Saturday, August 29, 2015

Where Avant-Garde Meets Après-Garde...

... in that confluence lies Bajrangi Bhaijan, displaying the breathtaking, awe-inspiring, sheer power of pure Bollywood.

And why the fuck is no one talking about the art direction and mise en scène of the film? What a heady, potent mix of all styles - from naturalistic to kitsch; from interesting steadicam angles to '80s production designs; with a nod to old DD visual styles thrown in for good measure - often in the same damn scene! Who knew Kabir Khan was such a bag of goodies? 

Again, why the fuck is nobody writing about this aspect of the film in their reviews? 

To all design geeks: "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?"

Sunday, August 23, 2015

पॉप क्विज़

बाबू पुरानालाल अपने नाम के विपरीत, कुछ ख़ास पुराने विचारों के आदमी नहीं थे. यही नहीं, उन्होंने क़रीब दस साल विलायत में भी गुज़ारे थे, जहाँ उन्हें कुछ विशेष दौलत शौहरत तो नहीं, पर घर वापसी पर एक ऊँची पैठ जमाने को ज़रूर मिल गयी थी. 

घर वापसी के बाद बाबू पुरानालाल देश के प्रति कुछ ख़ास जज़्बाती हो गए हों, ऐसा भी नहीं था. लेकिन ये ज़रूर था कि देश में उनके बड़े अच्छे दिन बीते. वे अपने काम में रूचि लेते थे, लोग उनका आम तौर पे सम्मान करते थे - और हाँ, उनकी बेहद पकाऊ और पेशाबी शख़्सियत के कारण उनका कोई दुश्मन वगैरह भी नहीं था. उनसे कभी आप पूछते तो वह यही कहते कि आम तौर पे वह अपनी ज़िन्दगी से संतुष्ट हैं, और उनके अधिकांश दिन बड़े आराम और मज़े में कटते हैं.

जब तट पर पानी बढ़ने लगा और लहरें इतनी ऊंची उठने लगीं कि अमीरों को अपनी मौज में खलल पड़ती मालूम हुई तब उनके कई दोस्तों, भाई-बहनों और रिश्तेदारों ने दूसरे देशों में पलायन करना शुरू कर दिया। कुछ सालों बाद बात इतनी बढ़ गयी कि खुद बाबू पुरानालाल के बच्चों ने भी खुद को विदेश के लिए रवाना होता पाया और अपने अड़ियल बाप से गुहार की कि वो भी देश से निकल लें. लेकिन बाबू पुरानालाल टाल गए - हँसते हुए कहने लगे - "अब जब सारे एलीट देश छोड़ के जा रहे हैं तो सत्ता की खींचतान में कम्पटीशन कम होगा - मेरे लिए तो यहीं बेहतर है."

कई दशकों बाद भी विदेश में सेटल्ड बाबू पुरानालाल की संतानें अपने बच्चों को बाबूजी की देशभक्ति की कहानियां सुनाते पायी जा सकती थीं. 

...

क्या बाबू पुरानालाल देशभक्त थे? क्यों? अथवा क्यों नहीं? सविस्तार जवाब दीजिये (10 अंक)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Bombay Velvet...

... is breathtakingly boring. 

Boo.

Thought of the Day

"Depression is melancholy minus its charms."
Susan Sontag, great purveyor of all things Hungarian.

Monday, August 17, 2015

रगों में दौड़ते फिरने के...

रात के 3 बज रहे हैं और तुम इस मटियाले अँधेरे में एक ओर बड़े गौर से देख रहे हो. "क्या ऊब गए हैं", "कुछ तो नया करना है", "कुछ एक्साइटिंग करूंगा... कुछ मस्त", "बहुत हो गया तुमरा आलस ससुर!", "नया, एक्साइटिंग, इंटेंस… ज़बरदस्त!"

तुम गौर से देखते हो, उलटते पलटते हो.… मुस्कुराते हो: "हाँ यार, यही करूंगा, बढ़िया आईडिया है"; और उत्साह में: "वाह लड़के क्या खूब सोचा है!"

पीटर नदास की पैरेलल स्टोरीज़ (समानान्तर कथाएँ), जिसे तुम स्ट्रैंड से 8 रूपये में एक दर्दनाक सेल में जूनूनवश खरीद लाये थे . 

(अट्ठारह साल का) भार महसूस करते हो - बकौल ए के हंगल, इस से भारी बोझ, "बाप के कन्धों पर बेटे का जनाज़ा", बस यही हो सकता है.  

और सो दे से.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Imaginary (Sao Paulo) Memories

$\vdots$

NF: Of course it's a market thing!
CK: ...
NF: Look, it's all part of the same general mechanism - there are markets where prices do all the work - the stock exchanges! Then there are markets where standardization has resulted in fungibility - say the commodities market. You don't care whom you buy from - you post a price and everyone who's selling a special type of, say wheat, will sell. The reason one price works in this case is because standardization means low variance in the quality of the product.
CK: <*bored*> ...
NF: However, there are some markets where prices are not enough - say the markets for schools, or organ donations - and yes marriage.
CK: ...
NF: You don't seem convinced. Allow me to quote Alvin Roth - one of my heroes:
Marriage is very much a matching market. You care who you’re matched to, and you can’t just choose who you want to be matched to; your proposal has to be accepted. And, yes, while prices play a role in so many things, a marriage is a very complex relational contract and it’s hard to specify it with prices. 
Many, many markets are not decided only by prices. And there are some markets where we don’t allow prices to play a role at all.
CK: ...
NF: ...
CK: But what about love?
NF: Ha! What an intriguing notion... how amusing indeed!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Trinity No More

John Nash, along with his wife, were killed in a car crash in New Jersey. (Link)

This brings an end to a great, most eventful life. The other two members of the 'trinity' of game theory: Lloyd Shapley and Bob Aumann are not getting any younger either, with only the latter being in good health and active at work.

Bob Aumann, on numerous occasions (the latest being in Sao Paolo, with NF in attendance) referred to himself as "a humble servant", Shapley as the "high priest"; and Nash as the "god" of game theory. 

Perhaps no fitter tribute can be paid. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Heard it Through the Grapevine

NF: Hey you're here early?
ES: ...
NF: Well, I was about to clean up. You will have to excuse the mess.
ES: ...
NF: <*wears a guilty look*>
ES: Don't worry. This will not, and cannot change my opinion of you.
NF: ...
ES: It just cannot sink any lower.
NF: <*with throat choked with emotion*> That... means so much to me. Thanks!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The White Ribbon

The air felt thick, pregnant with the sickly sweet smell of the memory that flooded The Boy and overwhelmed his senses. He could almost see those voluptuous bovine udders sway gently in the mild breeze atop the meadows - their slow, graceful motion redolent of those interminable, lazy afternoons when he and The Girl would lay side by side and gaze at the pendulous bulk wordlessly for hours.

The Boy stood at that same vacant spot now, gazing emptily in that general direction, vaguely aware of the absence of those divine appendages, whose mere presence once held some mysterious hold over his imagination. And while he stood uneasy, unable to perceive the cause of his own disomfiture, in the kitchen a mere few yards away, were being carved out those same udders in the service of his discerning palate - ready to gratify, to seduce The Boy's not inconsiderable appetite for all things flesh.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

This Court Shall Not Be Adjourned

Everyone, please join NF in congratulating his old chum Somnath Pal on the continued success of the film Court, in which he was the Production Designer/Art Director. 

This time it's the National Film Awards where yesterday it won the main prize - the Best Fuckin' Film! 

It's also being released on April 17th all over India - NF urges everyone to please go see it and transform it from a worldwide arthouse triumph to an indie financial success!

Here's the Wikipedia page for the film: Court.

Here is the ever awesome Scroll.in on the film's win at the National Film awards: 'Court' wins National Film Award as it gears up for its theatrical release.

Here is the news item in Huffington Post India: 'Queen', 'Haider', and 'Court' Amongst Winners At 62nd National Film Awards.

Friday, March 06, 2015

(Not-so) Miniscule Musings

  1. The flowering of Pakistani writing in English post-2000 has coincided with the most brutal and destructive period in its political history. While such exquisite writing, when juxtaposed with the banality of barbaric, homegrown militants terrorizing the nation and the world at large may seem grotesque, this apparent conflict perhaps, has contributed to making this new wave so darkly funny. The Latin American boom of the '70s and the worldwide success of Indian writing in English in the '80s and '90s fall into similar categories (the '80s being in particular, incredibly violent, unstable and in general the most depressing decade in modern Indian history). All bear the hallmarks of an elite upper class, expressing in their own unique-yet-not-dissimilar writing, their black humor laden magical realist take on the sense of general hopelessness.

    This past month NF read two fabulous books - The Reluctant Fundamentalist and A Case of Exploding Mangoes - by Mohsin Hamid and Mohammad Hanif respectively. These two, along with Daniyal Mueenuddin (whose book of short stories In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, a few years ago, had received such adulatory, gushing, cluttered-with-superlatives praise that NF was totally overwhelmed) and Kamila Shamsie (the Big Four) are among the hottest writers these days. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is exquisite, clever yet sincere; and A Case of Exploding Mangoes is just savagely, bitterly funny. 

    Cheers to more fiction from the other side of the border! Bravo, you guys!

  2. Carla Miriam Levy (aka Filmi Geek) continues to produce outstanding film reviews of old Hindi films. Here is her take on Vijay Anand's mastery of the suspense genre as reflected in two of his finest films: Jewel Thief and Teesri Manzil. Much like the super contentious, never resolved debate on who's the best: Lata or Asha (an issue very much alive even in Pakistan, as we are reminded by Mohammad Hanif in A Case of Exploding Mangoes, where this question keeps cropping up in the most unexpected circumstances), old Hindi film fans (yours truly included) have long debated on which one is the best Vijay Anand film (though a tiny minority sticks with Guide). She is unable to pick one over the other although her indecision should in no way stop you from reading her excellent review. (For those who're curious, NF's always voted for Jewel Thief.)

  3. While this must be old news, NF can't help but share it (he'd been planning to do so for a few weeks now, but reality interfered with his plans, as always). Here's a particularly juicy excerpt:

    "A Marxist group called Kakumei-teki himote doumei (“Revolutionary Alliance of Men That Woman Are Not Attracted To”) is calling on supporters to march against the [Valentine's Day] holiday in Tokyo’s Shibuya district."

    As NF quietly wipes his tears off and throws his (rather insignificant) weight behind these guys (ganbatte kudasai, you guys!), he can't but help noticing the radical way in which technology has disrupted the dating market. 

    While the norm in most societies a century or so ago had been marriages arranged by families (half of humanity still practises this custom) more material wealth, longer lifespans and emphasis on individuality and human freedom, especially in the West, have meant freedom from familial control over whom to date and/or eventually marry. 

    Until now that is.

    The incredible explosion in online dating (almost all single people NF knows are on it - apparently, from anecdotal evidence (!) this trend is more pronounced in Europe than it is in North America) and AI assisted matching algorithms has, in NF's opinion, created a paradigm shift in understanding the evolution of human mating rituals. 

    From an economisty point of view, the AI assisted dating market is much more efficient (jargonically, a Pareto superior correlated equilibrium allocation) and is clearly better than relying on (somewhat) random allocations of imperfect singnaling games played in highly uncertain conditions. However, isn't AI assisted matching and eventual marriage another form of (AI) arranged marriage, in which humans have ceded their freedom to sophisticated AIs who recommend who's better matched to whom? In this light, weren't scheming parents of old, mere prototypical, crude, highly imperfect, sometimes even spiteful matching algorithms on two legs? Is the era of arranged matchmaking back? And should we even be mourning the demise of wild, potentially risky, hormone mediated encounters with strangers?

    There is this beautiful SF story out there waiting to be written about this Brave New World. If it were the Gilded Age, NF would commission Ted Chiang to tell that story. It would be simple, it would be beautiful and it would fill you with a childlike wonderment at our current pregnant-with-new-possibilities state of affairs.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

टौर-टस/कछुओं के लिए

देखो कैसे चढ़ते धड़ धड़ 
बस में कछुओं के झुण्ड 
पीठें भारी, दबे तले  
झुके बिचारे मुंड 
फिर भी हँसते हैं 
फ़ब्तियाँ कसते हैं 
धकियाओ चाहे जितना 
टस से ना मसते हैं 

कभी-कभी कितने इंसानी लगते हैं 
ये बच्चे भी!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

More Miniscule Musings

  • As a heartfelt 'thank you' to their Soviet once-overlords and for being subjected to their magnanimous, random-acts-of-senseless-kindness over several decades, this Polish town decided to give back - by means of a wonderful, charming statue of the great Vladimir Ilyich. (Apparently it's even become a tourist attraction now.) Here is the news item and the statue in question

    Now chuckle to your heart's content!

  • Jon Stewart's leaving The Daily Show! As a long time fan, this is a little surprising, though not completely unexpected (NF and Vatsa were among the show's audience once with Jennifer Aniston as guest). Of late, the show was losing its edge, the writing seemed halfhearted and its thunder was stolen by the Stephen Colberts and John Olivers. However, credit must be given to Jon Stewart's championing of a new form of journalism; and for showing that farce, absurdism and satire can be as potent as serious investigative reportage.

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel employs all the by-now-classic stamps of a Wes Anderson handiwork - a fairy-tailish setting; children as miniature adults and adults as oversized children; precious character pieces that you can't not adore etc. etc. - but it leaves you feeling cold. True, it's his most visually arresting film and the art direction is stunning; but in the end it feels more a triumph of style over substance. This is especially true if The Grand Budapest... is compared to Anderson's oeuvre as a whole which includes the absolutely delightful Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited and the likes. However, as one of NF's favorite filmmakers, this film's success in the prize/festival circuit can't help but please NF.

    Cheers!

  • Here is an excellent, well written profile of Walter Pitts - an early AI trailblazer - focusing on the human interest angle of scientific research and the sad, true story of his incredible, raw talent and his homeless-to-genius-to-alcoholic-to-penniless-dead-guy life trajectory. Also starring as main villain, is Norbert Weiner's wife Margaret, whose machinations would make Lalita Pawar proud.

  • A portrait of the mathematician as a hero: This is the New Yorker's profile of Yitang Zhang - the mathematician who put a finite bound on the prime number gap (the bound in question being 70 million). NF has written about his amazing achievement before, especially his dogged pursuit of the problem despite being brutally, brutally underemployed for several decades.

    If you can look past the very dramatic, filmy-with-bordering-on-the-hagiographic profile (imagine a lonely genius looking through a rain drenched window dreamily etc. type stereotypes) it comes across as surprisingly informative and well researched. NF can personally vouch for Zhang's self effacing, shy but very funny personality since he had the honor of attending his talk at Stony Brook last year. (An example of his shy, somewhat deadpan sense of humor was seen in a post-talk question to the effect that "You proved prime gaps are finite but why did you give a (ridiculously high) bound of 70 million?" Zhang was quiet for a few seconds and then smiled and said softly: "I was tired.")

  • It is very, very heartening to see Bill and Melinda Gates win the Padma Bhushan this year. The Gates' Foundation has done incredibly good work, not just in India but all over the developing world. Personally, NF has been cheering on this new avatar of Bill Gates for some years now and if within the next few decades Bill and Melinda Gates don't win the Nobel Peace Prize, one could be forgiven for thinking that only the future Henry Kissingers are under contention, for having underperformed against their yearly evil benchmark.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Reading List: 2014 (Feb '14 to Jan '15)

List of books read during the last year:
  1. Neuromancer (William Gibson) (reread)
  2. Count Zero (William Gibson) (reread)
  3. The Marriage Plot (Jeffrey Eugenides)
  4. Mona Lisa Overdrive (William Gibson) (reread)
  5. Disgrace (J M Coetzee)
  6. पंद्रह पाँच पचहत्तर (गुलज़ार) (tr. Fifteen Five Seventy-Five (Gulzar))
  7. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (Haruki Murakami)
  8. Dr Zhivago (Boris Pasternak) (reread)
  9. The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien)
  10. Sharaz De: Tales from the Arabian Nights (Sergio Toppi)
  11. Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer)
  12. Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident (Eoin Colfer)
  13. Libra (Don DeLillo)
  14. Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code (Eoin Colfer)
  15. पीली छतरी वाली लड़की (उदय प्रकाश) (tr. The Girl with the Yellow Parasol (Uday Prakash))
  16. Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception (Eoin Colfer)
  17. Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony (Eoin Colfer)
  18. Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox (Eoin Colfer)
  19. Holy Fire (Bruce Sterling)
  20. Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex (Eoin Colfer)
  21. और अंत में प्रार्थना (उदय प्रकाश) (tr. And Prayer in the End (Uday Prakash))
  22. Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian (Eoin Colfer)
  23. Autobiography of a Corpse (Sigizmund Khrzhizhanovsky)
  24. Breakfast of Champions (Kurt Vonnegut)
  25. The Maltese Falcon (Dashiell Hammett)
  26. तुग़लक़ (गिरीश कर्नाड) (tr. Tughlaq (Girish Karnad))
  27. Dubliners (James Joyce)
  28. अग्नि और बरखा (गिरीश कर्नाड) (tr. Fire and Rain (Girish Karnad))
  29. India: A Million Mutinies Now (VS Naipaul)
  30. The Black Company (Glen Cook)
  31. American Pastoral (Philip Roth)
  32. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (James Joyce)
  33. Dance, Dance, Dance (Haruki Murakami)
  34. The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan)
  35. जूठन (ओमप्रकाश वाल्मीकि) (tr. Leftovers (Omprakash Valmiki))
The prospects of reading heavily in the next year are going to take a severe downward hit. NF thinks the numbers for 2015 might be in the 15-20 range <*shudders*>.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Bleg

NF strongly enjoins all those reading this to please pitch in and start a scholarship fund to immortalize the legacy of this forgotten, yet incredible sportsman

If enough of us mobilize, our contributions could be declared tax deductible. Please do support us in this worthy campaign!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Miniscule Musings

  • In what continues to be NF's morbid fascination with brutal, genocidal regimes (which, admittedly doesn't augur well for his state of mind in the long run), here is another brick in the wall.

    Just when you finished the three blood soaked volumes of The Gulag Archipelago, thought you knew all about the Soviet horror show (starring the Gardener of Human Happiness, Stalin himself) and began to act blasé, you come across yet another forgotten gem that teaches you the virtues of humility. See for instance the article Comrade Stalin's Secret Prison at Open Democracy (Russia section) and shudder all over again at the 'torture dacha' Sukhanovskaya (apparently there were 52 different kinds of tortures perfected there) - not hidden away in some half forgotten Siberian tundra but perched atop a Moscow suburb! Many legendary people passed through its gates (the bloodthirsty Yezhov met his end there himself!) though hardly any are left to wax nostalgic about their wonder years there. Here are some cherry-picked gems from the fantastic piece:

  • Executed prisoners’ ashes were usually either used as potash fertiliser, thrown into the sewers or dumped on a city waste tip.
  • Some prisoners who were classified as not only ‘enemies of the people’ but also ‘personal enemies of Stalin’ were beaten up one last time before their death. “Before he’s off to the other world – smash his face in!”  He [Beria] loved visiting Sukhanovka and had his own office there, with a personal lift to take him down to the cellars to take part in interrogations.’ 
  • (According to the historian Lidia Golovkova) Which regime does Lidia Golovkova think was worse: Stalin’s or Hitler’s? ‘I think they learned from each other. For example, the special prison trucks that were used to transport prisoners, where the exhaust pipes were turned inwards and the occupants died of carbon monoxide poisoning on their way to the crematorium – those were invented by the Soviet Cheka. The Nazis were just perfecting the technology when they installed gas chambers in the death camps.’
Just the way Tarkovsky learned from Bergman - right?
  • NF's old friend and animator-in-chief Somnath Pal is discussed in the supremely cool Kyoorius design mag! (Hat-tip: Bejin Hakumei.) Also featured are his stunning artworks and formidable skills in name-dropping that would warm the cockles of Nirmal-fuckin'-Verma's heart. Do read the entire piece here: Somnath Pal: Freezing Stories into Frames.

  • Courtesy, The Believer magazine, here is an excellent example of long form journalism (something that's now being revived in India by the incredibly awesome The Caravan magazine) about Ramanujan - his lost notebook, his batshit crazy genius and obnoxious habit of writing down pithy answers to seemingly never-to-be-asked-in-the-near-future questions (though in his defence, they were composed under divine duress). Overall, a very well written piece, though alarmingly radioactive levels of exotica make their appearance, especially when the writer goes to SASTRA and Erode, Ramanujan's birthplace. Here is the piece in full: Encounter With the Infinite.

  • The ever-excellent Scroll.in continues to produce astounding reportage. Here they opine on the finest five Hindi books of 2014 -  an idiosyncratic, somewhat middle-of-the-road non avant garde based list which also features the veteran hardboiled writer Surender Mohan Pathak's latest! 

    NF's salivating already!

  • While NF has been a fan in general of Anurag Kashyap and his brand of Hindie filmmaking, his output, admittedly has been a little uneven, especially when it comes to his inability to tie together brilliant sequences of scenes into a coherent, cohesive, narrative whole (this problem is at its most vexing in Gulaal). In general, NF would quibble sometimes with his self indulgent, 'style over substance' filmmaking when in one of his bad moods. 

    Ugly however, is ironically enough, a breath of fresh air! It gets everything right - the style is just right and the script oozes substance - tight, indie filmmaking at its best. Do watch it and be amazed at how radically modern Hindi cinema has emerged from its populist trappings.



Tuesday, December 23, 2014

More Good News From The Prime Number Front


The picture of Paul Erdos with a ten year old Terence Tao thinking over a problem will make your day! (See story link.)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Brief Interludes With Hideous Men

NF's corporeal form will be locatable in Lucknow from December 13th to January 7th. Those who can, please drop by to say hello.