Back to XIMB & Homesickness

So tomorrow, after staying home for almost two and a half months I’m off to Bhubaneswar for the second year of my masters programme. I’ll be catching the Ahmedabad – Puri Express at 6 in the evening tomorrow and will reach XIMB by the early morning of Sunday. It was great to be back home for a longer duration after spending close to an year on the eastern coast of the country. However, as the day of my departure started nearing, I got engulfed in a feeling of ‘pre-homesickness’ as I like to say it! I hate leaving home for extended periods. I can do up with a couple of weeks but more than that and I’ll be pretty sick. This sickness starts early in me, usually 2 weeks before the start of the journey away from home. I was homesick like hell in the first two trimesters last year which affected my performance not only in studies but socially as well. I took every opportunity to rush back home. I even missed the annual sports meet of my college to head home for the ‘break’ we got at the end of January this year. Every now and then the sinking feeling of being away from the comforts of home & family keeps me down. Bhubaneswar is 2000 kms away from Ahmedabad. That’s a long long distance. I wonder how the people who study in other countries manage without going home for a long time! I did find comfort in the fact that I’m not alone. Even English fast bowler Steven Harmison gets home sick every time he goes on the tour. I hope to try my best and make sure I’m not too affected by this sickness as I did in the third trimester. Hope alls well!

Movie Review – Men In Black III


Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld

Cast: Will Smith, Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Jemaine Clement

Genre: Action-Sci/Fi

My Rating: 2.5/5 (Above Average)

After a gap of a decade the men in black are back in the business. What business? Of protecting the earth from the scum of the universe! This time they’re certainly better than the last time. However, their originality is getting a hit. They keep on carrying forward the same elements in every movie without trying to experiment and bring something new to wow the audience.  The story idea is quite limited, same is the case with the on screen time of Tommy Lee Jones. The only new elements in the film were the time machine, the few 3D effects and the excellent performance of Josh Brolin. Will Smith was at his usual best, packing one liners laced with humor wherever needed. This is the kind of role that he should start playing again. Since last 5-7 years he has delved into serious movies. Watching him as Agent J brought back the old memories of the 90s. The film could have done some justice to their performances had their been a full proof storyline. There are plenty of plot holes like how come the villain make plans with his younger self when he goes back in time but Will Smith can’t do the same? Maybe the die hard fans won’t mind these few limitations of the flick and enjoy their time in the theatre.

The day the earth didn’t stood still

I was going through the account I wrote on the Gujarat Riots sometime back. It prompted me to write about my experiences of the earthquake which shook Gujarat an year before the riots burnt the city. This will be probably the first time in last 11 years since the disaster that I’ll be sharing the complete experience.

‘The Day Before’ (25th Jan 2001)

This was a special day for me back then. The plan of going to school on my bicycle for the Republic Day the next day had just been approved by my mum. I would be riding my bicycle to school for the first time in my life! I prepared my cycle for the special occasion that awaited me. We used to live on the first floor of the apartment back then in Ahmedabad. I hadn’t cycled for a while and it had become quite dusty.  I brought the cycle to my floor and spent about an hour and a half cleaning it thoroughly. My cycle was all cleaned and oiled up for the 3 km journey from my house to the school (a big distance for a first timer!). I had planned to make the journey with one of my school mate early in the morning. The function was to start at 8 am and we were planning to leave an hour earlier.

‘D Day’

I left home and went to my friend’s apartment on a chilly January morning. He used to live adjacent to my society. He was accompanied by his younger brother. All three of us made it to the school early and spent time chatting with our mates. The stage was getting set and we were all excited for the function to commence.

It started at exactly 8 am after the morning prayers ended. All the students were grouped together according to their respective classes and were made to sit on the ground facing the stage. Our school used to have two shifts. The secondary students used to come in the morning and we primary students used to study in the afternoon. That day, because of the special occasion there was a mixture of both the students. Not everyone came to attend the function though (which turned fatal for some).

‘And it shook’

We must have been 15-20 minutes into the program when it happened. We were sitting on the sand watching the function when all of a sudden I started feeling dizzy and could feel the ground beneath me shaking. I looked down and saw that it was moving violently making the sand jump up and down. I couldn’t believe my eyes! That was the moment when I felt the world was coming to an end. I thought we will be gobbled by the Earth! The students around me panicked and started running here and there. Our science teacher started shouting “earthquake earthquake”. I ran towards the end of the ground where my cycle was parked. When I looked up, I saw at a distance a building going down and there was a huge ball of smoke. The building disappeared in the smoke. Horrified, I took my cycle and rushed out of the school premises. Meanwhile, from what I saw from the last few glances at the chaos on the school grounds – the students at the stage had started singing the national anthem to a terrified looking bunch of students who were all over the place. I took off from the school with some other students. I remember getting an overwhelming feeling of patriotism as I furiously cycled my way back to home. All the people on the road became my brothers and sisters at an instant. I have never ever experienced such a feeling again!

Back Home

I reached home to find my parents standing outside the apartment block with other people. They were waiting for me and were relieved to see my face. The earthquake sparked rumors those days. Somebody heard on the radio that another quake was on its way towards the city. People panicked and rushed out of the apartment. Even me and my family were scared so we went out on a car ride. We saw damaged buildings on our tour of the city. The road leading to the building which I saw collapsing earlier in the day was filled with people witnessing the rescue operations. It was a 10 storied apartment. Almost 100 people lost their lives in their sleep in that building. That night we slept in our car. Stuff at my apartment was tossed up here and there. On 27th night we slept at a party plot along with other families from my locality. The party plot was (it still exists and brings back the old memories!) a large hall and was single storied (so safe!). Families huddled up together on their mattresses. It was a weird feeling sleeping with so many people. It gave a view of a civilized refugee camp! We were woken up the next morning by a strong aftershock measuring a good 6.2 on the Richter scale. My parents woke me and my little sister up and we rushed outside into the chilly morning air. That rush sent shivers down my spine!

We left Ahmedabad that afternoon for my aunt’s place in Indore as my family couldn’t take it any more. We made a 10 hr car journey to Indore, a city situated 350 kms away from Ahmedabad in the state of Madhya Pradesh. We took a wrong route on our way to Vadodara which made our trip longer by a couple of hrs. When we were crossing Jhabhua district that night, we had to stop at a police check post with other vehicles. It was too dangerous to cross the stretch that lay ahead on our own as the route was infested with bandits! An armed police constable accompanied us for the next 45 minutes. There was a moment when the constable took out his gun and pointed it outside the window. We saw some people running at a distance. They were probably the bandits from whom we were being protected. It was one hell of a ride! I’ll never forget it!

So we took a week’s break away from the state of Gujarat which was rocked by one of the deadliest earthquakes of all time measuring at 7.7 on the Richter scale. I was too terrified to go back home. When we returned to Ahmedabad, we were greeted by another aftershock which hit us on the 8th Feb at around 22:30 at night. It measured 5.7. The fans in our apartment were swaying! The students of my school hardly went to school that term. The entire period between Feb and May was spent away playing cricket with my apartment mates.  Everyone of us were promoted to the next grade. I made it to the 6th grade that year! Some students lost their lives in the disaster and some lost their relatives. It was a catastrophic disaster that struck my state. Over 20,000 people lost their lives. Cities in the Kutch district, which was the epicentre of the earthquake, were literally razed. The whole district was pulled back to the stone age. It took Gujarat almost a decade to recover economically and emotionally. Gujarat did bounce back strong thanks to its resilient and hard working people and a forward looking administrations whose efforts, its critics, who never saw the death and destruction, would never be able to understand.

Movie Review – Leon (The Professional)


Directed By: Luc Besson

Cast: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Danny Aiello

Genre: Action-Thriller

My Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Leon is a 1994 thriller directed by French director Luc Besson. Also known as ‘The Professional’,  the film narrates a story about how a hitman Leon (Reno) gives shelter to a girl Mathilda (Portman) who lives in his neighbourhood after her family is killed by a corrupt DEA officer (Oldman) and his men on the suspicion of stealing his drugs.

Mathilda discovers that Leon is a hitman and works for an Italian mafioso Tony (Aiello).  Mathilda begs Leon to teach her his art so that she can take a revenge on the officer who killed her younger brother. In return, she offers to do the household chores apart from teaching him how to read and write.  He starts taking her on his assignments where she works as his cleaner and teachers her how to handle guns. One day,  when Leon is out on an assignment on his own, Mathilda loads her bag with Leon’s guns and bluffs her way into the DEA office after locating it earlier. There she encounters Stansfield who finds about her plans. What happens next?

Leon packs some of the most powerful performances in recent times. The role of Mathilda played by a 13 year old Natalie Portman, though much more bolder than to my liking, was superbly portrayed. You’ll literally forget that the character is being performed by a 13 year old girl in the movie. It is a very mature character. The character not only loses her family & sees the dead body of her beloved brother, but also carries revenge at such a young age. Mathilda also smokes and is very daring as is shown in the scene where she plans to take on a psychopath drug addict murderer who also happens to be a DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) officer. The role of Stansfield is the best part of the movie for me. A lot has been written about the character on the internet. People have loved it but also have commented on how the character has been ‘overly’ stated. I really enjoyed the performance of Gary Oldman. The on-screen presence of the character always gave a very sinister feeling. The way he took his drug, his dialogues (“Death is whimsical today”, “I like these calm little moments before a storm. It reminds me of Beethoven!”), his unusual calmness and then a sudden burst of rage made his character look very creepy & unpredictable. Stansfield goes down in my book of the best villains of all time! Reno as a hitman was good. His fight scenes were probably one of the best of his times especially at the end. His character was strong & professional yet emotionally vulnerable. The background score composed by Eric Serra was both haunting and thrilling in equal measures. It brought in a chilly atmosphere in the movie and kept your heart pumping in the close quarter scenes.

I happened to watch a hindi movie called “Bichchoo” in 2000 starring Bobby Deol and Rani Mukherjee. After watching Leon I found that Bichchoo was a hindi remake of the movie. Many scenes especially the ending were almost the same.

Overall, Leon is one of the best thriller movies of all time. Although I watched it in 2012, it was released 18 years back in 1994. Many of the scenes especially the ending must have been really thrilling for the audience back then. Elements of the movie have been used by many action movies in the late 90s as well as in the 21st century. A must watch for any cinema enthusiast who haven’t checked it out yet!

Movie Review – Knocked Up


Directed by: Judd Apatow

Cast: Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jay Baruchel,  Jonah Hill, Jason Segel

Genre: Comedy

Rating: 3.5/5 (Decent)

Knocked Up is a story of a lazy and an unemployed man Ben Stone (Rogen) and a career minded TV presenter Alison Scott (Heigl). Ben is a kind of guy who lives with his folks (played by Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel & Martin Starr). All the friends have something in common – they’re all unemployed & lazy and spend most of their time fooling around, partying or watching movies or working on a website project which doesn’t show much promise. Alison Scott works with E! Entertainment Television. She gets promoted to work as an on the camera presenter. To celebrate her promotion, she goes partying in a club with her elder sister (Leslie Mann) and there she meets Ben who is partying out with his friends. Ben & Alison gel together in the party and under the influence of alcohol end up sleeping together. Next morning at the breakfast table, Alison finds out that she doesn’t have anything in common with Ben. The two go their respective ways only to come together again after 8 weeks when Alison finds out that she is pregnant with Ben’s child. What happens next? Do the two get together or end it all with a break up? Watch it to find out!

The story is quite a simple one. However, what happens around the story is what makes this film a great watch. The film is laced with crude sex related humour throughout. This is what is expected when you have Seth Rogen in the movie. It also features the likes of Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel & Jonah Hill all of whom are known for crude comedy films and present their side roles in the movie as the buddies of Rogen. These characters party their heart out, tease each other, work on a porn website, and are lazy as shit. All the roles have been out played flawlessly. These guys are natural at the buddy stuff and their chemistry with each other is flawless. Katherine Heigl does a fantastic job in the film. She portrays the character with finesse.

The film portrays the nuisances of one night stands and the resultant issues that crop up. If you go by the story itself, it feels a little stretched. However, the fantastic performances delivered by the characters and the comic events that surround the central idea of the film makes it a hilarious watch. The plot focuses on responsibility and commitment and also the way the lives of people change by the events that take place after an unwed couple gets pregnant which they hadn’t planned.

Watch it for the excellent performances especially by Heigl & Rogen in the lead roles and also by the supporting characters who does a great job together to pull off a laugh riot film.

Movie Review – 50/50

Directed by: Jonathan Levine

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston

Genre: Drama-Comedy

Rating: 4 out of 5 (Very Good)

50/50 is a film about a man’s battle with cancer and the way his relationships unfold during the battle. It is loosely based on the experiences of Will Reiser who is the writer of the film.

The film is about a radio journalist Adam Lerner (Gordon-Levitt) who is having problems with his back for a while. Later, when he goes to the hospital for a check up, he finds that he is suffering from a rare form of cancer which is eating away his bones & tissues. He checks on the internet and finds that his odds of surviving stands at 50/50. On hearing about his cancer, his best friend & co-worker Kyle (Seth Rogen) tries to make him as normal as possible. He is relieved by the fact that he still has 50% chance of survival. Adam’s girl friend cheats on him and he breaks up with her. He starts getting close with his therapist McKay (Kendrick) and fellow cancer patients while he is undergoing Chemotherapy. After sometime it is discovered that his cancer is not responding to the chemotherapy and he’ll have to undergo a surgery in order to remove the tumour. However, the success of the surgery is slim. Also, one of the cancer patients with whom he was close dies and the thought finally dawns on him as to how close he was to death. Will he be able to defeat the cancer?

The small highlight of the movie above would make you think that this movie is some serious stuff which is not entirely true. Though the movie deals with an issue as serious as cancer, it does so with a human face. It is laced with traces of comedy. When you have a guy like Seth Rogen in a movie the least you can expect is some humour and he delivers it with finesse. 50/50’s perfect blend of comedy & drama is what it is worth watching for together with the excellent performances by the characters. Joseph Gordon-Levitt pulls off an excellent performance as a cancer patient. It is the only movie I’ve seen of him apart from his role in Inception. I liked the way the background music blended with the emotions of the film. It made sure the main theme of the movie remained intact.

50/50 is a perfect blend of serious drama and crude humour surrounding a man’s battle with cancer. One of its kind movie. Go for it!

Start of another journey – Rural Shores!

I left home at 5:00 to catch a bus to Bhiloda. Why am I going to this small town located 130 kms from Ahmedabad near the Rajasthan border? I’ll be working as a summer intern at Rural Shores, a Rural B.P.O which is one of its kind in the world. A colleague is waiting for me at the bus station however the bus leaves earlier than I had expected and I  miss it by 5 minutes. As there won’t be any other bus to the city before 7 am I take a bus to Himatnagar the headquarters of Sabarkantha district situated 84 kms from Ahmedabad where the town is located. Sabarkantha district is located in northern Gujarat touching the Rajasthan border. I reach Himatnagar on time but have to wait for an hour and a half for the bus to Bhiloda.

After travelling 50 kms from Himatnagar I finally arrive at Bhiloda. It is a typical small town of Gujarat. It is located on plains but you can see some mountains in the background. It is much cleaner than Kadiri and has proper roads. The bus station is in the center of the city. The bus station is surrounded by markets covered with umbrella shades. My office is located at a 2 min walking distance from the bus station. It is in a residential area and you won’t be able to recognize the office at first as it is located on top of a house! As I enter the office and record my entry in the register, I notice the existence of bio metric technology. The employees have secured cards which lets them enter the office after recording their attendance. Now I know why they say that the technology is entering the rural areas of our country ;). As soon as you enter the office you’re engulfed in the clatter of keyboards. It’s the kind of noise you hear in the Bourne movies when they show the agents working their way towards another unsuccessful attempt at capturing Bourne at the CIA office! Well for us, it is the village folks typing their way towards success at Rural Shores!
The workplace consists of a large hall. It has a security cabin, the Center Manager’s cabin & a UPS & Server room apart from an arrangement of computer desks which can seat 60 agents at once. The agents are engaged in processes such as data digitization of customer application forms, processing of invoices, sms call back to customers and so on. Its the kind of work which they can do easily. On one corner of the workplace there is a process manager guiding his associates on the white board about the new project their team would be taking up. On the other corner there is the center manager taking feedback from an associate on the error diagnosis they did the previous day. Its a typical office like environment and everybody is busy in their work. The working hours are between 7 am in the morning and 12 at night depending on the processes the agents are involved in.

I’m staying at a place couple of meters from the office. It is a large (can fit in 4-5 people easily) & well furnished room. The comforts of my room are further enhanced by the uninterrupted electricity supply (well its Gujarat!). The only thing that is missing is an air conditioner which could have made it a five star accommodation! I put my luggage in the room and go back to my office. There I take a computer desk near the window, open my laptop and begin my 2 month journey at Rural Shores Bhiloda center!

Movie Review – 28 Weeks Later


Directed by: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Cast: Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner

My Rating: 3/5

This review was originally written on 30th August 2009.

When I saw the first part of this movie 28 Days Later, I never thought that the director would win an Oscar for a non-horror movie. For me he was a revolutionary horror movie director. But lo! He did won an Oscar and that too this year itself! And who would that guy be? Danny Boyle. Yes I am right. I never thought Danny Boyle, the director of 28 Days Later could ever make a film like Slumdog Millionaire in future. With 28 Days Later he had reinvented the art of scaring the audience. This series contains blood thirsty and surreal zombies spreading unrealistic terror and blood throughout Britain. This is not like any other run of the mill horror movie. It has a really interesting story line and a not-so-crazy screenplay unlike every other horror movie which are just made to scare your ass off! 28 Weeks Later continues from where 28 Days Later had left, except for the fact that it has some more gore and intensity.

After the rage virus destroys the whole of mainland Britain, a US led troops takes control of Britain. It begins reconstructing everything and tries to make the things normal again. All the things are going as planned. The infected people have died of starvation. But still something goes wrong and the whole situation blows out of control. Left with no other options, the commander orders the execution of “code-red” which literary means killing every civilian in order to prevent the spreading of the virus at a larger scale. But how did the chaos begin? What happens next? Go, find it out yourself!

If after watching the movie you were thinking why the hell didn’t the virus wreak havoc in other parts of the world here’s my take: Britain is surrounded by water on all 4 sides, infected human beings and animals can’t reach mainland Europe from that way. Though I suspect whether migratory birds can carry the virus?

28 Weeks Later creates a whole new dimension, when the zombies travels across the English channel in the Channel Tunnel (Wow what brains!!) and reach France (Eiffel Tower can be seen clearly). With this we might be able to see the consequences of virus infecting people across the globe in the next installment 28 Months Later rumored to be directed by Danny Boyle.

What differentiates this flick with it’s predecessor is that it is more violent and disturbing. The scenes of killing are painful to watch especially the massacre scene. The gore content in this movie surpasses that of Saving Private Ryan on my list. This movie is definitely not for people below the ages of 18 years (though they would be itching to watch!) and weak hearted adults.

Rose Byrne & Jeremy Renner were awesome. Robert Carlyle was quite good. But the child artiste’s Mackintosh Muggleton & Imogen Poots as siblings were simply flawless and natural. The background score by John Murphy was as frightening & chilling as the movie itself. I would give 5/5 to the sound department. A special mention must be given to the cinematography and the way the camera work was edited using the latest technology. The movie makes use of computer generated darkness at many scenes which is pretty cool. This is another factor which makes the movie very realistic!

Watch this movie only if you are into horror stuff. This movie might ruin the day for serious movie watchers because of it’s content. I would have given it a 4/5. But I was kinda frustrated by the over the top violent scenes.

Movie Review – Blood Diamond


Directed by: Edward Zwick

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connely, Djimon Hounsou

My Rating: 5/5

This review was originally written on 30th August 2009.

Overview:

Blood Diamond is an over the top violent action-thriller film. It is set against the civil war in Sierra Leone. It describes how the diamond smugglers based in countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe etc to name a few take advantage of the situation in Sierra Leone and sell the diamonds off to European countries at a huge margin. A part of the money they earn is used to fuel more tensions between the rival ethnic groups in the country. One American journalist (Jennifer Connelly) together with a young diamond smuggler (Leonardo Di Caprio) and a local Mende tribesman (Djimon Hounsou) set out together with different objectives. They end up helping each other in their needs and ultimately cracking down on the illegal diamond business.

Was it any good?:

Blood Diamond is an awesome movie! Flawless direction backed by an outstanding screenplay and acting and an excellent background score, Blood Diamond won’t let you settle down for a minute. I liked the way how every part of the smuggling racket was documented in the movie. Leonardo Di Caprio delivered an Oscar worthy performance. It’s about time he grabbed an award at the Oscars. Jennifer Connelly did a fine job as a journalist too. Film’s music is really worth checking out. It added the necessary emotions to this bloody thriller.

Verdict:

Set aside 2 ½ hours of your life, free your mind and enjoy this vintage thriller.

Movie Review – Catch Me If You Can


Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tom Hanks, Leonardo Di Caprio, Christopher Walken, Amy Adams, Martin Sheen

My Rating: 4/5

This review was originally written on 30th August 2009.

The Steven Spielberg-Tom Hanks pair are known for making one of the most entertaining movies on Earth. Their movies are generally long in duration, very narrative, simple and most importantly very entertaining. Some of the great examples of their movies are: Saving Private Ryan, The Terminal and now Catch Me If You Can. Steven Spielberg’s unpredictable story idea together with Tom Hanks raw talent make an Oscar worthy combination.

I wanted to watch this flick ever since I read about it back in 2002. I never came across any of it’s television broadcast. So, finally out of frustration I bought the DVD. Catch Me If You Can is about a character called Frank Abagnale Jr played by Leonardo Di Caprio, who starts cheating on people and in the course of time becomes the biggest conman of USA. Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) is an FBI detective who is determined to put an end to Abagnale’s activities. After being duped by Abagnale at a hotel, Carl gets an idea about the perfection of Abagnale in duping people.

Every actor in this movie is flawless. I was really impressed by Leonardo’s performance first as a troubled young student and later as a full blown conman. Tom Hanks together with Christopher Walken adds spice to the movie. Tom’s presence in any movie sets the mood of the audience. Martin Sheen is good too but his screen time is very less. Amy Adams was very natural in her acting. Spielberg really picks up the right actor for the right role.

Catch Me If You Can is a great light popcorn flick with heavy emotions. It sets the tempo right from the beginning.