Category Archives: Reviews

Dhoom 3

Yash Raj Films didn’t set out to win an Oscar when they started the Dhoom franchise. After viewing Dhoom 3, I can attest that they remain firmly committed to that non-objective. I believe it was Werner Heisenberg, the German physicist, who once postulated as part of his Uncertainty Principle that one can have either Katrina Kaif or a script in a Bollywood film but never both. I’m happy to inform you that Dhoom 3 has Ms. Kaif in it.

A Tale of Revenge, a Circus which is really a Magic Show, Hindi Stuff Written on Walls, etc.

Dhoom 3 is a tale of revenge. Iqbal Khan (a bleary eyed Jackie Shroff) applies for a loan to an evil Darth-Vader-meets-Ku-Klux-Klan style banker with a cowboy accent. What makes this loan application interesting are 2 things: 1. Iqbal claims to run a circus, but in fact it’s really a magic show with one massive treasure chest like thingy.  2. Iqbal has not repaid loans to this banker in the past. Hence Evil Banker connects dots between 1 & 2 and refuses loan. A distraught Iqbal embraces the dark arms of Hades (via single bullet to the temple) and thus triggers a cataclysmic series of events which include aforesaid bank being robbed in broad daylight 25 years later by a mysterious thief who writes some stuff in Hindi on the walls WHICH LEADS TO (sit down, you’re not going to believe this) Mumbai police being summoned to help Chicago Police solve crimes WHICH IN TURN LEADS TO mysterious thief offering to help Mumbai Police to solve crimes WHICH IN TURN LEADS TO Mumbai Police inadvertently helping mysterious thief rob more banks and getting fired. Wait, there’s good news. At some point, the bank shares take a beating in the stock market and aforesaid EVIL BANKER is forced to resign his job. Take that, you evil Voldemort banker, you! Hope you learnt your lesson to never mess with Indian circus people.

Dhoom 3 is Aamir Khan’s gig and everyone else just happens to be it. Mr. Khan is said to be a perfectionist when it comes to film making. Well, he seems to have put aside such ideals for this movie. Mr. Khan is first introduced to viewers as he climbs out of bed in a sparsely furnished apartment in a Chicago skyscraper and walks towards the window to gaze down ominously upon the windy city. The apartment is never seen again. Perhaps the apartment is a metaphor for the script. One can only wonder.

Let’s talk about Uday, Katrina and Junior B.

Uday Chopra apparently announced his retirement from acting in the weeks leading up to the release of this film. Didn’t that train leave the station in Dhoom 1? The announcement was quite unnecessary as most people were unable to recall Mr. Chopra being in possession of acting skills in the first place. Mr. Chopra is a laboratory based, experimental version of Salman Khan in which things have just gone horribly, horribly wrong. His comic interludes are neither comic nor are they interludes.

It is said that Robert De Niro prepared for a role as Jake LaMotta in The Raging Bull by gaining sixty pounds to his frame and learning to box. Likewise Ms. Katrina Kaif appears to have prepared for her role in Dhoom 3 by taking pole dancing lessons. She enters the movie half way through it. And her first full line of dialogue makes its appearance 30 minutes after that. There’s none better than Ms. Kaif when it comes to portraying the multi-layered complexities of a modern Indian woman. She deftly demonstrates how although Indian lasses might dress in overalls and appear to be demure at first, they are in fact simmering cauldrons of sexuality and willing to shed all clothing and perform complex calisthenics, all for a mere job in the circus.

Someone, please send prune juice to Abhishek B urgently.  The lad seems to be backed up.

The Whole Bank Robbery Situation Sucks

We’re not talking Shakespearean drama here. That’s hardly the expectation. In fact, it’s not fair to judge D3 by such standards. Having said that, I feel like I ought to talk at length about the whole bank robbery situation in this movie which sucks. We live in a world filled with James Bonds and Jason Bournes and Spy Kids and Incredibles and Danny Ocean’s 13. So, we the people know a thing or two when it comes to pulling off heists or robbing banks or retrieving USB drives from ruthless saboteurs. And as anyone will attest, what makes a bank robbery interesting is how you pull it off – getting past the multi-factor authentication systems by faking finger prints and  performing yoga and tai chi to avoid coming in contact with red laser beams and then gaining access to vaults with 2-feet thick steel walls. I mean, people go through a lot of trouble to rob banks and casinos. We the people have never before seen movies before in which banks have robbed upon mere access to blue prints of building which we presume have already been posted on Facebook by bank employees anyway. We the people have never seen movies in which police hand over blue prints of bank building to complete strangers within 24 hours of meeting them. We the people ought to be surprised that more banks are not getting robbed in Mumbai, given this is how Mumbai Police seems to operate.

The Verdict

Anyway, things thankfully get sorted out by the end. I got the feeling that the actual movie was only about an hour long but was stretched to three hours thanks to slow motion technology. There’s a twist somewhere in the middle. The songs are downright spectacular. In true Indian spirit, I’d recommend watching the movie for “Malang..” alone. Dhoom 3 is paisa vasool. So go see it. And if you live in Mumbai, I’d recommend taking your money out of your bank and stashing it in your pillow.

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Vishwaroopam – A Review

Many years ago, after watching a mind-numbing atrocity called Aala Vandhaan (Tamil film), I swore to never again spend money on a Kamal Haasan movie.  I broke this promise by watching Viswaroopam. Although I don’t do movie reviews on What Ho!, I really must do this to get a few things out of my system.

First, if I were to list out the many flaws in this movie, being offensive to Muslims would not make the cut.

Second, there are no spoilers in this review. The movie is about a Kathak dancer who turns out to be an Al Qaeda fellow who turns out to be an Indian RAW agent who foils a bid by Al Qaeda to blow up New York city. If you are the type who sits on the edge of your seat waiting to find out if Kamal will foil the bid of a one-eyed sheikh, all I can say is that you should have drunk more Complan while growing up.

Third, this review will offend the sentiments of an increasingly fringe group known as Kamal fans, of which I’m probably still one. Brothers and sisters of the fringe group, I anticipate your anguish upon reading this. But look upon this as a much needed dose of tough love and reality that all of us, Mr. Kamal Haasan included, sorely need. If you’re offended, be offended. Stay offended. Outrage. Do your thing. Like I’m doing my thing here.

Dey PR people, you may call this a spy thriller. I don’t.

A supposed ‘spy thriller’, the movie has neither proper spooks nor is thrilling. Unless you count a RAW agent deputed in Afghanistan with nothing more than an interesting surname as a spy. Or unless you get your thrills from amateurish buffoonery performed by a confused and overweight man running around with an even more confused and equally overweight FBI dude and two clueless but not overweight women in tow. For heaven’s sake, while our one eyed Al Qaeda sheikh apparently learnt to speak Tamil on an all-expenses paid trip to Coimbatore, our Tamil dude didn’t bother with the ABCs of Pashtun before going into the field. If only he had read the ‘Lonely Planet’s guide to Afghanistan’, he’d have found that they speak a different language over there.

The film has Kashmiri Sambaar..

The story (Caution: I use this word loosely) is of a Tamilian chap whose mother inexplicably appends the surname Kashmiri to his Wisam Ahmed, making him out to be some sort of a Kashmiri sambaar. Why Wisam? Because it goes well with Viswanath? So it can be shortened to ‘Wiz’? Only the Lord knows. The first we hear of this “Kashmiri” dude is when his wife admits to marrying him so she could come to the US to get a PhD. Tam Brahms can be a resourceful lot when it comes to finding new routes to America. But, this innovative approach to getting American PhDs through marriages to Kathak dancers paints the Tam Brahm academic commitment in a refreshingly new light. By the way, this is the only propah mea culpa we get in a movie littered with far more egregious blunders.

And Kathak dancing, chicken eating Tam Brahm chicks …

Wisam surfaces at the opening as Viswanath, an effeminate Kathak dancer, whose Tam Brahm wifey Dr. Nirupama’s biggest complaints about him are his girly, long hair and lack of manliness, and not strangely enough about his cavorting freely with his much younger, nubile, chicken eating Tam Brahm dance students. On behalf of all Tam Brahms, I’d like to thank Kamal for his use of the slur ‘paapaathi’ to describe a Tam Brahm woman, and getting this formality out of the way within the first 10 minutes of the film. Considering the other names he’s called the community in the past, we’ll take this as a compliment. Other noteworthy points about Mrs Wisam aka Mrs Viswanath aka Dr. Nirupama, in addition to being portrayed as a  pucca stereotypical scaredy cat Tam Brahm, are that she’s a ‘nuclear oncologist’, is dating her boss, having her husband tailed by a private detective and generally considered by all to be a clueless moron.

The bizzare murder of the aforesaid detective, the details of which are best left untouched, leads to the uncovering of Viswanath as first Taufiq, then Nasser and then Wisam Ahmed, all in a matter of a few minutes. What, O Good Lord, was the point of those three names?

When they cut costs, do they also cut casts?

And why was I not surprised to find out that the boss dating Kamal’s wife eventually turns out to be a complete a-hole, dealing with terrorists and the like? Hey, no man looks forward to another guy dating his wife. But, to paint the other guy as a terrorist reveals insecurity and a certain lack of imagination. I’ll admit that there are budget constraints while making a film. But, to start bundling completely disparate traits and activities into the same character to save money? I draw the line there. And I wonder, how do they cast roles?

Kamal: “Hey you random fellow, here’s your part. You’ll play the suave suit-coat guy. You will speak Tamil with an American accent. You will run a nuclear oncology lab. You will first employ and then date my wife but you may not lay a finger on her at any point in time cuz we don’t like that kind of crap. By the way, you’re the main money launderer for Al Qaeda. And if we can squeeze it in, we’ll also try and get you to play the lead pitcher for the New York Yankees. And yes, you will be shot at point blank range at some point like the dirty dog that you are. Enna thambi, what do you think?”

Random Fellow: Ok, saar. Kamal padathila chance kadaikkum naa, enna venum naalum pannuven, saar. (I’ll do anything to get a chance in a Kamal film)

Okay folks, this is the INTERMISSION.  Go get your popcorn and then come back to watch me lose my way and destroy any semblance of the plot in the second half.

And the review resumes…

Viswanath is thus exposed as Wisam, rendering his repertoire of Kathak skills unusable and forcing all to flee through a secret hidden door down to the basement when they could have simply taken the steps downstairs to the garage. Before fleeing, he does find time for a hair cut and slip on a trendy leather jacket, thus causing his previously unyielding wife to instantly fall in mad love with him.

I have a lot of friends who have obtained PhDs. I’ve noticed them to be generally intelligent and quick to absorb complex information. If tested, I’m confident that they will score above average IQ-wise. For example, if I were to tell them that I was a secret agent named Wisam masquerading as a Kathak dancer named Viswanath, they would raise their eyebrows in surprise. They might ask me a few follow up questions. But they would get it in about 30 seconds. Aanaa, appadi illiyey indha Dr. Nirupama madam. (Alas, this Dr. Nirupama Madam is not like that.) What to do? Her wide eyed histrionics at every trivial revelation makes you wonder if she got her Ph.D. from Madurai Idly shop at a discount. Kodumai. Aanaalum romba kodumai saar.

And then you have Andrea Jeremiah who plays the other Indian RAW agent whose name I forget and whose only noteworthy contributions to this fine film are to offer to take Kamal’s pants off and generally tower above him in those scenes in which they let her appear.

Where do they upload the photos? Flickr?

Rahul Bose tries to come across as a gullible one-eyed Al Qaeda honcho, Omar, who loses his family in an American air strike. Dey Omar, I’ll tell you one thing. If you keep bombing other fellows, those fellows will bomb you back, da. You might want to live in a different pin code from your family, boss. This fellow Omar tries to get sympathy, but his weird looking glass eye and repeated attempts to blow up NYC unfortunately prevent him from getting any. Rahul Bose as Omar puts up a good show in the movie. Omar grunts. He whispers. He speaks Tamil. He smiles broadly as his people take group photos with a 14 megapixel fixed-lens camera. He’s, in fact, the most believable guy in the entire circus.

Oh.. the difficulty in finding good foreigners in a foreign country..

While we’re on the subject of casting, I have to mention the firangi guys. There are white guys. There is one African guy. And one African American woman. Of the Caucasians, the “MI-6” guy takes the cake. Note to Indian film makers: When casting white fellows, please don’t cast guys who look like they passed out while doing drugs in the sixties and woke up only recently, as secret service agents. Think a little bigger. Well, just think. The African guy is the guy who’s supposed to blow things up. And why he prepares for it by shaving his entire body like he’s about to plunge into a pool for an Olympic freestyle gold medal is never explained. And did they hire that African American woman who plays the FBI interrogator from the checkout counter at a local supermarket? Dammit, Kamal. You can do better than this. You should have done better than this. You feel my pain, right?

The Faraday Shield

The lesser said about the FBI guy the better. But I will say more. He looks like a guy who would not even be cast in a used car commercial in the heartland of America. And they’ve made him out to be some sort of a mentally challenged individual. When he finds out that Kamal is a RAW agent, his mind is BLOWN. “Who are you?” he asks. Let me clue you in, my FBI dost. We were all asking the same bloody question too, at that point. And wearing a jacket with FBI emblazoned on it does not make you an FBI guy. Knowing shyte does. And you don’t rush into a room when you have a nuclear bomb sitting in the middle of it. You call the bomb squad. And if you don’t call the bomb squad, at least have the decency to conduct a public debate over if you should cut the blue wire or the green wire. Dude, we have all watched enough Bruce Willis movies to know this shyte. At this juncture, I’m sorely tempted to talk about something called the “Faraday shield.” But I won’t spoil it for you. I’ll be nice and let it be an unpleasant surprise for you.

The right to free speech.. and making rubbish..

There were a lot of people whose sentiments were apparently hurt by this movie. They got the screening of the movie suspended in Tamil Nadu. They have now got some scenes removed. They have created the impression that this movie is offensive to Muslims. I watched the ‘uncut’ version in Bangalore. It really is nowhere close to being offensive to any group but perhaps sincere Kamal well-wishers. Dey people, if you don’t like what you hear about it, don’t watch the film. Criticize. Yell. Shout. But don’t shut down someone’s shop because he’s not selling what you want to buy. We live in India. Not in Afghanistan. We are a free, democratic country. We’re like that. We tolerate stuff. Everything goes. Even rubbish. Even blasphemy. Although this film is not blasphemous that way. The most worrisome part of the movie came at the end, with the threat of a sequel left looming large over our heads.

The best comical film since MMKR..

Viswaroopam ends up as a deflated balloon called Buss-waroopam with its hodgepodge of Al Qaeda, Afghanistan, FBI, Kathak, Tam Brahms and other podalankai (snake gourd) things. The nicest thing I’m willing to say about it is that it’s possibly the best comical film Kamal has made since Michael Madana Kaama Rajan. I did get a few laughs out of it.

Before we go: Dear Kamal Haasan Sir..

Dear Kamal sir, you’re a great actor. But you’re not a good director. Please stop directing films. And you’re a great actor only when you work with good directors. So work with only the good ones. As for me, I’m going to watch Nayagan yet again for the hundredth time to cleanse all these disturbingly bad memories. And I’m going back into my self-imposed ban on Kamal films and stay there. I refuse to watch a once-great actor descend into the pits of mediocrity and destroy the image I have of him.

And as for you people..

Please go watch Viswaroopam because Kamal Haasan deserves our support. Perhaps, just this one last time.

Note: This review has been cleared by the Censor Board, cut by 223 words, then approved by 58 fringe groups and blessed by Amma before being published.

Life Lessons From Bollywood Movies

I’ve watched my share of Bollywood films. And here are some powerful life lessons from Bollywood movies that I have learned on this rocky journey.

Disclaimer: Truth be told, I enjoyed watching some of the films referred to here. And of course, I mean all of this in a somewhat flippant, irreverent and humorous manner. 🙂

Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna

I came away from this movie convinced about the urgent need for a Jan Lokpal who will be dedicated to making sure that Karan Johar will never make a film again. KANK makes a telling point that if there are two couples, both unhappily married, the last thing they should do is to ask KJo to make a film about their marriages.

Veer Zaara

The biggest lesson from that incorrigible romantic Yash Chopra, bless his soul, was not in the movie. It’s in what happens after Veer and Zaara get married, a story yet untold. They lived as man and wife happily for many years until discovering that Zaara had, in fact, been born in India and adopted and raised by Pakistani parents. Since there’s nothing like the disappointment of marrying a fellow Indian when it comes to killing romance, Veer and Zaara naturally filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. Which just goes to prove that age old truism when it comes to selecting a mate, “Only opposites attract.”

Devdas

I can’t say I learnt anything from the fifteen minutes of watching this film, by which time I had swooned and fallen senseless by the coffee table. As I lay pondering in the ambulance on its way to the emergency ward, it dawned on me that if you spray enough perfume on it, even rubbish will exude an exhilarating aroma before it knocks you senseless with poison gases.

Munnabhai MBBS

If a lout coming in from the street can fake his way through medical college and rehabilitate a brain-dead person, the day is not far before computers begin replacing doctors. I was astonished to find that chronically ill people preferred “magic hugs” from a fake doctor from the neighborhood slum over systematic medical care. I was, however, not astonished to see some of them die before the movie ended.

Kal Ho Naa Ho

Until I witnessed this magnificent opus, I was just another ignorant puppy cruising merrily through the park of life. The movie’s brilliance stunned me in ways I would have never thought possible. For example, if you see a guy strolling around with a wistful smile, and breaking frequently into song and dance routines, it can mean only one thing. That he will reveal at some suitably inconvenient time later that he has cancer. And what I discovered about this guy was that – amazingly enough – for the sole reason that he has cancer, he can give Dalai Lama a run for his money when it comes to making profound observations on life. And, he does all of this with aplomb, wearing orange cargo pants and partying it up with neighbors who look like models from an ethnically diverse Benetton ad. MIND = BLOWN.

Lagaan

Cricket is a game of such glorious uncertainties that a bunch of untrained, clueless country bumpkins can beat the guys who invented the game on any given day. It was equally revelatory to  discover that English belles find short, tanned, rustic Indians irresistible.

Zindagi Na Milegi Do Bara

If you put three guys in the Spanish countryside, I guess it’s only a matter of time before they start dancing in the village square. I found this film to an excellent example of the oft-used Bollywood formula which involves shooting film footage in exotic locations first, then adding a soundtrack and finally inserting dialogues and actors into it, before releasing in theaters.

Chak De India

There are many lessons we can learn from sports. Put Bollywood and sports together and the possibilities begin to boggle the mind. The best coaches are mediocre players who’ve suffered some grievous humiliation in their own playing days. I confidently predict that Ravindra Jadeja will become one of the all-time greatest Indian cricket coaches around 2025.

Never ever miss a penalty stroke against Pakistan. Especially when you’re down 0-1, in the final few minutes of the game. The movie nicely drove home the point that, but for India-Pak sporting contests, we would all have turned into unpatriotic wretches by now.

Dabangg

You can be an aggressive fellow with anger management issues. You can be an eve teaser. You can even be a corrupt cop. No problem. All will be forgiven and forgotten if you are the local Robin Hood Pandey with a cool pair of Rayban glasses. Heck, if you’re the charismatic, roguish Chulbul, you can even suffocate the neighborhood ruffian to death right before you scamper off to tie the knot and walk around the fire with the girl of your choice in tow. And while this might seem obvious, it’s worth calling out that it’s never advisable to let a gloomy looking chap, whose factory just burnt down, bring a crate of mangoes into the premises.

Hum Tum

This movie provides rare insights for men on the fine art of wooing women. The best way to win a woman over, I observed, is to be sensitive, patient and thoughtful. You must give her enough space and time. This is how it works. Fall madly in love with her. Wait for her to marry some one else. Then bide your time patiently until her husband dies in a car crash. And, that’s when you make your move. To set her up with your best friend. By this time, the woman cannot have failed to notice the bizarre patterns in your behavior. She will naturally interpret it as ‘your feelings’ towards her. Deny the allegations immediately because you’re a sensitive guy and wouldn’t want to rush her. Then, accept these feelings exactly one year later. By this time, since you’ve exhausted all other options, go ahead and marry her. And have a baby girl right away. This movie taught me the important lesson that you should take an excruciating amount of time before you get married, but you must not bat an eyelid before having a baby.

A Wednesday

As Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar warned, “beware of lean, hungry men.” Nasiruddin Shah’s character has so many layers and much to teach us. He’s lean. He’s hungry. He’s disgruntled. He’s learnt how to rig computers, phones and SIM cards to be untraceable. He’s second to none when it comes to assembling remote detonators and dirty bombs. This movie makes a pretty solid case that higher education in engineering and science is a complete waste of time when Wikipedia is handily available.

Tare Zameen Par

If you’ve not been a good student while in school, don’t worry about it. Someday, like Aamir Khan, you too can make a movie to explain it away. This movie opened my eyes to the possibility that an art teacher hired on a temporary basis will go to extraordinary lengths to make his job permanent. It taught me that most fathers are evil men who want their children to do crazy things like study well, get great jobs and lead comfortable lives, while, at the end of the day, it is art teachers who continue to remain solitary beacons of hope to children everywhere.

Ra One

Sometimes one person’s bad karma manifests itself as a desire to make this really horrible movie which many others will watch due to their own bad karma. Let’s please observe a moment of silence in memory of the suffering, and unite in our firm resolve to never let a tragic calamity of such horrific proportion ever repeat in our lifetimes.

3 Idiots

Watching a movie can sometimes be the only way to wipe out the bad memories of the book it’s based on. Amen.

Talaash

When your subordinates see you making empty gestures in the air, and having conversations with an imaginary girlfriend, and yet they don’t feel comfortable giving you feedback about it, then something is clearly amiss with your management style. These are exactly the sorts of things they don’t teach at the IIMs. Talaash puts forth a powerful new management concept which involves building vibrant, friendly teams, and encourages open dialogue with things other than ghosts. It was fascinating to learn that women continue to wear high heels, lipstick and short skirts long after they are dead, but dispense with high heels, lipstick and short skirts if they’ve been married a while.

2012 – A Year in Review

It was the sort of a year in Indian politics which raised an important question, “Which of these guys do I dislike the least?”

It was the kind of year that made me add ‘having a functional government’ to my bucket list. It was a year in which our phones got way smarter than our ministers. There was nothing to fear but fear itself.. and Mamata Banerjee. Offensive religious films were made. Riots broke out in the Middle East. India was a shining example to all those countries. We watched Ra One and didn’t lose our cool.

In 2012, the history of India was written in Comic Sans font. Usually, it’s countries which have parliaments. The only parliament which had a country was the Lok Sabha. Each Parliament session cost as much and lasted as long as a Kardashian marriage.

It was a year we watched TV and read newspapers to find out what we already knew to be not true. Most people spent more time on their Facebook status updates than our government spent on planning our future. Activists did the job of the media. The media did party work. Parties worked for corporations. In short, it was business as usual. No one did what they were supposed to.

“Politicizing armed forces. Investigating CAG. Not debating bills in Parliament. Undermining of institutions. Ignoring citizen protests and anger. Well played, UPA.”

It was also nice to know that no matter how bad things got in our country, Mayawati and Mamata were always on hand to make them worse. It was heartening to see Didi building bridges in 2012, to the 14th century. The Chinese must have looked at us and wondered what kind of a country they plan to get into a skirmish with, in the future.

Our democracy is an amazing thing. Where else do you to get to choose people who watch while you get tear gassed and lathi charged? If the government wants to gain the people’s confidence, then deploying 10,000 policemen at India Gate is not the way to go about it.

“Dec 29, 2012. Black Saturday. God bless your soul, Brave Heart. I hope we never forget you.”

2012 – A year in review

The year got off to a bright start for Suresh Kalmadi, who walked out of Tihar with a smile on his face. The next morning, citizens of Greece rioted when they discovered that their country was, in fact, owned by Kalmadi.

The nation’s largest state elected its chief minister in 2012. If Uttar Pradesh were to be an independent country, it would be the sixth largest in the world. Even bigger than Pakistan. In an electoral game of truth or dare, the Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi, sadly continued to pick ‘dare.’ Mulayam’s winning formula was pretty simple and straightforward: 1. Announce the list of candidates. 2. Release them all from jail.

Speaking of elections, we had one in Gujarat too. Where Congress left no stone unturned in its bid to lose by sending in Rahul Gandhi to campaign. Narendra Modi completed a historic hat trick in 2012. It was obvious that, for right or wrong reasons, NaMo did well with one important demographic: voters.

Rahul Gandhi, the artist formerly known as Crown Prince.

There are many unemployed 40+ year old men in the country. One of them was tipped to become the Prime Minister in 2012. This prediction fell through, to the dismay of Rahul Gandhi’s supporters, most of whom are stand-up comedians. Polls showed that Indians had mixed feelings about Rahul Gandhi becoming PM. 40% were uncomfortable with the idea. 60% hated it. To be fair, Rahul did pick up some momentum during the year, which tends to happen when you’re rolling downhill.

Manmohan Singh, a man who thought twice before saying nothing.

Speaking of downhill, the economy went south, dragged down by global woes. As things went from bad to worse, Manmohan Singh’s silence reached a deafening crescendo.

It turned out that Manmohan Singh’s fiercest ideological opponent in 2012 was himself from 1991. They say that silence is golden. In which case, we discovered that we had a 24 carat Prime Minister. TIME magazine described the beleaguered Prime Minister as an “underachiever,” leading to his cabinet being described as a bunch of “under-the-table achievers.” The lone bright spot for Manmohan came from Pak’s Zardari, who backed Manmohan saying “Just because someone hasn’t won an election, that doesn’t mean he can’t run the country.”

In August 2012, Manmohan Singh stunned the nation by speaking on TV and asking for reforms support. He also promised to find out who was running the government that he was in charge of.

Word of the Year: “To Manmohan” which means “To silently ignore what’s going on” Example: “I think I’ll manmohan this month’s credit card bill”

Does BJP exist? Or is it a figment of our imagination?

BJP displayed a disconcerting tendency to surface as the main Opposition party at inopportune times. The problem with Congress is that they think that we the people are fools. The problem with BJP is that they haven’t yet realized it’s true. BJP went all out in Karnataka to prove that electoral losses in 2004 and 2009 were no flukes.

And then there was Nitin Gadkari, who conclusively proved that he was not the right leader for BJP. By leader we mean, of course, a fellow who didn’t know how to cover his tracks. Congress tried to portray Nitin Gadkari as corrupt. BJP hit back by portraying Rahul Gandhi as Rahul Gandhi. Poor chap,  Gadkari was embroiled in scandals involving shell companies, drivers, cooks and other household help, and never really recovered from the blow of getting Sharad Pawar’s backing. Walking around in khaki shorts didn’t help his cause either. There was, however, some good news for BJP. Their leadership situation was so messed up through the year, that the media had no idea who to smear.

Bal Thackeray and Shiv Sena

There are some who arouse emotions when they live. Some when they die. It’s a select few who can do both. Bal Thackeray called a spade a spade while he lived. Sadly, he didn’t give the rest of us that privilege. Rumor has it that the battle for Shiv Sena’s top job has narrowed down to two candidates – Mike Tyson and Hulk Hogan.

The most important bill of 2012

The FDI in retail debate was complex. Thankfully there was one easy way to find the right thing to do: First, ask Communists, SP & BSP what to do. Then, do the exact opposite. Mercifully, the most important bill of 2012 was passed in the Parliament, freeing up the Government to focus on more important things like arresting teenagers over Facebook posts.

The man who really ran the country

2012 showed that it’s always a good idea to have Mukesh Ambani on your side. Unless, of course, if you’re in a boat. Rumor had it that the older Ambani brother had Congress in his front pocket, BJP in the back pocket and CNN-IBN in the shirt pocket. Which begged the question: Where the heck does he keep the cellphone?

Operation Re-election

Ajmal Kasab, the terrorist, was hanged in a secretive operation. When it played out in the US, President Obama authorized the operation to take out Bin Laden. The way it played out in our country, our PM was given the go ahead to watch TV and find out about the hanging. To make up for not letting him know about Kasab’s hanging, Sushil Kumar Shinde apparently gave ball-by-ball updates of the India-England cricket series to Manmohan.

“To those who’ve given their lives and risk them daily so the country can be safer: Our gratitude and respect.”

2012 sucked according to Dhoni

We got progressively worse at cricket with each passing day through the year. Right now, it feels like it’s the middle of next year.

Australia – on the road: Lost 4-0.

England – on the road: Lost 4-0.

England – at home: Lost 2-1.

We can’t win on the road. We can’t win at home. Hard pressed to think of another place to play. Evidently, rumors of a massive rift in the team are true. Between the bat and the pad. Say what you will about our cricket team, but let’s not deny that they displayed a remarkable drive for results and a keen sense of urgency. A review of 2012 cannot pass by without a salute to young Rohit Sharma, a modern day Gandhian, who does not believe in hitting even a run. All in all, 2012 resembled a bad day in Bosnia for MS Dhoni.

The Little Master

Age finally seemed to catch up with Sachin. He wasn’t half the boy he used to be. You win some. You lose some. And then, there was this little known third category when Sachin got his 100th ton and we lost the match. To Bangladesh. And then, Sachin bowed out from ODIs.

Olympics

2012 was the year of London Olympics. It was quite amazing to see that when they were not building iPads, Chinese kids were winning gold medals in Olympics. He was described as “too tall” to win sprints. Yet Usain Bolt 2-peated 100m & 200m golds. Well done, Mary Kom! Well done Saina! It was great to see that we were winning medals in shooting and boxing. I’m sure we all somehow felt safer knowing that. Then the Olympics ended. Tourists went home. And the Chinese women gymnasts returned to kindergarten.

Bollywood in 2012

Agent Vinod went on a mission across seven countries in search of the movie’s plot. If you haven’t yet experienced failure, it just means you haven’t tried hard enough, to understand why a movie named Khiladi 786 had to be made. Ra One took home the ‘Special Effects’ award. It also handily beat swine flu to top the list of the “things I’d like to avoid.” Inside every one of us is an incurable romantic self, which is assaulted by a Karan Johar movie every year. 2012 was no exception.

Men are from Mars and women from Venus. And Karan Johar is from, err.. Bandra?

Saif Ali Khan entered the holy state of matrimony, which he described as ‘that sacred bond’ between a man and his two wives. Man proposed. God disposed. And Katrina Kaif, err, exposed. And bless your soul, Yash Chopra, the man who romanced romance itself.

Other news makers of 2012

God was kind to comedians and satirists in 2012. He may have taken SM Krishna and Ambika Soni away from the Cabinet. By golly, he gave us Manish Tewari, the guy who put the ‘mini’ in minister by becoming Information & Broadcasting minister. To be fair, Tewari did well at Broadcasting. It’s the Information part he struggled with. To a world filled with noise and chaos, Ram Jethmalani added more noise and chaos. Ponty Chadha and bro successfully completed a mission to prove Charles Darwin wrong. And Shashi Tharoor re-affirmed the priceless bond that exists between a man, his wife and her Rs. 50 crores.

DLF borrowed at 12% and lent at 0% to Robert Vadra. How generous. These guys were the Piyush Chawla of the real estate business.  Robert Vadra and Arvind Kejriwal made a great team in 2012. The former couldn’t answer basic questions. And the latter had two answers to every question. Coal Gate put a new spin on ‘Coal’ition dharma. Amidst the distraction around scams that unfolded through the year, A. Raja quietly slipped out and sold a bunch of 4G licenses on eBay.

Justice Katju was probably right when he said 90 percent of Indians are idiots. It’s just that the other 10 percent haven’t yet subscribed to the Times of India. Everyone has the right to make a fool of himself. Beni Prasad, SM Krishna and Digivijay Singh got full points for exercising their rights to the fullest in 2012. Through the year, SM Krishna resembled a guy at the mall confused by automatic doors. Beni Prasad Verma proclaimed that he was “happy with inflation.” You see, anyone can come up with a coherent sentence. But only Beni Prasad can take us to an entirely new dimension. Some day when aliens try to figure out why our society disappeared, hopefully remnants from Digvijay Singh’s skull will provide some clues.

In other news

Gold prices skyrocketed. And Bappi Lahiri was rumored to have been sold on eBay to clear the national deficit. Dinesh Trivedi, erstwhile Railway Minister, proposed bullet trains. Well, he got the first half of his wish.

Hamid Ansari held onto his title as the invisible man. Pratibha Patil’s tenure as President came to an end. Her 2-step exit strategy from office: 1. Transfer all frequent flyer miles to personal acct 2. Start new cooperative bank.

Vijay Mallya owns a building in Bangalore which has 21 stories. It turned that not one of them was the truth. Kingfisher Airlines, one of India’s best, was grounded in 2012. An unfortunate upshot of this is that the Kingfisher calendar will now feature Air India staff.

There were 2 Indian contributions to business lexicon in 2012.

A “Vadra” – when 50L becomes 500Cr in a short period of time.  And the exact opposite called a “Kingfisher.” Which led to Newton’s third law of business, “For each and every Vadra, there must be an equal and opposite Kingfisher.”

Newton’s 4th law of IRCTC: A car starting from City A will reach City B in less time than it takes to book a ticket between cities A & B on IRCTC.

Around the world

4 more years of Obama. Love ’em or hate ’em. You’ve got to admit that the Americans showed spunk in re-electing an African American to the White House.

Mo Yan, a Chinese writer, took home the Nobel Prize for Literature. Out of sheer force of habit, the Chinese government arrested him on hearing the news. Truth be told, it was refreshing to hear that a Chinese guy wrote a book instead of xeroxing it.

So much blood was spilled in Gaza. It was bloody madness. When we spend our whole existences honing skills for war, why would we seek peace? The cycle goes go on. Ireland persisted with the delusion that they knew exactly what an invisible God would have wanted.

Xi Jinping did a great job with Beijing Olympics, and became Chinese President. Kalmadi did an awesome job with Commonwealth Games and went to Tihar jail.

A gunman killed 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut.

As we head into 2013..

Public confidence in the government has hit rock bottom. In fact, the only thing government seems to be above is the law. The nation is in bad shape as we head into 2013. All these parties may talk about forming fronts, but they really want to show us their backs. Yet, in tough times, we must unite behind one leader. Until we find that leader, I guess we should support Arnab Goswami.

“Friends, Romans and countrymen, please stop looting the country. Especially you Romans.”

Happy New Year. Have an awesome 2013!

The What Ho! 2012 Year in Review was assembled using my tweets during the year. Keep track of the events of 2013 by following me on Twitter at

God Delusion by Richard Dawkins – A Review

“God Delusion” is a bestseller non fiction book, written by Richard Dawkins, a professor at Oxford.

The primary purpose of the book is to debunk the Judeo-Christian notion of God as a “superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us,” which Dawkins calls the “God Hypothesis.” His argument against this hypothesis is that a God with such abilities has to be more complex than what it has created, and hence improbable. He then raises the reductio ad absurdum question of who created God. In fact, this elaboration on the “Mommy, who created God?” question is the central argument of the book.

Dawkins’ argues that science and religion are mutually incompatible for the reason that science is all about evidence, while religion is about believing without evidence. He makes the point “morality needs no religion,” which, frankly, has been said before. He stands on the shoulders of Bertrand Russell when he says this.

My observations from reading the book

Dawkins treats “believers” with little respect. e.g. calling them ‘faith heads’ to make unwarranted, implied comparisons with ‘crack heads’. This is not necessary. On the other hand, religion has become accustomed to getting respect. So, maybe a little disrespect is not a bad tactic to get attention. Agree with his real point that there is no reason why religion should be immune to criticism or get any special treatment.

Dawkins blames religion disproportionately. Reading the book – one would be tempted to believe that if religion were to be somehow obliterated, all the world’s wars would cease. Rather dramatic and flawed since things like language and good old megalomaniacal tendencies have contributed more to wars than religion. I get the sense that Dawkins is hung up more on labels rather than religion or God itself, and is stretching to make the linkages. his point really is that religion is a ‘marker’ much like tribal membership, language, skin color etc except that we’re giving it way more (undeserved) respect than the other markers. This is a fair point but not a very useful one.

Dawkins recommends impractical and absurd measures like “children should not be given the religious labels of their parents”. Again, he unfairly picks on religion, since non-religious beliefs of parents play possibly an even more important role in deciding children’s future development. Further, children tend to grow out of their parents’ belief systems as they have experiences of their own

Dawkins makes no distinction between ‘liberals’, ‘moderates’ and ‘extremists’ in religions. This may not be a minor point. Just like – not all atheists are pacifists (eg Stalin, Mao), not all theists are pacifist. So why, again, isolate religion as a sole culprit?

He is unable to pin down what he really feels is wrong with or does not makes sense about religion from an evolutionary perspective. Dawkins would be the first to admit that religion has a “utility” value in evolution, although he would qualify this by saying “even false beliefs have utility value.” False belief or not, religion’s utility appears to be there. So, what’s the problem with this? Why the hysteria against religion? This is especially disappointing given his strengths in this area.

The Verdict

Dawkins brings a great deal of passion to the book, but reading it can feel like watching a Michael Moore movie. His tone is smug, logic sloppy at times and the book occasionally includes crass phrases like “sucking up to God”. When it comes to his own specialty, evolutionary biology, there is none better. But the purpose of this book is not to explain science. It is rather, as he tells us, “to raise consciousness,” which is quite another thing. The book ends up being a unscientific polemic, in which an evolutionary biologist stretches into areas like socio-economics, politics, history, philosophy, theosophy, theology etc. where he has no core expertise. For a person who does not believe in God, he appears more obsessed with Him than the believers.

Dawkins puts forth that to be an atheist is a “brave and splendid” aspiration. On a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 is certainty that God exists and 7 is certainty that God does not exist, Dawkins rates himself a 6. “I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there,” he says. An assumption, not coincidentally that has fetched him millions of dollars.

If you’re looking for a “good atheist” book, this one’s not it.

Rahul Dravid – The Accidental Hero

It’s not hard to understand why Rahul Dravid is celebrated as a hero. There are obvious and undeniable reasons. Yet at some level it is hard to fathom how such a persona – one who was so unwilling to seek public attention and uncompromisingly focused inwardly – came to be a hero in these modern times.

In India, it’s hard not to be popular if you’re a cricketer who has scored the second highest number of runs in (Indian) Test history. We love ranks and hierarchy out here in this lovely land of ours. We are easily impressed by words like “first”, “most” and “highest”, when it comes to individual accomplishments. Dravid scaled the summit of fans’ expectations with the skill of a practiced mountaineer. He checked all the stats boxes and ensured that all flattering adjectives applied.  He “left no stone unturned” (in his own words) in the quest to scale peaks. Dravid was like the studious kid in school, whose single minded pursuit of the goal leaves peers, teachers and observers in awe. He was the ultimate geek of Indian cricket’s high school years. Usually, geeks evoke grudging admiration. Very few become celebrated heroes.

Dravid managed to slip through the cordon that enforces the rules of celebrity stardom in modern times and get noticed. And, as always, destiny had a hand in it. The Dravid-Laxman heroics in Kolkatta in 2001 rejuvenated a nation disillusioned by cricket shenanigans and hungry for evidence that it still had the mojo. Beating the nemesis after being truly down and out – Dravid demonstrated that practiced determination and patience had a role to play in winning. That it wasn’t only about hurried displays of extraordinary genius on a given day. He showed us that sweetest of triumphs come from systematic application of fundamental principles, and that the purist still had a role to play in the scheme of things. Fate handed him the opportunities to make his case. And he made it all so well. And thus he got our attention and became our accidental hero.

What if destiny had not conspired. Would we still celebrate Dravid with the passion that we do? The tale of Dravid is not about the 13,288 runs and 36 hundreds in Tests at an average of 52.31. It’s about the gentleman who elevated himself above the din of shirt swirling, chest thumping and fist pumping heroics that have come to define the modern cricket celebrity. The story is of a an ordinarily reticent man, who overcame astounding odds to capture the imagination of an easily distracted public through unwavering devotion to the sublimely beautiful aspects of the game. It is the tale of a man who was not beaten twice on consecutive balls.

I’d like to think that Dravid would have still walked away with ‘sadness and pride’ even if he had scored half the runs and centuries and not pulled off every heroic rescue that he did. But I wonder if he would still have been our hero.

A Divine Review

An unconventional book review of Dr. Stephen Hawking’s “The Grand Design”, fittingly enough by one who’s as distinguished as Dr. Hawking himself. Dr. Hawking’s books, “A Brief History of Time” and the new bestseller “The Grand Design” are delightful and belong on every bookshelf.

Dear Dr. Hawking,

Thanks to the non-linear nature of time, I’ve had the opportunity of reading your latest book “The Grand Design” even before you conceived it. In it, you state quite emphatically that there is “no need for a creator for the universe”, which came about only through the “laws of nature”, and “science will win because it works”.  Nothing pleases me more than to hear that.

Dr. Hawking, I do not have the benefit of an Oxford education. I possess neither pedigree nor experience , and am not qualified to engage you in debate on scientific matters. Nevertheless, I must press on, as I’ve a few things that I’d like to get off my chest.

Let me confess to my awkward shortcomings. It appears that you’re already aware of these.

I possess neither skills nor desire to create. Truth be told, universes have this disconcerting habit of arising spontaneously out of nothing, “under the right conditions”, as you’ve rightly described them. Why they arise, from what they arise, I know not. Or maybe I do. I don’t understand notions like time. When you live like me, in the timeless eternal moment, grasping abstractions like past or future may be impossible. Or, may be it’s not.

On your part – why deny what you believe does not exist in the first place? I’ve been watching the universe for eons, and the most disappointing moments have come when brilliance has worn itself out in pursuit of the imagined adversary. You and I are sides of the same coin. Being thus located on opposite faces, our twain may well never meet. But, that does not make us adversaries.

I believe we are in agreement that there always is, and will be, an explanation for everything, and, it’s just a matter of finding it. Is it the explanation that you’re after? Or, is it the experience? You, Sir, are no Captain Ahab. And, if you will be so kind as to agree, I’m no whale.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’ve never had one. The question you should really ask is  –  should you?

If you’re interested, do drop me a line. I may have a few answers, thanks to the non-linear nature of time.

Kind Regards.

(S)he-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Blamed