Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye 2014

Last day of the Year MMXIV A.D. Its time to look back at the year gone by and await the year coming ahead.

It was an interesting year, full of travel and lots of new experiences and change. The kind of year one can look back in satisfaction that it was a time well spent.
  • Biggest Change - Work shifted from 6-day to a 5-day week, automatically creating a whole extra day every weekend.
  • Travel Map - More foreign travel done than ever before and more domestic travel as well. Singapore, Thailand and Greater Noida added to the travel map.
  • Memorable Experiences - Spoilt for choice here - Staying overnight in a ship in the middle of Bay of Bengal, holding a tiger cub in my lap, para-sailing, underwater walking, boat ride in the backwaters, visiting ancient sites depicting human life from 100,000 years back, giving a speech in front of the entire group company. Or simply lying down on the ground and watching a sound and light show.
  • Online courses - A new interesting world which I accessed this year. 
  • Books - One area which needs heavy correction. Volumes are now at an all time low.
  • Health - More fitness conscious than actually working out
  • And did NOT lose a phone all year
And as for the year 2015 ahead.
  • Soak in more experiences, see more, read more and most importantly enjoy more.
  • Keep Learning
  • Goal for the year - Citius, Altius, Foritus - in all parameters of life.
  • And keep everyone around who matter happy.
Wishing all readers a very Happy New Year 2015 :)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ten from Twenty14

Fast approaching the end of the Year Twenty14 A.D. And as with every ending its is a time to recollect. So here is list of ten random happenings/events/non-events etc. to remember the year gone by.

1. Mystery of the Year - MH370
In today's world it is inconceivable that a plane full of passengers can simply disappear from the face of the Earth. Its been over 9 months but still no trace at all of the plane. This situation of not knowing is possibly the worst any one can go through. It was a terrible year for Malaysia based airlines with MH17 being shot down in Ukraine and AirAsia QZ8501 crashing in Indonesia, 

2. Villain of the Year
There was heavy competition in this category. Boko Haram kidnapping girls in Nigeria, Islamic State releasing one dastardly "execution" video after another, Pakistani Taliban massacring a school full of students in Peshawar, or "rebels" shooting down a passenger plane in Ukraine.  Wonder which God condones these acts. And giving competition to these "humans" was nature with the Ebola virus building its own killing trail.

3. Event of the Year - India's General Elections
It was a long drawn process with voting taking place over weeks in multiple phases after months of preparations. And finally it ended with India having a new government. It introduced all sorts of new terminology in the political lexicon - Aam Aadmi, Modi wave, Namonia, Jupiter's escape velocity, tards, bhakts, youth, empowerment and what not. In the end all we can say that it was all "क्रांतिकारी , बहुत ही क्रन्तिकारी "

4. Picture of the Year - Oscar Selfie
It was a slightly odd moment. Some of the most photographed people on the planet photographing themselves live on global television. The result a "selfie" craze across the world. Selfie becomes a bona fide word, cellphones added enhanced selfie taking technology and retailers selling selfie-stick. One picture can take the world by storm.

The picture known as the Ellen selfie although its been taken by Bradley Cooper

5. Who is He?
Indian social media was scandalized as Maria Sharapova claimed ignorance about a certain Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. How could she not know about him? India outraged. Yet a couple of months later when Kailash Satyarthi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, all of us had to resort to Google to learn about him and his work. When we haven't heard of the real greats amidst our own people, why should be expect any better from a foreigner 

6. The Interview
Arnab Goswami interviewed Rahul Gandhi in the biggest TV event of the year. Millions of viewers tuned in to see Arnab asking questions and Rahul giving answers while trying to figure out what, if any, was the connection between the questions and the answers. 
Competition in this category from the Hollywood movie which made Kim Jong Un very angry leading to North Korean hackers unleashing cyber hell on Sony Pictures, thus doing lots of free publicity for a mediocre movie.

7. Sporting Result of the Year - 7-1
Neymar was kneed out of the World Cup with a terrible tackle. Brazil became the sentimental favorites with everyone expecting them to win it for Neymar. Only the Germans weren't told about it. as they hammered Brazil 7-1 to knock them out of their own home World Cup. The darkest day in Brazilian football  history.

8. League of Sports
The success of the IPL gave a template for all Indian sports to build their own Premier Leagues. So we now have a Cricket Premier League, Badminton League, Football Super League, Tennis League, Hockey League and to top them all two rival Kabaddi Leagues. Of all the leagues it was the Pro-Kabaddi league which provided the biggest boost to the sport bringing the obscure sport into the limelight.

9. Kolaveri Di Award for Viral Activity of the Year
There were multiple versions of Pharell Williams' Happy with each city, town, college, company, team lip syncing to Happy and creating their own version. Then there were lots of videos of people taking the ice bucket challenge. And finally there were Indian celebrities posing with a broom as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan launched by the PM

10.  Rajnikanth of the Year
The sanskari purush Sri Alok Nath Ji. One fine January day, he started trending on Twitter for no reason with lots of sanskari jokes and memes. Other celebs also trended on occasion but none like him. The almost forgotten actor was back in the limelight appearing in multiple ads. Best Joke - "Once Alok Nath ji took a bus. The conductor refused to take fare from such a sanskari person. In return Alok Nath ji gave him his ashirwaad. That conductor became Rajnikant"

So these were some random tid-bits to rember Twenty14 by.

Wishing all readers a very Happy New Year 2015.

P.S. List for Twenty13

Monday, December 29, 2014

MovieNotes: PK

Movie: PK
*ing: Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma, Sanjay Dutt
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Language: Hindi + Bhojpuri dialect
Genre: Comedy, Preaching, Aliens

A movie from the trusted combine of Rajkumar Hirani & Aamir Khan. A unique publicity blitz using still shots of the leads in different get-ups instead of using TV  shows for promotion as is the wont these days. 

Basic Premise
An alien lands on planet Earth. Loses the key for his return journey. And now must attempt to find it back to return home.

Movie Notes
PK's central theme combines viewing India's inhabitants from an alien's perspective while simultaneously satirizing religion, faith and Godmen. 

The satire on religion has raised the heckles of the fringe elements. Guess people have become over-sensitive. As the movie itself said, there are two Gods, the One who made the universe and the one built by man. And somewhere we have lost sight of the real God while putting our entire faith in the make-believe one. A similar theme which was raised in Oh My God, an excellent movie on religion and Godmen. Also I wonder why the protests started in the second week of the run. 

What Works
Acting wise, Aamir Khan is outstanding as the lovable alien who is trying to figure out the ways of this "gola". And he is supported by a heavyweight cast who add their own ingredients to this lovely roller-coaster of a movie. Special mention for the likes of Sanjay Dutt, Boman Irani and Saurabh Shukla.

The music is good and soothing.

Other Notes 
Anushka Sharma's lips have a jarring presence of their own and a big distraction on screen. 

Sanjay Dutt has managed to do a movie from jail and got released on furlough for its promotion. Guess Rajkumar Hirani now knows whom to consult, in case he plans to to make a satire on the judiciary, courts and jails.

A sequel certainly seems to be in offing. 

  • Apparently every intelligent species is constantly searching for other intelligent beings. 
  • The aliens can communicate via telepathic touch and don't wear clothes. A trait also shared by the aliens in Avatar. 
  • Aliens visitng Indian movie are of the nice variety (e.g. Jadoo, PK) and not the conquerors who generally visit Hollywood tales.

AfterNotes - So, Bhojpuri is going to be the spoken language of the other gola?

Rating - 8/10. Entertaining and with a message.

Previously on MovieNotes - Gone Girl

P.S. My comment on those whose sentiments get hurt by a movie - "लुल हैं साले "

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Singapore Diaries: SEA Aquarium

Continuing with the Singapore Diaries.

One of the highlights of the Sentosa island is the Sea Aquarium. Till some time back it was the largest aquarium in the world. Its a good showcase of the sheer variety of marine life. The multiple shapes, sizes and colours of the sea are on full display here.

Here is a small pictorial journey of the place.

A wrecked ship with a variety of marine life swimming around.
The whole school moving and turning as one unit is a beautiful sight to behold
Light emitting jelly fish. Also available in blue, green and white.
Is is fish? Is it a snake? Is it a plant?
Question same as above? Or a horse?
Leopard fish
A type of mollusc
Another school swimming along
Colours ...and more Colours
Entertaining, Educative and Fun Place.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Falling Crude Prices

Crude prices have been plummeting down since the middle of this year

1 Year Crude Oil Prices - Crude Oil Price Chart
Crude prices are now dipping the $60/barrel mark, much below the $100-120 range in which it had been moving for the past few years. Chief reason for the collapse is being supply outpacing demand (basic economics). Quite a few reasons have been attributed to this.
  1. The Shale supply has enabled US to become self-sufficient (for now) and hence it doesn't need to import further.
  2. Economic slowdown in Europe which is still not fully recovered from the recession.
  3. The OPEC cartel is not united. And Saudi Arabia, the only ones with the spare capacity, are unwilling to cut production.
While lower fuel prices seem to be a good thing at first sight, this sharp dip in prices will have a major impact all round the industry.
  1. Revenue calculations gone haywire, not just for the big oil companies but also for governments who have a substantial part of their budget sourced from taxes on oil & petroleum products.
  2. Quite a few upcoming projects have been put on hold because the economics don't work out anymore. The projects become viable only if the costs go down. The supply chain generally lags behind the crude prices by a couple of Quarters, hence the projects might see quite a lengthy delay.
  3. Marginal plays (e.g. Deepwaters, Unconventionals etc.) which had opened up due to higher crude prices may have to be put on hold. 
  4. The alternate energy sectors (solar, wind, bio-fuel etc.) have to compete with these lower prices. This certainly delays their arrival as a big energy source.
  5. Consolidation in the oil industry - Many players may be put out of business. Even the big companies are feeling the pinch. The second largest oilfield service provider Haliburton has bought Baker which was the third largest service provider. The M&A market may become quite busy in the days to come.
Normally when the prices have fallen the Saudis have intervened. They have cut production reducing supply. But this time they have chosen not to act.

Quite a few conspiracy theories are going around on their possible motives. The most obvious one is to destroy the competition. Saudi crude is available at much lower production costs than Shale or deepwaters. So when prices fall dramatically the Saudis will be the last to feel the pinch. 

Below are some of the theories doing the rounds. Most of them have less to do with economics but more to do with geopolitics.
  1. Destroying US Shale - US Shale boom is considered the chief reason of this price drop. Ironically this boom happened only because the prices had breached the $100/barrel mark in the first place. Now that the Shale industry is well developed, we have to wait and watch how long they can hold up.
  2. The OPEC cartel has seemingly run its course. The Saudis are the only ones with any swing production capacity left. So there is a theory that they will let the prices drop till the other OPEC members take a hit on production. Probably leading to the demise of OPEC.
  3. Collusion between US and Saudi Arabia to stop the further development of the Russian oil industry. Russia may have even bigger reserves than Saudi Arabia but its more difficult to access, thus needing higher costs to sustain. Russian rouble is already in trouble and interest rates have been boosted up from 10.5 to 17% in Russia. 
  4. A pre-dominantly Sunni majority Saudi Arabia does not want a Shia majority Iran to get oil revenues. Plain and simple.
Many theories doing the rounds. But oil prices have a major impact on world's economics. Falling oil prices will reduce inflation, creating more spare cash, which will be hopefully pumped back into the economy causing the economy to boom again, creating more demand for oil and pushing prices up. But this cycle will require at least a year's time. And during this period the industry may have already undergone a drastic upheaval.

Interesting times are ahead not just for the worried oil industry but also for the world economy as a whole. We will have to wait and watch what impact this churn has on the energy industry.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

MovieNotes: Gone Girl

Movie: Gone Girl
*ing: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
Director: David Fincher
Language: English
Genre: Thriller

Basic Premise
Murder, She Wrote 
[Spoilers Ahead]

Movie Notes
A man returns home to find his wife missing, triggering a chain of events in which he finds himself trapped in an immaculately staged plot. The story keeps jumping timelines going forward and backwards at a frenetic pace yet managing to hold the viewer in its firm grip.

A huge drama being played for the public consumption driven by non-stop news and publicity hungry protagonists. Yet it is nothing compared to the real drama going on behind closed doors. The lead characters are involved in a non-stop game of oneupmanship trying to bring out the version of truth most palatable to themselves. A pretty intense game with the viewers being the only ones in the know. 

The constantly changing husband-wife dynamics plays its own part in the narrative. The script changes with every move made by either of them in this immaculately staged game of chess and bluff.

Playing out somebody's life in public even as a fictionalized version of themselves from childhood is bound to have some negative impact on a person's mindset. Probably the chief cause of the entire plot.

What Works
Superb acting all around especially by Rosamund Pike who plays a pyschopathic character to perfection.

The narration - specifically the immaculate planning done by the lead female character which forms the central plotline

The various psychological tricks being played by its lead characters. They know the truth about each other, yet they can't bring it up in front of the public.

Other Notes
There is striking similarity in theme to mysterious unexplained disappearance of the author Agatha Christie. Probably the greatest mystery from the woman who was the master of mysteries.

Rating -10/10. An excellent film which holds your attention for two and a half hours.

Previously on MovieNotes; Olympus has Fallen

Monday, December 15, 2014

Singapore Diaries: Sentosa

In the second part of the Singapore Photo Diaries, taking a picture tour of the island of Sentosa.

Sentosa is a tiny island off Singapore connected to the mainlands by underwater tunnels. Sentosa is a major tourist attraction where tourists can spend a lot - time as well as money.

It is home to multiple theme parks, many restaurants, museums, aquarium, resort hotels, casino, sports facilities and an unique sound and light show held on a beach.

The entrance reminding of a castle from Disney films

The Casino

A view of the integrated resorts

You are being watched

A sign welcoming you to a dance party

Its Singapore, so the Mer-Lion has to make its presence felt

"The Wings of Time" - a sound and light show on the beach. See it to feel it.

To Be Continued...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

MovieNotes: Olympus Has Fallen

Title: Olympus Has Fallen
*ing: Gerard Butler (king from 300), Aaron Eckhart (a.k.a Harvey Dent), Morgan Freeman (no intros required) and others
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Language: English
Genre: Action

Basic Premise
Terrorists (the bad guys) attack the White House for their own bad intentions. The good guy comes and stops them from achieving their final objectives (mostly single-handedly).

Movie Notes

The movie is a mixture of Die Hard & 24. Gerard Butler's character handles 24 like situations (e.g. nuclear threats, President under danger, foreign organisations, a different person leading the country etc.) in a manner reminiscent of John McClane

Plotholes? Its an action packed adventure which does not permit the audience to really think too much ensuring some gaping plot-holes are not over-exposed.
  • How does a person who has been removed from the White House 18 months previously still have working access to the security system?
  • They don't seem to have changed any passwords in the White House in at least 18 months. Very Weird!!!
  • All these Hollywood movies are giving out quite a few details of the codes and security. Or are these all just a movie prop like the 555 phone numbers.
Random Thought - Hollywood has no qualms about showing a bullet ridden US flag. In India the makers would certainly have been in jail for disrespecting national symbols.

Favorite Scene  - Morgan Freeman first ordering his coffee and then laying out the next steps in his action plan.
India Connect - India is mentioned a couple of times as are a few other countries.

Rating - 7/10. A mindless action movie, entertaining and catching enough to pass a couple of hours.

Previously on MovieNotes - Interstellar

Monday, December 08, 2014

Singapore Photo Log - Marina Bay

Singapore - a tiny island nation on the southern tip of the Malay peninsula. This city state is roughly the same area as Mumbai and having a quarter of its population.

History Fun Fact - The country was colonised by the British. Got independence from the British in 1963 as part of the Malaysian federation. However it was expelled from Malaysia through an act of Parliament in 1965. Quite odd given that the world map has been shaped on the basis of kingdoms trying to expand their respective territory.

That probably has helped in Singapore becoming one of the ultra-modern commercial hubs of the world. The city state has also created a massive tourist infrastructure to boost up its financial powerhouse stakes.

Following is first part of a photo blog series depicting Singapore. 
The pictures below are of the area around the Marina Bay - one of the major tourist and business hubs and also host of the Singapore F1 Grand Prix race.

The Mer-Lion
The part-fish part-lion statue. Appropriate symbol of a seaport whose name literally means the city of lions in Sanskrit.

A panoramic view of the Marina Bay

Panoramic view - night shot
The lights of Singapore
Its all lit up

Modern architecture - They have a canal flowing inside a mall with actual boats floating in them

The replica of the The Thinker

The watch shop - inside the Marina Bay Mall

The Versace collection - after all it is one of the highest net per capita income places in the world

A very interesting and apt name for a restaurant
Some more pictures from around the city/country in the next part.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Telecast of World Chess Championship Final

The Hon. Prime Minister,
Republic of India

Subject: Non-broadcast of World Chess Championship Final in India


The World Chess Championship Final is currently underway in Sochi, Russia. The final is of particular interest to the Indian sports lovers as our very own Mr. Vishwanathan Anand is one of the participants. Mr. Anand is trying to regain the World Championship title which he lost to Mr. Magnus Carlsen in the last edition of the championship last year.

However, to the disappointment of all chess lovers, the match is not being telecast on either Doordarshan or any of the private channels. Hence the only option for the chess followers is to keep track via the internet, where many dedicated websites are covering this game. However this is not a convenient mode and also not accessible to all viewers.

Chess as a sport has its origins in India. It is also an excellent exercise for the development of mental faculties. This is an excellent opportunity to further increase the popularity of chess in the country.

Hence requesting you to ensure that the rest of the games are broadcast to the Indian audience who want to eagerly follow their compatriot's exploits.

Thanking You

Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Minister for Information & Broadcasting
Sh. Sarbananda Sonowal, Minister of Sports & Youth Affairs

Monday, November 10, 2014

MovieNotes: Interstellar

Movie: Interstellar
*ing: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine
Director: Christopher Nolan
Language: English
Genre: Sci-Fi

A Christopher Nolan film with trailers promising something "out of this world".  Hence a must watch on the opening weekend.

Basic Premise
Humankind is in trouble as the Earth may not be inhabitable for long. A group of explorers/astronauts is sent out to explore potential habitats for humans in this universe.

Movie Notes
Interstellar is a movie which needs a understanding of basic physics and astronomy to be able to appreciate the story. Otherwise the story may get lost somewhere in the space-time continuum while tackling the concepts of wormholes, black holes, aging at different rates and extra dimensions at the same time comprehending different facets of space travel. Sometimes its better not to let scientific facts come in the way of  a good story.

What works? - The sheer imagination and the scale of the story, the imagery of "landscapes" of the different planets, the superb acting all around and above all of them the music by Hans Zimmer.

What does not work? - The abrupt ending which is trying to tie up too many loose ends at one go. The ending raises too many questions (is there a sequel being planned, Mr. Nolan?). 
  • How did they come out of the Black Hole? 
  • What exactly was the Cooper Station? 
  • What happened to Dr. Brand? Did she meet up with Edmunds? Will she go ahead with Plan B on the new planet or wait for the next rescue mission? And how long (relative to earth time) does she wait?
  • Who are "They"? Are they a future form of "Us" or are "They" somebody else?  
  • The Tesseract was mentioned without being explained? Is it the same as the one found in the world of Thor? or something else?
  • And how does Morse code carry data from quantum mechanics?
Time travel has always been a complicated story telling device. Add extra dimensions, space, gravity and relativity, things become way too mind boggling.

The way the characters speak about "Love" reminded me more of Dumbledore and his repeated proclamations on love being the most powerful of all magic.

There is something special about Michael Caine's voice. It can make convince you to believe anything that he says. (Click here for Mr. Caine's recitation of Kipling's If).

Best Scene - A character breaking down completely on seeing another human being after many years all alone on a planet.

Favorite Character - TARS. A talking robot who does not look like conventional humanoid robots but certainly has more intelligence.

There was an Indian Air Force drone shown early in the movie. This completed the mandatory India connect of almost every big movie/TV series these days.

Other Notes
  • Too many queries on the effects on the ageing process. The faster you travel, the slower you age. Also human bodies can be theoretically set into hibernation which slows down ageing considerably. So can humans become immortal?
  • Systematized formal education is probably the best form of propaganda. 
  • The future may seem bleak, but humankind as a species seems to be singularly resilient.
Rating - 9/10.  For sheer creativity and imagination and for its music and acting.

Previously on MovieNotes - Million Dollar Arm

Monday, October 27, 2014

MovieNotes: Million Dollar Arm

Movie: Million Dollar Arm
*ing: Jon Hamm, Suraj Sharma (of Life of Pi), Madhur Mittal (of Slumdog Millionaire)
Director: Craig Gillespie
Language: English & Hindi
Genre: Sports

Basic Premise
An independent sports agent looking to tap into a new area organises a contest to find the first major league baseball players from India.

Movie Notes
  • As is the wont of the Disney movies, they seem to be pure fantasy till you learn that the movie is based on events which actually happened.
  • The trailer pretty much tells the entire story
  • Any movie where a sports agent who is working on his own will remind of Jerry Maguire.
  • I liked the way the characters have been depicted talking in their own language. The mix of Hindi and English makes the movie more appealing to an Indian audience (although may drive away some of the others)
  • However we change, the depiction of India remains the same - loud, crowded, dirty, animals on the road, sometimes festive, god-fearing and yet carrying a charm of its own.
  • There were numerous depictions of humour arising out of cultural differences, although many were quite cliched. 
  • "No hablo Hindi" - the funniest line of the movie. Why? Because it is delivered by an Indian origin American in India.
  • Pizza - some love it, some just do not. Well everyone's taste is different.
  • The protagonist gets the idea of finding baseball pitchers from India on the evidence of Piyush Chawla's bowling. Pitching in baseball after watching a spinner bowl, that must be a first. Also another feather in Piyush Chawla's cap apart from being part of two World Cup victories.
  • The end montage depicting the adventures of the real protagonists was a good idea.
Rating - 8/10.  Overall a fun watch.

Previously on MovieNotes - The Expendables III

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bhimbetka Rock Shelters

About 50 km from Bhopal, in Central India, is located one of the earliest archaeological sites of India. The cave shelters are estimated to be nearly 30,000 to 100,000 years old. The well preserved cave paintings depict the life of the early man, showing scenes of hunting, horse riding, various animals and group dancing. All of these done using stone tools. 

As with most ancient places, Bhimbetka has also been associated with the great mythologies. It is said that the name भीमबैठका  has been derived from the fact that Bheem used to sit and pray here and hence the name.

Below are some pictures from a recent trip to this majestic structures, which are part of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. The place is awe-inspiring with natural rock formations marked with little drawings from our "ancestors". The line drawings and use of stone tools give an idea of how much evolution has taken place over these thousands of years. 

The Majestic Rock Structures. There is a little temple within the rocks.

The entrance to the caves. The monsoons have made the entire place green and clean.

A sight to behold

The work of water over the millenia

Figurines have been added to depict the social life of the early man

Mammoths - Interestingly similar paintings have been found across the world 

The "zoo" - Drawings of various animals

Going to War on horseback
In all, a must see place for all historians, archaeologists and geologists. Nature is the best preserver.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi...

For the past few weeks, a new routine had developed. Reach home from work. Switch on the TV. Put on Star Sports 2 and then spend the rest of evening and dinner watching ProKabaddi. But yesternight, there was no live Kabaddi on. So the TV was switched back off as there was nothing else to watch on prime time television.

India has been the undisputed world champion ever since the ancient sport went onto the international stage in the late 80s. The 1990 Beijing Asian Games marked the 1st international appearance of Kabaddi in multi-disciplinary sporting event, where it was India's sole gold winning event. And since then it has appeared in every single Asiad. And in the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, the women's event also made its debut. And every single time, India have been the dominant winners. Outside the Asian Games there have been various "world" championship events all of which ending with a victory for the Indian team.

For all its faults and controversies, the cricket IPL has given to the Indian sports, a template for a city based franchisee league model with teams built through player auctions and not restricted by geographical boundaries. A franchisee system with the live TV coverage has become the framework for umpteen "premier leagues" being created across sports. So we saw a Hockey and Badminton leagues and Tennis, Football and Boxing leagues in the planning stage. 

ProKabaddi, however, had one essential ingredient missing. The other leagues had the "star" players who could pull in the audiences. Kabaddi players were unknown. There were Arjuna awardees and multiple Asian Games Gold medalists but they were still unknown to the public at large. Only in hockey (1920s to 1950s), have we dominated any sport for a prolonged period of  time. Yet inspite of India's complete dominance, Kabaddi never went on to become a popularly watched sport. Every Indian sporting fan would have been aware of India's dominance in the event, but hardly anyone would have been able to name a single Indian player.

With this background, we watched the arrival of ProKabaddi League. The league did have have a big name backer in Mr. Anand Mahindra, who used his social media outreach for the promotion, The league's excellent twitter handle (@prokabaddi) was always on the alert to reach out to every potential interested twitter user. Thats how I was hooked on (:P).  A sports league handle interacting with users, without sounding like a bot & auto-replying does help. Regular updates on social media created enough buzz and was backed up by Star Sports who did a great job in promoting this new for television sport.

And so with immense buzz and a little hype the league started. Designed with TV audiences in mind, fast paced, relatively simple scoring rules, enthusiastic commentary and just a touch of glamour without going overboard (like they do in IPL) all combined to create a perfect viewing product. With each passing day the chatter on Twitter & Facebook increased. And I religiously watched as many games as possible. For the first time, in any league, I had a team based out of my home town to cheer for. In a matter of days, the Patna Pirates became my favorite sports team and the likes of Rakesh Kumar (also the India captain), Ravi Dalal and Sandeep Narwal became the favorite players. In fact tried booking the tickets for the finals, but they had all been sold out a week in advance. The team's loss in the semi-finals was disappointing to say the least but overall they had a good run finishing 3rd in the league.

So the first season has ended and a second one is coming in March next year. The league has been a success, becoming the second most watched sport in the country. A tremendous achievement for all the promoters and the players. However there still remain areas of improvement. Most of the TV news channels hardly seemed to cover the league. Personally I never saw any coverage on TV news though i don't watch much of it. Newspapers did provide regular match updates with the league tables. But there is scope for further increase in the coverage. A nation of 1.2 Billion with a voracious appetite for sports telecast can easily accommodate multiple sports.

Interestingly there was a parallel World Kabaddi League also taking place, albeit in a different format. But somehow did not gel with me.

Kudos to all the promoters and organisers for a successful tournament. Hoping to see the league grow further. Also this is a good lesson for all other sports in conducting a well-organised league.

Signing off with a ThighFive - Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

MovieNotes: The Expendables III

Movie: The Expendables III
*ing: Rambo, Terminator, Blade, Braveheart, Transporter, Zorro, Indiana Jones, Universal Soldier - Basically the who's who of 80s & 90s action genre alongwith some new kids.
Director: Patrick Hughes
Language: English
Genre: Action (Guns & Knives)

The 3rd part in the Expendables franchisee. Sequel to Expendables 2. The movie which spawned MovieNotes - the only separate section in this blog. 

Basic Premise
The Expendables are hired by government agency for a job, which doesn't  go too well and opens up old wounds. After lots of gunfire and explosions, revenge is taken and the chapter closed.

Movie Notes
  • A whole United Nations assembly of old and retired action stars comes together (again). The chief formula of nostalgia continues to work and holds a bare minimum plot-line together. Always surprises me how these massive egos can work together. Must have been a task to fit in a few lines for everyone.
  • The stars are old. They know it. Acknowledge it. Even joke about it. And then still perform some of the most outrageous fight scenes together.
  • The action scenes are outrageous. Sample - Landing a helicopter on a running train, or launching a bike to a high rise. Flying knives, bullets, grenades and even the odd missile - lots of arsenal seems to have been used. And all sorts of vehicles are used as exploding weapons - cars, helicopters, boats, tanks, trucks and even a train.
  • In spite of the high body count, what is absent is the blood. Lack of gore combined with lots of action makes the movie immensely watchable.
  • And when there is no action, there are the funny little nuggets of conversation. Some in-jokes, some self parody providing comic relief from all the killings. 
  • Movie provides it own take on the issue of Youth vs Experience. New blood provides new ideas. But does get caught off-guard by the wizened old enemy. And finally their coming together saves the day for them.
  • Acting wise - special mention of Antonio Banderas. The man's non-stop heavily Spanish accented chatter is simultaneously hilarious and irritating. Amidst all the buffoonery lies an emotional back-story with Banderas taking over from Mickey Rourke and Liam Hemsworth in the previous Expendables movies.
  • Perfect combination of star power, nostalgia and explosions make the movie a fun watch. 
  • Not made for critics.
Important Questions - Is there an Expendables IV in the pipeline? If yes, When is it releasing and who are in it? Personally I would like to see all the former James Bonds together as a super-villain set.

Rating - 7/10. Entertaining and easy on the brains.

Previously on MovieNotes - Kick

Thursday, August 14, 2014

India @ 67

14th of August. The eve of Independence Day. And I continue my little tradition (now in its 8th edition) of having a little post on the year gone by for India. (2013 edition is here).

We have officially added a new state with the splitting of Telengana from Andhra Pradesh. The formation has just given further fuel to voices demanding further states reorganization, some on administrative grounds, some on purely emotional or for political gains. Waiting to see if there are any more additions in the next year.

We had our biggest festival - the elections. The elections were ugly, long and frankly tiring and marked by an unending torrent of allegations and counter-allegations. The expected government change happened, though the magnitude of the rout of the UPA wasn't imagined. The people voted out the corrupt in the hope of the promised "achhe din".

Now have the "achhe din" really arrived? Well, too early to say. That will be the subject of next year's state of the nation post. But there is hope (which is simultaneously a beautiful and dangerous thing). At least the stock markets thought so. And social media certainly rejoiced.

Media is becoming more and more a propaganda tool. The "reported" news has multiple versions suited to fit your political/religious beliefs. Stories are being "presented" as per the most marketable version depending on the target audience. Social media, especially Twitter & Whatsapp, is becoming even more damaging with lies/untruths/rumors propagating at the speed of light. 

Never knew there were so many authors amongst our bureaucrats and politicians. Anyone and everyone is now writing a book with "inside" stories. And there are more in pipeline as counters to the ones already published.

The Aam Aadmi Party proved to be the biggest disappointment. Their performance in the Delhi state elections gave a hope for a potential change in politics. But instead of capitalizing on the faith reposed in them, AAP moved on to become like any and every other political party. And the party got nearly wiped out in the General elections. From a party of hope to a party of antics and drama, the fall has been swift.

Imitation is the best form of flattery. And most of the action on the sporting front proves it. Every sport, hockey, badminton, football, tennis and even kabaddi are now running their own IPL style league copying cricket's format. Finally, learning something from cricket rather than blaming it for all their "woes".  The performance on the field in the Commonwealth Games shows continuing signs of improvement though the antics of officials off the field show that more the things change, the more they remain the same.

100 crore club is the new definition of a "hit" film. And the entrants in these clubs are not the ones which would appear on anyone's favourite movie list. 

But all the gloom and doom can wait, because we will celebrate our national day.
Happy Birthday India. And wishing that your & our "achhe din" arrive soon. 

Monday, August 04, 2014

India @ Commonwealth Games 2014

2014 - Gold 15, Silver 30, Bronze 19 - Total 64 - Overall 5th in the Standings
2010 - Gold 38, Silver 27, Bronze 36 - Total 101 - Overall 2nd in the Standings

At first glance, seems a big drop in results over the 4 years. But if we go into the details, a better picture of the Indian sports scene emerges. Table below compares the discipline wise performance of the Indian contingent at the recent Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow and the one held in Delhi 4 years ago.

E-Events; G-Gold; Silver; B-Bronze; T - Total; Diff - Change in Total medals with respect to 2010
A few key observations from the table
  1. Archery & Tennis which combined to bring 12 medals in Delhi were dropped from the Glasgow roster and replaced by Judo & Triathalon which brought 4 medals for India. 
  2. Number of events in Shooting and Wrestling were drastically reduced. So 57 events which brought in 49 medals in Delhi became 33 events bringing in 30 medals. So a better proportion overall.
  3. Athletics had a major climbdown from 12 to just 3. Here the quality of participants changed drastically from Delhi. There were fewer big names pulling out of competition in Glasgow as compared to Delhi. 
  4. Table Tennis was another event which went down with the haul reducing from 5 to 1. The Chinese imports on the TT arena are hurting us badly now.
  5. Boxing is becoming an area of concern. There is a visible slide in the results now. No gold medals and a reduced overall haul should be a sign that the Boxing team, though still good, needs to pull up its socks.
  6. Weightlifting has shown quite an improvement. More than the medals, hopefully there is an end to the multiple doping scandals of the past which had earlier led to India being banned from international competitions.
  7. India got its first ever medal in Squash and that too a Gold. Good signs.
  8. We now have India's first ever female medallist in Gymnastics. Something which couldn't even have been imagined till Delhi 2010.
  9. Even the Lawn Bowls team reached a Bronze medal face-off though lost at the very end.
  10. The higher number of Silvers against Golds should be an area of concern, specially with regard to the number of losses suffered in the finals. A lack of finishing touch or just a one-off case?
The Commonwealth Games in Delhi may have been marred by lots of corruption allegations, but they did raise the profile of the other sportspersons (i.e. all non-cricket) in India. Also factor in IOA being suspended for quite some time. So in all not too bad a result for Indian sports overall. 

However a better indicator of the progress will come via the Asian Games in Incheon later this year. 

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Friendship Day

Friendship Day 
Its nothing more than a marketing gimmick. An innovative way to make money by selling cards & bands & small items of little or no use. Some would say just crass commercialization of basic human feelings.

But its a concept which has arrived and with the increased reach of social media is here to stay. So we mark it by sending/receiving wishful messages from "friends". Every such message brings back its own share of memories of the particular friend. Memories of the times gone by. 

So in all, not a complete waste.

So here I go, marking the occasion with a little compilation of songs dedicated to all friends that I have ever had.

1. Ye Dosti Hum Nahi Todenge (Sholay) - The first song that comes to anyone's mind when in company of friends.

2. Yaari hai Iman Mera (Zanjeer) - If friendship is your religion then most of world's problems wouldn't have existed

3. Mustafa Mustafa (Duniya Dilwalon Ki ) - Was quite in vogue when leaving school

4. Dil Chahta Hai (Dil Chahta Hai) - why you want to be in company of friends all the while

5. Har Ek Friend Zaroori Hota hai (Airtel Ad) - Friends come in all sorts of packages. And every single one is essential.

Wishing a very happy Friendship Day to all those whom I have had the privilege of being a friend of at different points of my life. Cousins, Neighbours, Classmates across schools & colleges, Office colleagues & all others -  a post for all of you.

Monday, July 28, 2014

MovieNotes: Kick

Movie: Kick
*ing: Salman Khan and others in guest appearance (Randeep Hooda, Jacqueline Fernandes, Mithun Chakraborty et al)
Director: Sajid Nadiadwala 
Language: Hindi 
Genre: Salman Khan (the man is now a genre in himself)

A Salman Khan movie releasing on Eid. Low on content, high on collections. And here I am, making notes after having made my contribution. 

Basic Premise
A thrill-seeker with a heart of gold, added with the touch of Robin Hood, being chased by a good police officer. A movie which lives to its catch-line - दिल में आती है, समझ में नहीं। 

Movie Notes
  • The bit roles are impressively played out with special mentions for Sanjay Mishra's police inspector or Mithun Da's role as Salman's father.
  • The animation describing the lead character was well depicted and certainly the best part of the movie.
  • Salman Khan now can spoof himself, randomly appearing in the Chulbul Pandey persona from Dabbangg.
  • Jacqueline Fernandes makes Katrina Kaif look like a great actor. Could have been dropped altogether from the film without having any impact on the box office collections.
  • Nawazuddin over-acted but also provided a couple of funny moments while Rajit Kapoor was a complete waste. 
  • At times the film appeared to a random compilation of shots and songs with too many narration gaps. A case of haphazard editing to meet the Eid deadline?
  • The film seems to have made itself without any director or script.
  • Amidst all the buffonery, there are many social messages sent out. Kick can also be considered a good promo for all the social causes supported by Salman Khan.
Rating - X/10, X = amount of love/devotion you have for Salman Khan. Who am I to rate Bhai's work.

Previously on MovieNotes - American Hustle