all those jobs playing a straight man!!” :) Sean eventually won the well deserved academy award for this role.

All the supporting actors have done their job well. James Franco who plays Milk’s love interest (Scott) is particularly impressive. It’s a sheer pain to watch such handsome guy playing a gay man:) He has a million dollar smile!; probably the best smile in Hollywood actors, after from Tom Cruise.

As this movie is about homosexuals, gays mainly, here’s my take on homosexuality. It’s a lifestyle choice just like choice of diet you choose to consume or kind of clothes you prefer to wear. Some scientists say sexual orientation is determined by our genes, some deny the gene theory and say that it depends on psychological and social factors. Nobody has been able to explain the causes of homosexuality accurately.

Homosexuality is still a crime in India and because of which; homos have to face ostracization and inhuman treatment from society. To avoid the discrimination, many of them do not disclose their sexuality and prefer to shelter themselves in fake “marriages”, which indeed turns out to be fatal for all those involved in it. But that’s India!!! People here prefer to live in denial rather than facing problems and addressing them. Instead of looking at real issues, they like to close their eyes and dream and pretend that the problems don’t exist at all. “Marriage” in India is supposed to be a magic stick that is meant to cure ALL problems, including homosexuality!

Few conservative people argue that homosexuality is against nature because it denies reproduction, which is the core responsibility of living creatures towards God. Then what about religious leaders (For e.g. nuns) or others (e.g. Mahatma Gandhi, in past) who practice celibacy? They are also denying themselves reproductive rights, aren’t they? But celibacy is not considered against God/Nature and people who practice it are highly revered and respected in the society. People in fact look up to them and admire them for their simple and “controlled” lifestyle. Doesn’t that indicate double standards?

The fact is: Sexual Orientation is highly personal choice of an individual and society should not interfere with it. Each individual has a right to be happy and make the most of his/her life. West is much more liberal towards homosexuality than the East. Netherlands was the first country to legalize same sex marriages.

Dialogues of the movie are particularly interesting. Here are few dialogues from the scene of public debate over “Proposition 6”, an initiative banning homosexuals from taking up teaching jobs in public schools because of the possible “bad influence” they can have on children.

Proposition 6 Supporter: They (gays) are so interested in becoming teachers because they want to encourage our children to “join” them!

Milk: How do you teach homosexuality? It’s like French?

Milk: I want born of heterosexual parents, taught by heterosexual teachers, in a fiercely heterosexual society, Why then I'm homosexual?

Milk: “If it were true that children mimic their teachers, we'd have hell lot more nuns running around...”

And here is the ultimate one. This conversation was between Dan While and Milk.

Dan White: Can two men reproduce?

Milk: No, but God knows! We keep Trying……..

Don’t miss this movie. It’s a cinematic brilliance.