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 categorised 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