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© Rakhesh Sasidharan

Elsewhere

Batman: The Man Who Laughs

Read “Batman: The Man Who Laughs” over the past few days. This is a comic intended to be a sequel to “Batman: Year One”, introducing the Joker, and was a good read. It wasn’t as awesome as Alan Moore’s “The Killing Joke” but is worth a read nevertheless.

The Joker artwork is a close second to “The Killing Joke”. It isn’t as smooth or stunning as the latter, but is good anyways. There’s more story in this comic too and I felt Gordon’s character was more fleshed out.

“The Killing Joke” included another comic called ” Made of Wood”. This was a pleasant surprise. It’s by the same writer (Ed Brubacker) but by a different artist and both the story and artwork were miles ahead. The story in this one is a detective mystery and Batman is accompanied by (surprise!) Green Lantern. I loved the artwork – the details, the colours – and also the plot. I liked the mystery investigation stuff. It was great and a must read for any Batman fan. In fact, the story and artwork reminded me of the Batman comics I used to read as a kid. The way they used to be simple and straightforward and less dark and broody (although I like dark and broody now). Good one!

The Dark Knight Returns (animation)

Saw the first part of “The Dark Knight Returns” animation movie. It was excellent. Way better than the comic. The story is similar or the comic but better presented. It made a lot more sense and I liked the way it was taken. The direction, dialogues, background music, and so on. The first part ends well too – with the Joker awaking from his catatonic state. Yum!

Thira

The other day I saw “Thira”, a decent Malayalam movie. “Thira”, which means “search”, is Vineeth Sreenivasan’s third directorial venture. And like all his past ventures public opinion of the movie seems to be positive but I didn’t like it much.

“Thira” is a thriller. It’s well taken too, but I didn’t like it too much. The movie didn’t hold my interest much, maybe because I am used to Hollywood movies that are way more intense, or maybe it’s a fault of the story/ screenplay/ direction – I don’t know! This is also why I am vague in my opinions of the movie. For some reason I have a voice in my head wondering whether I am being too critical of the movie. Part of me says it is good to be critical – and if I expect a movie to be up to Hollywood standards (in terms of story and screenplay, not special effects or any high budget/ tech items mind you) then it is fine as that’s a good standard to aspire too. Similarly if I expect better from a director like Vineeth Sreenivasan, that too is fine because I think he is a smart fellow and so it is reasonable to expect high of him.

My main complaints with “Thira”, apart from not having a tension for the story, is that it was too easy. Problems were presented but these were overcome with ease. If it had been only about the hero (Vineeth’s brother, I forget his name) and Shobana trying to find the kidnapped girls without any help and purely on their wits I could get it. But in this case there were too many things making it easy for them – after the hero’s sister is kidnapped the vehicle very conveniently has an accident because of his which he is able to start tracking them down; Shobana and the hero are very conveniently brought together (instead of being killed) and I am still not sure how the villains came to know of them being where they were; the snitch in Shobana’s house was very easily exposed at a critical juncture by his own doing; the climax scenes where they track down the girls to a place in Goa and then free them are all too easily done… Basically I didn’t feel any suspense or tension with what was happening, I didn’t care much.

Shobana’s performance too, I felt wasn’t as nuanced as it could be. Too many angry stares and scowls, as if she was asked to focus on her Nagavali character expressions from “Manichitrathazhu”. Even when her children were kidnapped and she had no clue what to do, she has a scowl rather than sadness or fear.

Another thing I noted was the background music. I felt it wasn’t racy enough to match the situation. It was good in some parts – suspenseful – but in many parts it seemed to have a mind of its own without a care for the circumstance. The songs too were fine, nothing noteworthy and I have already forgotten them.

Overall I’d say “Thira” is worth a watch just that I didn’t enjoy it too much. It is a good movie, better than most Malayalam thrillers, but I expected more.

Dhoom 3, as it is …

This is a repost of something I wrote on my Google+ timeline a few days ago. Since I use this blog for such posts now I thought it would be a good idea to repost it here. The content is slightly edited from the original. When you read your own article a few weeks later there’s always things that could be written better…

So here’s the story of Dhoom3 as I see it. Contains spoilers so don’t read ahead if you haven’t seen the movie yet! The movie’s doing great but I was disappointed at how silly the plot was and the only reason it will do great is because it’s part of the Dhoom franchise and has Aamir Khan in it.

The movie begins with Jackie Shroff, owner of “The Great Indian Circus”. The circus is being shut down by a bank because it isn’t doing well enough to repay the bank loans. Nothing personal there. The circus does suck. And as the bank manager rightly points out they are not making money and there are no animals or clowns or similar “circusy” things in the show – just a dance and one magic trick, so it is kind of lame.

Mr. Shroff has two kids. Identical twins. Aamir Khan. One’s normal the other’s slightly retarded in that he stammers and has a neck twitch. Apparently Papa Shroff thought that was bad and to “protect” his stammering kid he hides him from the world. So as far as the world’s concerned he has just one kid, the other’s a secret. (Which is crazy if you think about it. What was the grand plan here? Keep the stammering kid hidden all his life? That’s cruel!) He does put the secret kid to use though in this one magic trick – where the stammering kid is put into a box and “disappears” while the other kid comes up from the far end of the auditorium, thus wow-ing everybody with the magic!

Anyhow, in addition to being a dick and hiding his second child, he also commits suicide when the bank decides to close his circus. Which, if you think about it is again screwed up! There are so many things he could have done – run away with his kids, let the bank take away all his possessions, come up with better tricks to improve the circus … but no, he figures enough is enough and commits suicide. And not just in private, mind you, but in front of his two kids – scarring them for the rest of their life! This does beg the question – what was Papa Shroff thinking!? If he dies how will the kids look after themselves? It’s bad enough if it were one Aamir, but here we have two – one of who is “weak” and must be protected – so how will they fend for themselves?! He was simply being selfish!

Flash forward some 20 years and we have Aamir robbing from various branches of the aforementioned bank. We are not given much insight on how he robs – is probably pretty easy and straightforward. He is a dumb enough robber though in that he doesn’t wear a mask so anyone can easily identify him. Moreover he robs in broad daylight and his escape plan is to ride out in a bike. The cops in the city are dumber than him in that they are unable to use the bank or traffic CCTVs to identify him, or even use eye-witnesses accounts to make a sketch of the robber. They are also unable to catch or shoot him him during pursuit – it’s all just too much for them. (In fact, Aamir’s intro scene has his riding down the side of a bank – vertically! – on his bike, with the stolen money flying all around him, and once he reaches the ground he takes a minute to supervise the scene and show his face to everyone. Yet the police are unable to get a picture of him!)

As if not hiding his face wasn’t making things easy enough, Aamir also leaves a joker mask behind and for no particular reason writes an abuse for bankers in Hindi. Yes, in Hindi, coz of course all American bankers know Hindi, and if it’s a thief who writes in Hindi then it definitely requires Indian cops. And since there are no American Indian cops we definitely need to get Jai & Veeru from India.

Jai & Veeru don’t have much of a role in this movie as it’s an Aamir Khan vehicle after all. (And more than Jai his angry stares have a bigger role). In the pecking order of things it would be blasphemy if these two were to apprehend Aamir or even deduce that Aamir is the thief, so to set that right Aamir goes over and shows his face to Jai and then proceeds to rob the bank as usual and make sure Jai knows it is him. He then gets shot by Jai – because only the Indian cop is smart enough to shoot and all – but manages to escape nevertheless through convenient luck. And then when Jai goes to arrest him after the circus, that’s when we the audience realize that Aamir doesn’t have any bullet injuries within him and in fact it was the stammering twin who got shot. (This is also the first time we are made aware of the stammering twin, and since this “twist” is big enough the movie is counting on our brain being overloaded by that and the two topless Aamirs and so counting on our brains not seeing through how absurd the notion is).

Now on to stammering Aamir. Poor thing has been living underground all his life. Coz he is “weak” and must be protected. (Yet he is smart enough to design the robbery plans and also ride a bike and make his escape etc). He hasn’t seen the outside world much except for a Sunday now and then, and that’s the only time he is himself. At all other times he’s either a shadow to the other Aamir or just cooped up in his box. Sad, really.

Enter Katrina. Who doesn’t have any role in this movie except a couple of songs and to grace the movie posters. She is also required because as mentioned before it would be blasphemy if Jai & Veeru were to catch the two Aamirs. If they are caught it must be due to their own doing, and what better way to make two bros fight than introduce a woman. And in this case everything’s set up just right for the two brothers to have a rift – what with one Aamir having no identity of his own and bound to get frustrated sooner or later (that it took 30 years or so is the surprising aspect here!) – so all we need is for one of the brothers (the stammering one obviously) to develop feelings for Katrina thus leading to him wanting an identity of his own and this in turn leading to the two brothers being caught. That bit is arranged for by Jai in disguise. Again, in a no-questions-asked aspect of the story, the stammering Aamir is unable to see through this disguise even though he must be watching TV or must have at least seen him during the chase and such (the guy was up on a helicopter for goodness sake, shooting at him!).

The only reason Katrina is in the story is because Aamir decides to re-start “The Great Indian Circus”. If you think about it, there’s no particular reason to re-start the circus. He robs a couple of branches and then decides to start the circus. A smarter thing to do would be to finish with the robbery business then maybe migrate elsewhere and re-start the circus. Better still, take a moment or two to think why the circus was a flop in the first place and maybe get some clowns and animals this time around! But no, all that would be too much to expect here, and since the circus is crucial in introducing Katrina and eventually leading to a rift between the brothers, as well as for adding on to the stammering Aamir’s complex (as he is still cooped up in the box while the other bro enjoys the limelight), Aamir has to re-start the circus. As said before, the story is setup to fail. It would be crazy if Aamir were really a baddie who robs banks just for the heck of it – this is Hollywood after all where we have clear demarcation between heroes and villains and so Aamir is not a baddie, just a hero who has his reasons for doing “bad” things. It would also be crazy if he were to get away with it in the end – “bad” guys can’t win after all, God forbid! And since the pecking order won’t allow Jai & Veeru to catch Aamir, the only way out is for the brothers to turn themselves in or just go ahead and kill themselves (as happens here).

And so we have the last bank robbery where for a change both Aamirs are present, and Jai & Veeru try to catch them on bike and obviously fail, and then very conveniently the twins are on a dam and could have escaped but for the fact that Katrina is introduced and so one of them feels bad in leaving her behind … and so the other decides to kill himself, taking all the blame on himself, and then the stammering twin decides he can’t let go of his brother (if only he had thought of that a few moments ago they could have both dumped Katrina and escaped) and so he too jumps into the water with his bro. And so they are shown falling into the water happily, smiling. And of course, being a Hindi movie starring Aamir Khan, it would be sacrilege to kill them too, so all they do is fall into the water and it’s quite possible they are expert swimmers and somehow managed to swim out of the water. That’s left to the imagination of the viewer … the movie has to “kill” them coz evil can’t win over good, but at the same time can’t “kill” them as it’s Aamir Khan after all.

I wonder what will happen with Dhoom 4. You can’t get any bigger super stars as the villain. Maybe get SRK, but that would imply he is better than Aamir and we can’t have that. I’d say get Amitabh Bachchan. He’s the grand-daddy of all anyways and he is comfy playing negative characters. So let him be this super villain, and maybe he just dies of old-age so there’s no problems in terms of Bachchan Jr killing Bachchan Sr, or better still let the plot twist be that Bachchan Sr is actually Jai’s father! “Jai, I am your Father!” Problem solved.

It’s sad when movies that are so full of plot holes and outright silly still manage to be a success because of their star power and effects. It only encourages this sort of a behavior from the producers and actors. The twist & crux of this story – twins playing the role of one – is from “The Prestige”. But it was way sensible there in that both twins were alternatively playing the single character. No craziness like this – where one was kept hidden and had no life at all! Silly. 

I don’t know what’s more sad. The movie, or the fact that it’s a super hit.

Sherlock Season 3 – Episode 3

Of course, as expected Episode 3 was brilliant. Couldn’t have it any other way, the writers are on a roll this season!

I think the best thing about this season is that it these episodes aren’t Sherlock stories, rather they are stories about Sherlock. The focus isn’t on mysteries – the mysteries are there (and sometimes not), but what really matters is the character of Sherlock. For instance there’s this amazing sequence in Episode 3 when Sherlock gets shot – and there’s a whirlwind of events happening in a span of few minutes which go deeper into Sherlock the person. His childhood, his friendship with Watson, his dog, his brother … and so on. Even the events unfolding after the shooting aren’t treated like a mystery. There’s a touch of humanness to them. Mary is not really Mary, and on surface it looks like she shot Sherlock – but did she really? That part is written beautifully with Sherlock correctly deducing how she saved him and why she couldn’t kill Magnusson as that would only incriminate her husband.

There’s no mystery in this episode either. It is simply about Sherlock, Watson, Mary and the threat they face from Magnusson. The latter doesn’t have much screen presence until the end, where his strength (and weakness too!) of having a mind palace is revealed and quickly dealt with.

I don’t think Moriarty will be making a return. The “missed me?” commercials hint that Moriarty could return, but I don’t think so. I think they are a ploy by Sherlock or his brother to give England a reason to pardon Sherlock and acquit him of the murder. Again, excellent stuff! The writers simultaneously play with the viewers and also find a way to absolve Sherlock. Brilliant!

And now the long wait for Season 4 starts. Hope it continues well like this.

p.s. Also, since Anderson seems to be normal and not a crazy as hinted towards the end of Episode 1 when Sherlock supposedly explained how he escaped, I think this adds to my hypothesis that that explanation too was just a theory.

The Long Halloween

Just finished reading “The Long Halloween”, another excellent Batman comic. This one’s by Jeph Loeb with artwork by Tim Sale.

It seems that every other Batman comic apart from “The Dark Knight Returns” is excellent! The artwork and story of this is miles ahead of the latter and yet every one seems to hold “The Dark Knight Returns” as some sort of gold standard. To me, “The Long Halloween” is way better. Yes it’s not as dark as “The Dark Knight Returns”, and there’s less inner monologue and doubts from Batman. There’s also no build up to a major even like a (unnecessary, in my opinion) Superman Batman clash to spice things up, but I still prefer “The Long Halloween”. The artwork too is much pleasing and fits the story. “The Dark Knight Returns” had a hugely muscular Superman and Batman and everything was presented very grotesque and exaggerated.

Hmm, I am conscious how every other comic review of mine mentions and contrasts with “The Dark Knight Returns”! Must stop doing that.

“The Long Halloween” continues from “Batman: Year One”, which is a good comic penned by Frank Miller (same author as “The Dark Knight Returns”, in fact “Batman: Year One was written after “The Dark Knight Returns”). “The Long Halloween” tells the story of a series of murders targeting members of the Carmine “The Roman” Falcone family. The murders happen on holidays, starting from one Halloween and ending on another. Batman, Gordon, and Dent try to uncover the killer. Side by side Dent tries to get Falcone behind bars legally, and that sub plot ultimately leads to the creation of Two Face.

Many Batman villains are present in this one, including the Joker. I didn’t find the artwork and colouring of the Joker as stunning as that in “The Killing Joke” though. For me the latter is the gold standard for Joker artwork. The Joker has the most presence, while villains like Scarecrow and Mad Hatter have a blink and miss presence. These latter villains are presented as working for Falcone in investigating the holiday murders and so their presence is incidental. The Catwoman continues her role from “Batman: Year One” and in this one her alter ego and Batman’s alter ego seem to be dating. That is a jump from “Batman: Year One”.

Apart from the story I loved the artwork, colouring, and text of this comic. Everything gelled together well and it was a pleasure reading it. As I mentioned, the story isn’t dark nor does it have any layers to it (at least none I could discern). So this puts it in the easy reading category. A cool thing about the “The Long Halloween” is also its gangster focus. You could say this is a Batman story set in a Godfather environment. Gotham City is in the control of the mafia and Batman, Gordon, and Dent are working to bring them down. The artwork depicting the mafia is super cool! Fits the mood perfectly and I wish the authors would create a Godfather series in comics. That would be awesome!

Overall, a great comic, and now I must check out its sequel.

iPhone 4S under iOS 7 is slow…?

A few days ago I had remarked that I don’t find the iPhone 4S under iOS 7 slower than before. Now I am wondering whether that comment was in haste.

The past 5 days, while I am on vacation in India, I have been using the iPhone 4S exclusively. And it does feel slow. Not extreme slow like my Galaxy Nexus, but definitely slower compared to the 5S and also possibly compared to how the 4S was before.

I have to qualify my statement with a “possibly” because I am not really sure. I feel the 4S is slower under iOS 7 than iOS 6.x but I am aware that could partly be perception too. After using the iPhone 5S for a month I am used to its faster speeds and so the bar is set higher in my mind. Now I expect apps to open with the speed of iPhone 5S and animations to be as smooth as the 5S, but the 4S being a slower phone can definitely not live up to that expectations.

A few days ago for instance I took out my old iPod Touch 2nd generation and installed whited00r, a custom firmware for such old iDevices that include enhancements from newer Apple firmware. I expected this firmware to be fast on the iPod Touch, but it was not. I disabled all the extra animations and tools, and while I can see the device is not sluggish it just does not match up to my expectations. Which is where the idea first cropped in my head that maybe the problem is in my head. I know the iPod Touch was a great device up to the time I used it last, so if it feels slow now with the same version of firmware it was on (whited00r is based on the 3.x series) it can’t be an issue of using a more demanding firmware on an older device – it has to be my expectation. This is why I qualify my statement about the iPhone 4S and iOS 7 with a “possibly” above.

Apart from that, the iPhone 4S is actually probably slower on the iOS 7 than iOS 6 due to the extra features and gloss and animation. Even the iPhone 5S has a bit of slowness opening folders and some apps, so one can expect it to be worse on iPhone 4S. I feel this slowness is slower than bearable, and I don’t like it much, but I also feel if it’s fixed on the iPhone 5S (I hear iOS 7.1 fixes all these) then it will probably improve on the iPhone 4S. These are quirks with iOS 7 itself – manifesting in both devices – and fixing these quirks will make the iPhone 4S behave as it should. Slow, yes, partly due to perception and partly due to slower hardware, but not as noticeably slow as I have been finding it the past few days.

Hope iOS 7.1 indeed makes the 4S faster. I hate being unable to use the 4S as happily as I used to before.

I believe Apple does not sell you a phone. It sells you an experience, which is why Apple tightly controls the hardware, software, selling channels etc, and so a sub par performance on the 4S is something Apple can’t ignore as other manufactures might, because experience is central to Apple. Even on an older hardware users expect bearable performance from newer firmware as long as Apple officially supports it. Some performance loss would be there due to perception, but apart from that it should work smooth. If Apple feels certain features might not work well on the older devices they are welcome to disable it on such hardware, but everything else should work as expected.

Asura: Tale of the Vanquished

Been trading Asura: Tale of the Vanquished these last few days. About 3/4th done now.

The book began well and it is still a good read, but I have been bored for a while. “Asura” is an interesting book. It tells the story of Ravana (the villain if the Hindu epic “Ramayana”) and I am generally a fan of stories told from the perspective of the villain. Two reasons for this: 1) History is always rewritten by the victor so heroes and villains as we know them are simply versions of history passed on to us as written by the victors – whoever won became the hero; and 2) I like to look at things from a different perspective and also understand the psyche of a “villain”, and what better way than read a story told from the villain’s point of view.

Malayalam author M.T. Vasudevan’s “Ramdamoozham” (“Second Turn” in English) is a look at the Mahabharata from the point of view of Bhima. That is an odd but interesting choice in that the author didn’t use the voice of the villain of the story, but uses that of Bhima – the second brother of the Pandavas – and so it is from the point of view of someone in the victors came, and yet due to the psyche M.T imbues in Bhima is of an outsider, an odd one out of this camp. Which makes it all the more interesting, and “Second Turn” is indeed an amazing book. The book is fascinating not only for the way the events are retold but also for the character of Bhima. One imagines Bhima to be a lumbering fatty force – all physical, no emotions – but in M.T.’s reimagining Bhima has a turbulent force raging inside. He is a whirlpool of emotions and conflicts and his story, even independent of the backdrop of the Mahabharata is engaging. (Which reminds me of what Christopher Nolan had to say about his Batman trilogy. He said that he imagined the character and stories as a regular story, not some superhero movie, and that’s why they have more story and backdrop to them than regular superhero movies. I agree).

Back to “Asura”, I knew from the Amazon blurb that this was from Ravana’s point of view and that’s why I bought the book. It began well too. The first few chapters were very well written and I was hugely excited about the book. The author (Anand Neelakantan) turned the whole Deva-Asura mythology around and presented the Devas historically as an invading race that conquered the original inhabitants of India & Lanka (the Asuras), drove them out, suppressed them, and bought with them various creepy social practices like the caste system, religious practices, rise of Brahmins & their Gods, and so on. This was a good twist and is probably true too. I am not well versed in Indian history but a lot of the things he presents as faults of Devas are things I too have wondered as a kid (I am a mythology fan and as a kid have devoured religious stories). The Devas aren’t all straight forward and righteous as one would expect, but no one questions it because usually a divine explanation and backstory is given justifying why in the particular case the Devas behaved unfairly. This sounded sneaky, and I was pleased to see “Asura” pull on various such examples to show Asuras as simple minded tribal folk whom the Devas defeated through unfair means and trickery. I loved those bits and I was excited for it. The book also pulls the curtain behind many stories and removes the symbolism to present a regular version of events as they could have been. Very nice!

Moving on, I loved the way the author handled Ravana too. Initially it felt like one of these underworld movies. Ravana is the poor man from the streets, wanting to rise up and become the next Don. He is taken in by an ageing Don (the Asura king Mahabali) and trained. Soon he leaves the ageing Don because he is young and ambitious and possibly more ruthless (think Emraan Hashmi in contrast to Ajay Devg in “Once Upon a Time in Mumbai”) and his plan is to start by capturing Lanka, ruled by his half brother Kubera, and proceed from there.

I think I liked the book up to this part. After that I lost touch with the character of Ravana. A lot of his decisions and actions didn’t resonate with me and I couldn’t see the reasoning behind them. There’s a character called Bhadra – not sure real or imaginary – through whose voice nearly half the book is said. He seems to be a “Forrest Gump” sort of person – present at all crucial events – and usually more than just being present is an active participant in them. For reasons unknown Ravana doesn’t trust him and this mistrust leads to all sorts of problems for both Ravana and Bhadra during the takeover of Lanka. In fact, trust seems to be an issue with this version of Ravana. He doesn’t trust helpful loyal servants like Bhadra, in spite of the latter proving his trust many times, is constantly unsure of his wiser advisers like Prahastha, yet at the same time blindly listens to his brothers and sister – which eventually leads to him being cheated by Vibhishana (and nearly dethroned by Shoorpanakha’s lover) thus losing his life and war. That bit seemed odd. Why was Ravana like this? Was he merely being human – which I think was the author’s intention – or was it just setting things up to match the mythology and perhaps keep the story on track to his defeat?

Back to Bhadra, I couldn’t empathise much with him either. He seemed interesting initially, but when you have a character that is constantly misused by others (Ravana and royalty) and he doesn’t seem to get the point, you lose interest in him. At least I did. Added to that he seemed to have a habit of hating Ravana but constantly falling at his feet and proclaiming himself to be a loyal servant. Didn’t make sense.

The biggest mess of all was the twist that Sita is in fact Ravana’s daughter. That was neat and smart, I liked that. Due to circumstances Sita had to be abandoned as a kid to be found by Janaka, and as she was married to a Deva chap and Devas as we know are jerks (from the story, and also because as readers we can relate to the idea from Hindu customs and rituals towards women) she has to he saved. Makes sense. To add urgency to the situation, her husband gives up everything and goes into exile, so as a loving father Ravana has to bring her over to Lanka. However, the way he does this is what does not make sense. Rather than approach her and talk about this, he kidnaps her! And then never mentions this to her ever – thus incurring her anger – and keeps wondering why she hates him and what has he done to deserve this! That didn’t make sense to me. Moreover, as Bhadra comments once, this is a personal matter of the King. Why incur war and suffering for his people over this!?

Up to the point where I have read (3/4 the book) Ravana is yet to tell Sita about him. In a fit of emotion he announces to the whole world of this, but she is yet to know and neither has anyone told her! Unbelievable. Just that one action could have changed things, but it can’t be.

Owing to reasons like these I lost touch with Ravana. As Ravana eloquently states somewhere, he is only a Man, not a God, and has made mistakes and lived like a Man – which I agree with – and I am guessing that was the author’s intention too in presenting him like that. But I couldn’t get a feel for the character, couldn’t resonate with him, and so lost connection. In the case of “Second Turn” I remember being sucked into Bhima’s mind and thoughts, there was no similar feeling here. Which is sad, because the character started off extremely well.

Many other parts of the book are good. Like I said, the whole idea of presenting Devas and their customs without any symbolism or justification but simply as what they are plainly – showing us how it is not straightforward “holy” as one might believe – was good. The war between Rama and Ravana was presented not just as a war between these two, but as a war for the soul and future of India. If Asuras had won India would have been different! No caste system, no silly Brahminical rituals, no way of practicing religion and praying to Gods as one does now… Everything would be vastly different! I liked that. I associated with that, it felt real and likely, and it put the war in a whole new light for me. I rooted for the Asuras and saw the war as something like an Independence war. Excellent presentation by the author!

I still have a quarter of the book to go through. Hopefully I will wrap it up in a day or two. Apparently the author has one more book in the pipeline – a retelling of the Mahabharatha from Duryodhna, Karna, etc point of view – to be released in two parts. I will probably buy it, but won’t expect much. The author has interesting things to say, just that the character development falls short for me.

Update (the next day): The book never seems to end! Nearly 95% into it now and Ravana has long died, but now the author has gone on a tangent about caste system! I agree with what he is trying to say, and I like the way he is exposing the Deva way of things including how they cheat to win (killing Ravana, Maghanada, Kumbakarna, and so on) but going on long after Ravana has died isn’t what I expected from the book. Which in a way is my qualm with the book, I think. It isn’t just about Ravana – while I expected a book that’s personal about Ravana this one doesn’t get to that level and seems to aim for more than just Ravana. And that’s starting to bore more and more …

On comparative advantage and doing things yourself

Today I got the answer to a question that had bothered me many times.

The question was this: I work as a System Administrator and encounter plenty of users who are clueless about computers and don’t seem to want to learn anything about it. I understand the cluelessness but I don’t understand their disinterest in learning. Because the way I see it computers are a tool aiding them in their tasks and isn’t it better they know their tools and at least a basic understanding of how it works, it’s problems, quick fixes and workarounds? Of course the fact that they are not bothered to pick this up is what gives me a livelihood and so I shouldn’t complain, but still…

The logical answer I used to give myself was the economic theory of comparative advantage. In a given amount of time these users are more productive doing their actual work rather than fixing or learning computers, and so it makes sense for them to be illiterate about these tools. They are better off using that time to learn their field and leave it to engineers like myself to understand and fix computers. Somehow that answer didn’t feel right though.

Today, at my in-laws home, I volunteered to fix a broken door. Houses in Kerala often have a door frame with a mosquito net on it. This allows residents to keep the main door open and this door frame closed – letting air etc flow from out to into the house, but keep mosquitoes out. In my in-laws case, however, the net had come out and they were waiting for the net people to come and fix it. I too never bothered with it until a few minutes ago, when perhaps due to having just finished the excellent “Superman Earth One” and so feeling intellectually stimulated and hence enthusiastic to try things out, I had a look at the frame to see what was wrong. Turns out it was simple. The net is held into the frame by a rubber padding and that had come out due to the dog thrashing against the net; all I needed to do was put the net in place and push the rubber back in. Not an easy task – due to the heat and the blood sucking mosquitoes outside! – but not too difficult either. So I spent about 15-20 mins fixing it and now I am pleased about a job well done.

Doing this however made me realise why the comparative advantage explanation wasn’t satisfactory for me. Yes, in the time I fixed this net I could have learnt some PowerShell or read the latest features of Windows Server 2012 R2 – and that would probably be a better use of my time as well – but the thing is doing something else (like fixing this net) too helps me in a different, unmeasured way. I know more about the door now, I have a sense of accomplishment, and I think more importantly doing a physical activity switched my brain from a bookish mode to a physical mode and so gives me a different perspective on other things too. Probably it won’t in this case, but maybe if I had some problem in my head such a change of context could have spurred my brain to take a break from it and tackle it differently. And that’s why I didn’t like the comparative advantage theory. It doesn’t take into account all the unmeasured factors and so the explanation wasn’t satisfactory for me.

In the case of my office, if the users took some time to learn their computers better perhaps that would lead to a better understanding of the system and its limitations for them. Perhaps this might lead to them being able to better explain to IT what they need. Perhaps they will appreciate computers more and in turn be more productive. And perhaps they will stop treating computers (and by extension technology) as some new fangled thing that they don’t understand and which only alienates them from work and others. Perhaps…

I am reminded at this point by the Chautauqua in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. The author mentions similar points though much more eloquently. We need to expand our reasoning systems to include technology. We don’t, and that’s why it feels alien to us. Replace technology with whatever one is doing. It applies to work such as fixing doors, motorcycle maintenance, computers, cooking, cleaning, and so on.

Superman: Earth One

Today I read “Superman Earth One”. Another amazing comic! I am thankful for Amazon’s offer last month of comics for US$5.99 or less. I managed to buy many comics through that and am enjoying them.

“Superman Earth One” is what “Man of Steel” should have been. I didn’t enjoy “Man of Steel” much. At that time I attributed the dislike to maybe me having high expectations from it or wishing something along the lines of a “The Dark Knight” and so I kept my opinions to myself and decided to see how the story develops in the sequels. (Which I am doubtful about now, by the way, because if the studio is confident about the movie and story then why are they introducing characters like Batman and Wonder Woman? Sure these are rumored to be not central to the movie, but still they are a sure shot way of working up frenzy for the movie and I don’t see why a studio that’s confident about its product needs to do that).

The artwork in “Superman Earth One” is excellent. The coloring eye catching, and the story sufficiently dark and broody and grounded. I loved it! “Man of Steel” had a lot of things I didn’t like. Amy Adams as Lois Lane didn’t feel right, the way she uncovered Superman was contrived as was her being used as a hostage, the subplot of Jor-El being in the space ship and also his suit being provided from there just didn’t feel natural, Clark’s father not wanting him to expose his identity made sense but it was obviously harming the boys’ self confidence and that wasn’t addressed satisfactorily, and so on. But “Superman Earth One” takes  sensible route with all this. Sure, his father tells Clark not to expose his identity, but he isn’t so morose or harmful to the boy’s confidence with it. The spaceship is present, but no Jor-El. The Superman suit was made by his mother and she went on to explain why the colors are thus (apart from her not having a choice) and also why Superman doesn’t need a mask. Tyrell discovers during his search for Superman that other suns gave them both power and that Kryptonian sunlight (real or artificial) is a weakness for them. Tyrell is also smart enough to build his spaceship using material from his home planet, making it unbreakable for Superman. I could go on and on… heck, even Perry White is so much better in the comic and has depth to it!

Apart from the comic the interview piece at the end added more depth to the story. That was Superman’s chance to speak to the readers and public and he uses it to clarify how he didn’t know of the intruders and more importantly how he works for humanity and NOT any Government. That was brilliant! That was one aspect of Superman I used to hate – how he was reduced to be an agent of the US (something which Batman in “The Dark Knight Returns” too points out) and it was good to see the writers address it head on here.

A great re-imagining of an iconic character! Simply superb and one which will appeal to all geeks and comic fans.

The Killing Joke

Today I read “Batman: The Killing Joke”, a 46 page short comic on Batman and the Joker. I love the visuals in this! They are absolutely stunning and it’s such a refreshing change from those in “The Dark Knight Rises”. Brighter, better colors, yet dark so not to be too colorful or light, and with amazing detail and good quality. The characters have more life and detail too. The Joker looks so life like and the Batman has a Sean Connery look to him!

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The story is short but filled with punch. Makes you think. Batman and the Joker are a match with a special relationship, and that’s explored here. And so is a question of what makes one a villain? Is it just “one bad day” – a series of ill timed events that unhinge your mind and morality and you turn into someone else? If so, can any rational person be subjected to such pressure and forced to change? That’s what the Joker explores here. Neat idea, I must say!

The Joker’s dialogs are just like one would expect from, along with his typical sense of humor. Batman looks just like he used to in the comics of my childhood. And the focus is on the story for the story’s sake, no unnecessary melodrama here.

I read the deluxe version and that included an afterword by the artist Brian Bolland, as well as a short piece by him called “Innocent Guy”. That too was a fun read with the same stunning visuals and detail – I just love the visuals!

A must read for any Batman fan!

Drishyam: A must watch!

Today I saw “Drishyam” an amazing Malayalam movie that’s awesome on so many levels. Not only did the movie have a smartly executed story, it was also philosophically grounded in that it touched upon questions of right and wrong with such straightforwardness and simpleness.

I went to watch the movie thinking it’s a murder mystery, but it is not. At least not in the traditional sense. Sure there’s a murder, but then focus here is on how the hero gets away with it.

The story is about the character played by Mohanlal, an orphan who has made it on his own. He is a 4th standard fail – so not someone you would expect to be smart in the traditional sense – but that’s not the case with this fellow. He is street smart, has a well developed sense of morality and right and wrong, and seems to enjoy what he is doing and believes in fairness and good service. He is a loving husband (wife played by Meena, a pleasure to see her after a long time and she was great in this role!) and a doting father to his two daughters.

The first half of the movie is about Mohanlal’s little family and their life in the village/ town where the movie is set. At the end of the first half certain events conspire leading to the wife and elder daughter killing someone. They didn’t intend on killing him, and the victim was a jerk who wanted to sleep with the daughter through blackmail, so there’s no need to be queasy about him getting killed. Question is, though, how do you avoid getting caught? And that’s what the second half is about.

Mohanlal comes up with an alibi and gets his family to stick with the alibi. His point being that no one knows what happened to the victim so it’s purely a question of their story versus the police. And the family goes to great lengths to provide proof for the alibi – which is what the title “drishyam” refers to (“drishyam” loosely translates to “sights” or “what you see”). Meanwhile the cops – who have a vested interest in the case try to break the alibi through hook and crook and a lot of illegal means. They are on the right track, but the family sticks together and so they are unable to break the case. Eventually resort to illegal torture and are finally exposed in a well planned turn of events – very well planned in fact, and in a convincing way too, nothing “filmy” about it.

Eventually the family does get away with the murder. Which is very unlike most Indian movies as these tend to be moralistically upright and so the hero killer is always eventually caught or just surrenders, but not so in this case. The movie is firm on its moral grounds and justifies its stand. Right and wrong are not absolutes, they are relative and depend upon context and situation and there is nothing to feel uncomfortable about standing for your “right” even though it may not be another person’s “wrong” or even simply “wrong” in society’s eyes. I loved the balls in this stand, it’s commendable!

There’s a final trick revealed at the very end too. Again, an excellent sleight of hand!

One aspect of Mohanlal’s character reminded me a lot about myself. As it’s driven home now and then he is movie buff and a lot of things he learnt in life is via watching movies. I am like that. I immerse myself in movies and it amazes me at times how characters in certain movies are so dumb in terms of what they do (like hiding a murder) because if they were any sort of a movie watcher they should know how to handle the basics and be prepared for things. This movie is a meta-movie that does that. All of Mohanlal’s planning are based on what he learnt from watching other murder mysteries and that’s what he uses to train his family and be a step ahead of the cops. On top of that, the movie pays homage to the concept of movies and visuals when it comes to creating evidence for their alibis and getting away with the crime.

My only gripe about the movie is the long torture scene towards the climax. That was well taken and necessary but also heart wrenching. The director and actors build up the tension so well in those scenes, and especially the camera when it focuses on the cop who is about the beat up the youngest child in the way. Just excellent! Heart wrenching and scary, but excellent!

“Drishyam” – aka “How to commit a murder and get away with it”!

Wet Shaving

Today I want to write about shaving.

The past few days I have been experimenting with “wet shaving”, which is the traditional form of shaving where you use a shaving brush and razor. I was inspired to try it by an article I read some time ago, coupled with boredom and a general dissatisfaction with my current shaving methods.

I used to hate shaving. For many reasons. One, I felt like I was being cheated by Gillette and others into using expensive razors with low blade life that I had to change frequently and weren’t giving me a good experience. Two, the process of shaving itself was so boring and mechanical. No involvement to it, you just shave shave shave and are done with it. This leads to a lackadaisical attitude while shaving with the result that most of the time my shaves weren’t perfect. Three, a combination of the previous two points – I wasn’t happy with the quality of the shave. It wasn’t as smooth as I wanted it to be, and usually within half a day of the shave I’d find plenty of rough patches on my face.

I experimented with alternatives of course. Tried disposable razors for a while – that took care of my first issue (expensive blades that need regular changing) but the quality of the shave wasn’t any better, and worse disposable razors tend to be less accommodating and so there’s more chances of nicks and cuts on your face. Still, I used to alternate between disposable razors and regular ones just to spice up things.

I also tried electric razors for a while but they weren’t much fun. Took ages to get a decent shave and then too it wasn’t as smooth as I wanted it to be. Electric razors are useful for trimming and styling but I never got used to them for regular shaving.

Now on to traditional shaving. I don’t have any of the “good” equipment mentioned in the article coz I live in Oman and you don’t have that many options here. I wonder if anyone here even does traditional shaving – maybe just the low class people who can’t afford disposable razors either! That’s the impression I get from the limited (and cheap) razors available here.

This limited variety is fine I think. I managed to get a short razor – short in the sense the handle is short unlike lost other razors I have seen. And I got some random shaving brush and also shaving cream and blades by a SuperMax (no particular reason for choosing this brand, I had seen their disposable razors before so it wasn’t unknown to me). All this doesn’t really matter though, I think, because the big thing about traditional shaving is the experience. Unlike all other shaving techniques where it’s just a mechanical task you complete as soon as possible, traditional shaving is more involved and (to me) is sort of like a meditation. You are “in the moment” of shaving. Your mind is focused on the task and your thoughts are concentrated on what you are doing. With each stroke you pay attention and that lends the meditation feeling I was referring to.

I spend about 10-15 minutes shaving this way. And usually put on some relaxing music in the background. The net effect is some time to myself where all I do is spend quality time with myself and my face, pampering the face for a good shave and enriching the mind with calm and peace. It’s not like I spend this time thinking much. Rather it’s the absence of thoughts and the state of just thinking nothing but the shaving is what I am referring to. A zen state of mind.

I just finished reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance” the other day and a lot of what the author talks about makes sense in this case too. Life nowadays is about a subject and an object. It’s about us doing something just for the sake of it – in a mechanical way – without really being in the moment with it, without being one with it, and that’s why life seems so hollow nowadays and we feel things like technology are alienating us and degrading the quality of life. That resonates in the case of shaving too in this case. Previously I used to shave mechanically, but now I am in it. And that gives great peace of mind. To be in that state when shaving I have to start with peace of mind, so the influence of the shaving extends to before the event too.

The Dark Knight Returns

I have been reading “The Dark Knight Returns” (comic) past few days. It’s a good read but I wasn’t as blown away by it as I expected. Maybe it’s just me – the comic has a high rating and huge fan following after all.

I liked the idea of the story. And I liked the old Batman narrative. That was some great story telling. His fears, his reasons, the challenges he has to face and overcome. That was great and dark! What I didn’t like much though was the overall plot. There didn’t really seem to be much to it except setup for this fight between Superman and Batman and Batman’s eventual fake death. The story seemed to involve unnecessarily releasing Batman’s old villains and then blaming Batman for whatever wrong they did. I enjoy the twist there – that the villains were bad because of Batman and so he is to blame here, and I can see the influence of this in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy (especially the second one) – yet the way it was told in the comics didn’t resonate much with me. It felt superficial and fast. Too many villains, too many blames, no time to convince me that perhaps Batman could be at fault here or that the Doctors and public point if view is worth thinking about.

The fight sequences were beautifully drawn. And I liked Commissioner Gordon a lot more in this compared to “Batman: Year One” – there was more depth to his character. In fact I liked the Joker too here. The way he escapes and then incriminates Batman by killing himself – typical Joker stuff! Which is why I am confused about my feelings for this comic because I seemed to have enjoyed the individual elements but just didn’t like the overall pointless story.

The culmination of this story – the grand fight between Superman was well done too, and I enjoyed the dialogues as well as the fake death idea. That was a good resolution.

OpenVPN “pausing” bug in iOS 7

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If you are using iOS 7 and the OpenVPN app you might notice it “pauses” when on 3G and the phone goes to sleep.

This only happens on 3G and when you switch from Wi-Fi to 3G and is a known bug.