Unnai Pol Oruvan -A fan agonizes

September 20, 2009

If you are reading this opinion piece, you already know something about the movie Unnai Pol Oruvan (UPO), remade from A Wednesday (AW), a critically acclaimed Hindi film.

At the outset, Kamal must be applauded for taking up the challenge of remaking this particular story. The original story is so intertwined with Mumbai and its unique cultural identity, it is a huge challenge to replicate the same in ‘peaceful park’ Chennai.

This is one of the two things that Kamal needed to get straight in order to improve upon the original. I am ignoring debutante director Chakri here, as Kamal has shadow-directed most of his movies in the last 10 years, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe because I watched the Hindi version when it released, I find it irresistible to compare the tone, pacing, characterisation and other things that made A Wednesday a powerful, hard-hitting movie. This is the second thing that Kamal had to get straight in order to emulate the one-tight-slap that AW succeeded in giving the ‘system’.

For example, the role of police officer Arif, played by Jimmy Shergill in AW, and Ganesh Venkatram in UPO. In a movie where the only point of action and movement is Arif (the other characters are mostly immobile), the role needed a raw intensity, a simmering violence bordering on psychosis backed by complete unquestionable faith in the system, in order to speed up the film and sustain audience interest. Arif is the pariah police officer, a man whose violent ways make bad guys pee at his sight. This is sadly missing from Ganesh Venkatram’s portrayal. He looks positively uncomfortable in front of the camera in the first scene where he talks to his informant. His chocolate boy looks dont help, and his cultured upper caste Tamil screams Iyer and not Muslim.

In the months leading to the release of UPO, I couldnt help but wonder how Kamal would change the whole media angle. Media in the north has grown wildly, a thousand news channels sprouting like mushrooms on the bark of a wet tree. Media in the south is still wholly controlled by our political masters, with public interest stories always approached with the sole notion of achieving political mileage. This is such a joke among the educated people of Tamil Nadu, that we can easily predict how each news channel will spin any particular story. Of course this setup has a self correcting mechanism built into it because of the equal mindshare enjoyed by both the major Tamil political parties, but one yearns for an apolitical media that gives unbiased coverage.

The TV reporter in AW is initially reporting about a Lightning Baba, a drunk who survived electrocution when he fell into a ditch and has become a celebrity in his neighborhood. Something like this is unseen in a Tamil news channel. In such a scenario, how can the Tamil media be portrayed like the Hindi newshounds who sensationalize every piece of news they can get their hands on. Maybe a different solution to the problem of confirmation/feedback for the unnamed terrorist would have simplified things. An informant in the police station maybe? At the end of the movie, Naseeruddin Shah calls the reporter ‘Beta’, something that a father affectionately calls a daughter. This simple word says more about the ‘stupid common man’ than the page of dialogue he spouts with emotion. A small touch which goes a long way in characterisation.

There are many such small things that make AW great. For example, when Anupam Kher asks the room of police officers at the start of the crisis whether they want to call home and the answer is a resounding no, or when he asks Jai, a police officer, about his family before sending him to find a bomb in the police station and Jai replies that he is not afraid to die. The feeling of a strong knit team of disciplined and principled police officers comes through overwhelmingly. The audience knows most police forces are not like this, but wants to believe that this is the kind of police force every city should have. This is called willing suspension of disbelief and makes emotional connection with the movie message easier. The whole police camaraderie is glaringly absent in UPO.

And last but not the least, the final speech by the Common Man. Intended to be a punch to the solar plexus, Designed to shock and awe, and the same time make the audience empathise and agree with the message conveyed. Nasseeruddin Shah digs deep to show the anguish and anger of a man who feels emasculated and powerless by terrorism. It is hard for a Chennaivasi to fully comprehend the pain of losing people you only knew by face and the design on their lunchbag. In the fast moving city that is Mumbai, people have a whole new set circle of friends they call ‘train friends’. People they meet on their way to work and back home on the local trains. They spend 1/6th of their day on the train and form a weird deep bond that is again unique to Mumbai. Mumbaikars understand this feeling and the anguish and survivor guilt that is bound to arise when you find that none of those people you traveled with for 5 years is alive when you get on the train to work the day after the blasts. When Shah says “We are resilient by force, not choice’ it resonates deeply with everyone who has seen the media babble away about Mumbai’s resilience after every terrorist attack.

But (un)fortunately, Chennai has never borne the brunt of a terrorist attack, so the Common Man’s motivation has to be changed. This is where Kamal strikes a low blow. Using the most brutal of all crimes thinkable to wring emotion out of an audience that is enjoying a joyride action thriller, is not what I expect from a master of cinema.

The only bright spot in the movie is Mohanlal, whose role has been expanded and rewritten to better show the challenges of a senior police officer while performing his duty. He emotes with finesse. His verbal sparring with Lakshmi forms the highlight of the movie.

Lessser said about the technical aspects, the better. Camera and editing are average. Why did this story require RED cameras? Technology for its own sake is never fulfilling, and I thought Kamal knew that.

In summary, a most disappointing show from someone who is considered to be the light of Tamil cinema, the man who carries the Tamil hope for an Oscar. Kamal himself has said multiple times that the audience must never be underestimated. He has done just that with UPO. As I have said before, in Hey Ram and Aalavandhaan, Kamal was looking up to the stars. In Dasaavatharam, and now Unnai Pol Oruvan, he is looking down into the gutter.

Building your own File and Media Server, on the cheap! – Part 3

July 25, 2009

Part 1 is here

Part 2 is here

Here are the pics as promised :) No one knows who is reading these posts..

Building your own File and Media Server, on the cheap! – Part 2

July 21, 2009

Chapter 1 – The Ordnance

Part 1 can be found here. It deals with the reasoning behind having a file and media server in the first place. Part 2 goes into choosing the hardware and how it was chosen.

When we decided to put a server in our home, we needed to decide what it would end up doing. This is important in any context, the right tool for the job, so to speak. Our needs were as follows

1. A central repository of all our files – mp3s (around 50 GB), movies and tv shows (around 100 GB but keeps on increasing) and documents (including photos right from the days i was wearing nappies,around 20 GB)

2. Downloading torrents 24×7. We have a 256 kbps (yeah its measly) connection, with no b/w limits as far as i can tell. So in order to maximise bang for the buck and in order to provide the entertainment we find hard to get on TV, we download 24×7, every day, all week, no sabbath! A previous laptop of mine had already suffered an untimely death due to being on continuously and we wanted to move this critcal function to a desktop which wouldnt generate too much heat and be able to handle torrents in an always on environment.

3.  Play media in the living room. Some kind of video output of halfway decent quality and 6 channel audio to output to the 5.1 system we have was mandatory

4. Transcode and Stream Media. I have a PSP right now. This may expand to an XBOX 360/PS3/Wii in the future and the serve rmust be up to transcoding and streaming on the fly with performance drops

Now, a lot of people think servers are some esoteric alien machines which have nothing to do with the computer we use everyday to check our mail. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Servers are merely specialized computers designed to do some compuing jobs exceedingly well (which makes them suck at others). Underneath all the jargon, their parts are mostly the same as the laptop this post is being written on!

With that concept in mind and a ridiculously low price point of Rs. 7000 in mind, I set out researching for the ordnance I would need for the battle, so to speak :P

This is how my needs translated into hardware requirements.

A.Processor Generally speaking, any processor launched in the last 5 years would do the job, as the activities i had in mind for my server are not processor intensive. Even Windows 7, the latest version of Windows requires only  a 1 Ghz processor!

B. RAM, however is a different story. Windows 7 requires a minimum of 1 GB RAM. Servers require a lot of RAM when multiple users connect to them (which wouldnt be the case iner well, my case!). Even so, I needed to future proof the machine a bit and decided not to settle for anything less than 2 GB RAM. Luckily, RAM is dirt cheap nowadays, with 2 GB costing around Rs. 1250.

C. Video Memory I will never play any games on this computer. However, todays HD content would benefit from a decent video card / video memory of atleast 128 MB (which by the way is what Windows 7 requires for fancy Aero effects).

D. Motherboard. Would have to be extreme bang for the buck, with a good complement of ports and a chipset which doesnt suck too much.

E. Hard Drive. Since  content always expands till your current HDD is filled and putting in new stuff means deleting new stuff, I needed the biggest drive I could afford. And it had to be SATA (not only are read write speeds are better, the cable is thinner and lends to more elegant innards when it comes to assembling the system)

F. Display – None! Servers dont need monitors! My server is a zombie!

G. Input Devices – None! Servers only need keyboards and mice while initial config is done. Just borrow from your desktop or neighbour and return when your server’s online!

H. Case – The smallest case to be found locally, with its own power supply, must be black in color!

A lot of googling and sifting through various reviews and multiple visits to Newegg. I finally decided on the following combination of hardware for my server.

Processor – Intel – Atom 330 (1.6 Ghz Dual Core with HyperThreading)

Motherboard – Intel – D945GCLF2 – Based on the Intel 945 chipset

RAM – Kingston – 2 GB

Hard Drive – Samsung – 1 TB

Case – Zebronics –  Nick Micro ATX

The beauty of the Atom 330 has to be seen (read about, rather) to be believed. The processor and motherboard are assembled by the manufacturer and shipped as 1 unit. Even though the 945 chipset negates the power savings achieved by the ultra low voltage Atom processor, the price point of the package is too attractive to ignore!

A review and bench mark of the Atom 330 can be found here. I’ll simply say this – Pentium 4 beating performance, Gigabit Ethernet, S-Video Out, Onboard video memory which is expandable in BIOS, with a PCI slot thrown in for good measure, at a price point of $ 85 (Rs. 4250) ? ION can be ‘fully-capable’ all it likes, but my server’s running the 330!

The Samsung HDD cost almost as much as the motherboard+processor itself! I somehow landed a deal which got me a 7200 RPM, 3 GBPS drive for $ 75

Total cost

Motherboard + Processor – Rs. 4250

RAM – Rs. 1250

HDD – Rs. 3750

Total – Rs. 9250

Yes, I overshot my budget quite a bit, but thats the price you have topay for future proofing the machine. If I had toned down my HDD size to 250 GB, I would have been well under budget!

Note:  I ordered all the above parts on Newegg and had them shipped to inside the US. I got them a month later when an Indian returned home! The Atom 330 is not available in India as of today. DO NOT buy the Atom 230, it sucks hairy balls.

I bought the case on Ritchie Street, and it cost me Rs. 1250, ratcheting the total cost to Rs. 11,000 ($ 220). Thats cheaper than an iPod!

Part 3 – Pics of the assembly process. Coming Soon..

Building your own File and Media Server, on the cheap! – Part 1

July 18, 2009

Prologue – The Imperative & The Cognisance

Recently me and my sis decided to switch to Windows 7, as the Release Candidate was out and Badri raved about it. I was naturally the sacrificial goat (being more tech-savvy AND more patient). I found myself in the most ghastly situation. Both our laptops had only one partition and Windows 7 doesnt allow you to upgrade from Windows XP. It has to be a clean install. Which means the entire hard drive needs to be formatted. It wouldnt do at all to lose my entire 20+ GB music collection and assorted movies now, would it?

I managed to get through the installs after jumping through a million hoops. Imagine transferring almost 100 GB of data onto other computers (yes, plural there), installing Windows 7, hunting for audio and video drivers that were released like 3 days prior to my installing the OS, then transferring all the media back to my computer, to get a fully functional Windows 7 installation.

Trust me, its worth it! Windows  is the best thing to come from the belly of the beast in the last decade. The last time i was so pleased with an OS was when the XP beta started floating around in mid 2001. It was called Whistler then, and ran gloriously on my then cutting edge machine (800 Mhz P3, 128 MB RAM, 20 GB HDD!). Ah the good old days..

But this is not a nostalgic piece, neither is it a review of Windows 7. You can find plenty of those two on the interwebs.

What I realized during this painful transition is that every home should have a centralized repository of their files, photos, music, videos. The huge convinience of not having to move around data when upgrading PC’s, regular backups of all data to ensure availability and reliability, and the instant streaming of all music and video to any device on the home network is not only cool, its mandatory in this day and age!

As a victim of a failed laptop whose day came all too soon because it was subjected to the pressures usually reserved for hardy desktops, I came to the conclusion – Never send a laptop to do a server’s job!

With this in mind, and an extremely tight budget I began to do the research that would culminate in ATLAS – my media + file server ( I love giving fancy names to my devices, my personal laptop is called PROMETHEUS).

Part 2 – Servers are cheap! Coming Soon..

The war begins

July 2, 2009

Today the Delhi High Court ruled in favour of a petition seeking decriminalization of homosexuality (filed by the Naz Foundation). It is a great victory, in the most conservative and ‘moralistic’ of countries, where less than 6 months ago a Hindu extremist group violently attacked people for just going to a pub.

However, the fight has just begun. Many battles are still to come, the big fight with the Hindu and other religious extrmists, laws to prevent discrimination at workplaces, recognition of same-sex partners as a family unit and that unit’s rights in Indian society, many more.

I am warmed to the core to be living in a time like this, when India is throwing away the shackles that prevent it from reaching its true place in the world order.

Will this be just a small step forward igniting and uniting religious leaders into regressive steps that will take India back to the Victorian Age (when Article 377 was formulated) or will it be the first of many baby steps, which will define the nature of the society India seeks to be, which it always been, the fount from which all the wisdom of the world flows, the one true cultural superpower remaking the world in its own multicultural, tolerant image?

Time will tell.

The Perfect Moment Theory

June 18, 2009

A hypothesis, atleast, maybe.

There are many times in life, when I wonder about the meaning, purpose of life. When I think, whats the point of being born? Whats the point of living life the way I do? What is the answer to the question?

I guess humankind will never answer the question, but we will better our existence by striving to answer it.

Here is my pico contribution to that process. I am sure a lot of people who work at all the various jobs  in the world wonder whether they are really doing something useful. Wondering whether they are really happy.Wondering whether doing some other job, being someone else in some other organization will make them happier. Maybe its why people quit. I certainly think its why I quit..

Ruminating on these topics, and smoking some excellent weed, I stumbled upon a simple, but effective  theory to help people decide what they want to do with their life. Here it goes.

Have you ever had a perfect moment in your life? A moment where time stood still? A moment you thought you could live in forever? Or at least a long long, long time?

Seize that moment, dear reader! Whatever enabled that moment for you is what you should be doing with your life!

Now you must be thinking, thats not practical Scudie! We do things we dont like, so we have some time and barely enough money to do things we like! Its called spare time and middle class living!

To that I only say, you haven’t fulfilled your potential. Trust me, there is more where that analysis of life came from!

Once you find that one thing which enabled you to have a perfect moment and build your career and life around it, I believe you will find that the other things, the time, the money, everything will fall into place automatically.

Maybe this theory of mine has already been around in other forms for many years or decades. Never hurts to say these things again!

So, I will take leave of you now, dear reader, I need to find my perfect moment. It might be in the past even! Crap..

Introducing.. Sporadic!

June 14, 2009

Acidic, sexy, livewire, intelligent.. All that and more! Check out Sporadic, a dear friend..


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