Monday, December 31, 2007

Taare Zameen Par - Movie Review

Every child is different and special in her own way. Most parents will tell you that. Which is why, to bring alive the world of any one them in such that the mass adult audience can relate to, is a very special achievement. "Taare Zameen Par" is a very significant film. I will not comment on the movie's screenplay, its photography or any technical aspect of film making, becasue I did not see this film like I see most others. I did not even for once evaluate this film. After watching this film I realised for the first time that if the film "gets you" at an emotional level, there is very little that matters. When you are spellbound the part of your brain that evaluates things dies. Thats the impact TZP had on me.

"Taare Zameen Par" has achieved some thing very significant. It has shown that an "art" film can also be a commercial sucess. The manner in which justice has been done to the story, without any traditional commercial commensene of, leveraging the Star. As a matter of fact Aamir Khan (the star) is present for only one half of the film.

The music, while may not be the most commercially sucessful, is one of the best examples of the songs being written and composed for the script and to the situation. The lyrics are some of the best that you will hear. With "maa" (a song that will make you cry if you are human), Prasoon Joshi has moved into the club of the all time greats - at least in my book.

I did not think I will ever say this about a movie - but, here goes - if you do not see Taare Zameen Par, you will miss some thing. See it !

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Red beaked brown-breasted blue eyed something…

Last weekend I was all alone at home with nothing to do. My wife and daughter (Aditi) are away holidaying in hometown Bangalore while I brave the year-end sales target as well as the winter of Delhi all alone. As you can imagine the setting led to a rather somber mood and the home was almost - running to bite me – (Ghar katne ko daur raha tha)- borrowing from Hindi as nothing in English does better justice to my mood.

A friend of mine Amoghavarsha, who calls himself a geek, wildlifer & photographer called and said he is going to the bird sanctuary at Bharatpur (Keoladeo Ghana National Park) to photograph some migratory birds that visit this sanctuary every winter. Well, I am not bird watching type of person and the only birds I can recognize with confidence is the Crow, the sparrow, the peacock and the Chicken (ahem!) and here I was being invited by some one who is a relative expert in the area and passionate about wildlife and conservation. With some trepidation about and feeling like a duck out of water I agreed to accompany the party of Amogha and his friends Pavi and Rati. I also wanted to take my new car for a drive out into the highway and offered to drive the party up and down as well.

We started off from Delhi at 6 am on the freezing Sunday morning. The effective toyota heater comforted my passengers into deep sleep and soon I was left to enjoy the drive alone only to be later accompanied by the rhythmic percussion of 3 soft snores.

The drive on the Delhi-Agra NH2 is simply beautiful once you get out of Faridabad. The median has bougainvillea planted all along and they were in full bloom. There was a moment, around 7 am, when the sun was just rising and igniting the sarson (mustard) fields on either side and the full bloom bougainvillea in the center of the road was swaying in the wind. Man! Some highways in India can have real sights if you look for them. I wish I had a picture of that moment, but I think it would be impossible to capture on camera. The road is world class and we made very good time only to stop for steaming parathas and tea on the way, this 30 minute break notwithstanding we reached the sanctuary at 9.30 Am, covering approximately 240 Kms in 3 hours of drive time. Not bad at all by Indian Highway standards.

I had heard about the Siberian Crane that vists the sanctuary every year in winter and was keen to see it. The guides informed us that the variety that used to visit the sanctuary is now extinct. Apparantly, they used to trace a set path from Siberia flying over Afghanistan. The Siberian Crane would fly by moonlight and rest by daylight. The bitter fighting in Afghanistan over the last decade led to shortage of food in the winters and the beautiful birds - which were otherwise safe in the many years that they traveled the route - were the unsuspecting martyrs of a war that even many humans do not understand, forget the Siberian Crane. I was disappointed beyond words to hear this story and almost felt like heading back to Delhi.

Anyways, we proceeded on bicycles inside the sanctuary (vehicles are banned inside) along with a well-informed guide. We saw a variety of beautiful birds. Amogha got the shots he wanted and you can see a preview here. The names of all those birds are are now impossible for me reproduce – the title of this post captures my illiteracy in this area and sad to report I did not come back any wiser from this trip. All the biology was a bit too much to digest in one day. To make matters worse we cycled for more than 25 Kms through the day on a cycle seat that was designed to inflict pain. The stony cobbled path and the shove-it- where-it-hurts-the-most-seat conspired to first take the joy away, then moved to sheer pain, and finally broke my spirit 6 hours into the expedition. I tempted Rati with the prospect of a cold beer at the government hotel at the entrance of the sanctuary and she agreed immediately – while Amogha and Pavi continued like pros only to join us after a delay of 20 minutes! Vijay Mallaya’s Kingfisher won on this day over Bharatpur’s Kingfisher! It took only 20 minutes to break the pros!

The drive back was uneventful and equally beautiful. I was looking for the spot where I caught the sunrise the day before and we caught the sunrise this time as well at more or less the same spot. We stopped at a different dhaba (road side restaurant). The parathas this time were better, I had the tandoor version on the way back and it was better than the Tawa version we had a day earlier – the milky sweet tea was as good.

Amogha’s desire was to take me to Bharatpur as a tourist and bring me back as a conservationist, I can’t say that the objective was achieved fully, but the story of the Siberian Crane and hearing of its extinction did some thing to me…it made me really sad in a very beautiful place.

You do not have to be an expert to be believe in conservation, I dont know what those birds are called, but I want to my daughter to see them when she grows up. Lets save the Red beaked brown-breasted blue eyed something…for Aditi.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Beautiful Coorg

Like most middle class Indians who have graduated from near penury to some degree of affluence, my stance towards consuming products and services has changed from “Value for Money” to ‘Money for Value”. Which basically means that I will put my money (even if it is really expensive) where I see value as opposed to buying products and services that are inexpensive and of low value.

Over the last 5-6 years of travelling (more on business and a bit for pleasure) I have had the opportunity to stay in many country resorts & holiday resorts. Considering that most of my business travels in India and abroad makes me stay in 5 Star type hotels, I have become a bit difficult to please. Since most of these properties charge the bomb, my expectations of value delivery are normally very high. Sadly, I have very rarely been fully satisfied.

Club Mahindra recently invited me to their Kodagu Valley resort in Coorg along with a group of fellow bloggers. Since, I did not have to pay for my stay, you can argue that it is impossible to evaluate objectively. But, I will try nevertheless. The rest of this post is meant to be a part travelogue and part assessment of the resort.

We drove from Bangalore in a fairly uncomfortable bus. It was proudly called Ganesh and was as uncomfortable as it would be riding on Ganesh’s transport – the mooshik. The first stop was “Kamath’s” at the outskirts of Bangalore on the Mysore highway for lunch. The restaurant has a traditional Karnataka setting and the food is fabulous. You can choose either the North Karnataka (Served with Javar Rotti) or the South Karnataka (Poori) styles – both are great.

(Check out the leg room)

The new road from Bangalore to Mysore is good and we did good time. From Mysore to Kodagu (Coorg) was another story altogether. Ganesh with his laughable shock absorbers was pure hell. There are parts of my body that are still protesting from the combined torture that the terrible road and Ganesh collaborated to inflict. After 8 long hours and just as nightfall was approaching, we reached the Club Mahindra Kodagu Valley Resort, which is located about 5 Kms from Madikeri town center.

As soon as we entered the resort, the pains of travel shifted to the back of the subconscious mind. The first sight was of a stunningly beautiful Coorgi girl welcoming us, and the touch of the cool sandal paste that she applied on the forehead was like balm for the mind.

The serene mood setting is what you notice as soon as you enter the resort. It is made well with a good artistic sensibility. The usage of wood is brilliant and is very similar to the architecture that we saw the next day in the temple at Baghamandala (about 30 Kms from Madikeri). Resorts can some times stick out like "sore concrete thumbs" amidst natural beauty, but this particular resort has blended in well with the local setting and culture.
The Picture on the left is of the temple and the ones on the right are of the lobby at the resort. Look for the similarity in the shape of the vertical beams and the sloping design of the roof. Brilliant stuff.

The rooms were nice – like in any resort that charges as much. However, what was different about the place was the attention to detail. From flower decorations all around to a welcome leaf placed on the bed to the heart shape on the steaming coffee. God lies in the details and the Mahindra guys seem to realise that. Impressed!

Picture of Coffee Mug by Mridula

The resort has all the usual suspects like a swimming pool (which could do with some heating though), various activities for kids and families and adventure games for the strong hearted. What I liked the most is the plantations inside the resort spread across 25 odd acres with cash crops like Coffee, Cardamom etc from the local area. The staff is highly motivated and very well informed and gave us a very good brief on the coffee plantation, and different types of crops. They could also answer most questions - and bloggers ask a lot of questions! There were also facilities for a great camp fire and they even arranged for a guitar. Campfire, guitar, alcohol, singing, cold weather and company of like minded people - Whoa - it made for a very memorable night ! One that I will remember for some time to come.
Over the next two days we made trips to the Tala Cauvery (The birth place of Cauvery) , the Dubari elephant camp, where you reach after crossing to the other side of the Cauvery by motor boats, Abbey Falls and the Tibetian monastery at Kushalnagar. I missed the monastry as I had to get back to Delhi earlier than the rest of the group.

Above pictures by Mridula

After having travelled a bit in the Himalayan region, I was unsure whether I would find Coorg up to the mark. But after this trip, I can safely say that Coorg is beautiful.
Picture of the Kodagu Valley by Apurv
I Look forward to going again and recommend highly, especially if you are in the North and want to head down south for a "different" experience. There is a lot to do and I guess 4-5 days is required to do justice. Distances are not very large and most of places to explore are within 50 Kms of Madikeri.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Choice is mine

I spent the last weekend at the absolutely magnificent Club Mahindra Kodagu Valley resort at Coorg. I was part of a group of bloggers who were invited by Club Mahindra.

The entire group is featured in the picture. From left to right Srinidhi, Amogha, Apurv, Sudhir, Mridula, Arun from Club Mahindra, Kiruba, Anil, Anita, Khanjan and Joy from Club Mahindra. Hidden behind Amogha is the silent DJ Dhruv.
The group was a fairly diverse one. We had professors; marketing professionals, corp. comm. Managers, entrepreneurs, photographers, techies etc traversing a wide age as well as size band to make things even more interesting. The only common thing was that all of us were bloggers. Some were fairly evolved bloggers like Kiruba (; while there were also a recent upstarts like me.

I had a fantastic time meeting the group and it was a pleasure to interact with some of the “rascals” who were more than 10 years younger but never made me feel old. I Came back drunk on the energy and enthusiasm of the young and happening generation next. I have always maintained that the power of the untrained mind is one of the most potent forces that our country has today. Intelligent, enthusiastic and with the confidence to take on the world.

I have not had an outing of this nature for a long time. I have probably not gone out and had fun with strangers for the last 10 –12 years. As a matter of fact, most of the “new” people I have met in the last decade have been professionally and most of them have not become friends. It amazed me that for some one who is given to making friends so easily and some one who loves meeting people and analyzing social and cultural issues, this would be the case. If you had asked me 10 years ago if this would have happened, I would have laughed at you. It is amazing the price your career makes you pay.

Now, that I am back and looking at sales numbers and the media plan for next month, it just struck me that the choice to stay young is mine!