Saturday, February 18, 2017

LearnNBlog #11: 14th February & Bhagat Singh

One of the perils of social media is the speed at which misinformation spreads with Whatsapp and Facebook being the prime messengers. 

So its Valentine's Day with the usual lovey-dovey mesaages floating in the ether. However, this is also the time for "patriotic activists" to start taking potshots at the westernization and the degradation of the Indian morals. So they feel the need to counter it. Even these zealots are of different kinds.
  1. The conspiracy theorists - They blame the big western corporations who have invaded the Indian market and are making big profits of the gullible Indian masses. Also in the process causing the moral degradation of the Indians.
  2. The lunatics - Who resort to violence to stop the celebrations. 
  3. And then the worst lot. Who try to appeal to emotions with misinformation. The kind which circulates fake messages e.g. Bhagat Singh was martyred on 14th February for his country and today's generation celebrates the day as Valentine's Day!!! etc, etc.
Bhagat Singh was a young man who captivated an entire nation with his ideas and acts for liberating our nation. A man who sought freedom and equal rights for all. A man whose martyrdom is celebrated till date. And he was just 23 when he was hanged.  

Therefore it makes one filled with anger, when I see lunatics tarnish his martyrdom by spreading misinformation. And these lunatics keep evolving. Till last year they said that Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were hanged on 14th February. When this was found out, a new message was being spread that they were sentenced on 14th February. And the gullible masses lap it up in a rush of patriotism and become the agreeable messengers of misinformation, without once bothering to do a fact check. And this when everyone has access to the internet.

So here is the timeline to Bhagat Singh's martyrdom (historically verified)
  • 30.10.1928 - Lala Lajpat Rai is injured in a lathi charge by the police, personally led by the police superintendent James Scott, during a protest march against the Simon Commission.
  • 17.11.1928 - Lala Lajpat Rai dies due to a heart attack aggravated by the injuries suffered in the lathi charge.
  • 17.12.1928 - Bhagat Singh and his associates kill the assistant superintendent of police John Saunders mistaking his for Scott. The act which made Bhagat Singh a popular figure.
  • 8.4.1929 - Bhagat Singh & Batukeshwar Dutt threw bombs in the Assembly chamber in Lahore. They were then arrested while spreading leaflets and chanting Inquilab zindabad.
  • 15.4.1929 - Lahore bomb factory discovered and the entire group charged with killing Saunders
  • 12.6.1929 -  Bhagat Singh & Batukeshwar Dutt are sentenced to life imprisonment for throing bombs in the Assembly.
  • 10.7.1929 - The Saunders murder trial begins.
  • 20.9.1930 - Trial ends
  • 7.10.1930 - Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru are sentenced to death.
  • 14.2.1931 - Madan Mohan Malviya files a mercy petition with the Viceroy. [The only 14th February connect]
  • 19.3.1931 - The mercy petition is rejected.
  • 23.3.1931 - Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru achieve martyrdom.
So these are the key dates, with only one reference to the 14th February date and that had nothing to with the trial or the actual execution. So that begs the questions. 
  1. Why spread falsehoods which can be found out with a simple internet search? 
  2. And why are people so gullible to believe everything that's posted on the interwebs?
  3. And why are people in such a hurry to spread interesting "alternative facts" without any verification?
I rest my case. 

P.S. Did learn some more things about this great person while doing my "research" for this post. Whether you agree to his methods, you have to admire the spirit of the young man.

Further Readings
  1. Bhagat Singh (Wikipedia)
  2. Bhagat Singh (Cultural India)
  3. Shaheed Bhagat Singh - Letters & Writings (Link)
  4. Brief Note on Simon Commission (Important India)
  5. Lala Lajpat Rai (Wikipedia)
  6. Alternative Facts (Wikipedia)
Previously on LearnNBlog: Ringa rings roses

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

MovieNotes: Schindler's List

Title: Schindler's List (1993) (IMDB)
*ing: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Language: English
Genre: History

Basic Premise
It is the story of a German industrialist during World War II, who employed thousands of Jews in his factories in Krakow, thus preventing their deportation to concentration camps and saving their lives.

Schindler's List is one of those rare movies which can shake you up to the core. It is an intense tale of survival in some of the most harrowing circumstances in human history. A story of how one man tried to fight the system in order to save other human beings, whose only crime was being born a different religion. It is also a reminder of the atrocities inflicted on one community by another under the banner of some cause.

The movie brings out the darkest horrors of holocaust. There is a sense of constant fear throughout this film. One can feel the fear of being caught, deported and even killed for just being of a different community. One scene depicts a whole group of women being put together inside a room. One can feel their fear as they look at the showers with  rising apprehension. Their sense of relief when water comes out of the showers and not gas is quite disturbing. And yet, you keep watching.

The horrors of war bring out varied reactions in different men. Some become beasts enjoying the unlimited power they have, some are plain greedy, making a profit out of war, some are just trying to survive, and then there were men like Oskar Schindler who saved others fully aware of the dangers they were putting themselves in.

The movie is almost entirely in black and white. A little girl's red coat is the only bit of colour which stands out as she makes an unsuccessful attempt to survive the massacre. The black and white frames add to the grim picture making one focus on the story with no distractions.

"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral during the times of moral crisis". Dante in the Divine Comedy.
The movie hits hard. Released over 20 years ago, its message is even more relevant in today's times. There are quite a few signs that the modern world could be heading towards a similar catastrophe again. Xenophobia and the rise of extremists across the world is happening again. And if we (yes all of us) do not act and resist, we could be soon heading for another round of mass atrocities across the world. And then the only ones to be blamed would be us the people who chose not to take a stand!

Schindler's List was released over twenty years ago. And it is only now that I finally to watch it. It was a grim and depressing watch. And I had quite a disturbed sleep after watching the movie.

Rating - 10/10. A movie whose message is loud and clear.

Previously on MovieNotes - Jolly LLB 2

Sunday, February 12, 2017

MovieNotes: Jolly LLB 2

Title: The State vs Jolly LLB 2 (IMDB)
*ing: Akshay Kumar, Annu Kapoor, Huma Qureishi, Saurabh Shukla
Language: Hindi
Director: Subhash Kapoor
Genre: Satire

Over the past few years, Bollywood has begun producing sequels which have nothing to do with the original except for the name. So is the case with Jolly LLB 2, except for one scene which references the lawyer Jolly from the original and a couple of characters which continue.

Basic Premise
A good-for-nothing lawyer takes on a big case after being tormented by the death of a person he had duped. And in the process encounters the quirks of the judicial system and police, while also referencing terrorism and fake encounters.

The Highs
Like the original Jolly LLB, this one works because of its collection of memorable characters who gel well together. Stand-out being the Judge (once again portrayed brilliantly by Saurabh Shukla), one of the two characters who continues from the first movie. The other being Sanjay Mishra's havaldar who has now retired but still very much in the know of things. 

Like Jolly LLB, this one portrays the harsher realities of the legal system than the usual courtroom drama that had become the norm. Nothing is more meta-humour than a movie about lawyers talking about how lawyers are portrayed in movies (Reference Sunny Deol and his tareekh pe tareek portrayal).

The subtle humor e.g. the judge speaking on the mobile right in front of a a sign saying no mobiles phones allowed in his court.

The Not-Highs
There is one song in the movie and that too should have been dropped. Its time to move out of the song-and-dance routine fast.

The story is unconvincing in the second half. That's what happens when you replace Arshad Warsi with Akshay Kumar as the lead lawyer. Have to throw in a few action scenes.

Rating - 8/10. Overall a fun watch.

Previously on MovieNotes - Raees

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Return of the Kings

The Date - 29th January, 2017
The Venue - Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
The Occasion - The 2017 Australian Open Men's Singles Final
The Protagonists - Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal

To quote Rocky Balboa, "every great fighter has one last great fight left in him". 

It was the finale no one had anticipated, a fortnight ago. But it was a scenario which every tennis fan had dreamed about. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal battling it out in a Grand Slam final, one more time. Both men returning from extended injury lay-offs, both past their prime and yet both hanging in there though their glory days are behind them. 

Two weeks back, neither was anywhere close to being the title favorite. Realistically anything beyond quarter-finals would have been considered a tremendous achievement. Yet, as the draw unfolded, the dream scenario began to become clearer and clearer. First went out the champions Djokovic and Murray, soon followed by the old guard Tsonga, Ferrer, Berdych, Cilic, and then it was the turn of the upstarts Raonic, Nishikori, Thiem. Until all that remained in the way of the dream final were Wawrinka (a man with a habit of sneaking in Grand Slam titles) and Dmitrov (finally living upto his early potential). Both fought hard, but the old warriors survived 5-set battles to set-up the ultimate finale.

And did the match live up to the hype and anticipation. It wasn't tennis at its most sublime, the old warhorses had seen better days. At times, the bodies weren't willing, but their spirits certainly were. Federer took the opening set. Nadal hit back immediately in the second. Federer hit back harder in the third. In a see-saw battle, Nadal took the fourth. Punches and counter-punches were exchanged. Unforced errors were followed by some magical winners. In the fifth set Nadal raced ahead, Federer caught up with him and then found an extra gear right at the very end to win the match and the championship. Together these two gladiators had won the hearts of all those watching.

These weren't just two tennis players facing off for one of the prestigious titles. These are men who transcend sports. For those four magical hours everything else was forgotten, Trump and his ban on immigrants, upcoming assembly elections in India or the latest acts of "intolerance", or political scandal. Because the world was watching two men rolling back the clock to produce one hell of a fight.  After all the Kings had returned!!!

Personally, have been a Federer fan more than a Nadal fan. But during this match, there was no favorite. I wanted both to win (like this fan in the picture). And Federer summed up the general mood during the presentation "There are no draws in tennis, but tonight, I would have been happy to share this trophy with Rafa". 

As Mr. Cho summed it up, "Congratulations for such a great display of tennis tonight .... Unfortunately, only one winner can be crowned tonight. But I believe both of you should be proud of the sportsmanship and passion you have shown throughout this year's tournament."

Agree with Mr. Cho. This match was a treat for every sports fan in the world. Thank You Roger! Thank You Rafa!

"Every great fighter has one last great fight left in him". I hope this wasn't the last one for them.

P.S. I took a nap after the opening break in the 2nd set with the confidence that this was going to 5 sets. And thankfully they did not disappoint!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

BookMarks #20: Predictions 2017

Title: Predictions 2017 Seismic Shifts
Published By: Thomson Reuters
Genre: Current Affairs
Published: 2017

After the surreal year that 2016 was, we enter 2017 a little apprehensive of what the future has in store for us. "Predictions 2017" is a compilation of some of the predictions made by the Thomosn Reuters for the coming 12 months.

The predictions are catehorised under three major heads -  geopolitics, economics and technology. And over all of these looms the shadow of one major unknown - Donald Trump. We do not know what Trump has in store for us. Yes, he has proved to be a maverick, he says things which are not politically correct and his actions defy conventional political wisdom and yet he won the elction. Many of predictions hinge on what this maverick force of nature will do and how much of his campaign "promises" he acts upon.  And more importantly how the rest of the world - Putin, May, Merkel, Abe et al react to him.

The prevailing geopolitical uncertainties add to the risks in economics. Declining crude prices have already shaken up the oil-dependent economies. This could lead to consolidations and alliances of a different kind. Advances in technology may also act as major disruptor. Trump's climate change denials might come to nought for the auto-makers, if Tesla's electric cars come up with a viable recharging infrastructure. The self-driven cars might have a role in changing the insurance industry as well. 

So what will 2017 hold for us. Trump, Putin, Syria, Self-driven cars, Climate change, improvements in gene therapy, consolidation in banking industry, major M&A activity? It covers a wide gamut of subjects. Yet the article which I liked best is the very last one. Every model needs imaginations, a la Harry Potter. Remember the dozen publishers who thought "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" was not publishing!  Well every one needs a little bit of magic.

Previously on BookMarks - Inferno

Thursday, January 26, 2017

MovieNotes: Raees

Title: Raees (IMDB)
*ing: Shahrukh Khan, Nawazuddin Siddique, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Mahira Khan
Language: Hindi (with a sprinkling of Gujarati)
Director: Rahul Dholakia
Genre: Crime, Action, Thriller

After many days came a trailer, which actually generated enough interest to go to the cinemas without waiting for any reviews. So there I was on the occasion of Republic Day watching a movie which would make lets say not make our Constitution's founding fathers very happy.

Basic Premise
Movie traces the life of Raees, a young boy who rises from the ranks of a foot-soldier in the bootleggging "industry" to a leader of setup. Meanwhile a police officer is hell-bent on plotting his downfall. 

What works
The movie's setting of 1980s. All loud and macho with just the right amount of over-the-top action sequences with a healthy dose of one-liners thrown in to good effect. They had stopped making movies like this for quite some time.

The overall acting led by Shahrukh Khan and Nawazuddin and complemented by the support cast. The make-up artistes have also done a good job in ageing the characters as the movie progresses.

The story is fast paced (except a few songs here and there) which provide enough cover for all plot-holes. It might be an action thriller, but the movie is full of lighter moments. A young Raees stealing Gandhiji's glass-less-spectacles being the highlight.

What doesn't
The music. Says a lot that the most memorable song is the one borrowed from 1980 movie. In fact,, they could have easily cut down the a couple of songs as well.

The Others
Released in the current "intolerant" times, a movie based on a criminal's life tries to give out a message of communal harmony and national integration!!!

The makers could have dropped Mahira Khan completely. Her role seemed to have been heavily chopped out and what remained was to just smile when on-screen.

Always remember what you are taught in school. You never know which subject might come handy at what time.

At times the story seemed an analogue of Narcos (TV series based on Pable Escobar's life). Don't know whether it was deliberate ploy from the makers or just a coincidence. But there were obvious similarities in the depiction of the Colombian druglord in Narcos and a Gujarati boot-legger in Raees.

We can find honest policemen on screen but yet to find one decent politician. Wonder why?

Rating - 8/10. Points lost on music.

Previously on MovieNotes: Dangal

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Mission & Vision

There was a time not too long ago, when people went to work did what they were asked/ordered and came back home with the fruits of their labor. There would be overall targets and you fulfilled them as best as you could. 

But no longer. In the modern workplace you do not just have team goals. Every individual has to have one of their own (Written down and signed off). The process may be at times bureaucratic, mostly irritating but can occasionally lead to interesting results (if the creative juices kick in at the right moment)

So there was me, building up an Individual Development Plan for work. Instead managed to come up with a personal mission and vision (not just for work). 

A small Misssion backed with a 7-point agenda. Now lets see how long this will sustain. After all the beauty of any such development plan is to keep revisiting and tinkering it as we go along.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

BookMarks #19: Inferno

Title: Inferno
Author: Dan Brown
Genre: Fiction
Setting: Modern day Italy & Turkey
Published: 2013

Robert Langdon, a renowned professor of Symbology, finds himself in a hospital in Florence with no memory of the past few days. With the help of his doctor, Sienna Brooks, he tries to piece together the goings on. As he picks up one clue after another, he finds himself hunting for a virus which threatens to destroy humankind, while being simultaneously being chased around Florence by agents of the mysterious organization, "The Consortium" and its enigmatic head, the Provost. 

The virus had been created by a scientist, Bertrand Zobirist, who has extreme views on ways to contain the human population explosion. His extreme views had led him to be put on a bio-terrorist list by the World Health Organization's Director, Dr. Sinesky. 

The clues for the chase are mixed up in Botticelli's depiction of Dante's Inferno. Langdon uses his extensive knowledge of symbology to gather the clues, while simultaneously being troubled by his temporary amnesia. The hunt for the virus takes Langdon from Florence to Venice and then onwards to Istanbul. During the journey, he learns the mystery of his memory loss, all of which has been staged. Each character is playing out their  own game. But in the end, they are working towards to stop Zobirist's "plague". 

The exercise turns futile as the virus is released and spread throughout the world. However, the virus is different from their initial understanding and it is not a plague which the late Zobirist had released. The book ends with World Health Organization trying to figure out the path forward in this changed world.

And thus we meet Robert Langdon once again. The symobology professor seems to be in more trouble than usual, but that doesn't seem to affect his knowledge of symbols in any way. The book follows Dan Brown's, now patented formula of Langdon, accompanied by a female, being tracked by a mysterious organization while trying to save the world through his knowledge of symbology. All events happening within a 24-hour time frame. Always been a mystery to me how Langdon manages to see different arts and recall their history even with bullets flying all around him.

While the story is gripping, my main issue is with the "staged" plots outlining the main narrative. The revelations in the middle of the tale outlining the staged initiatives are a bit too much to digest. The overhanging tension is pricked like a balloon by these "revelations".

Botticelli's painting depicting Dante's descent into hell, around which the entire plot-line revolves. The book does serve as a good introduction to Dante's classic "The Divine Comedy". However, the interpretations should be backed by the reader's own research rather than sticking to just Mr. Brown's version. (e.g. the ringa-ringa-roses backstory)

Overall, it is an intriguing tale combining interpretations of art with human population explosion under a threat of plague as many a charade play out.

My favorite line - the  quote from Divine Comedy - "the darkest place in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in time of moral crisis". With all the goings on in today's world, taking the right stand is the only way to counter the forces of evil which are innumerable!

Previously on BookMarks - Wuthering Heights

Thursday, January 12, 2017

MovieNotes: Dangal

Title: Dangal (IMDB)
*ing: Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra, Aparshakti Khurana, Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar, Ritwik Sahore
Language: Hindi (with a Haryanvi flavour)
Director: Nitesh Tiwari
Genre: Sports, Biopic

The success of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag introduced the rich genre of sports biopics to Bollywood. And now we have a lot of them coming one after the other. Just wondering why it took so long for our producers to tap in?

Basic Premise
Mahavir Singh Phogat, a former national level wrestler, decides to live his dream of winning medals for the country through his daughters in a region where girls wrestling is something unheard of. The movie follows the journey of the girls from a village to winning laurels for the country.

The Highs
The movie's high is the impressive all-round acting of the star-cast comprising of Aamir Khan and a bunch of newcomers. Special mention to be made of the tale's narrator, who provides comic relief as well.

The opening credits sets the tone for the film, featuring scenes of traditional wrestling training with Daler Mehndi's voice booming in the background. Overall loved the use of the songs which carried the story forward. Both "hannikarak" and "gileheriyan" are quite memorable.

The story builds up and is quite fast-paced although the makers did take a few creative liberties here and there.

The Not-So-Highs
The climax is bizarrely twisted and stretched out. Too many creative liberties taken. e.g.

  • the wrestling events take place in a single day and not multiple days as shown in the movie. 
  • Geeta Phogat had won medals before the CWG Games also. 
  • The final was actually a walk in the park for her. 
  • There are two bronze medallists in wrestling events
  • And the bizarre depiction of the national coach is jarring. 
The movie climax has been made over-melodramatic in my opinion.

The Others
Being released within a few months of each other, there will be obvious comparisons with Sultan, another movie with the same backdrop. While Sultan is fictional, Dangal is slightly more based in fact. But when have facts ever come in the way of a good story! Though we can safely say, if Dangal had released first, Sultan's collections would have taken a hit.

The movie culminates with the national anthem being played to mark India getting a Gold medal. And the audience in the theatre also stands up. Some genuinely, Others to fit in the crowd and a few probably just for safety.

The much maligned Delhi Commonwealth Games have actually left a sporting legacy for the country, specially in bringing the other sports to the mainstream. Wrestling as a sport has given India lots of international success in recent years (relatively speaking). Thus it is good to see mainstream cinema featuring some of our other sports (i.e. anything not cricket).

Fun fact: Sakshi Malik, our first female wrestling Olypmic medallist competes in the same weight category as Geeta. 

Rating - 9/10. For being one "dhobi-paat" of an entertainer!

Previously on MovieNotes - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye Twenty16

The Year MMXVI A.D. draws to a close. There is something about this change of calendars which gives a reason to hope. However dark the days may be (or surreal as they are), there is always a sense of optimism for the coming year. But before we step into the new year, it is always worthwhile to step back and take a moment to reflect on the year gone by.

Twenty16, how would I look back at you? Certainly with a sense of achievement. Yes there were ups and downs but the ups were higher, and more fulfilling. It is always better to have goals to achieve and overcoming challenges step by step rather than aimlessly running along. Also why I like Candy Crush more than Temple Run :). 

So, the things which will stay in memory from 2016.
  • Twenty 16 had an extra day. Very important !!!
  • The Travel Map expanded with my first ever trip to the west of India, out of Asia, across the Atlantic and right into USA. Lets just say, the place is a bit different. It was my longest flight with lots of movies, random sleep and being awestruck with the desolate, white landscape of Greenland (but where is the green in Greenland). Other highlights being taking a train journey in a foreign land, a selfie with Van Gogh's selfie, multiple museums, getting a free cookie because the owner was also Indian and a birthday cake on the return flight. 
  • The touristy me also managed to add new travel locations within the country - Diu and Coorg, both off the beaten track, one a tiny speck surrounded by sea, other a hilly terrain occupying a vast green territory. And both having their own charms.
  • Professionally, a series of exams capping off a good year with collateral benefits. And Citius Altius Fortius can be a good motto for professional life as well.
  • Oddly, there was a drastic increase in number of celebrity sightings. Airports and malls which I had visited many times earlier were suddenly teeming with celebrities, big and small. 
  • I always thought the government was just a distant enabler. Until November 8, 2016 when a single announcement disrupted the entire country and sent every individual scampering for  usable cash. Also finding working ATMs became a new hobby.
  • The blog launched a new section LearnNBlog. Not sure how much learning will it dispense.
  • Instagramming became the new chief hobby. Only downside is now pictures are "also" taken from an "instagram perspective"
  • There was also a major spurt in the number of whatsapp groups, many of them getting muted instantly on joining. 
  • New Experiences - Zipline, Golf, Pottery, Online team gaming. 
  • And last but not the least - "Winter is here". Catching up with the happenings in Westeros is quite a learning experience.
So onwards to 2017. Looking forward to gaining new experiences, learning more, reading more and most importantly staying happy and healthy. 

Wishing all readers a happy and prosperous new year 2017!!!