Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Book Recommendation : Snow Crash

Vidit Bhargava
For some years now, a popular question in Technology quizzes has been about the inspiration behind Google Earth being a piece of software called “Earth” from Neil Stephenson's Sci-Fi novel Snow Crash. Turns out, describing a software like Google Earth isn't Snow Crash's biggest futuristic prediction. Stephenson's book is more deeply researched than that.

Back in the 1980s Neil Stephenson wanted to create Snow Crash as a computer generated graphic novel and got deeply involved in scientific research going on at the time in the field of computers and religious symbolism. In a conversation with a Jaime Taffe, Stephenson first came across the idea of a “Virtual Reality System”. Because Stephenson was spending so much time in Mac software development, he decided to design his fictional VR System called “Metaverse” using Apple's Human Interface Guidelines, following the design philosophies mentioned to lay the foundation for the most important part of Snow Crash. The Metaverse Virtual Reality System. Metaverse is what inspired the creators of Oculus Rift to make their VR Headset.

Given Snow Crash's rich technological heritage, I decided to read this book, sometime back. Like one would aspect, Snow Crash is set in a time where the next big thing after the internet is a VR System called “Metaverse”, a digital universe where users can log onto to interact with people and share information and knowledge. Metaverse has the stream of advantages that any digital universe would have. Following the plot of a certain “Hiro Protagonist”, Snow Crash explores the themes of the Mafia, religious symbolism, Sumerian Mythology and a modern day info-calypse. It's a gripping story, one that draws you into the novel from the beginning.

Snow Crash works because it's always got some or the other surprise up it's sleeve. Moreover its fascinating to see the futuristic gadgetry from the late 1980s that eventually turned into products in early 2000s. The central characters are quick-witted and every character is highly competent in what they do, resulting in scenarios where some or the other is always thinking two steps ahead of their opponent, making for a highly engaging read. Stephenson even manages to slip in humorous moments, which is good, as this book is always at a risk of being too heavy with all the different genre it's trying to merge, the humor helps maintain a lighter environment.

But where Snow Crash falters is the parts in which Hiro goes on an exploration trip about Sumerian Mythology! It's boring and takes up a good chunk of the book. I wish there was a little more focus on Uncle Enzo's Mafia or Juanita's character, both of them, while important, seem to be ignored for a large part of the book.

Snow Crash is worth a read because of the interesting futuristic tale that it has in store for us. I also found the concepts of “Namshab” and other elements from the Sumerian Mythology to be interesting, and it gets me wondering if anyone's trying to figure that out too (just like people dwelled on Virtual Reality for years)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dear Zindagi Movie Review

Vidit Bhargava

still From Movie

Movie: Dear Zindagi
Director and Writer: Gauri Shinde
Actors: Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan, Rohit Saraf, Kunal Kapoor
Running Time: 2hours 30 minutes

Somewhere towards the end of the Movie, Shah Rukh Khan's character says “Genius is to know when to stop.” it's ironical that this movie doesn't know just that!

Starring Alia Bhatt in a lead role, Dear Zindagi follows the story of an ambitious director of photography who eventually ends up seeking therapy from a queer psychologist (Shah Rukh Khan) who treats people with his unconventional means.

This is director Gauri Shinde's second movie, her first movie English Vinglish was an extremely delightful movie watching experience and remains one of my all time favorite movies. So it was only natural that I'd go to Dear Zindagi with equally high expectations. Just like English Vinglish, Shinde is able to narrate a powerful story with a good female character at its center. At an interview sometime last year, Shimit Amin had mentioned about the dearth of female directors actually leading to a dearth of stories which focused on them. The situation still persists, and at the moment someone like Gauri Shinde is just one of the few directors who are keen on presenting such stories. Which is a good thing because there's a new perspective to see whenever you goto watch a Gauri Shinde movie.

A major part of the movie's more-or-less successful execution can be attributed to Alia Bhatt. This is easily one of her best performances, (ranking right up against her performance in Udta Punjab and Highway). She's effortless in her role and even when the character's story goes into an hyperbole post intermission, it's her acting that keeps the movie from completely falling apart. She's also aided by an equally flawless, Shah Rukh Khan (whom you could fit in any role and get the same level of awesome acting from him), Shah Rukh Khan's role of a doctor / mentor while reminiscent of his character in Chak De India, is still fresh and somewhat comical. Most of the laughs (there are a plenty) are provided from him. This is also the second time in the year when Shah Rukh Khan has shown some seriously good acting prowess or got a character to play, coming after 3 years of presenting us with Mind-less crap in the name of 'entertaining' movies.

But Dear Zindagi is far from a perfect movie. The writers are so occupied with the idea of showing an independent woman's plight that they end up dividing their focus on a lot of issues. There's a consistent lack of focus here. A sub-plot too many about the lead characters woes. There's a constant ring about being judged for work over anything else, a sub-plot about having to leave an apartment at the landlord's whim, and a subplot about the career choices and settling into a “job”. To top that, there's also a back story, just meant to justify our lead character's exceptionally mercurial behavior. Had they instead, focussed on one of the many problems, we'd have a better story perhaps. At this point it's just a little better than a documentary on the many woes of women.

To top that, the editing isn't great either, the movie is filled with long conversations between Bhatt and Khan's characters. The conversations while noteworthy and important to the story, eventually get too long and boring. At a point, you're no longer even listening to the characters, you end up just staring at their faces, looking for a clue as to where is this going. Long Conversations also have the habit of feeling cliche, it's not surprising that Dear Zindagi suffers from that too. Snappier Editing or perhaps a greater focus on the lead character's profession would have made it a much better movie.

But even with it's many script problems, Dear Zindagi is one of the better films of 2016. It's a good, positive movie which brings a new perspective and a new story to the table. It's also nice to see some comedy coming back to movies, it's after a long time that I found some genuine humor in a hindi movie. I'd recommend watching Dear Zindagi. It's seldom that you see such fine actors working together.

Rating : *** (Worth a watch, despite some problems)


P.S. It is worth mentioning that Dharma Productions itself has a great graphics and cinematography crew. Their knowledge of colours, font matching and their attention to detail even in the end credits is worthy of an award.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Mirzya Movie Review

Vidit Bhargava

In the last few years, while there's been an outburst of innovative and somewhat dystopian stories. There's been surprisingly little innovation that's gone into the design of a movie's narrative. Not a lot of directors have dabbled into the non-linear narratives. Mirzya aims to provide some innovations in the storytelling space.

The movie's actually built over three parallel settings; All showing the same story. The first one is the traditional Mirza Sahiban tale, the second, a contemporary take on the same story, set in modern day Rajasthan And then there's this third tale, which moves in and out of the story, and which is more abstract than the first two. It's the story of how Gypsies narrate the Mirzya Sahiban tale (which I believe is the origin of the propagation of this legend) through song and dance. It is the most interestingly shot of the lot too, the gypsie setting blends in so smoothly for most of the part that you hardly notice that there's a story in there too and yet, it strikes you as the stories conclude, that there must be a conclusion to that tale as well (There isn't. The gypsies just keep narrating the story.)

There's another unique part to Mirzya. It has very little dialogue in it. So, basically what you are seeing is a movie adhering, not to a dialogue based script, but a visual representation of poetry. Dialogues are confined to the tale involving contemporary characters. The songs serve as the connection to the tale of gypsies and the contemporary characters And Gulzariyan connect the traditional tale to the characters. Together Gulzar and Rakesh Omprakash Mehra try to create a truly unique movie watching experience. As a literary work, Mirzya is as unique as it gets. Relying so heavily on the music, Mirzya also benefits from the fact that this is possibly one of the best works of Shankar Ehsaan Loy. So, the songs are usually a pleasant distraction from the narrative.

On paper Mirzya should really be the path-breaking, genre defining movie that it aims to be. But it isn't even close. The execution isn't great. The result is just a string of events. Moving from point A to B, and since this is a story that's been told so often, it's also predictable. It's hard to enjoy a movie that is both predictable and one whose characters fail to make any connect with the viewer.

Mirzya is one of the rare movies which I feel are too short. It tries to be too snappy, too quick paced, in a story which needed subtlety and time to seep in. But the filmmakers are interested in anything but building up the chief characters or giving them the depth, which was needed to drive the second hour of the movie. They are more interested in the grandeur of the legend and its timelessness. With no depth, it's just hard to care for the characters. The result is a visually stunning but ultimately hollow movie. Had the movie been a little longer, perhaps giving more screen time to the leading characters, we'd probably something better. What good is a tragedy where you can't root for its characters (This is a recurring theme in almost all the recent Hindi tragedies (Ram-Leela, Bajirao Mastani, Ranjhanaa, to name a few) I've seen in recent times. baring Ranjhanaa, by the end of every other movie, one couldn't careless if the leading characters lived or died in the climax.)

Mirzya also bets big on new comers and it pays of to an extent, Harshwardhan Kapoor, Anuj Choudhary and Seiyami Kher are impressive but don't get much to do with their depthless characters.

Pawel Dyllus' Cinematography is top notch. It provides the movie with a stunning landscape. The colours are vibrant, some of the shots could just be used for wallpapers. It'd be a shame to not watch Mirzya in a theatre Or on a wide color gamut display. There are so many subtle colour variations which I fear would get lost on a computer display that doesn't support P3. In terms of technical expertise, 2016 is really the year for Colour Correctness. Right from Kapoor and Sons, to last month's Baar Baar Dekho and now Mirzya, these movies are really picking up the right colours to produce a visually delightful experience.

In an interview sometime back, Rakesh Omprakash Mehra talked about the inspiration behind the movie. He mentioned how he was intrigued by the question of why Sahiban breaks Mirzya's Arrows And that he wanted to seek an answer to that And ultimately decided on making something that'd be open to the viewer's interpretation. Mehra largely succeeds in doing that. Towards the end of the movie, you do get a sense of why she broke the arrows. It's one of the few things that the screenplay successfully executed.

Mirzya is like the v1.0 of a concept. It's an ambitious project. One that aims at providing a new form of poetic storytelling and a unique non-linear narrative But it's also one that's too much in awe of the concept. So much so that it misses on many of the other important aspects. It's a miss fire but one that'll ultimately benefit the musicals to come. At least someone tried to tinker with Storytelling and Narration, when all that we are getting these days is either commercial crap or hyper-realistic, ugly and dystopian message movies. It's also a watcheable movie. If nothing else works, you still get to see some great cinematography and experience awesome music.

Rating: ** 1/2

__ Gulzariyan is a phrase that was used to credit the short poetic verses in the soundtrack which appear to be fragments of a song but are actually part of the narration.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cafe Turtle

Vidit Bhargava
Hidden above a bookshop, Cafe Turtle is a tiny cafe with a seating capacity of not more than 25 people. The cafe, it would appear, is always bursting at its seems. It helps that their food is just too good to be missed if you are looking for vegetarian options in Khan Market.

The cafe, it seems has a single agenda. To provide as many lacto-vegetarian options as possible. They aren't particularly tied to one cuisine, you'll find a greak salad sandwich and an Aloo Samosa in the same menu. One would think, this type of variation would generally end in being just a mish-mash of Indianised versions of the purported options. However, that doesn't seem to be the case with Cafe Turtle, as they try to be just as close to the original food item as they can get.

In this visit, I had a greek salad sandwich, some bruschetta and an Iced Mochaccino at the cafe. The food is good. While the olives dominate the taste slightly, the overall preparation is very carefully done. The Greek Salad Sandwich never seemed to be oozing out of it's shell (something that could have made it incredibly messy), and the bruschetta had a a good balance of garlic and tomato flavour.

Personally, I'd recommend the Greek Salad Sandwich more than anything else. It's filling and it comes in a nice, soft bread which is something new I got to try. In terms of the taste, there's nothing at particular that grabs your attention, it's a very balanced sandwich with none of the sticking out. However, if you are not a fan of hummus you might want to look at other options too.

As much as I liked Cafe Turtle's food, I felt that the Cafe could have been bigger and quieter. A lot of cafe's in order to give themselves a cozy European feel to them, go for high-ceiling and smaller room. As a result, the place feels more chattery than it is. The moment I walked into the cafe, the place felt full of people, even though only a few tables were occupied, the voices felt very loud and hardly something you'd enjoy, if you just wanted to have your meal in peace. But that's just me, a lot of people prefer the noise (or are the noise makers themselves).

While the noise and some of the architectural choices reminded me of Soda Bottleopenerwala, the Vegetarian Only options and a balanced authentic taste give Cafe Turtle a unique identity of it's own. This one's only recommended if you are going with a small group. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Stop showing Athletes as Superheroes

Vidit Bhargava
Over the last few days the social media is ripe with all sorts of posters depicting the Indian athletes competing in olympics as super-heroes. Draped in Wonder Woman and Superman costumes the posts presumably follow the general trend of telling the crowd how amazing these athletes are.

To me, this is just an hyperbolic reaction. We see very little of these athletes to acknowledge their strength and so every two years we feel the need to tell the crowd at large about the mistake they are doing by ignoring these sportspersons and so this year, taking an hyperbolic turn the social media has decided that the 2016 Olympics for India are about Woman Power, Athletes being larger than life superheroes, and in general some sort of legends, instead of athletes showing a lot of promise and doing well in a lot of fields (an ideal pitch for more investment in fields like gymnastics and rowing, as they've shown potential for great performance)

This is wrong whichever way you look at it. First, we are not doing anything to acknowledge the fact their sports need more respect in the country. By displaying them as Wonder Woman or Superman, we're sending out a message that their profession lacks appeal.  We are also setting sky-high expectations from many athletes who are still learning to compete at a global stage.

Personally, I feel that I'd like to know Srikant Kidambi, PV Sindhu and Dipa Karmakar or Dattu Bhokanal as Badminton Players, Gynmasts or Rowers. I'd like to know them for their profession, and the fact that their sport is just as important as something like Cricket. Every time I look at them in a hero personification, I fear we'll loose the plot. The plot of investing heavily in training them and turning the half-chances from this year's olympics, into gold medals for the next time.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Puck is not going towards a Technology

Vidit Bhargava
There's a popular Wayne Gretzky quote : “A Great Hockey Player plays where the puck is going to be”. In recent times, we've heard the quote being referred to predict the future of consumer electronics. You'd often hear people say, “What's next after the GUI? Where is the puck going to be?”

And if you've followed technology news for the last couple of months, you've probably heard people say, “AI is the future.” ; “The next big thing is Virtual Reality” or more recently “Augmented Reality has finally made it to the masses.” All of them stating that the metaphorical puck is going towards AI, AR or VR.

Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are all extremely interesting fields of technological research. In fact, Artificial Intelligence has for long captured the imagination of people. There have been books, movies and TV Shows about what happens when a Machine or a Robot or an AI Powered cyborg takes over the city, In fact, Elon Musk clearly feels that we're living in a simulation! So, it must be where the puck is going, right?

But here's the catch. The puck doesn't go towards a technology. It doesn't even go towards a particular design paradigm. The puck goes towards a Human Problem. Technology is just a means of finding a solution to that problem. The solution may include the use of sophisticated AI but it's equally likely that the in final product that the user uses, AI is just a footnote.

The same can be said for Augmented or Virtual Reality, it's evident that they'll exist in some form in the future (To Be Honest, They've always existed in some or the other state), but there's a strong likelihood that they won't drive the products they're a part Of. Take the example of Pokemon Go. What makes that game so successful? Is it the AR Mode? No! It's the idea, that you can be a real Poke Master, that you too can move around the city and collect Pokemon like Ash Ketchum did, that makes it so exciting to a group of people. AR Mode? It's just an icing on the cake (it's not the cake).

The tiny keyboards and displays of the early mobile phones, were extremely limiting to what one could do with them. Modern day Touch Screen technology helped solve the problem, it provided a bigger canvas for mobile phones to do anything they liked. The keyboard wasn't limiting anymore. It could pop up whenever you wanted it to, stay down when you didn't. But it wasn't the touch screen technology alone that enabled smartphones to be the computers of the post PC era. It was the mixture of, a carefully crafted operating system which was meant to be used by your fingers instead of some kind of a navigational tool; the extremely complex hardware that made it possible for a powerful computer to fit into a hand-held device, the materials that gave it a light weight casing, making the experience of holding it in your hands for a long duration more comfortable. All of these technologies came together to form the basis of a modern day smartphone, There was a lot that the computers of the time couldn't do, or were less efficient in doing because of their size and lack of portability. There were a lot of things that a smartphone was capable of but couldn't because of it's limitations, the puck was definitely going towards more portable computers that enabled people to do their work more efficiently. Problems and challenges unlocked diverse possibilities in ways that helped people, all the cool technology involved, was just a tool used to achieve that. Had the puck been going towards touch screen technology, we'd still be using Palm Pilots or even Newton Message Pads.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Movie Review: Sultan


Vidit Bhargava
Overtime I've observed, that there is a recurring theme in Salman Khan movies. Kids in the movie seem to like him for no reason. Almost always, you'll see a bunch of kids come out of no where and shower love and affection on him. This, and a bunch of other almost Cartoon Network broadcast like scenes randomly show up on screen, to which you are bound to hear some or the other group of people laugh in the theatre. Fans of the actor can directly associate with all this but for us aliens it seems like watching a foreign language movie whose cultural nuances we're hardly familiar with. Can his movies be genuinely liked if we take away these cultural nuances (or as some may call it; Salman-isms) from the equation, like we'd sometimes do while reviewing a foreign language movie? Probably not, because it's not really a cultural issue but just lousy writing for Salman's character, that the writers end up using the same tropes over and over again. But there must to be a movie that shines despite all the fan-pleasing material inserted without any context. Sultan, it seems is that movie.

Divided into three major subplots, Sultan's story is one that hardly ever stated in a sports movie. Sultan doesn't just stop at being a rags to riches movie, it goes beyond and discusses the post-medal story, one that resonates with so many athletes of our time. Third time director Ali Abbas Zafar has a good idea at his hands, which he more or less manages to turn it into a Good enough story which is was inviting enough to sit through the length of the movie.

Adding to that, Zafar directs the wrestling sequences beautifully, managing to capturing the various traits of the game. There's some thrill to be had in watching the state championship wrestling matches. There's genuine earnestness in the training sequences, or the state championships. Anushka Sharma as Aarfa has the right demeanor of an athlete. Salman Khan manages to play the earnest but brash sports star nicely, even though his heavily accented dialogue feels forced and unconvincing but the part that he's really good at, is that of the beaten down, forty-something, has been, Khan just cruises through that part.

Sultan also benefits from a very strong supporting cast. One could argue that Anant Vidhaath actually outperforms the leading crew, in a role which seems he was born for. He's the best of the supporting actors I've seen since, Zeeshan Ayub in Raanjhana and Kumud Mishra in Rockstar. Speaking of Kumud Mishra, he's in the movie too, and leaves a mark as Khan's mentor. The rest of the cast chips in with their witty dialogue, and are the ones to give a realistic setting to the movie. Amit Sadh as the rich owner of a failing sports league is rusty at start but eventually slips into his role and gives a good performance. The movie also benefits from real world MMA fighters who are introduced in the movie as Salman's competitors. Their fighting sequences are convincing and make for an engaging 20-30 minutes which could easily have been a bore!

Sultan is far from perfect though. Along with all the sense-less fan-pleasing content that's randomly inserted into the movie, the movie also fails to provide sufficient depth to any one but Salman's character. The biggest casualty of lazy character sketching is Anushka Sharma's character. Starting of as an ambitious athlete with an eye on the Olympic gold, Her character is abandoned midway, ambitions thrown in the river and all that's left is a sulky face. It's hard to overlook the injustice her character is subjected to in the shadow of being “strong”. Frankly with better writing could have given us a story of not one, but two great athletes.

Anant Vidhaath's character of Govind also deserved greater depth, but all of his acting is put into a role that is ultimately never more than a sidekick. The same can be said for Randeep Hooda's character who leaves a lot of questions in the audience's mind, the writers give him a convincing build up but ultimately abandon him, to make way for more of the MMA content which could frankly have been cut down.

It's been a long time since I last saw a decent Salman Khan movie. Go in with Modest Expectations and a broader tolerance zone for Salman Khan's various fan-pleasing tricks, and you'll hear an interesting sports story, one that's firmly rooted into the current state of Indian Sport, incredibly aware of the times we're in and a reminder of what Sports are really about.

Rating : *** (Watch it for Anant Vidhaath's terrific performance and a good story)

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Travelling as a Lacto Vegetarian

Vidit Bhargava
Being a lacto vegetarian in San Francisco or any other city around the world can be a little tough. Given that most of these places have started to consider eggs as vegetarian, you're likely to get Vegetarian options but equally unlikely to get any 'lacto-vegetarian' meals for yourself. You could either go to a restaurant or cafe and tell them to avoid eggs in the preparation or just ask for something vegan (at which point you are just handed over a Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette), it's a pretty tough experience either way.

Dominos has a variety of vegetarian options in its menu and they are fine, except Domino's in US offers really thick crusts and has this concept of diced tomatoes (which have a horrible taste, btw), something that I'm not looking forward to have anytime soon.

Piccolo Forno a small Italian Dine-In near North Beach , offers a couple of vegetarian options, which are very good. Being pretty new on a street that's filled with Italian Restaurants and cafes, Piccolo Forno is a quite place, the weekend I went there, the only noise was of a couple of fans watching a Euro Cup match between Portugal and Switzerland. I liked that very much, I've never been fond of ultra-noisy cafes that make it difficult to have a meal in peace.

They offer a Vegetariana Pizza where they add fresh vegetable toppings to a wood-fired Pizza (which, from the description in their menu, may change by the day). The Pizza I had, was topped with Broccoli, Aubergines and roasted Eggplant along with some of the regular toppings. Never has this combination tasted as good as it did on that Pizza. One of the unlikeliest Pizza toppings I encountered, but also one of the tastiest Pizza's I've had in a long time. This is something you don't want to miss, if you ever visit Piccolo Forno, you should have one of these.

With Sandwiches, luckily Starbucks decided to offer something vegetarian in their menu that didn't have a dash of Mayonnaise. So you'll almost always be able to grab a Roasted Tomato and Mozzarella Panini from a Starbucks near you. Almost. The thing is, this particular Panini isn't stocked very well, so you'll be out of luck if you landed at a Starbucks late for lunch, you'll then probably need to search for 'vegan' options like a glorious fruit basket of preserved fruits.

If you are looking for San Francisco's signature Sourdough bread, you should head over to a Boudin Bakery Cafe which offers a few vegetarian options, including a Tomato Soup served in a hollowed out Sourdough Bread or you could ask them for a california veggie without mayonnaise. But Boudin doesn't publish any allergen info, so you'll have to rely on their word when they say their Breads aren't glazed with Egg White.

San Francisco has a lot of options in terms of Mexican food (Did you know San Francisco was a part of Mexico until 1846?). And while I didn't explore much of Mexican Food available, I did go to a Chipotle, which seems to be similar to Subway in terms of how they make their food. Chipotle has an organic Tofu (Sofritas) filling to offer, so you can easily order a vegetarian Burrito, Bowl or Taco, which makes for a decent lunch meal. And if you are a fan of spicy food (which I'm not) there are ways to make your chipotle meal very spicy.

To be honest, Lacto-Vegetarian food is a very small subset of a subset of any menu at an international city but there's enough to make you not give it up. For me, being allergic to eggs, makes it a compulsion to look for lacto-vegetarian options anywhere I go. For a lot of people it is also for religious reasons, and some of them seem to give it up on the pretext that there aren't enough options. I hope this post helps people get a decent vegetarian meal when they visit SF next time.

Seen here is Boudin's California Veggie

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Movie Recommendation: Udta Punjab

Vidit Bhargava

Given all the posters and the promotion, it comes off as a surprise that Udta Punjab's lead actor is Diljit Dosanjh and not Shahid Kapoor, which is possibly a good thing, because Dosanjh so effortlessly fills in his role that he overshadows almost everyone else in the movie.

The good thing about Udta Punjab is that it's an extremely to the point movie. It spends little time beating about the bush, and gets its point conveyed without much frills. Structured around three different people; a rising pop-star, a cop's teenage brother and a farm worker trying to make a quick buck, Udta Punjab tries to talk about the state of drug abuse in the state and how it's more of an internal fight against drugs, instead of just rehabilitation or social awareness. It's a previously un-explored territory and it's dealt with uniqueness.

Having a good idea at hands, Abhishek Chaubey and crew also nail down the setting, set in fictional towns of Punjab, the movie is pretty well researched right down to the slightest of details. The dialogue (much talked about, in the last two weeks) is natural and even though laden with expletives, never feels forced. Amit Trivedi's refreshing music, with a blend of pop and local tunes is a pleasant addition as well.

There's something to be said about the humor in Udta Punjab, even though this is a pretty grim storyline, Chaubey manages to find some light and genuinely funny moments, helped by a terrific performance by Satish Kaushik.

While I thoroughly enjoyed watching the movie, Udta Punjab isn't perfect, in fact I felt that the screenplay felt a bit choppy. For a two and half hour long movie, I felt they tried adding too much to the mix, inclined to make the three stories converge, they include subplots that are quite unnecessary, the time could have been used to give depth to the to stories for Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt's Characters, but frankly it's the story about Diljeet Dosanjh's character that matters the most here being the one that most people will relate to.

Udta Punjab is a well made, well intentioned movie. It's definitely worth a watch for it's unconventional storyline, an important story and some brilliant acting. It's also a movie that should be enjoyed at the theatre and not from some shady torrent. Having said that, I did leave the theatre wanting more from Udta Punjab.

Rating : *** ½ (Worth a Watch for it's Story)

Friday, April 08, 2016

Hotstar uses TV Cuts for their Movies

Vidit Bhargava
This morning, the makers of the award winning movie "Masaan", took to the Social Media to bash Hotstar for censoring of their movie for the internet. Hotstar seems to have retorted back saying that they put what the producers give them.

In reality, neither Hotstar (they are, but they didn't do anything that they should be targeted negatively for), nor Drishyam Films is at fault here. Hotstar, is a media streaming service by Star that aims to be a chord - cutting solution for television viewers. What Hotstar does is, they use the television cuts of the movies they upload. Take a careful, look at the CBFC certificate on the movie. It's for the movies made available for viewing on Television channels.

To be honest, this is just Hotstar being lazy about getting the rights to show the Theatre cut. Such Parental Guidance doesn't make sense for online viewing as these On-Demand Services.

Personal Take on the Hotstar service: They had a good idea. But their content lacks basic options like Subtitles or Closed Captioning. Making it a painful experience to watch movies as it is. Top that with the TV censorship in place and you'd want nothing to do with this thing.

PS : In a sharp contrast to what Hotstar is doing, their competitor Netflix, doesn't even put up a CBFC Certificate before the movie, let alone using a Television Cut for it :)

Friday, April 01, 2016

Security and Some Changes

Vidit Bhargava
A few hours ago, this blog experienced something peculiar. Google Chrome had started to list it as a security threat. Suspected for possible phishing attacks, from a particular website that seems to have been referenced somewhere on my blog.

Here's what the problem was : I help my blogposts with images. Some of them are linked to third party websites. I've been practising this for about a decade now, without facing any serious security issues. I don't like to save them and then upload it because I feel it's somewhat immoral as it then removes the credit from the people who originally obtained it. But a recent blogpost of mine linked one of those images to a website with dubious credentials, and this started a chain of action that resulted in my website being blocked by Google's security systems that help chrome keep phishing websites at bay,

This is had never happened before and this will never happen again. I've taken a few steps to stop and prevent such security issues from happening.
To start with, The blog has been updated with SSL encryption.
The link in question has been removed And
There will be no further blogposts with images other than the ones I clicked / once from trusted sources like wikimedia commons. 

The brighter side to this is, that it only seems to be a suspicious link that triggered this. To the best of my knowledge, the website wasn't able to operate any phishing scam through this blog. But it's a lesson well learnt for me. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Movie Recommendation: Kapoor and Sons

Directed By Shakun Batra (Director of the spitefully underrated Ekk Main Aur Ekk Tu, and the viral YouTube video called Alia Bhatt: Genius Of the Year), Kapoor and Sons, is an important story told with a tinge of fun and humor.

The first thing that you'll notice about Kapoor and Sons is the fact that it's extremely visually appealing. I'm not aware if there were people other than the cinematographer involved in making this happen but the combinations of colors at any point of time on screen is just perfect. It's almost as if a graphic designer was given the camera. The result is a movie that's hard to take eyes off.

Set in the idyllic town of Coonoor (Tamil Nadu), Kapoor and Sons is a story of a regular family, with some skeletons in their closet. As the story proceeds, we're given more details about each of the characters. The narrative just dives in deep with everyone here, giving a microscopic view of all the members of the Kapoors. The movie reminded me of the short play in our English Textbooks that'd generally give a third person's view into a family, panning out every basic task in meek details, basically getting us familiar or acquainted with the members, and this is something that Kapoor and Sons, couldn't have worked without. To get a grasp of the entire story, it's important here to know each and every character pretty well, and it comes as no surprise that the screenplay takes its own time to take off, and once it does (pretty late into the second half), it just shoots off from there. And to be honest, yes, Kapoor and Sons has some of the finest actors of the country and yes, the direction is brilliant but the biggest strength of Kapoor and Sons is its screenplay. There have been about 4-5 movies on similar topics in the last year itself, and very few capture the essence of the family drama, this well.

Like I said before, Kapoor and Sons has one of the finest star cast to support its story. And it comes as no surprise that there's not even a single under performer. Rajat Kapoor, Ratna Shah and Siddharth Malhotra lead the pack here. They leave a lasting impression. Kapoor and Shah, shine in their constant banter. Rishi Kapoor does a great job too as he gets along with the heavy makeup pretty well. Alia Bhatt in her little role is amazing. Her character is extremely difficult to pull of, as its one that's easiest to forget Because it's of so little consequence in the end but Bhatt delivers an extremely nuanced performance, and to be honest I was expecting that from her, after how well she did in Highway, this looked like a walk in the park. But it's Fawad Khan who's surprisingly amazing. He is effortless and earnest in the extremely complex role he's given. I can think of few actors who could have pulled of such a performance as Fawad did.

Where Kapoor and Sons didn't work for me though, is the parts where it tries to be too cool. Rishi Kapoor's character has this tendency to pull out some or the other random tidbit, which is intended to get a 'Woah! That's cool' reaction but instead it ends up feeling forced and unnecessary. The same goes for some of the humor that runs through in the barrage of conversations this movie has, it sounds pretty forced and is hardly funny. There's this constant swing between uber realistic conversation that works very well and this fake plasticky chatter or hyperbolic actions that just weren't needed. The result is pretty much an okeyish first half. The biggest problem is the fact that these are the only minute issues with an otherwise amazing movie, making them stick out like a sore thumb.

On the whole, Kapoor and Sons is a great movie that's got much more than it appears at a glance. Minor issues aside It's a family drama worth watching.

Rating : ***½ (Don't miss this)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Food At Hauz Khas Social

Vidit Bhargava
Earlier this month I went to the Social Cafe At Hauz Khas Village. Yes, I was in part compelled to visit the place because of the extended feature it got in Imtiaz Ali's Tamasha. But also, because I had gone (for the first time) To the Hauz Khas Village and didn't want to go a place where I had already been to, in other parts of the city. A little about the Hauz Khas Village first. Don't go to that place unless you want to witness a barrage of crowd and stacked up shops in all sorts of dimensions, constructed in what is basically an ordinary market which would have felt slightly better had the lake near it not been so polluted or its nearby monument had not been over crowded with crazy teenagers taking potentially life threatening “selfies”. So, that's the summary for HKV, it's an over-rated market with branches of most of the hyped up restaurants, cafes and shops of the city being accessible in a small radius of 1-2km.

Back to Social then. Social falls under the category of “Themed Cafes”. Social goes a step further though, it themes each cafe differently. The one in Hauz Khas Village branch has a 'rural' theme. So, you'll see a lot of incandescent bulbs around the place, concrete textured walls, taps that you'd generally see in a rural setting. Social is excessively themed. Themed to a fault! Actually. For examples, the tables are sort of intentionally under-polished. And this is a problem. While I was there, a splinter from the under polished table caught my sweater and ruined the wool winding slightly. Thankfully, it wasn't a severe damage to my sweater but beware when you are there.
Also, something that I noted was that Social is a heavily successful place. So, on a Saturday afternoon the place was so crowded that it affected the service. One of the managers told us that we couldn't just walk in and sit on any empty table we felt like and that we'd have to wait outside until the place gets emptier. That's the rudest thing I've heard at a cafe. It's understandable to a degree but it was also heavily discomforting. But we did get a slightly better spot in place of that, so not many harsh feelings there.

Like I said before, social is themed to a fault and the faults are exemplified when you begin with the process of ordering the food. The menu, is horribly designed. It's designed as a newspaper But unlike one, it's mostly a single column layout. It's practically impossible to read it effectively. The composition is such, that it makes it hard to figure out some of the essentials, like whether the dish is vegetarian or not or whether the beverage is alcoholic or not or simply, what is the composition of the dish. You just get a fancy name and a vague explanation Of the composition. It's hard to order properly from this menu.

After I did get past the utterly confusing menu, I did have something to eat, which were basically Jalapeño and Cheese Nuggets with a fancier name along with a platter of something that contained a bunch of dips, pita bread and a cheese patty shaped as a samosa. Again, I was unsure of what I was having because of the terrible menu composition And whatever I had didn't seem to adhere to any proper cuisine, and felt more like a chef's experiment. The taste of it was fine, but it wasn't great but it wasn't uneatable either. Poor design decisions prevailed over here as well. Having the jalapeño nuggets was a nightmare. They came stacked in a small bucket, and there was hardly any place to in there to take out the nugget comfortably. The platter was a slightly better experience though. Served in a conventional plate It was much simpler to eat. The beverages were a completely different story though. They tasted great and although they too were served in a crazy unnecessarily different way, they weren't bad. I had a great Iced Tea, which got served to me in what looked like a miniature bath tub.

Overall, while I was walking out of the place, I did have the feeling of experiencing something different And somewhat cool but also that, that this isn't the place for me. Hauz Khas Social isn't actually a bad cafe. It's that kind of a place where teens would take their friends to impress them with Cool gimmicks, I'm not sure if those guys Care about the quality of food (You can probably guess, I was never a part of that group) or just the kind of place where Imtiaz Ali would provide a setting to a great AR Rahman song (Listen: Tum Saath Ho). Social is just not the place where you would spend a quite afternoon, enjoying your food in solace.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Movie Review: Wazir

Vidit Bhargava

Bejoy Nambiar's Wazir has been a much hyped release, with the trailers coming out more than an year before the release. In fact the project itself has been in development longer than 10 years, and to be honest, Wazir does bring with it some new and interesting ideas but is far from perfect.
But first, What exactly is a 'Wazir'? I've been asked this question several times, in fact, in the theatre I found people looking up the chess term, when it first pops up.
Wazir is actually 'fairy chess piece' found in certain variants of chess. It's a combination of a rook and pawn. It's an upgrade to the pawn but a downgraded rook. it's function is much like the rook but it can only move one step at a time.
There's a lot to like about the movie. To begin with the central idea of the movie is extremely powerful and very interestingly put forward. Wazir is one of those movies that are worth a watch for the idea alone. But apart from the idea, we also have some amazing acting at play here. The chief actors, Amitabh Bachchan (who gets the movie's most of the one liners, the one about learning to learn being particularly striking), Farhan Akhtar and Manav Kaul (of Kai Po Che fame) Are flawless They make the movie extremely enjoyable, even when the screenplay slips.

Shantanu Moitra's soundtrack is top notch. The title song 'Tere Bin' and a chilling 'Tere Liye' are the highlights, the music holds the screenplay very well and is very intelligently used by Bejoy Nambiar, producing the right effects at the right time. Nambiar also executes the action sequences with much aplomb. Making it an engaging watch throughout and at 1 hours 40 minutes it's a tightly woven thriller.

But where Wazir falls short is the poor sketching of its central character. The Character portrayed (excellently played by Farhan Akhtar), is extremely irresponsible and For a movie based on the much nuanced game of chess, it's ironic that the he's prone to making some very rash decisions. And this is Wazir's biggest problem. To keep things consistent with the character, the script takes turns which could have been executed better if the Farhan Akhtar's character had been better written ultimately leading to an underwhelming climax. I get where some of this is coming from, ultimately everything adheres to the central idea But perhaps the movie needed a lot more time than the screenplay gives it, to build a much more nuanced character than what we get.

As I mentioned previously, the idea of Wazir has been in development for over 10 years. It's a variation of Vidhu Vinod Chopra's original project “The Fifth Move”. Chopra's Fifth Move was ultimately shelved even as Robin Williams and Anthony Hopkins were reported to have been signed for the movie. Chopra didn't want to make an Indian version at the time because he felt that the Indian Audience wouldn't want to watch such a movie. . It was about two men playing a game of chess, in which one player is dead and the another, alive and even though this setting is extremely different from wazir offers, I feel that the central idea was stil the same. Wazir feels like a toned down version of the same concept. It also tries to add an element of suspense to the movie, and while it is indeed a captivating reveal (Again, credit to Nambiar for an excellent execution!) but doesn't succeed entirely, much of it was easy And somewhat obvious. Again something you don't want to happen in a movie based on chess of all things.

Overall, Wazir is a constantly engaging and enjoyable watch, with an uplifting soundtrack, brilliant direction and flawless acting but a poorly sketched out central character bogs the script down and what could ultimately have been a very special movie is reduced to a terrific execution of a flawed screenplay. Perhaps, Chopra should have used the fifth move as it is, and we'd have got a far better movie.

Rating: *** (Worth a Watch)