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In a life time spent watching, loving and living cinema, which one do I like the most?

Movies have been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s the case with most of us, and we all have our own tastes and preferences.

If I like a film, I watch it again and again. And if I don’t like a film in the first 20 minutes or so, I would never watch it in spite of what the reviewers say.

And of late, I have started a pretty decent collection of DVDs of films that are my favorites.

I truly believe that variety is the spice of life, so I pretty much love films across most genres, languages, and ages. Depending on my mood, I could be watching a slap stick Crazy Mohan film, or a profound Guru Dutt one, or a Tarantino blood gore. Sometimes I get involved and study the message, but mostly I just like to have a good laugh.

So, I thought I’ll share my list of most favorite films ever. It would be difficult to pick out a top 5/10 as such, but what was not difficult was picking what dessert I love the most in a table full of goodies. I would write about THAT one film, I would place above all as to my definition of the film that impacts me the most.

To start with, here is the list of my all time favorite films (my top 33, why 33? Because I like that number!), in alphabetical order:

  • 3 Idiots (Hindi)
  • 3.10 to Yuma (English)
  • Anand (Hindi)
  • Anbe Sivam (Thamizh)
  • Ardh Satya (Hindi)
  • Casablanca (English)
  • Chupke Chupke  (Hindi)
  • Crash (English)
  • Dark Knight (English)
  • Das Leben Der Anderen / Lives of others (German / English)
  • Edhir Neechal (Thamizh)
  • Gladiator (English)
  • Good Will Hunting (English)
  • Inglorious Basterds (English)
  • Kadhalikka Neramillai (Thamizh)
  • Kill Bill – Part II (English)
  • Lage Raho Munnabhai (Hindi)
  • Lakshya (Hindi)
  • Michael Madana Kama Rajan (Thamizh)
  • Mouna Ragam (Thamizh)
  • My cousin Vinny (Englsih)
  • Nayagan (Thamizh)
  • Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Italian)
  • Psycho (Englsih)
  • Pyaasa (Hindi)
  • Scent of a woman (English)
  • Shichinin no samurai (Japanese)
  • Shiva (Telugu)
  • Shrek (English)
  • The good, the bad, the ugly (Italian / English)
  • The Shawshank Redemption (English)
  • Thillu Mullu (Thamizh)
  • Vita E Bella / Life is beautiful (Italian / English)

 Now the one I love the most, is a left field pick, and a film that moves me personally like no work of fiction has. It’s Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa. 

There are stories, movies, epics and box office hits. But to me Pyaasa is all that and more – it’s a masterpiece from a man who gave us many gems, died tragically young like most geniuses, and would have no idea a film he made 6 decades back could still strike a chord with so many people young and old. 

Pyaasa is the story of Vijay, a penniless, support less poet who struggles to make the world realize the beauty of his work. It’s the story of his relationships with the world,  and two women in particular, and his eventual reorganization and fame.

 If you haven’t seen it yet, get a DVD and watch it soon. (There is a Moser Baer DVD available in all stores across India). Its dark, sad, poignant, profound, subtle, leaves you worried if you get involved, but climaxes into something beautiful, hopeful and cheerful. In fact, Johnny Walker’s “Sar jo Tera Takrayey”, and the beauty in the climax are the only moments of genuine joy in a depressing story.

 Now, why do I love it so much? Here are some random reasons:

  1. It’s the story of an idealistic, honest, straightforward, talented man, fighting against the world, and coming out on top, but not spilt by the success. That’s the kind of man I would want to be
  2. It’s an Indian movie, and from one of the finest movie makers we have produced. Guru Dutt’s life and his tragic story, make the character so real
  3. A beautiful end that suggests that amidst all the dark and gloom, there is always a bright shining light. To an eternal optimist like me, it appeals tremendously, much as Shawshank Redemption did.
  4. The brilliant songs and their profound lyrics. They complement the film so bloody well.
  5. The usage of light and shade, close-ups that portray the deep thoughts of the characters…it’s almost as if I feel the characters alive. Destiny ensured that it was a black and white film, and I just can’t imagine it being as vivid with a modern color print.
  6. A Bollywood movie sans item numbers, rape scenes, masala dialogues, fights, lavish sets loud actors or lengthy dialogues, and full of subtlety. That’s the kind of movies we were capable of making 60 years ago.
  7. It tells me life is a zero sum game; for every jerk we meet in life, we have a true friend, and for every man / woman who betrays us, we manage to find a soul who loves us purely. There is a nice balance to it
  8. It’s a timeless movie. Would make sense and appeal eternally.
  9. The fact the Guru Dutt insisted on the climax as it is now, and ensured that Vijay does not compromise with the world for material reward, and chooses to be his own man.
  10. The message that true talent, self belief, and passion, ultimately wins over all other factors, no matter what the struggles are. To put in modern jargon – content is king! 
  11. It breaks all stereotypes for that period; some of these stereotypes still persist. For example, the character of Gulabo the hooker, is unlike any other portrayals of such people.

Ironically, it’s a film I would find to difficult to watch many times, because of the intensity. I would rather stick to a comedy for that, but then that’s the beauty of cinema – there’s always a story for every occasion and mood! But most people who review the film stereotype it as dark. It is for most parts yes, but I don’t think most of them get the raw and pure beauty of Vijay and Gulabo.

A very well written tribute to the film is from the TIME magazine, which included it among a handful of Indian films, as one of the top 100 films of all time.  

Read it at: http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1953094_1953146_1953989,00.html

 Cheers!

Vasu

P.S: I sort of like 33 as a number. It’s got two threes, and 0.33 is 1/3rd  or 33.33%. 0.22 is not ½ or 22.22 % 🙂

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Bucket list entry # 6561: Indian man, German shepherd dog!

Have you seen the movie “The Bucket list”?

It’s not a great movie, or a classic; it’s pretty much candy floss Hollywood, but just happened to feature two stalwarts in Jack Nicholson & Morgan Freeman, who made a very simple story line look good on-screen.

In fact, on a guys evening out at Prithvi’s place in Bangalore, when there wasn’t anything exciting to do, we hired the DVD almost as an afterthought. The only other notable event of the day was Akash’s ridiculous claim that “The Dark knight” wasn’t such a great movie, and all of us pouncing on him like a pack of wolves!

Back to the bucket list; without getting into a movie review, or storytelling, I would explain the central theme in brief: two old men, who know the end is near, exchange notes about a “bucket list”, or things to do in life, before you “kick the bucket”; and they set about doing just that in the last few days of their lives.

The list itself is a combination of some very simple personal desires that they yearned for, to the extravagant, such as skydiving, tattoos, climbing the pyramids, the French Riviera, the Great Wall of China, a lion safari in Africa etc.

Many random things to do, and places to visit, capture my imagination every once in a while. I think that’s the case for most of us. The only cue I took from the movie was to actually write it down and make a list. However silly the list may sound!

This particular item in my bucket list is a very old fascination: of owning a pet, a dog in particular, and a German shepherd to be precise. Of all dog breeds, I dig the German shepherd the most, the Labrador comes next. To me that’s the best choice for a man, and though many other dogs look much cuter, in terms of intelligence, utility, versatility, and ease of training, the GSD / Alsatian is the king of the canine world! I don’t have too many friends who own a GSD. My cousin Vaish has a terribly cute Pug, but I haven’t played with him 😦

It may not sound like a big deal, and a relatively easy item to tick of the list, but trust me, it’s been a bloody difficult wish to fulfill all these years, and will possibly stay that way for a few more.

To start with, I have to grapple with this huge contradiction that I love animals, but I am scared of being very close to them. Dogs in particular! I am the guy that ticks “Like animals, but at a distance” box in any questionnaire. My pet theory (pun intended) is that if I happen to have my dog starting from the days when it’s a small puppy, I would eventually overcome my fear.

It all started with my neighborhood in Chennai. As little kids, my sister (Poorni) and I were taking a walk around the streets when a friend of mine, who used to have this Alsatian, lost control of the leash and the dog. The dog ran wild and bit my sister, and I was helpless nearby. Poor girl is still petrified of dogs, and I am just 1% less afraid than her! She would hold my hands when there was a dog anywhere in the near vicinity, and I used to act brave. There was no way I could tell her I am equally scared, as having me around was her only source of comfort against any dog!

The problem of stray, street dogs is massive in many Indian cities, most notably Bangalore.  There were these incidents last few years when street dogs attacked people in packs (children in particular) and remains a source of huge debate between animal lovers and the regular people on the roads. Despite being a massive animal lover, in this context, I would place the interests of people above dogs. It may be sad, but that’s the pecking order.

Even if Bangalore evolves an effective mechanism for tackling the stray dog menace, it still doesn’t address the problem of irresponsible owners. Like my friend whose dog bit my sister.

Trust me; this is a massive problem in our country. And it felt even more massive to me when I have traveled abroad. Pets are so well-behaved, and owners are so mature here. I have never heard a dog bark and scare a stranger, or appear intimidating in any way. I have seen that in US, Japan and in Switzerland. I figured out the laws for keeping are very stringent, and well-regulated. Along with pet insurance, regular medical checkups, there are mandatory classes for pets, and owners.  The system pretty much ensures that if at all you have to keep a pet, you have to be extremely sensitive to the animal and fellow human beings.

So that comes to another reason I haven’t had a pet so far. The challenge of keeping a pet to the standard I would like to maintain is difficult in India. There are millions of pet owners in India, but from what I know, not too many of them are sensitive to the pet’s psyche, and its behavior in a public place. What would be easier in India though is to take care of my dog when I am working late, or travelling for e few days. I would find it relatively easier to find a neighbor or friend who takes care in my absence. There are dog walkers in Switzerland, but they come at a price and have their own schedules! Bottom line is, I would like to be a very responsible pet owner, or not have one at all.

On a lighter note, one of the most enjoyable sights from my apartment in Tokyo was a regular “owner – pet – pet – owner” routine I would see from my balcony every evening. The dogs are so well-behaved, (and bloody cute as with anything Japanese) that on the rare occasion when a dog barks at another on the street, the masters stop, apologize profusely  in the long tradition of Japanese manners, exchange pleasantries and become friends. God knows how many business alliances, and love stories have come about that way!

But, by far my biggest challenge has been living in one city long enough to keep a pet. I wouldn’t want to put my dog through relocating cities / countries, and flight journeys! There is no way any dog can live off a suitcase like I do! I remember pleading with Amma to keep a lab, when I wasn’t working yet and didn’t have a place of my own.  Her decisive statement was “If you insist on getting a dog, fine. I can only feed so many people in this house, so it’s either you or the dog. Your choice!”  Appa, and Poorni were eagerly waiting for my response. ..in one of the most decisive moments in my life, I chose myself over the lab instinctively 🙂

 I can thankfully laugh about it today, but on that day I was an angry young man!

So perhaps one day when I know I am going to stay in one city for years together, I would finally knock this long pending item off my bucket list.

Till such day when you visit my house and play with my dog, enjoy the amazing videos here!

Cheers!

Vasu

P.S: Since I have made, chopped, and changed such lists  for so long, that it doesn’t make sense to start this series with #1. Those who know me know my fascination with numbers and patterns in numbers. So I would number this series with my favorite numbers rather than 1, 2, 3…6561 is one such number. I was born on a terrific day for a number lover: 8th January, 1981, or 8-1-8-1. 81 * 81 =6561. Also, 8+1=9, and 9*9*9*9 =6561. There you go!

Doing what you love doing for a life time and excelling at it – a case of 3 role models

Act  1: 15 grand slam titles, 4 different surfaces, one cool Swiss man. 

On a hot summer day, when cooling off at home was the best option, or basking by the glorious River Rhine was the fashionable thing to do in Basel, I made my way to a specific restaurant / café in town. I wouldn’t have been anywhere else if anybody  paid me a million Swiss francs. There is nothing special about this place, it’s just another restaurant around Barfusserplatz that serves coffee, drinks, sandwiches and crepes. But this place is close to my heart nevertheless.

Cut to India in early January, me and a bunch of my close friends in Bangalore were watching the Australian open finals.  Federer was beaten and broken in a heart breaking, gut wrenching epic against Rafael Nadal. As a hard-core Federer fan, I had a grudging admiration of Nadal’s powers. There were a few voices including me that said, Fedex will be back, and Rafa cannot go on forever with his style of play. Our voices were feeble, as we felt our hero going down. But that’s not how the man himself saw it and that is the stuff that separates the champions from us.

On my first weekend in Basel, I was at the club where he grew up playing tennis and I had goose bumps all over me. Later, on a hot Sunday afternoon in Mid may,  I made my way to the crepe shop where the pair were in another final showdown, this time at the Spaniard’s home turf of Madrid. Federer went on to beat him, and I scented something was brewing. From then, I have been to that shop every time Federer plays and he has won every time. He went on to win that elusive French open, and that incredible Wimbledon finals where he wrote another record of 15 grand slam titles. For the records, I did not watch his US open finals there, and you could say that’s why he lost!

What is it that makes an Indian man, who plays a little tennis at the amateur level, go crazy over a racket wielding Swiss man? Sports, arts, cinema, and music transcend all barriers of race, culture, sex, and age. I am every bit a huge Federer supporter as anybody from Basel, and its all down to that man’s aura, incredible longevity in a fact paced game, and the will to push beyond all records and keep going higher. 

15 grand slam titles, 4 different surfaces, a bunch of challenging opponents including that mountain of a man – Rafa, 237 consecutive weeks and may more as world number 1, playing top-notch tennis at the age of 28, when he should rightfully be changing nappies and giving commentary by most yardsticks. Phew, that’s my all time favorite player there even if he did not have any of those records, just for his style of play.

 Act 2: The man with many faces, who is one of India’s lest celebrated cinema jewels. 

A few months earlier there were a series of shows and events organized across the southern Indian state of Tamilnadu,  to celebrate one man’s achievements. It’s a state where heroes are made and brought down on a daily basis, and where benchmarks for excellence in arts / sports / politics are shockingly low. Its pretty easy to whip up a media frenzy and create a hype around anybody, but on this rare occasion the entire state and knowledgeable people from across the country, stood up and took notice, and gave this man every bit of attention he deserved.

Tamilnadu is where I am from, and though I have not lived there for a while, I am a proud Tamilian. Of the few living people who make me proud of being a Tamilian, Kamal Hassan is pretty much one of the biggest names.

Kamal Hassan is a sworn atheist and communist and you can see that in most of his movies; I don’t have any issues with atheism as long as atheists don’t try to impose their views (which is akin to religious conversion and ideological extremism), and while Communism is a good utopian idea, when it goes wrong, as it often does, it goes terribly wrong. In spite of these difference of views, millions of people like me would watch every film of his, and we would watch many of his films over and over again.  I grew up watching his films, went on to watch many more films of the world in different languages, and spanning genres. Without sounding patronizing to a man from my part of the world, I can say he is one of the best movie makers the world has seen. 

Here are some select, lesser acknowledged facts that support my case: An acting, movie making, writing & singing career spanning 100s of films over 50 years; 7 entries to the best foreign film at the Oscars; 4 national awards; 19 film fare awards; an entry in Time magazine’s list of “Top 100 films ever made”; an incredible variety of characters, most notably a short midget, an autistic person, a woman, and 10 different roles in the same movie; all of the above are Indian records, and span movies across  5 distinct Indian languages;  a  Padmashri award to boot. 


Act  3: The boy genius who is still a cheeky little boy at heart, but a towering giant of a man in stature.  

A few days back, Indian cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar passed a very rare milestone, in a career full of milestones. He has been playing for twenty years since the age of 16, and it’s a phenomenal achievement by any yard stick. The tributes have been pouring in from  every nook and corner of India, and cricket lovers across the world have taken notice. Sachin is NOT one of my favorite cricketers, for highly subjective perceptions (such as playing for records, not finishing too many games with a win as he should have),  and his style of play from an aesthetic point of view. None of these are hard facts and each one is free to have his perception. But a career of 20 years, 30K odd international runs, 87 centuries, countless man of the match and man of the series awards, wickets, catches and victories, are hard numbers that can never be ignored, or even matched.

He has too many well cherished records for me to list here, but there has always been a section of naysayers who doubt him. I have been in that list, and I can tell you that we all make the mistake of not acknowledging that he is judged with a very different prism from the rest.

I mean there is even a xenophobic zealot accusing him for saying that he is an Indian first and a Mumbaikar later. Give me a break guys. Let us for once, forget all the scrutiny of his words and actions, the  detailed statistical analysis of his career, and just celebrate Sachin for what he is!

In spite of the various opinions on his place among cricketing legends,  I put him right up there with the very best in the world in any field when it comes to passion for your job, career longevity, single minded focus to excel, and carrying your celebrity status in the most ideal manner possible.


The takeaways (I know this sounds like a consulting jargon, but let me use that for the lack of a better word…) 

The  most obvious common factor to these set of people was that they were destined to achieve greatness by virtue of being gifted with an abundance of abilities. Not everybody is as lucky, but if I choose to ignore the element of luck, I can think of a few unique traits that we all can try and adopt from them (results not guaranteed, but the effort is worth it!) 

  1. Choosing the field you love,  and doing it for as long as you are meeting the highest standards in it
  2. Allowing yourself to learn & grow, in an environment where you focus only on what you love doing,  and let everything else remain a lower priority
  3. A certain stubbornness / pig headedness that appears arrogant,  but is  actually based on tremendous self-awareness
  4. An oceanful of sheer sweat and blood
  5. Constantly re inventing yourself and keeping yourself contemporary, and up to any new challenge
  6. Carrying the attention, and scrutiny of your success with humility and ease.
  7. Staying young at heart
  8. Being tremendously competitive without ever being disrespectful to opponents / peers 

I must say the above is a bloody tough list to follow, but I find it useful  to have it noted somewhere nevertheless. Sometimes, we can learn so much by watching the lives of others unfold in front of us…

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