Friday, December 31, 2010

The only way Rajni can act as a villain - in his own movies in an alter ego - Endhiran

It's so easy to miss it in Endhiran: All the robots are played by the same Rajni. In effect, it's a triple-role. A serious Einstein-esque scientist, a stone faced good robot and the most diabolical robot.

That Rajni is an actor of epic levels is not in question - it's just been lost for a lot of years. Becoming a mass hero for nearly 20 years has taken its toll. I don't think the gradual transition to shun the 'superstar' image is an aberration - Sivaji the Boss had very few 'punch' dialogues with Vivek doing a few for him, this film has almost none('Ennai yaaralayum azhikka mudiyathu'). Whereas he would get the best entrances, his last two have been very simple - one behind bars and the other in a lab.

The best scene in the entire movie has to be the black sheep one - oh how I wish Rajni would act as a villain in a big budget movie - he'd set the benchmark for all future villains. The laugh(not everyone can laugh loudly and in progression - try it), the scowl, the sudden smile-to-frown, the walk - it's 'acting' at its best. More remarkable wearing the exact same costume but acting differently - the Vaseegaran in disguise and evil Chitti.

As far as the movie is concerned, it's worthy of a Hollywood production. The romantic angle(2 songs with Vaseegaran) is a stretch; the delivery of the baby is equally unnecessary. Shankar has written a very clever script - an exemplary scene is when evil Chitti gets 3 reports - the first on someone delivering food, the second on the video cam being disabled and then that his Highness has eaten - getting him to bring all his emotions ahead of other priorities - is genius. However, Shankar too, in his fantasy world, has decided that robots may not learn emotions - he delivers his to the robot via a quirk because of a lightning strike. What Do Women Want much?

Equally genius is the robots joining to form a sphere, a hand, a snake and a bigger robot. The first time I saw the trailer I was blown away.



It's pretty obvious Danny Denzongpa mouthed all his dialogues in Hindi. His actions in trying to derail Vaseegaran are a reflection of the real world, where minor flaws are blown to epic proportions so a competitor's plan does not succeed.

The graphics is excellent - though there are a handful of places where it could've been better.

Vaseegaran's lab is too clean to be a lab; NDTV's Sanjay Pinto makes a hilarious cameo - just words thrown in without much grammar - could be just headlines.

What's with the white guys amongst a group of rowdys trying to beat up Chitti and Ash on the suburban?

No matter how many movies he makes, Shankar never leaves his love for exploding cars behind. It's getting a little bit too boring.

There is one scene in which visuals and BG music line up beautifully - when Ash gives Chitti a kiss, his mouth opens in surprise and a draft slightly ruffles his hair, as a modified opening to 'Irumbile' plays(just before the intermission).

The mosquito scene is beyond present capabilities, so it well and truly falls into the realm of sci-fi. Which leaves a glaring mistake in the plot - why aren't the robots using solar power to charge their batteries? Non-solar robots fit into the movie's overall storyline but nonetheless it is a wee bit disappointing.

I remember reading an interview of Shankar, probably 7 years ago, when Boys released, where he lamented about his dream project involving robots being stalled because no-one was willing to spend 100 crores to make it. It's eerily similar to another person's complaints - James Cameron and Avatar. In his case it was that technology hadn't improved and no-one was willing to spend so much money.

AR Rahman's bg score is exemplary especially the trailing trumpet and the final hour or so - except for the '2.0' techno voice while evil Chitti faces the police while holding so many guns between his hands.

Shankar always finishes his movies with a message to the people - in this case it's that machines if used properly can aid mankind in his quest to do whatever.

Endhiran is one of the rare movies to get universal acclaim, including from the North-Indian press, which is suspicious, to say the least.

Whatever, the last 50 minutes, after the entrance of the evil Chitti are fantastic for anyone looking for a wonderful performance.

And Shankar's record of 100% hits with riveting climaxes continues. Still, it's Rajni's movie. What. An. Actor.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Scientific reasons for a 'homa' or grihapravesh puja?

Reading 'Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official' by W H Sleeman (some selected passages are here), he writes of his experience in dealing with abandoned forts - and how soldiers or prisoners housed there had a very high risk of dying or becoming sick beyond recovery.

He writes of the presence of 'carbonic acid gas'(he could be referring to carbon dioxide) in 'all abandoned forts in India' and describes its characteristics accurately, namely that it is denser than air and remains stagnant.

Most interestingly, he says the native remedy is a puja - where guests are fed and a fire is lit in the fortress, while explaining that the movement of the people and the rising air from the fire causes circulation with all the doors and windows open (or 'large openings'). In an occupied fortress, the normal movement of people prevents such accumulation of gas, he says. By his account about 6% of those who were lodged in these abandoned forts died within 5 years, which translate to 'thousands' of men.

This explanation seems to account for all the practices for a new home or some other 'special puja' to 'clear the bad air' (haven't you heard an elder say that?); it is also possible that the commotion and smoke could chase out insects and reptiles which may be in the building.

As to how the 'carbonic acid' got into the forts in the first place, it could be general decay from plants growing there, or, in my opinion, from the plaster or building material used - usually some form of mud or limestone(CaCO3) - which could degrade to give off the gas the author describes.

In India we carry out many practices in the name of tradition and culture - many of them may have had proper reason to carry out, but over time they have been exaggerated and their true purpose hidden.

Full relevant passage:

" The fortress is now entirely deserted, and the town, which the garrison supported, is occupied by only a small police-guard, stationed here to see that robbers do not take up their abode among the ruins. There is no fear of this. All old deserted fortresses in India become filled by a dense stream of carbonic acid gas, which is found so inimical to animal life that those who attempt to occupy them become ill, and, sooner or later, almost all die of the consequences. This gas, being specifically much heavier than common air, descends into the bottom of such unoccupied fortresses, and remains stagnant like water in old reservoirs. The current of pure air continually passes over, without being able to carry off the mass of stagnant air below; and the only way to render such places habitable is to make large openings in the walls on all sides, from the top to the bottom, so that the foul air may be driven out by the current of pure atmospheric air, which will then be continually rushing in. When these fortresses are thickly peopled, the continual motion within tends, I think, to mix up this gas with the air above; while the numerous fires lighted within, by rarefying that below, tend to draw down a regular supply of the atmospheric air from above for the benefit of the inhabitants. When natives enter upon the occupation of an old fortress of this kind, that has remained long unoccupied, they always make a solemn religions ceremony of it; and, having fed the priests, the troops, and a crowd of followers, all rush in at once with beat of drums, and as much noise as they can make. By this rush, and the fires that follow, the bad air is, perhaps, driven off, and never suffered to collect again while the fortress remains fully occupied. Whatever may be the cause, the fact is certain that these fortresses become deadly places of abode for small detachments of troops, or small parties of any kind. They all get ill, and few recover from the diseases they contract in them.

From the year 1817, when we first took possession of the Sāgar and Nerbudda Territories, almost all the detachments of troops we required to keep at a distance from the headquarters of their regiments were posted in these old deserted fortifications. Our collections of revenue were deposited in them; and, in some cases, they were converted into jails for the accommodation of our prisoners. Of the soldiers so lodged, I do not believe that one in four ever came out well; and, of those who came out ill, I do not believe that one in four survived five years. They were all abandoned one after the other; but it is painful to think how many hundreds, I may say thousands, of our brave soldiers were sacrificed before this resolution was taken. I have known the whole of the survivors of strong detachments that went in, in robust health, three months before, brought away mere skeletons, and in a hopeless and dying state. All were sent to their homes on medical certificate, but they almost all died there, or in the course of their journey. "

The memoir is available to read online(or you can save the html page to read offline).

The internet is a magical land where stuff happens

Every time I meet friends and we talk of the internet, a joke from a decade-and-a-half old Reader's Digest comes to mind.

A military man is transferred to a distant place, and his wife talks for hours on end, daily, with her close(pun intended) friend. He decided to get her a computer and hoped with the magic of the then nascent email, he could save some serious bucks on his phone bill. Alas, that was not to be: The two friends did communicate by email, but ended up talking about what they had emailed on the phone!

Very often, most social gatherings turn into a did-you-watch-this-did-you-watch-that or he-did-this-to-her-on-x-website or she-put-this-photo-on-her-profile conversations. No one denies that they are uninteresting, but it does seem we are making subtle fools of ourselves for talking about stuff twice over.