Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Movie Confessions

I would like to confess that I am a big movie fan, specially b/w Bollywood classics. I watch a lot of movies and not just Hollywood or Bollywood but from a vast variety of foreign films, more like world cinema. Sometimes, I even take the risk of watching movies which are 5 or 6 on the IMDB ratings. My friends tell me that I have too much time on my hands. Actually, I believe that movies can sometimes tell a lot about the time in which it is made, the place, the people, the culture and most importantly the mindset of people. And that intrigues me the most. So, I thought maybe I put up some foreign films of my choice from recent times. I make it a point to watch foreign movies in original version with English subtitles. I believe that the true emotions and feeling of the actor is lost after dubbing a movie. Something like lost in translation. The ones which I can recommend undoubtedly to anyone are:

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen - German)
Many people might have seen and appreciated the movie, Schindler’s List. It narrates the horrors of the Nazi rule and the rescue of many Jews by Oscar Schindler. But what many people might not know about the German history after the Second World War is the creation of a secret police and intelligence agency (state sponsored) commonly called Stasi in the communist East Germany. It was notorious for finding and arresting people who tried to go against the State or even tried to belittle it. The movie is set in those times. A police investigator (superbly played by Ulrich Muhe) is asked to monitor few people, mostly artists and writers who are suspected of plotting and speaking against the State and its apparent abuse of power. The highlight of the movie is this investigator. He looks pretty unemotional and expressionless from the outside throughout the movie but there is a lot going on in his head. Disclosing anything more about the movie might not be a good idea. There should be a surprise factor for the audience which should leave the audience contemplating at the end about the events which unfolded in complete story. The movie left me thinking about the contrasts that exist in humans and there is a constant fight between the right and the wrong.

The Secret in their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos - Argentina)
Amongst all languages I have experienced so far listening, I find Spanish one of the most expressive and Italian comes close second. By expressive, I mean that just with the pronunciation and the tone of words, a person who doesnt  know the language can pretty much make out the mood of the conversation. Unlike french, where I feel that it is so polite and mushy that a listener can mistake a guy cursing her girlfriend like he is actually proposing to her. Therefore, I enjoy watching Spanish language movies and I might be even biased for them. More-so because of the bold themes sometimes which they portray where the actors and directors are not afraid trying something new. Coming back to the movie which is also in Spanish language is a suspense thriller in a broad perspective. But ideally, it has a dash of many human emotions like obsession, friendship, unfulfilled love, revenge etc. I find it pretty challenging to write a review of a suspense film without giving out too much but still I would try. I want the reader to actually enjoy the movie and get absorbed in it rather than remembering the things and matching it with the scenes while watching it. So, the movie is about a retired prosecutor, Benjamin who is trying to write a novel about an unsolved case he took in the past which almost blew up his career and life since he developed an obsession around it. It was a case of the rape and murder of a girl. The movie keeps jumping to flashback now and then to give the details of the case he was trying to solve. It beautifully portrays his undisclosed love for Irene to whom he is never able to present his love in words. The audience can clearly see their attraction for each other in their eyes but not communicated otherwise. It also show the unconditional friendship he has with Pablo, who is an alcoholic but a true partner. Ricardo who was the husband of the dead girl is desperate to find the culprit and makes Benjamin promise him that he will catch the murderer. Under some tragic circumstances, Benjamin has to give up on the case and town. But, while writing his novel, he has an urge to meet the widower of the murdered girl who now lives in some village. The movie already goes through a lot of twists and turns but the quite easily predicted end turns into something else. One should see it to feel it. Truly speaking, it left me in shock and for some reasons my heart turned cold and hard and my brain got numbed. Such was the power of the climax. I would give full marks to all the actors who did complete justice to all the characters and would highly recommend this movie. It is definitely a roller coaster ride. I would also confess that I secretly developed a crush on Soledad Villamil who played Irene in the movie :)

I have a couple of more recommendations. Maybe, I will write about them in the next post!

Friday, July 22, 2011

A New Nursery Rhyme

Murdoch and Brooks went up the hill,
to make a bunch of readers.
Brooks fell down and broke her crown,
and Murdoch came tumbling after.

These are the lines ringing in my mind ever since I saw the latest Murdoch hearings. I had always been a big fan of all such hearings and c-span provides me enough fodder for my entertainment appetite. Be it Tony Hayward from the BP oil spill hearing or those big Bank CEOs lined up before the US Congress committee or even Bernanke answering the US Senators. I have always found it amusing to see the attitude of these honchos at such hearings. They sit like 5 years old sit in front of their parents trying to answer the tough questions asked by their parents after they mess up. They mumble, they fumble replying to the committees but never ever accept the fact that things are going wrong, they messed up or they take responsibility for anything. In fact they pretend everything is fine, all is being taken care of, and tomorrow everything will be just about perfect. I chuckle each time they do that.

So, this time it was like a mega event in the UK. The multi-billionaire media king along with his son appeared before a bunch of local UK MPs. It was theatrical, all live and I was truly entertained. I think I have not enjoyed any recent Hollywood blockbuster this year as much I enjoyed these hearings. All of them, with the two freshly resigned top cops, media mogul and his son, and my personal favorite the ex chief editor of a now defunct tabloid. The innocently sitting editor took a complete U turn during the hearing, hardly even acknowledging the players of the scandal. The occasional smirk on her face now and then was priceless. But what stole the show for me was the four-decades younger wife of the media king. The way she pounced on the man trying to mess up with her husband was out of this world. The pativrata wife of the year award goes undoubtedly to her, all hands down. She could be every man’s dream wife. Who needs a life insurance policy against accidents such as those?

These hearings are definitely entertaining but I personally feel that they hardly lead to anywhere. Take for example the recent UK hearings. I find it tough to understand how will there be any honest and decent ending to this drama. It is like a game of three kids running after each other in circles without the motivation to actually catch the one in front of him because the game will stop once one catches the other. The three kids in this case being the politicians, the media and the cops. All these three parts of our modern “democratic” society have become so intermingled with one another that it is now like a labyrinth for anyone to find the right path. Of course it is a scary situation. The police needs the media to solve some cases and the occasional extra money under the table. The media needs the police to provide inside information to sell their news. The politicians need both media and police for portraying its clean image to the society and for maintaining order in the same society respectively. In such an interdependent scenario it is quite natural that the boundary lines are ought to get blurred.

At the same time, I feel a little guilty and shamed of the audience in all this. I can not completely blame the news or tabloids for serving the voyeuristic demands of the modern society. There cannot be any supply when there is no demand. As simple as that. How else can one explain the record breaking circulations of such papers? So, as a society we need to pause a little and think where are we actually going. Do we really need to know whether Beckham had a boy or a girl before anyone else knows? Do we need to know on which beach Katy Perry is going on vacations or what is going on in a footballer’s personal life? It is quite ironic to me that first we make people celebrities based on only one of their talents and later we want to know each and every aspect of their lives and then criticize on any move they make in their personal life as per our standards. Is it not bigotry on the part of the society? Why don’t we put in more efforts on thinking and concentrating on more important aspects of the current state of our world? And I think I know the answer to that. Because talking about it is so boring and clich├ęd !

Monday, July 18, 2011

Provence - Day 5

On the previous day, I had checked that there were some short boat tours which took you along Marseille and the adjoining areas with some lovely looking creeks. Since I had my flight back early in the evening, I took the first tour starting at 9:30. I checked out and kept my luggage at the hotel and headed to the port for my ride. I took a seat at the top of the boat and thus started the small voyage. We left the port and off we went.

On the way we saw a small island with a Chateau or castle at a distance. I got to know that on the way back we had the option to get off on that island and take the next ferry back to the Marseille port. The main attraction of that island was Cateau d'If. In olden times this fortress like castle was used as a prison for political and religious prisoners. The strategic location of the island served well as a prison virtually impossible to escape. But what made this prison most famous in modern times was that this is the same prison which appears in Dumas' famous novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Those who know the story will relate well with the picture below.

The rest I would say, better let the pictures do the talking.

I wouldn't really mind living in a house like in the picture below when I retire. What more can you ask from life in the last phase of your life.

So this is where I would like to end my journey to Provence. It was a memorable trip with many sights and views which will remain in my memory for a long time. The only sad part was that like on most trips, I wish I had a few more days to explore some more lovely villages and towns.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Provence - Day 4

All my other friends had a flight back home in the evening from Marseille. I was staying on for an extra night in Marseille and had my flight the next day. It was quite unfortunate that we had planned such a short trip this time. There were a few more towns and villages which we want to visit. But I guess, this would make us come back to Provence. 

We checked out from Aix early in the morning and reached Marseille in no time. A's brother and his wife took a bus tour of Marseille and the rest of us explored the city on foot. An interesting thing in Marseille was that the tourist department the city had marked a red line on the city streets which act as a trail guide for tourists. People can just follow that trail and it takes them to all the major attractions of the city without a map or guide. I found it to be a pretty novel idea. We then decided to follow that trail to see the city.

Marseille is an old port town with its history dating back 30,000 years. It was a port city founded by the Greeks and is today one of the largest cities of France. I think I will skip the history lesson and focus on the town. Marseille today has a large part of its population as immigrants from other countries mainly from North Africa. I would be frank in stating that some parts of the town were not really too great. They were dirty and not well maintained. But the main part of the town was clean and looked lovely. Here are some of the snapshots from the city: 

One can always notice the Cathedral of Notre Dame on a hill in the background from many places along the port.

A building (pic below) which caught my attention while walking on the streets of the main part of Marseille.

And the picture below from the labyrinth of the old part of the town. The old town had many interwoven small streets which I guess would be hard to even put on the map.

Now, coming from the Hindi speaking part of India, how could I not take a picture of this :) A theater sign which was pretty unique ! It amazes me sometimes how same words mean different things in different languages. And which can sometimes even be hilarious.

After lunch, the others left for their respective cities. I went to my hotel for check in. Apparently, my hotel was not too far from the basilica of Notre Dame. We did not visited it before since it was located almost out of the main touristic places in town. So, after taking a nap in my hotel, I hiked up to the small hill on foot to see the basilica. The basilica is situated on top of a hill overlooking the complete main town of Marseille. Unfortunately, by mistake I took the long path which was meant for cars although there existed a shorter path for people on foot. But, it was okay since I had no special plans after that.

The panoramic view from the top was breathtaking. I took some rest on a bench at the top, admiring the view of the port and around Marseille.  

The basilica was as beautiful on the inside as magnificent it was on the outside. High ceilings with domes and hand painted pictures of ships and voyages with beautiful mosaics. It was pretty unique. It also had some toy ships hanging from the ceilings which I found pretty cute considering that it was a basilica near a port town.

This is one of my favorite photos of the trip. There is something majestic I find about this composition. The unique cross with an anchor on the ground, the city of Marseille on the foothills with the vast sea in front of it and the light from the sun doing its tricks.  

The basilica had a huge open space around it with benches which give visitors a 360 degree view of the city from the top. After checking out the church from the inside, I decided to sit for a while on one of these benches. It was near the statue of the Passion of the Christ which seemed to have been carved out of a single stone. The expressions carved out on the stone were out of this world. I could not help but admire it for a long time.

After spending some time there, I headed back to my hotel. This time from the short cut !

P.S: It is quite a coincidence that the Lonely Planet bought by BBC now is also doing a feature these days on Provence here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Provence - Day 3

The plan for the day was to explore some new towns and villages in the area of Luberon. Now, Luberon is most famous for its amazing countryside with big Lavender fields. It also has one of the most spectacular hill top villages. So, we started the day heading towards the town called Gordes. But on the way to Gordes, we stopped at a village called Lourmarin. We spotted an antique market being set up that day with some stalls of local food. So, we decided to stop over. We tried to explore the village and went through its streets. I was amazed to find a small shop in this small village selling oriental stuff with things from the Fabindia store (India) on its display. We had a coffee at one of the restaurants before heading back to our route. Streets of Lourmarin:

While walking back to our car, we came across a huge square where there was some kind of a Porsche owner's get together. Porsches from old to new were standing there shining away in their glory, making any man go weak in his knees.

We reached the town of Gordes around noon. It is a small village on top of a cliff facing the Luberon valley. The Romans built a fortified castle there in the 11th century which still exists. A small village started developing around it but over the years it was lost and attained attraction by tourists only in the 1960s. There is a fountain in the village square near he castle entrance which they say was the only source of water till the 1960s.

We went through the village streets and explored the beautiful small village with amazing views of the green valley. Some snapshots from Gordes:

After lunch, we headed on to visit the next village called Roussilon (Vaucluse). On the way we had some amazing views of the countryside and with the weather Gods having mercy on us, the views were accompanied by super weather. A trip to Provence is incomplete without a visit to a Lavender farm. So, on the way we found one and no matter what, we had to stop and take some pictures. Once we stopped at this roadside farm, many other tourists also started stopping to take pictures and soon it was like a mini carnival there. Some photos of Lavender fields with a castle in the backdrop were simply out of this world.

After reaching the village of Roussillon, I was pretty much spell bound. I think this is my favorite place on the complete trip. It was a small village again, perched on top of a cliff overlooking the valley. It always amazed me thinking how these small remote villages sustained themselves over such a long time. Moreover, they are more or less totally unharmed from the new modern construction and preserved like they had ever looked. Here is a look at the village from the car park:

The village of Roussillon overlooks the unique Ochre mountain which is red in color. This was the special thing of this place. We decided to visit it before hitting the village. There is also an Ochre trail which one can follow and we decided to walk along it. It was quite amazing to see the color of the earth changing after every few steps on this hill. At some places the color was as yellow as turmeric and few meters from there it was red like blood. It was pretty amazing to see such shades of mother earth. The pictures above and below were actually hardly 200 meters apart.

After returning from the trail we were a little hungry and some of us needed the coffee kick. So, it was the best time to check out the village which also had some traditional eateries. The view of the valley from some places in the village was breathtaking. And the village itself was pretty nice. Like I said before, Roussillon was my favorite place on this trip to Provence. Some shots of the village below:

Lets see if anyone can guess the small thing near the window in the photo above.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Latest on the Playlist

Usually, it is highly unlikely that I like a remix of an old Indian song. I am a huge fan of Bollywood oldies and I think I am kind of a purist and don't really appreciate people messing with the originals. But for some reasons, this remix from the movie Shaitan kept me hooked all over the weekend. The video could be pretty graphic for some people but then just listen to the audio.

I am also not a big fan of item songs but this latest one from Budha Hoga Tera Baap had kind of a magnet effect on me. The music has a flavor like a mix of Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Band Baaja Baarat and Beyonce's Single Ladies. So this weekend I was quite surprised on my likings.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Provence - Day 2

On the second day of the trip, we had planned to visit the historical town of Avignon which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. It's history dates back to the 12th century as a city of the Romans. In the 14th century, the town became the capital of the Christian world. It was the town of the popes. As many as seven popes resided there instead of Rome. It was only later that the Papacy was restored in Rome. The popes had a huge fortress like Gothic palace for themselves called the Palais de Papes. The walls surrounding the old town made by the popes are still present and one has to walk through one of the huge doors in it to enter the old town. 

Just next to the Palace of the Popes was a big cathedral called Notre Dame des Domes which looked more spectacular to me than the Palace itself (pic below). Although the Palace itself was not too bad with around 20 feet thick walls built on top of a rock with huge chambers inside. There was a huge square in front of the two structures which was pretty commercial with a lot of eateries and souvenir shops.

The famous bridge of Avignon also known as Pont d'Avignon over the Rhone river which used to connect the city in olden days. Out of the many arches below the bridge only few remain now over the years. A view of the bridge from Rocher des Doms:

The town was nice but not particularly for nature lovers like us. Since it was strongly recommended in travel books and internet sites, we had paid it a visit. We then decided to create our own trip rather than following these travel books. We are always more interested in the beautiful countryside than big towns and believe that the real feel of a place comes from there. So, as cheap we are, we paid a visit to a local souvenir shop which usually have lovely postcards of and around the town. We selected some which were the most beautiful and checked the name of the place/village written on the back of the postcard. There you go, we had our own itinerary !  

We strolled in Avignon for a while, went out on the bridge and had our lunch before leaving for Saint Remy (our next destination). Above are some more pictures from Avignon.

Saint Remy is one of the oldest towns in France, where for more than 2500 years, the routes of Mediterranean and North European civilizations had crossed. The town had two main attractions. One was that the famous painter Van Gogh had spent an year of his exile getting psychiatric help in a monastery in Remy. The other was that Nostradamus was born here. I could not believe that I was in the town of the famous author of so many controversial prophecies. I had a strange feeling after knowing this fact. We walked around the narrow streets  of this small town and also followed the trail of Van Gogh which had reproduction of his old paintings.   

We also encountered an old abandoned water fountain with the bust of Nostradamus on it !

From Remy we went to a small village called Les Baux built on top of a small hill. The road to Baux had some amazing views. We had to stop at one point to take some pictures. Here is a view of the village from a distance:

After reaching Baux, we climbed to the top of the mountain which also had an old castle. From there we could see the complete valley and the view was breathtaking from there. We walked around exploring the old streets inside the castle which had many small shops.

Given the sweet tooth that I have, as usual a shop which caught my attention was this:


It was a traditional sweets shop. The ones in the foreground of the picture are actually conserves of fruits (murabba in hindi). I agree that they look more like gulab jamun and jalebi at first glance. So I went in and they were offering some sweets to try for guests. I picked a green colored, round looking one to try and when I bit on it, I found it had a pista inside. The pista was so fresh that it felt like it had been taken out fresh from its shell just few seconds back. It was pretty good. And of course the murabbas were looking really tempting. I really had to control myself buying them but in the end, they won over me. I did ended up buying some of them. So from Baux, we called it a day and headed back to our base in Aix.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Provence - Day 1

We flew from different cities to reach Marseille on the same morning. The plan was to then take a rental car from the airport and stay in the town of Aix-en-Provence. We made Aix our home base and made days trips from there. Unlike the last France trip, we did not stayed in a new hotel every night but planned to return every night to Aix. Now, Aix is a town with a long history behind it. But most famously is known as the birth place of the famous painter Paul Cezanne. Aix celebrate its most famous son by creating a trail with medallions engraved on the main streets where Cezanne used to roam in his days. Here is a picture of one of those many medallions laid on the streets: 

Aix is also famous for its hot water spring fountains and its architecture. But in recent times it has become the hub of learning French. It has a couple of universities and many institutes offering French language courses. Hundreds of international students from around the globe come to Aix to study French. So the present Aix looks more like a student town.

From the Marseille airport we drove to Aix but when we reached our hotel just before noon, it was still not ready for check in. So we all decided to head to the city center for lunch. The city center was a pretty crowded and a huge fountain served as a roundabout:

We looked for a decent eating place but ended up walking through the narrow streets of the old city. Finally, we managed our meals and headed back to the hotel. After our check in, we directly left for Cannes. It was around 170 km from Aix. Now, Cannes is a city made more famous by its annual film festival than its history. It is a place for the rich.

Huge buildings overlooking the sea served as holiday apartments for the rich. Big and beautiful hotels with their own private but artificial looking beaches were shining on its main boulevard.

We decided to take a walk along its fashion street full with expensive showrooms and big labels and took a short tour of the main part of the city. There were many showrooms particularly dedicated at serving gourmet chocolates. The temptations ran high and we ended up trying some of them breaking our calorie limits for the day. But it was really worth it !

At the end of the walk, we reached the famous Palais des Festivals where a red carpet was waiting for us. This was the main building where we had often seen the big names from the international film fraternity entering it during the film festivals. Since the festival was over one month back. All we had now were a bunch of over excited tourists clicking pictures as souvenirs from Cannes. How could we be left behind. We all also had a short photo session outside the main door where we had always seen those celebrities going through.

The final verdict of Cannes was that it was a city made famous by good marketing techniques than anything else. It is a place where the rich flaunt their wealth by owning super expensive apartments and holidaying in super expensive hotels.

It was already evening by the time we were finish with the photos. So from there, we decided to head back to Aix. For dinner, we went again to the main city center which was by now spilling over with people since it was Friday night. Its hundreds of eating joints were all almost full. We finally managed to take some tables in a restaurant and after dinner we were all set for some party time !

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Trip to Provence, South France

After about two years of visiting the Brittany region of North France, it was time to explore South France. So last month in June 2011, some of my friends and I went for a road trip to the Provence region of France. It lies in the southeast of France along the Mediterranean. The first image that comes up when one speak of Provence is a big landscape full with lavender. We all flew to the port city of Marseille and started our journey from there. Partners in crime this time were again A and D from the Brittany trip and two new people who were A's brother and his brother's wife. Although this time it was not a very long trip, we still tried to soak in as much as possible the beauty of Provence region.

I will try to pen down some experiences of the trip in the next days. For the time being here is a map of the places we visited on this trip:

View Larger Map

Monday, July 4, 2011

Movie Review: Delly Belly

Last week I saw an interview of Ram Gopal Verma for the promotion of one of his latest movies. He said something which I believe was very true for the current state of Indian Cinema. He said that times are changing. There was a time when movies celebrated their 100 days, then it came down to 50 days, then weeks and now it has come down to a weekend. Now, movies make their major collection on its release date and the following weekend. And to pull the crowd to the cinema one needs to promote an intense shock and awe effect before the release.

This is precisely what I believe Aamir Khan did with Delly Belly. The promos were filled with expletives and even the lyrics of all the songs were not like they would make anyone proud but were enough to create that ripple effect. They say that to actually experience the difference between good and bad you actually need to see and experience the bad. This was more a reason for me to see the movie. I actually like Aamir Khan movies but frankly speaking this one was not for me and it left me in bad taste.

Of course this movie belongs to a genre where the story is not important. But still, the first part of the movie did not even made me laugh. There was hardly anything funny. The movie took a long time to build its base. There were some funny situations in the second part but still it was not really up to the mark. If someone claims the humor in the movie to be slapstick then I would say that even that was not done efficiently to create a laugh.Vijay Raaz did create some comic sequences and I think was the only funny guy in the movie. But otherwise, the movie was a damp squib.

I already see a big fan following for the film but I am not surprised to see most of its fans from a pool of youngsters who use the F word more like an exclamation mark in a sentence than anything else. And if only hearing people swearing words in every sentence gives a kick to such youngsters then why to spend money to watch a movie? They can simply go and stand outside any desi theka or wine shop and hear and watch much more amusing stuff than the movie !