Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Review of "The Hurt Locker"

The movie begins with the lines from a book by award- winning war correspondent- Chris  Hedges: "The rush of a battle is often a lethal addiction , for war is a drug".

Causation of war is generally the realm of focus for scholars and analysts, but for ordinary people,what counts is not so much the analysis of causation, but rather the personal stories, the human drama of war. The fascination with war can be "almost pornographic in its combination of thrill and terror." But that doesn't mean the details of suffering and the tragedies of death are overlooked. Personal stories of suffering and death make war "a force that gives us meaning"[Chris Hedges]. This is what makes "The Hurt Locker" one of the most recommended war documentaries till date.

The film chronicles the trials and tribulations of a US bomb disposal squad [Bravo company], thrown in the heart of Iraq's modern IED warfare.An intense portrayal of elite soldiers in a dangerous mission of disarming bombs in the heat of combat.Jeremy Renner, delivers the lead role with intense finesse,  as Staff Sergeant William James entrusted with the role of leading the team . He replaces Staff Sergeant Thompson,killed by a remote-detonated improvised explosive device (IED) in Baghdad. He joins Sergeant J.T. Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge whose styles do not mesh with their new leader . James is the renegade with "I can do anything" fatalistic attitude for whom the thrill of the dismantling IEDs seems to be the ultimate goal regardless of the safety of his fellow team members, others on the scene or himself. In contrast we have Sanborn,committed to "established rules and procedures" and an insecure Eldridge who is paranoid about the safety and security of his colleagues and the civilians in Iraq. 

As the city explodes into chaos and the two soldiers struggle to tame their leader, the audience is made to witness the convergence of the  three characters in the film, whose contrasting temperaments knit this episodic snap-shots of peril and bravery into a satisfying, coherent narrative. The Hurt Locker" is a near masterpiece of suspense and unrelenting intensity. It is viscerally exciting, adrenaline-soaked tour de force of suspense and surprise, full of explosions and hectic scenes of combat. Bigelow and her team bring an awesome ferocity to re-creating the unhinged mania of bomb removal in an alien, culturally unfathomable atmosphere.

The highlight if the movie is Sgt William James [Renner]. He performs not through complex speeches but through a visceral projection of who he is and what he feels. Initially we see an ordinary,pudgy-faced, quiet Renner who seems to lack the screen charisma to carry a film. But the movie reveals later that there is more to him than meets the eye..He slowly reveals the strength, confidence and unpredictability in the mesh of violent action.In each scene a different facet of James’s personality emerges. We are made to  witness a callous Sgt James, mean at times, but there is a fundamental tenderness to him as well, manifest in his affection for an Iraqi boy who sells pirated DVDs and his patient solicitude when Eldridge, under fire and surrounded by dead bodies, has an understandable bout of panic.The merging of actor and character is one of the big things to love about this movie.It's a creepy marvel to watch James in action. "The Hurt Locker is a near-perfect, no-nonsense piece of work about men in war, men at work.

Pitted agianst Steven Spielberg's "Avatar" that boasts of the costliest film ever made, this is a low budget movie made with the aid S16mm cameras to capture multiple perspectives. Its gives the viewer a unique sense of documentary feel while retaining the flavor of a Hollywood film with some action sequences that are wildly unrealistic. The increasingly dangerous and fully realized defusion sequences, all  shot from beginning to end in single takes has succeeded in creating a tense realism that translates well to the screen .Bigelow has very adroitly handled her cameras and edited her shots that defines the spatiality so clearly that some sequences, prominently one in which the soldiers are surrounded by snipers on both sides of a sand dune, and Sanborn's gun jams because the ammo casing is coated with sticky blood -- builds up an almost intolerable level of anxiety.

Shot in Jordan at locations close to the Iraqi border, actual Iraqi refugees used as extras, impeccable sound design and special guest cameos by Guy Pearce, David Morse and Ralph Fiennes, this film succeeds in creating a visceral experience that shows the promise of being declared best war rendition till date. Nominated for 9 Oscars and another 53 wins and 50 nominations,continued attention among film critics world over makes The Hurt Locker the best reviewed of the recent dramatizations of the Iraq War.The director has aired aspects of Iraq war that have never before been fleshed out.

What separates this film from the bulk of mainstream cinema that has tackled the Iraqi situation is that it doesn't simply exist as a political polemic, or even a reminder of the humanitarian horrors that plague the Iraqi people.We will marvel at the pinpoint accuracy in mapping the disorienting roads a man can walk down when his job keeps him so close to death, working for what sometimes feels like a distant principle The result is an intense,action-driven war pic, a muscular, efficient standout that simultaneously conveys the feeling of combat from within as well as what it looks like on the ground.

With few days to go for the Oscars and The Hurt Locker already having made its presence felt in the BAFTA awards as well as in reviews, I am sure this movie will make an impression for everyone when it collects a number of awards this time. The Harvard historian Drew Faust concludes in one of her essays; journalists and historians – need to acknowledge the power of war stories. Their job is to create "an orderly narrative," full of purpose and significance, about events that otherwise "would be simply violence," shapeless and meaningless.Thus we are the ones who give meaning to war – so it's up to us to come to terms with the power of war stories. "In acknowledging its attraction," she concludes, " we diminish its power" – we move from being part of the problem to part of the solution. Watch "Hurt Locker" and I am sure you will enjoy the "catharsis" of emotions so truly depicted by the characters giving a coherence to Drew Faust's write up on war stories.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Earthquake and Urbanization: Two lethal enemies

The recent earthquake in Chile has once again rattled us.We are still to reconcile with the massive death and destruction that happened in Haiti, and the one that preceded in the Sichuan region of China, both killing almost a million people.

 As death tolls and the agonies associated with earthquakes [food riots, displacement of income, spread of diseases and epidemics] once again stagger the human mind, there is a tendency to ascribe the lethality of earthquakes and the damage they bring as something very natural. It would be wrong to associate earthquakes and death as something corollary to each other, however, usually, we associate earthquakes as harbingers of death and destruction.

 The cause of earthquakes is best explained by the “Theory of Plate Tectonics”, largely developed since the 1960s.The earth’s crust ,divided in 7 major crustal plates that slide constantly, creeping along at about the speed of fingernail growth. When the plates strike each other, stress builds up on the fault line.Once the stress reaches the threshold, the fault line ruptures, resulting in earthquakes. It might take a year or two, or some centuries to result in an earthquake measuring beyond 6 on the Richter scale.On a strike-slip fault, of the type that ruptured in Haiti, it had not ruptured for more than 200 years.

Millions of earthquakes go undetected because they occur in remote areas, mostly under the sea, or have very small magnitudes.Earthquakes with magnitude larger than 7.0 cause heavy damage when they strike major mega-cities, like the one that happened in Port-au-Prince [in Haiti], a catastrophe that is certain to be repeated somewhere and the recent one in Chile has once again made our fears real.

Earthquakes are stress releasing mechanisms associated with  formation of the earth’s landforms. They are something very old, as old as the formation of earth, and the birth of cities and urban agglomerations are a new phenomena. It is the marriage of the “old” and the “new”  that makes earthquakes lethal for humanity.

 Beijing was the only city in the early 18th century with more than a million population. Now there are 381 urban areas with at least 1 million inhabitants. Urbanization crossed a threshold last year when, for the first time, more people lived in city settings than rural ones.

In case of India, with the growth of urbanization, we have 35 million plus cities.India has been divided into five zones [1 to 5], with respect to severity of earthquakes and majority of these cities lie in the high risk zone. Of these, Zone 5[the entire Himalayan belt and cities surrounding it] is seismically the most active, where earthquakes of magnitude 8 or more could occur. 

The Himalayan mountain range is the outcome of the collision of Indian and Eurasian plates,moving against each other at an estimated rate of about 5 cm/year.In a short span of 53 years,four great earthquakes [1897 Assam,1905 Kangra,1934 Bihar-Nepal and 1950 Assam] have taken place in this belt.

A recurring occurence of earthquakes of small and big intensities,in the entire Himalayan belt suggests that slippage is continuous, implying future great earthquakes in the unruptured parts of the Himalayan front. Major uncertainties remain about the recurrence interval of great earthquakes.The next victim may be Delhi or Katmandu or Assam or Dhaka, the list is endless.

The exceptional occurrence of the Latur earthquake [Killari], Maharashtra, of 1993, one of the most devastating SCR[Stable Continental Region] earthquake, its epicentre in a region considered as aseismic [Zone 1, according to Indian seismic classification]. The Latur earthquake testifies the point that no regions are safe and the division of regions into seismic or aseismic only creates a false sense of security.The Latur earthquake took place in a rural setting costing over 10,000 lives. The impact could have been incalculable if the event happened in Mumbai or Pune.

Recent experiences indicates that we might experience event like this every 10 years. In many vulnerable cities, people are effectively stacked on top of one another in buildings designed as if earthquakes don’t happen. It is not the tremor that kills people in an earthquake but the buildings, routinely constructed on the cheap, faulty designs,overseen by corrupt inspectors. The difference between life and death is often a matter of how much sand went into the cement or how much steel into a supporting column. 

Earthquakes might be viewed as acts of God, but their lethality is often a function of masonry. The lives that perished in the Bhuj [Gujarat] earthquake is a tale of the faulty engineering and corruption that resulted new buildings getting crumbled like sand. Whenever earthquakes happened in the major cities, buildings have acted like “weapons of mass destructions”.

With the world witnessing a steady urbanization in the next half-century and the planet adding an estimated 5 billion people with a billion housing units,we cannot be complacent to the fact that there is a massive amount of infrastructure built without earthquakes in mind.In spite of the warnings of possible earthquakes sounded by seismologists, people tend to be complacent about earthquakes that are yet to happen. In such a scenario, the question is whether those people will live?

Another related effect of earthquakes are “Tsunamis”, the largest ever that killed more than 227,000 people in 14 countries along the Indian Ocean[estimated to have released more energy than 20,000 atomic bombs].With tourism developing at a rapid phase, more and more people have the probability of coming under the wrath of tsunamis in coming years. The recent earthquake in Chile has sounded alarm bells for people living in coastal areas and vulnerable islands, majority of which are being evacuated.

As the world battles with a phenomena that is nearly unpredictable and the United Nations and other world bodies spend millions of dollars looking for banned nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, it would be beneficial to come up with solutions that can save millions of lives from the after effects of earthquakes and tsunamis. Perhaps the United Nation can develop a building inspection program that does away with the faulty practices and corruption, inherent in the real estates in all the countries. A standardized model of earth-quake engineering and a common curriculum of “disaster preparedness” introduced in schools and colleges across the globe, so that we have a pool of people ready to deal with contingencies. Its time for the leaders of the world to bring their heads together, so that all the countries function as one unit in dealing with such catastrophes.



Sunday, February 28, 2010

Life: as it mirrors in 30s

The thought of celebrating my 30th Birthday initiated nostalgic ramblings within the remote corners of my mind– Nano-snapshots of childhood memories flooded the "evenings" in my room.Within the cob web of my memory, some events and aspirations stand out so distinctly, the time I was a boy of eight riding a bicycle in the nondescript town of Dimapur [Nagaland], swaggering at the promise of life, who had a crush on his teacher at the age of 11 and dreamt of loving  her with the clarity of passion.It was  easy to believe during those "innocent years" that life is long and one's gifts are vast -- easy at the beginning, that is. But as the limits of life grew more clear; it became clear that great work can be done rarely, if at all       

The last few weeks have been silent conversations with the self.I felt as if life has been saying a lot of things to me in its usual dreamy whisper and I have swum in some kind of spiritual sea.....and I loved the waters ...for I realised that life has taught me a lot these past 29 years and the important lessons I tended to ignore as I fell back to the rut and ramblings of everyday existence.       

Some say that life is like a Tabula Rasa [a blank slate], upon which events and circumstances project their own outcomes. The decisions that I took in life [minute or large], and the people and situations I met, did influence/alter the course of my life. And everyone would  agree with me on the point that each one of our lives have a similar pattern. 

We all have a story to tell, we all have seen rainbows and fallen from cliffs.We realise that we do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. That we are made up of layers, cells, constellations. 

If someone asks me to define my life in few words..I would rather call it a tempestuous romance with sucess and failures... love and dejection..dreams and frustrations.....and other embellishments that one might ascribe as appropriate to make it an adventurous story.

Beyond all those embellishments, adjectives and rhyming attempts to define life, there is the "non-spicy" zone which we all dread treading in. We all have our usual hypnotic repressions to grimy and unpleasant details..pondering over them again and again...and in the end...letting our past life destroy our present.

As we creep ahead, we are afraid of losing things [things that are precious to us]. In fact how powerful is the "fear"?.People go to such great lengths to avoid the fear:mid-life crises, affairs with younger people,cosmetic surgeries, excercise obsessions, accumulating material possessions, procreation to carry on a name, striving to be more and more youthful and so on.We are frightfully concerned with holding on to these fears that sometimes we forget the real purpose of our lives.In fact, I have had my share of "holding on" to such fears, and undeniably I find sometimes that these fears define me in my interaction with others.

It is very difficult to predict how our lives will fit into the greater cosmic scheme of things. Twenty nine years of existence has given me this understanding that I do not need to be in control all the time. I would examine it from every angle and with a scientist's microscope. And yet I could no longer deny that the "framework" was already there and that I all I need to do is keep my mind "open to possibilities".

As I move ahead there is a wish to establish a felt-relationship with the deepest meanings or powers governing life. Like everyone else I want a perfect ending and I know, eventually I would learn, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. So, just like a racer all I would want then is not an "abrupt stop" in life's marathon. There would a little "finishing canter" before coming to a standstill,where I would want to hear the voice reverberating in my ears- "the work is done"

Of pertinence are some lines written By Regina Brett, 90 years old, of The Plain Dealer, Cleveland , Ohio. I find them so relevant in this context that I have them nested here in my blog:       

"To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me. It is the most-requested column I've ever written. My " oldometer" rolled over to 90 in August, so here is the column once more:" 

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. 
4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch. 
5. Pay off your credit cards every month. 
6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone. 
8. It's OK to get angry with God.. He can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present. 
12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shoudn't be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks. 
16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind 
17. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful. 
18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger. 
19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else. 
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer. 
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special. 
22. Over prepare, then go with the flow. 
23. Be eccentric now.. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.
24. No one is in charge of your happiness but you. 
25. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ''In five years, will this matter?". 
26. Always choose life.
27 Forgive everyone everything. 
28. What other people think of you is none of your business.
29. Time heals almost everything.. Give time, time
30. However good or bad a situation is, it will change. 
31. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does. 
32. Believe in miracles. 
33. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do. 
34. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now. 
35. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young. 
36. Your children get only one childhood. 
37. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved. 
38. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere. 
39. If we all throw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab our's back. 
40. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need. 
41. The best is yet to come. 
42. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up. 
43. Yield. 
44. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.

I would love to end by flagging an Interesting quote (can't remember who said these...) 

"The search for security is an attempt to make the universe static in order to feel safe. I recognise God by the shattering my plans"


You can reach me at



Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review of "ISHQIYA"

Vishal Bahradwaj places Ishqiya in the rustic hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh, that shows the promise of a Quintine Terantino in the making. Debutant director Abhishek Choubey has seamlessly juxtaposed two diverse world of criminality and compassion within one frame where it is difficult to distinguish between lust and love, trust and betrayal. The music is equally lilting with "Dil to baccha hain ji" throwing us back to the 70s. One will be tempted not to ascribe any value judgements to "Ishqiya". Its an attempt to display the complex emotions of love and hate, in an atmosphere which reeks of  crime and violence.

The setting is Gorakhpur; dusty, parched, arid, unpredictable and Vidya Balan as Krishna Verma emerges as the by-product of that very unpredictable "Gorakhhpuri" landscape. She presents an unmixable mix, of the infinite tenderness of a coy bride, when she romances with Naseeruddin Shah (as Khalujaan), in contrast to the perilous contours that Arsad Warsi (as Babban) traverses, as he tries to tame a women whose eyes display the reckless rage of a suicide bomber, if provoked.

Vidya Balan has delivered with intense finesse a role which is not the cliched, stereotyped "abla nari" of yesteryears, the subservient women of indian cinema, the "bechari" who would fall for the false promise of the males only to collect the sullied  aspersions from the "samaj" in the end. With every passing frame she glitters as the bundle of contradictions.There is more to her than meets the eye. She loves, she lusts, she schemes, she is faithful, kind-hearted and at the same time does not think twice to wield a pistol at the same person she has shared a passionate moment, minutes earlier. 

The complexity of Krishna Verma in Ishqiya draws a parallel to the lyrics written by an anonymous poet centuries ago.

                                         When I am sitting 

                                         at the door of a tavern.

                                         I ,Ishtar, the goddess

                                         Am, prostitute, mother, wife, divinity.

                                         I am what people call life,  

                                         Although you call it death.

                                        I am what people call law, 

                                        Although you call it Delinquency.

                                       I am what you seek 

                                       And what you find

                                      I am what you scattered, 

                                      and the pieces you now gather up.

Khalujaan and Babban are tossed into the tavern of widow Krishna Verma, triggering an intense firework of sexual innunedos; for Khalujaan Krishna Verma represents "life", the ultimate epitome of love, whereas Babbaan pictures a fountain of "oozing sex" in her eyes which he plans to relish. As the three characters interact and are thrown against each other in a tale where there are no loyalties, no promises which stand a chance of getting fulfilled, the audience is made to slide into a plot that pulsates with the flavor of love, lust, intrigue, trust, betrayal and humor. 

"Krishna" is the women that a die-hard romantic would crave for, she is also the "slutty whore" a lusty eye would die for. She promises to be what the male psyche wants her to become. Krishna Verma is the commodity that Khalujaan, Babban, and her supposedly deceased husband scatter. She is the "primordial sludge" that the characters turn her into. See "Ishqiya" if you want to swim in that "primordial sludge". Read the missing verses in the eyes of Krishna Verma, like that of a mystery novel where the plot meanders like a glacier catapulted out of control.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sea And Rain-Drops

Light rain-drops fall and wrinkle the sea, 
Then vanish, and die utterly. 
One would not know that rain-drops fell If the round sea-wrinkles did not tell.
 So souls come down and wrinkle life And vanish in the flesh-sea strife. 
One might not know that souls had place Were't not for the wrinkles in life's face.

( Courtesy- "Dyessey" Whom I fondly refer as "Dearie"-- my own voices, thoughts and symphonies from Manila)


Monday, August 24, 2009

The hues of life..rendezvous in the twilight

 As the sun seems destined for a quiet sunset 
 and my thoughts float away to some distant lands.
 To some far away places
 Where the rays of the sun wash away my worries
 And someone leaning against my shoulder-
 I could feel my heartbeat in her breath

The cool wind awakens me..
and I see myself lost in the  twilight
and I see myself lost in the twilight