Friday, August 31, 2012

A Grand Story, Indeed!


Being a non-resident Keralite all my life, naadan food and Malayalam films are two things that help me connect back to my roots. I have spent many a weekend at home, laughing over the antics of Dasan and Vijayan, or watching the gorgeous Ganga transform into a murderous Nagavalli seeking revenge on a Durgaashtami day. Needless to say, there are a number of Malayalam films that I am likely to remember for a very long time, and this post is about one such film that I recently watched.

I have always been a Mohanlal fan, and can never tire of watching some of his old films. Remember classics like Chitram, Kilukkam, Devaasuram, Thenmaavin Kombathu, Aaraam Thamburan...and I could just go on! However there is no denying that certain more recent films show him in a less than flattering role, and many of us thought that he should be playing roles his age. And that's when he came out with Grandmaster, once again proving to us what a versatile actor he is, bringing back the magic on screen.

Directed by B Unnikrishnan, Grandmaster tells the story of an IPS officer named Chandrasekhar (played by Mohanlal) who leads a rather lonely life, struggling to come to terms with a broken marriage. We are told that he used to be a brilliant cop, but ego clashes over professional issues between him and his lawyer wife Deepthi (portrayed by Priya Mani), have torn him apart. Even as the head of the Metro Crime Stopper Cell in the city of Kochi, he prefers to spend his time playing chess with himself, seeming to have lost the zest and passion he once had for his job. However all this changes when he hears of a mentally unstable young man named Jerome, who in a fit of anger at being ignored by a young girl, abducts her and two of her friends. Being the father of a teenager (whom he gets to meet only twice a month), he immediately sets out to rescue the girls, and we see traces of the old Chandrasekhar return. The next day, he sees a stack of letters and enquires about it. His colleague Kishore (played by Narain) tells him that most of these letters are pranks, and they shouldn't be taken seriously. However, Chandran tells him that he should be able to differentiate a genuine letter from a prank, and proceeds to pick out one addressed to him, in red ink.

To his surprise, the letter is from an admirer, impressed that he was able to make a comeback of sorts by arresting Jerome. But the letter also contains a rather chilling message- It is an invitation to Chandran to stop playing chess against himself; a challenge to play against the writer of the letter instead, and the stage would be a place called Adityapuram on the 10th of February. Chandran remembers that date to be inauspicious for him, and he wonders what's in store for him. Fast forward to that date, and we see a woman named Alice lying dead in front of her coffee pub. She has been murdered, and the murderer has left behind a children's alphabet book, opened at the page for A. The word 'Apple' has been struck out and in its place the page reads 'A for Alice'. Rather chillingly, the murderer has also used his weapon to inscribe a cross on the victim's forehead.

As he tries to trace who could be behind this murder, two other murders take place, and the names of these victims begin with a B and a C. He is convinced that these murders are all linked, and somehow uncannily each victim had a visit from a travelling salesman before their fateful deaths. Who was this person? What is his role? And why on earth did the murderer insist that Chandran gets involved in this game? 

Based on Agatha Christie's book titled The ABC Murders, Grandmaster has all its elements in place. It has none of the over-the-top heroism usually associated with thrillers of this kind, nor does it rely on soppy romance in the flashback used to describe Chandran and Deepthi's marriage. Jagathy, as Chandran's colleague Rasheed, once again proves to us that he is an actor par excellence. Narain and Priya Mani, as Kishore and Deepthi, have pulled across really good performances. Anoop Menon, playing the role of Deepthi's psychiatrist friend named Jacob, was brilliant-I felt there was a quiet dignity about this whole character. There is one scene where he proposes to Deepthi, and I especially liked the way he dealt with her rejection. Babu Antony, as the travelling salesman, sent shivers across my spine. Especially the scene where he opens a Bible and prays to God in repentance, or the scene where he confesses to a priest that 'they deserved to die since lust was their sin'. But undoubtedly, the film belongs to Mohanlal. With his salt-and-pepper hair, and a graceful dignified demeanour, he plays his age, and oh my, he does it incredibly well. This role seems to have been scripted especially for him, and he brings sheer magic to the film- almost like the old days when his Midas touch transformed many a drab movie into a blockbuster hit. Lalettan's top notch performance puts the 'grand' in Grandmaster. A movie NOT to be missed!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness

A couple of days ago, I turned my room topsy turvy, hunting for a stapler. I had a lesson the next day, and wanted to prepare for it, by analysing the readings assigned to us. There were three in total, and each was quite a few pages long. It felt good trying to get things in order, and for that I needed to file them in, which meant neatly stapling them together. Sadly, I'm a trifle messy when it comes to things like this (When will you ever learn, Amma says) and in the midst of shifting rooms, I think I must have lost my stapler somewhere. That ruined my entire good mood. I began to get cranky, but since nobody was there to tolerate my tantrums, that also passed away. It was nearly midnight, and I was tempted to go to bed without reading through, but felt a little guilty at that. I heard my neighbour moving around her room, and decided it wouldn't hurt to borrow her stapler. Now, it's just been around two weeks since the new semester began, and I really don't know her well, not even her name. We have met each other, of course- in the cluster kitchen, in the lift, and so on. Exchanged polite smiles. That's about it. Any way, I knocked, and when she opened the door, asked her whether she had a stapler. This was a little awkward- I'm guessing she's a freshman, and she is obviously not a local student. So she might have found the new environment daunting, or maybe she couldn't figure out my 'Inglish' (Indian way of speaking English :P). Finally, I resorted to gestures by showing her my file and the papers. She shook her head, gave an almost apologetic smile, and said that she didn't have one.

So I returned to my room, too tired to ask anybody else.  Around 15 minutes later, I decided to hit the sack and wake up early instead to complete the reading. That's when I heard a knock on my door. Tired at best, irritated at worst, I opened the door. My neighbour was there. She had a bunch of papers in her hand, held together by a paper clip. No, she didn't have a stapler, but she did have some paper clips. Would those be okay?

I was really touched by the gesture. This is a person I hardly knew, and if I were in her place, I probably wouldn't have taken the trouble to get back to someone I was barely acquainted with, at such a late hour, even if I had eventually found a stapler. So thoughtful and considerate of my neighbour! It may sound like a very small thing, but it does leave a huge impact. I'll definitely remember this the next time I jump and quickly explain  why or how I will not be able to help someone else.

Another incident occurred today, which once again proved to me that you can always help people if you try. I had gone off to the hawker centre for lunch, (I converted my summer internship into a part time one, and now work twice a week) and was returning to my office, when all of a sudden, it began to rain. Singapore has an extremely unpredictable weather- tropical and humid, sunny one moment, gloomy the next. You may need sun glasses one moment, an umbrella the next. Waiting at the zebra crossing without an umbrella was dreadful. I was beginning to get drenched and cursed myself for having ignored the darkening skies when I left my desk for lunch. An elderly gentleman was standing near me at the crossing, and noticing my deplorable state, offered to share his umbrella with me. The office was just a stone's throw away, and it really wouldn't have mattered, because I could have reached quite quickly, although I would still be drenched. But having discovered that I was going the same way as him, this elderly uncle didn't hesitate to share his umbrella. I couldn't thank him enough. Would I have done it? Sure, if  it was my friend or even a casual acquaintance, the latter although hesitatingly. But for a random stranger on the street? Food for thought indeed! I surely have miles to go in my journey to be a better human being. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ouija Board (55 Fiction)


Playing with the Ouija Board was a mistake. She should have known better than to use it to call spirits of people, long dead and forgotten. She felt an unnatural presence around. Disturbed, she ran outside, and dumped the board in the dustbin. When she returned, the board was still there, almost smirking at her.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Back in God's Own Country

I'm back in Kerala, after nearly two years. It does feel great to be back, although I'll be here only for  a few days more. Every time I'm back in this part of India, I feel a sense of wonder, joy, amazement, probably because I'm back to my roots, something which I haven't been able to explore, as a result of being away from home.

Sometimes, like Khaled Hosseini's Amir in The Kite Runner, 'I feel like a tourist in my own country.' I frown at the potholes that frequently scar the roads. I complain about the power cuts, and at the same time, note with relief that at least we are not plunged into darkness, like the north. I criticize the numerous hartals that bring things to a halt, almost every other day. I feel embarrassed by the lack of cleanliness in restrooms, annoyed by the buzz of flies and mosquitoes. Yet, deep down, I know this is home, and this is where I belong.

Last evening, we walked down to the temple nearby. On the way, Appa and I discussed Kerala politics- I feel bad to admit it, but I was quite lost, so it was a good place to start learning more about the political dynamics of God's own country. When we reached the temple, I was mesmerized by the sight of lit lamps spread all around the temple courtyard- in the Hindu calender, the current month is Aadi/Karkitakam, a supposedly inauspicious month, for it brings with it humidity and the wrath of the south-west monsoons, and in the old days, this would spread illness. As a result, special prayer ceremonies are usually held during this season. The familiar chants of numerous slokas in the air, the smiling faces of deities in the garba griha, the priests handing out chandanam which we carefully applied onto our foreheads, and the wonderful, splendid aroma of neipayasam which would later be served as prasadam... Apart from the presence of family and friends, these are some things that make me feel I'm back home.

This morning, I woke up to the gentle pitter-patter of the Kerala monsoons beating against the window pane, accompanied by the chanting of the Ramayana from the nearby temple. (In the olden days, during the Karkitakam month, people would stay indoors to escape the rains, and they would read the Ramayana to give them solace and confidence in those difficult times.) As I type out this post, I hear women washing clothes in the nearby Kalpathi river. This feels foreign to me, but at the same time, I know this is home. In this land of saris and pavadai thavanis, I sometimes feel out of place in my jeans. I feel awkward when English words slip into my clumsy Malayalam sentences, or when I struggle to read the headlines on the Matrubhumi newspapers, but then I do know that this is home. And it's good to be back home :)

Friday, August 31, 2012

A Grand Story, Indeed!


Being a non-resident Keralite all my life, naadan food and Malayalam films are two things that help me connect back to my roots. I have spent many a weekend at home, laughing over the antics of Dasan and Vijayan, or watching the gorgeous Ganga transform into a murderous Nagavalli seeking revenge on a Durgaashtami day. Needless to say, there are a number of Malayalam films that I am likely to remember for a very long time, and this post is about one such film that I recently watched.

I have always been a Mohanlal fan, and can never tire of watching some of his old films. Remember classics like Chitram, Kilukkam, Devaasuram, Thenmaavin Kombathu, Aaraam Thamburan...and I could just go on! However there is no denying that certain more recent films show him in a less than flattering role, and many of us thought that he should be playing roles his age. And that's when he came out with Grandmaster, once again proving to us what a versatile actor he is, bringing back the magic on screen.

Directed by B Unnikrishnan, Grandmaster tells the story of an IPS officer named Chandrasekhar (played by Mohanlal) who leads a rather lonely life, struggling to come to terms with a broken marriage. We are told that he used to be a brilliant cop, but ego clashes over professional issues between him and his lawyer wife Deepthi (portrayed by Priya Mani), have torn him apart. Even as the head of the Metro Crime Stopper Cell in the city of Kochi, he prefers to spend his time playing chess with himself, seeming to have lost the zest and passion he once had for his job. However all this changes when he hears of a mentally unstable young man named Jerome, who in a fit of anger at being ignored by a young girl, abducts her and two of her friends. Being the father of a teenager (whom he gets to meet only twice a month), he immediately sets out to rescue the girls, and we see traces of the old Chandrasekhar return. The next day, he sees a stack of letters and enquires about it. His colleague Kishore (played by Narain) tells him that most of these letters are pranks, and they shouldn't be taken seriously. However, Chandran tells him that he should be able to differentiate a genuine letter from a prank, and proceeds to pick out one addressed to him, in red ink.

To his surprise, the letter is from an admirer, impressed that he was able to make a comeback of sorts by arresting Jerome. But the letter also contains a rather chilling message- It is an invitation to Chandran to stop playing chess against himself; a challenge to play against the writer of the letter instead, and the stage would be a place called Adityapuram on the 10th of February. Chandran remembers that date to be inauspicious for him, and he wonders what's in store for him. Fast forward to that date, and we see a woman named Alice lying dead in front of her coffee pub. She has been murdered, and the murderer has left behind a children's alphabet book, opened at the page for A. The word 'Apple' has been struck out and in its place the page reads 'A for Alice'. Rather chillingly, the murderer has also used his weapon to inscribe a cross on the victim's forehead.

As he tries to trace who could be behind this murder, two other murders take place, and the names of these victims begin with a B and a C. He is convinced that these murders are all linked, and somehow uncannily each victim had a visit from a travelling salesman before their fateful deaths. Who was this person? What is his role? And why on earth did the murderer insist that Chandran gets involved in this game? 

Based on Agatha Christie's book titled The ABC Murders, Grandmaster has all its elements in place. It has none of the over-the-top heroism usually associated with thrillers of this kind, nor does it rely on soppy romance in the flashback used to describe Chandran and Deepthi's marriage. Jagathy, as Chandran's colleague Rasheed, once again proves to us that he is an actor par excellence. Narain and Priya Mani, as Kishore and Deepthi, have pulled across really good performances. Anoop Menon, playing the role of Deepthi's psychiatrist friend named Jacob, was brilliant-I felt there was a quiet dignity about this whole character. There is one scene where he proposes to Deepthi, and I especially liked the way he dealt with her rejection. Babu Antony, as the travelling salesman, sent shivers across my spine. Especially the scene where he opens a Bible and prays to God in repentance, or the scene where he confesses to a priest that 'they deserved to die since lust was their sin'. But undoubtedly, the film belongs to Mohanlal. With his salt-and-pepper hair, and a graceful dignified demeanour, he plays his age, and oh my, he does it incredibly well. This role seems to have been scripted especially for him, and he brings sheer magic to the film- almost like the old days when his Midas touch transformed many a drab movie into a blockbuster hit. Lalettan's top notch performance puts the 'grand' in Grandmaster. A movie NOT to be missed!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness

A couple of days ago, I turned my room topsy turvy, hunting for a stapler. I had a lesson the next day, and wanted to prepare for it, by analysing the readings assigned to us. There were three in total, and each was quite a few pages long. It felt good trying to get things in order, and for that I needed to file them in, which meant neatly stapling them together. Sadly, I'm a trifle messy when it comes to things like this (When will you ever learn, Amma says) and in the midst of shifting rooms, I think I must have lost my stapler somewhere. That ruined my entire good mood. I began to get cranky, but since nobody was there to tolerate my tantrums, that also passed away. It was nearly midnight, and I was tempted to go to bed without reading through, but felt a little guilty at that. I heard my neighbour moving around her room, and decided it wouldn't hurt to borrow her stapler. Now, it's just been around two weeks since the new semester began, and I really don't know her well, not even her name. We have met each other, of course- in the cluster kitchen, in the lift, and so on. Exchanged polite smiles. That's about it. Any way, I knocked, and when she opened the door, asked her whether she had a stapler. This was a little awkward- I'm guessing she's a freshman, and she is obviously not a local student. So she might have found the new environment daunting, or maybe she couldn't figure out my 'Inglish' (Indian way of speaking English :P). Finally, I resorted to gestures by showing her my file and the papers. She shook her head, gave an almost apologetic smile, and said that she didn't have one.

So I returned to my room, too tired to ask anybody else.  Around 15 minutes later, I decided to hit the sack and wake up early instead to complete the reading. That's when I heard a knock on my door. Tired at best, irritated at worst, I opened the door. My neighbour was there. She had a bunch of papers in her hand, held together by a paper clip. No, she didn't have a stapler, but she did have some paper clips. Would those be okay?

I was really touched by the gesture. This is a person I hardly knew, and if I were in her place, I probably wouldn't have taken the trouble to get back to someone I was barely acquainted with, at such a late hour, even if I had eventually found a stapler. So thoughtful and considerate of my neighbour! It may sound like a very small thing, but it does leave a huge impact. I'll definitely remember this the next time I jump and quickly explain  why or how I will not be able to help someone else.

Another incident occurred today, which once again proved to me that you can always help people if you try. I had gone off to the hawker centre for lunch, (I converted my summer internship into a part time one, and now work twice a week) and was returning to my office, when all of a sudden, it began to rain. Singapore has an extremely unpredictable weather- tropical and humid, sunny one moment, gloomy the next. You may need sun glasses one moment, an umbrella the next. Waiting at the zebra crossing without an umbrella was dreadful. I was beginning to get drenched and cursed myself for having ignored the darkening skies when I left my desk for lunch. An elderly gentleman was standing near me at the crossing, and noticing my deplorable state, offered to share his umbrella with me. The office was just a stone's throw away, and it really wouldn't have mattered, because I could have reached quite quickly, although I would still be drenched. But having discovered that I was going the same way as him, this elderly uncle didn't hesitate to share his umbrella. I couldn't thank him enough. Would I have done it? Sure, if  it was my friend or even a casual acquaintance, the latter although hesitatingly. But for a random stranger on the street? Food for thought indeed! I surely have miles to go in my journey to be a better human being. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ouija Board (55 Fiction)


Playing with the Ouija Board was a mistake. She should have known better than to use it to call spirits of people, long dead and forgotten. She felt an unnatural presence around. Disturbed, she ran outside, and dumped the board in the dustbin. When she returned, the board was still there, almost smirking at her.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Back in God's Own Country

I'm back in Kerala, after nearly two years. It does feel great to be back, although I'll be here only for  a few days more. Every time I'm back in this part of India, I feel a sense of wonder, joy, amazement, probably because I'm back to my roots, something which I haven't been able to explore, as a result of being away from home.

Sometimes, like Khaled Hosseini's Amir in The Kite Runner, 'I feel like a tourist in my own country.' I frown at the potholes that frequently scar the roads. I complain about the power cuts, and at the same time, note with relief that at least we are not plunged into darkness, like the north. I criticize the numerous hartals that bring things to a halt, almost every other day. I feel embarrassed by the lack of cleanliness in restrooms, annoyed by the buzz of flies and mosquitoes. Yet, deep down, I know this is home, and this is where I belong.

Last evening, we walked down to the temple nearby. On the way, Appa and I discussed Kerala politics- I feel bad to admit it, but I was quite lost, so it was a good place to start learning more about the political dynamics of God's own country. When we reached the temple, I was mesmerized by the sight of lit lamps spread all around the temple courtyard- in the Hindu calender, the current month is Aadi/Karkitakam, a supposedly inauspicious month, for it brings with it humidity and the wrath of the south-west monsoons, and in the old days, this would spread illness. As a result, special prayer ceremonies are usually held during this season. The familiar chants of numerous slokas in the air, the smiling faces of deities in the garba griha, the priests handing out chandanam which we carefully applied onto our foreheads, and the wonderful, splendid aroma of neipayasam which would later be served as prasadam... Apart from the presence of family and friends, these are some things that make me feel I'm back home.

This morning, I woke up to the gentle pitter-patter of the Kerala monsoons beating against the window pane, accompanied by the chanting of the Ramayana from the nearby temple. (In the olden days, during the Karkitakam month, people would stay indoors to escape the rains, and they would read the Ramayana to give them solace and confidence in those difficult times.) As I type out this post, I hear women washing clothes in the nearby Kalpathi river. This feels foreign to me, but at the same time, I know this is home. In this land of saris and pavadai thavanis, I sometimes feel out of place in my jeans. I feel awkward when English words slip into my clumsy Malayalam sentences, or when I struggle to read the headlines on the Matrubhumi newspapers, but then I do know that this is home. And it's good to be back home :)