Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Microsoft's at it again

I remember attending a lecture by Richard Stallman while I was working as a techie at Hyderabad. Came away enthralled - what passion! For the first time, I understood what free software really meant. Though I've never been an active participant in the free software movement, I try to do my bit. Recently, Microsoft reared its ugly head again, cutting a deal with Novell in November that included a cross-patent protection agreement that some critics say implies Microsoft has legal rights to Linux. The Free Software Foundation is trying to undermine the deal. I hope they are successful!

Update: 29 March 2007, 4:56 pm
St.iGNUcius strikes back!


From the new movie - Ek Chalis Ki Last Local.

Would be nice if someone could provide the English translation to the lyrics.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Family of the year!

They come in different varieties - big, small, fractured, strict, mushy, nuclear, joint -but the one thing always glues them together is that they are family. Blood is thicker than water and relatives are always fighting to prove it, goes an old adage. Little Miss Sunshine, arguably amongst the funniest movies of the year, stresses exactly that point with delicious wit.

Olive (Abigail Breslin) is chosen to participate in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant in California and the family is left with no option but to drive down from Albuquerque to California in their old VW mini bus. On board are a really obnoxious father (Richard - Greg Kinnear), a high strung mother (Sheryl - the wonderful Toni Collette), a heroin snorting grandfather (Alan Arkin, in his Oscar winning role), a suicidal uncle (Frank - Steve Carrel from The Office) and aspiring pilot brother (Dwayne - Paul Dano).

At first sight, it seems like family can't get any more dysfunctional than the Hoovers. When little Olive orders some ice cream, Richard reminds her that none of the beauty queens are fat. Olive pushes the ice cream away with great longing. Grandpa steps in and starts eating it with great relish. Soon the entire family (excluding Richard) follows suit till Olive steps in to grab her share. The first glimpse of the real love and affection behind the hysteria.

The road is fraught with disaster - the clutch fails and the family invents a really hilarious way of starting the VW, Frank sees his life's achievement (he was the #1 scholar in Proust!) slip away from him, Richard goes bankrupt after his book deal falls through, Dwayne finds out that he cannot fly because he is colourblind and sadly, grandpa overdoses on heroin. The family makes it to the pageant against all odds, which includes stealing grandpa's body from the hospital. When Olive's routine turns out to be a striptease to everybody's horror (choreographed by none other than grandpa!), the family unites for a final stand!

I cannot remember the last time I nearly fell out of the seat laughing. This is not the first movie about a family on a road trip, nor is it literary genius brought to the screen. What works for the movie is that it stays strongly connected to its heart, without trying to make any pronouncements. The Hoovers are a deeply flawed lot, a bunch of losers waddling through their mucky lives. But even as we laugh at them for being such klutzes, we are touched by their humanity.

The movie's cast works amazing well for the storyline. Greg Kinnear, who has been wasted after that silly Oscar nomination, is brilliant here. Here, he gets rid of the As Good As It Gets sweetness and is nothing short of a nightmare as the goal crazy father. Toni Collette is so good that she could have done this in her sleep. I'd like to see her in roles that less deserving Hollywood A-listers usually get! Alan Arkin as the sardonic paterfamilias is a scream - I loved the scene where he gives Dwayne advice on sex and drugs, hilarious! Was kinda disappointed that his character died at halftime. Steve Carell as the depressed uncle Frank is a revelation. Who'd have thought that this guy could act so well in non-Office roles? Paul Dano brings a brand new twist to the troubled teenager - he doesn't talk for most part of the movie but its amazing how much he can convey without saying a word! And when he does talk, his voice breaks out like a fresh mountain stream. Great choice!

But reserve all applause for Abigail Breslin - she is delightful in ways words cannot describe. Her Olive is the glue that holds this family together. I came away astonished at how well one little girl could act. She is a natural in front of the camera, and not once do we get an impression that she's been taught how to act. When her family sends her down to her upset brother, she walks down with baby-girlie steps down the field and puts her head on his shoulder. Made me go - awwww! I wont see Dream Girls, but this little girl will be the true winner for me, even if the Academy thought it fit to give the Oscar to someone else!

Verdict - Delightful!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Champagne Supernova

Actually, its a simulation of the real thing! Watch it here!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Knut will live

I don't understand how people could want to put such a sweet, little thing to sleep. Agreed, he's going to grow into one big bear, but he's a zoo animal anyway. People must be heartless to want to kill an innocent animal. Its good that the Berlin Zoo plans to keep him alive.

Another interesting article: All due respect, "You're Beautiful" kind of makes me want to hurl.

No sex for a million years!

A tiny creature that has not had sex for 100 million years has overturned the theory that animals need to mate to create variety. Analysis of the jaw shapes of bdelloid rotifers, combined with genetic data, revealed that the animals have diversified under pressure of natural selection. (Read the whole article here).

Isn't it amazing how nature works? The most microscopic organism can expose staggering truths about life on earth. I wonder at the patience of the scientists who actually did research on a tiny little microbe that lives on a louse!

In other news, I recently started updating my other blog - about Mumbai life.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


The wanderings have ceased
The lost traveller has found his path
Music permeates the very fibre of existence
And elevates the soul into the empyrean

Lyrics here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

An old favourite

First watched it back at college because it was on the X-Files movie soundtrack. Was amazed that Dave Grohl could be a vocalist. I've loved a lot of the Foo Fighters since. Lousy video though, and the lizard...

Monday, March 19, 2007

I watched it twice, and I'll be glad to watch it again!

Lets get the basics right.

Graphic Novel: a form of comics, usually with lengthy and complex story lines, and often aimed at mature audiences.

With that clarity, lets us proceed to 300, the very faithful adaptation of Frank Miller's (Sin City) graphic novel of the same name. In a nutshell, 300 is the story of the battle of Thermopylae where a handful of Spartans resisted the invading Persian Army and died a 'glorious death'. Frank Miller wrote what can be best described as historical fiction - based on historical facts, but fiction nonetheless. In fact, his novel is based on the 1960s movie The 300 Spartans. Once we get that factoid out of the way, we are set for one hell of a ride.

Early on in the movie, we get a glimpse of the hard-as-nails soldier manufacturing factory (agoge) that all Spartans are turned out of. Given the brutality with which the young Leonidas beats up his fellow men, its a miracle that he turns out to be the loving husband and doting father. But then, we are talking about fiction here. King Leonidas' seemingly idyllic existence is shattered when a Persian emissary arrives with a collection of kings' skulls, demanding a tribute of land and water to the god king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). What follows is the most impressive dialogue delivery in the movie - "This is Sparta" bellows Leonidas (Gerard Butler or Attila for all you History Channel regulars) before he pushes the poor guy into the well.

And thus begins the war against the Persians - well, not quite. For Leonidas must consult the Oracle and obtain the blessing of the Ephors (priests of the old gods, inbred swine says the narrator), who refuse to do so since they have been bought over by Persian gold. Leonidas wants to fight anyway and inspired by his fiery queen Drogo (nice name), he assembles a band of 300 warriors and marches on to the Hot Gates where he hopes to thwart the entry of the Persians into Spartan soil.

All goes well at the beginning, with the Persians crumbling under the united Spartan fighting machine. Even the Immortals, Xerxes' elite fighting force, are pushed back by the Spartans. Impressed, Xerxes offers to make Leonidas warlord of all Greece and promises untold riches in return to Leonidas 'kneeling to him'. Obviously, Leonidas refuses and the Spartans (with a little help from the Arcadians) push back wave after wave of the Persian army. Till finally, Ephialtes, the hunchback who is refused a fighting position in the army, betrays the hidden goat path to Xerxes. The Arcadians leave in the face of sure death, but the Spartans stay behind for a last stand, and before the battle ends, show that 'even a God King can bleed'! The story of the 300 Spartans ignites the rest of Sparta and Greece, who unite to fight the Persians.

Undeniably one of the best action movies ever, 300 is a great visual treat. And I'm not just talking about the brilliant CGI background (the movie was shot with live action against giant blue screens and the scenery filled in with CGI). I have never seen violence look so exciting or blood spilt more beautifully. The Spartans fight as a single unit, thrusting with their spears and blocking with their shields as one. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't among those who gushed about the fountains of blood in Kill Bill Vol I. In 300, when blood is spilt, it is in the form of beautiful red corpuscles floating in the breeze. Off spear points and swords, out of severed necks and sword-slashed chests, and finally out of the god king's face. I repeat, I have never seen such beautiful violence.

The dialogue, on the other hand, is painfully comic [book]! While "This is Sparta" and "tonight we dine in hell" are amazing (what lung power! And such nice teeth!!), the rest leave a lot to be desired. And the voice-over by Dilios (David Wenham, Faramir in LOTR) is just annoying - he takes great pains to sound like a wheezy, old geezer and causes our ear drums even greater pain! The only saving grace is the scene where Xerxes tells a defiant Leonidas that he will exterminate Sparta and his name from history. I have to see the movie again to recall all of the dialogue, but Leonidas' retort goes like this: " The world will know that free men stood against a tyrant, that a few stood against many, and before this battle is over, that even a god-king can bleed".

While Frank Miller and Zack Snyder have taken quite a few liberties with history, they have got one thing right - Spartan women were powerful and Queen Drogo (Lena Headey) is testament to that fact here. When Leonidas leaves for the Hot Gates, she tells him " Come back with your shield, or on it!" What a woman!

Make no mistake, 300 is an ode to testosterone driven masculinity. Early on, we get a glimpse of corded muscles pushing open massive wooden doors. The men go to battle with just shin guards and crimson capes for protection so that the audience can get their fill of those amazing six-packs. Which is a step ahead of the book, where even the leather codpieces are conspicuous by their absence. Gerard Butler struts about unabashedly in the buff, and how! To top it all Xerxes wears nothing but some chains and a golden bikini!

While we are on the topic of Xerxes, how could they turn such a beautiful man into this?

The homophobic undercurrents are strong in 300. Leonidas calls the Athenians philosophers and 'boy-lovers', Xerxes is pretty androgynous with all that jewellery and eye makeup, and the Persian camp is full of lesbians. The people in Iran are already up in arms against the depiction of Xerxes and the Persians in the movie (since nobody probably read the book). One of the reasons being that the real Xerxes was in fact, more masculine and a lot hairier than the Spartans. Plus, he wore a lot more clothing as we can see in the picture below.

The movie also glosses over the fact that quite a number of the Spartan society were gay. In Frank Miller's world, the villains seem to be gay, while the heroes are ramrod straight (pun unintended). In addition, the Persians fight real dirty - stabbing from the back and falling upon a single Spartan in great numbers. And then there is great debate about where Dubya fits into all of this. I say, forget all that - this is an action movie, not a political statement. Unhook your brains, enjoy the action, admire the CGI and feast on the sight of those gloriously toned bodies. And remember to work harder at the gym!

Verdict: Do I need to say it?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Working on a Saturday

Matchbox 20 again. Bent. I suppose it was downhill from here for the band.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

3 a.m.

I hate to remove Rodrigo Santoro (hot!!) from the top of my blog, but here is an old favourite (before Rob Thomas went pop, that is.)


Rodrigo Santoro, currently on the silver screen as the androgynous Xerxes in a golden bikini! A nice name, rolls off the tongue so smoothly.

Monday, March 12, 2007


At college, I once picked up a book called "The Celestine Prophecy" that claimed to answer the ultimate question. While it wasn't 42, what piqued my interest was that it claimed to contain extracts from an "ancient Mayan manuscript". The book claimed that the Maya had vanished because they'd migrated to a higher energy plane! Having been fascinated by Mesoamerican civilizations since childhood (thanks to the monthly issues of National Geographic), I was quite disappointed with the book. However, it did make me curious about what really happened to the Maya. Till one day I read an article (in Nat Geo again) that investigated the supposed disappearance of the Maya. The Maya, it said, have not disappeared; they are living peacefully in Mexico and Central America. On Saturday, I realized that Nat Geo hadn't been exaggerating. I'd always assumed that the Maya in the paintings and sculptures were highly stylized - high domed forehead, the distinct curved nose. Watching Apocalypto was like seeing the Maya come alive from the frescoes I looked at in my childhood. But that was the only satisfying thing about Mel Gibson's horrible, horrible movie.

The movie is about the brutal raid and capture of a Mayan village. The women are sold as salves while the men are sent off to be sacrificed to Kulkulcan (who by the way is the Snake God, not the Sun God, though he was worshipped in the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan). An unexpected eclipse offers our hero (Jaguar Paw, love the name!) a chance to escape. He is pursued relentlessly by Zero Wolf, whose son Jaguar Paw has killed. Jaguar Paw is finally cornered, but is saved by the timely arrival of the Spanish (a Cortes-looking guy). Jaguar Paw then escapes to rescue his family from the cave he's hidden them in and moves into the forest to find a new beginning.

The movie begins with Will Durant's quote "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within". True, but not in the way Gibson, an ignorant, insensitive filmmaker thinks it is. The movie suggests that by the time that Cortes arrived, the Maya were on the verge of decline due to their own excesses. The Spanish reached Mexico sometime in the 16th century, while it has been established that the Mayan empire declined by the late 8th/ early 9th century (possibly due to a decline in trade routes).

The Maya were a highly advanced civilization, astronomy being one of their highest accomplishments. Gibson's plot device of an unexpected eclipse that scares the high priest and the king (impressive headgear) is therefore downright laughable. The Maya did have barbaric customs. I remember reading about ritual bloodletting, which included the members of royal family and other nobles piercing tongues, navels and genitals in order to appease the gods. However, the Maya did not practice mass sacrifice. In most cases, the people sacrificed were conquered enemy rulers and their important nobility. While other Mesoamerican civilizations did practice mass sacrifice, there is no record of the Maya doing the same. The scenes of heads tumbling down the steps of the pyramid before they are caught in nets and set on stakes are not only in poor taste, but grossly inaccurate.

As the captives are led to be slaughtered, we get glimpses of the city - pestilence is taking over and people are starving to death, streets are covered with filth, thieves abound, people fight over money like dogs...give me a break! If you are showing an ancient city at the peak of its glory, at least show it some respect.

Verdict- Total crap. Only positive was that I got a glimpse of the Maya, albeit grossly misrepresented!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

New one

Don't really dig the lyrics, but its catchy all the same.

Happy Women's Day

These days harassment starts early. My friend's 12 year old cousin told me this story. A senior boy in school kept bugging her - talking to her for no reason, telling her he's in love, blah, blah. And then one day he started touching her - hand, shoulder. What did she do? She slapped him hard in front of his friends who were watching the whole spectacle. Then she went ahead and reported the matter to the school principal despite peer pressure to keep mum. Atta girl! More stories at Blank Noise Action Heroes!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Some sense to counter the nonsense

(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
-By Lewis Carroll


Salon has an interesting article on rock stars - "Did Generation X, the one that launched indie rock and a world of grunge, ultimately kill the rock star?". Would Cobain have faded away if he had lived? He certainly thought so.

Monday, March 05, 2007


My blog is the the second result if you search the web on Google for diviya. Wow!

The Last King of Scotland

The Last King of Scotland is the fictitious account of Nicholas Garrigan, a young Scot who becomes Amin's personal doctor and 'closest advisor'. Nicholas (James McAvoy, last spotted as Mr. Tumnus in Narnia), a blue-eyed, pink-cheeked, young doctor, arrives in Uganda sometime in the 1970s. To Nicholas, Uganda is an adventure, an escape from living up to his father's stature, and aborted attempts to kindle romance with a kindred spirit in Sarah Merrit (Gillian Anderson aka Scully from the X-Files). After a fateful meeting with the charismatic Amin who exchanges his general's uniform shirt for Nicholas' Scotland football jersey, he is invited to become Amin's personal doctor. Seduced by Amin's charm and the idea of having a blast, Nicholas takes up the post.

Even as he begins to get drawn into the cesspool that is Amin and his tyranny, Nicholas stubbornly refuses to see whats right under his very nose. And by the time he finally admits the truth to himself, its too late - he has caused the torture and death of one of Amin's closest aides. When Nicholas gets ready to run, Amin turns tyrant on him and Nicholas is forced to stay in Uganda. And to make things worse, Nicholas begins an affair with Kay (Kerry Washington), one of Amin's wives. When Kay becomes pregnant and is forced to seek a village doctor, Amin butchers her. For some strange reason, Amin spares Nicholas, till he foolishly tries to poison the dictator. Even as Amin is sweet talking the world media at Entebbe, the tortured Nicholas manages to escape along with the non Jewish passengers being flown out of the country.

While Garrigan's character is completely fictional, what happened to Uganda under Amin is not. By the end of his reign in 1979, Amin had murdered more than 300,000 Ugandans he suspected of plotting against him. He is also believed to have eaten the flesh of his supposed enemies (the only reference in this movie is when Amin jokingly tells his guests at a state dinner that the meat is non human) and god knows what else. The movie doesn't show any of this in graphic detail, but the glimpses it provides are enough to to convey the extent of horror perpetrated by the Amin regime.

Forest Whitaker is simply brilliant as Idi Amin - charismatic and majestic when Amin is playing the charmer, coldly cruel and menacing when his paranoia takes over. Whitaker plays Amin with a fully human touch, so that the audience sympathizes with him even as it is horror struck by his atrocities. When Whitaker laments that everyone is out to kill him, you feel his agony reaching out to you. A performance of a lifetime and Oscar well deserved!

That said, watching The Last King of Scotland was nothing short of a visual treat! No, I am not talking about Forrest Whitaker's brilliant portrayal of the mad Ugandan dictator. James McAvoy is so damn pretty that its distracting! With his ruby red lips, clear blue eyes and poetic wavy hair, it becomes very difficult to concentrate on his performance. That he manages to act the part of Nicholas Garrigan with any conviction is a feat, one that most good looking actors fail to accomplish. Which is probably why actors like the amazing(!) Gael Garcia Bernal can get away with a wider range of roles. Cillian Murphy is equally pretty, but he can look pretty creepy if he wants to - remember Batman Begins? It'll be interesting to watch the kind of roles McAvoy gets post The Last King.

Verdict - Don't miss it!

In other news, played Holi for the first (and last) time yesterday. Was great fun. Scrubbing the colours out wasn't.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A good band

Picked up Black Rebel Motorcycle Club from a music store a few years ago and have loved them since. They named themselves after Marlon Brando's motorcycle gang in The Wild One. This one is called Stop.

We don't need this star!

The Doors have received a star on the walk of fame. Considering that everybody and his aunt have been there before him, its more of an insult than an honour! Manzarek and Krieger should have politely declined. On that note:

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Blank Noise Action Hero? I'm afraid not...

I'd finished B-school and was going back home to Madurai by train. The compartment was almost empty when the train started from Pune at 4 p.m. and I'd just settled in, trying to get some sleep. A few minutes later I opened my eyes to see the middle aged man in the opposite berth trying to put his blanket on me. I got up immediately and pushed it off me. His excuse was that I seemed cold. I looked around to see that he'd drawn the drapes of the coupe, had taken his shirt off and was touching his chest.

Words cannot explain the panic that set in (I'm paranoid about rape, after having seen a 16 year old girl lose her sanity after a rape when I was barely 6!). I pulled the drapes apart and ran to find the TTE. I caught coming out of the toilet and didn't even wait for him to close the door behind him. I told him that I wanted my berth changed to some place where there were women around. The compartment, like I said, was mostly empty, but the TTE managed to find me a seat with an aged couple. They were pleasant company and treated me like I was their grandchild, but I didn't sleep a wink that night!

This was undoubtedly the scariest experience of my life! In the streets of Mumbai where people don't need an excuse to brush against a woman, my defense is offense. I elbow away anybody who comes too close, before they can touch me. But does that make me a Blank Noise Action Hero? No, I guess I am just a coward who ran for it! But there are women who have been brave enough to fight back. The Blank Noise Action Hero Project is collecting the experience of women who have dealt with street sexual harassment by not ignoring or avoiding it but through confrontation. If you are one, or you know one, blog about it and send an email to with a subject titled "Action Heroes Online". Lets honour our heroes on Women's Day!