Friday, June 5, 2015

Get real, not ideal!

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post poking fun at Hindi serials.  However, in my mind, there are two exceptions to this rule -- Ramayan and Mahabharath.  Why, you ask?!  Well, simple -- since they are the celebrated epic tales of Hinduism (rather than sensationalized portrayals of ordinary people living in grand castle-like homes), they should get a pass.  After all, mythology doesn't need to be completely realistic! :-)

Ramayan and Mahabharath... two epic tales that, while sharing some basic similarities, are overall as different from each other as night and day.  Both are tales of valor and courage.  In both epics, a war is fought between good and evil to settle matters.... and in both epics, the reason for the war is a woman.  In both tales, the ultimate goal was to establish dharma and order.  Also, in both epics, Hanuman and Parashuram are present.  And there ends the similarities.... at least the important ones anyway.

And now come the differences between the two, and boy are there many! Ramayan preaches idealism whereas Mahabharath preaches realism.  Ramayan is a straightforward story with a beginning, middle and end.  Mahabharath, on the other hand, has many side stories.  But the main difference is that Ramayan also has very straightforward heroes and villains whereas Mahabharath has a lot more shades of gray between the different characters.  The differences between the two epics are best reflected in the main characters of the two different epics -- Ram and Krishna.  Ram is simple; Krishna is complex.  Ram is straightforward; Krishna is manipulative.  Ram always follows the rules; Krishna, on the other hand, bent the rules as needed for the situation.

Now, everything I stated so far are all well known facts.  However, when I'm with friends and/or when discussions come up about the two epics, people completely lose sight of these very well-known facts!  There are also many who openly vilify Krishna online.  For example, one guy labels Krishna as "the real villain" of Mahabharath; another woman goes on to say that Krishna actually became a murderer of humanity because of all the trickery that he did.  Similarly, many others denounce the Pandavas as cowards for screwing over good people like Karna, Bhishma and Drona in order to win the war.

Come on, people!!  Get off your high horses for one minute and buy yourselves some goddamn perspective!  Krishna did what he had to do; no one said he was perfect.  But he was a clever and resourceful guy who got things done at the crucial moment without being directly involved.  And really, that's what was needed for those situations... and that's also what you need in today's real world.  That was the whole point that Mahabharat was trying to convey in the first place! So, he bent a few rules..... big freakin' deal!! He got the job done, didn't he?!?!   In the same fashion, the Pandavas also did what they had to do to win the war -- some people like Bhishma and Drona are so unstoppable that you have to cheat to get them out of the way.  Krishna and the Pandavas came up with some dirty tricks to accomplish this goal.  Yep, at many times, they beat the Kauravas at their own game -- good for them!  They did what was necessary -- like the saying goes, all is fair in love and war!  So stop whining that they didn't do it by following the straight and narrow path like Lord Ram did and give our Pandavas and Lord Krishna the credit they deserve!

Ohh, but what's the difference between Krishna and Shakuni then?!  And since Pandavas also used trickery, how does that make them any better than the Kauravas?!, some of you may be wondering.  The answer is quite simple -- selfishness. Yep, it's as simple as that -- Shakuni and the Kauravas fought for their own selfish gains while Krishna and the Pandavas fought for the greater good.  It's not the way you fight, but what you fight for that's important!

Quite honestly, I find Krishna to be a better hero than Ram.  Ram was an ideal man, an exemplary being in character and practically perfect in every way, just like Mary Poppins!  But the problem with him is that he tried too damn hard to please everyone!!  He went to the forest just to please that selfish bitch Kaikeyi... he sent Sita to the forest to please his whiny subjects... and pretty much followed the rules down to the letter like a good mama's boy.  But, beyond that, there's not much more to him, and that makes him somewhat uninteresting.

Krishna, on the other hand, didn't confine himself to such rules and tradition -- he simply did what he had to do; for him the ends justified the means.  He invented clever ways to steal butter for himself & his friends.  He used clever means to beat that weasel Shakuni & those damn Kaurava bastards.  Could Ram do it with his straightforward method?! No way in hell! Only a clever khiladi like Krishna could out-fox sly cowards like Shakuni, Dhushasan or Duryodhan.  Krishna never worried about pleasing anyone, just on fulfilling Dharma by whatever means necessary.  But, as it turns out, he ended up being a more popular character than Ram anyway... especially with the ladies! ;-)

Well, I could go on and on about this topic, but then this post would become an epic by itself!  It was merely meant to be a generic light-weight treatment of the whole subject of realism vs idealism.

So, in conclusion, remember my friends.... an ideal is a nice thing to aspire for, but we live in a real world, so let's all get real.... not ideal! :-)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Obsessed - Part II

Click  here to read Part I

Surya woke up the next morning eager for revenge -- he got to the courts early and met Roy there.  With a look of determination, he started playing like a man possessed.  He would fight hard for every point and wear Roy down by making him play long, grueling points.  After 2 hours and 15 minutes, Roy was physically spent as Surya won easily 6-2,6-3.  Surya walked home very satisfied that day.  He loved the thrill that that win would give him, but as satisfying as it was, it only made him hungry for more!

He entered for his first tournament at the Midtown Club Championships and defeated his first few opponents quite easily.  He had solid ground-strokes and was consistent enough that he could wear down his opponents with solid defense.  Each win was more satisfying than the next and he wanted more.  He wore one opponent after the other and won the tournament quite easily.  The thrill of this victory gave him a confidence that he never had before.

There was a sudden swagger about Surya now, as he headed into his next tournament, the DuPage World Championships.  This was an international tournament, and as the name suggests, it featured people from different countries.  Surya played his usual safe-and-effective style for the first few rounds and won them quite easily.

But then, in the semifinals came Zhang, a crafty Chinese man with a wacky spin and incredible foot-speed.  Surya's usual safe game didn't work against this old man -- he was forced to play a more aggressive style which was well out of his comfort zone.  Many errors came from his racket as he lost the first set 6-4.  In the second set, Surya was forced to change tactics.  He took the ball on the rise more and went for riskier shots, closer to the lines.  He also came to the net more, a place he wasn't very comfortable in.  The tactic was hit-or-miss but Surya won the set 7-6.  However, there was a certain unease in Surya's gait and movement and Zhang, being a clever tactician, had picked up on it.  Zhang started to play more spins and hit the ball even more aggressively in the third and final set.  At this point, Surya was all out of answers and started to simply go through the motions as he lost the set (as well as the match) 6-2.

This loss was his worst one....and it hurt a lot more than his loss to Roy.  This wasn't a matter of choking; it was a matter or giving up -- he had packed it in and he knew it!  As much as his previous wins boosted his confidence, this one loss devastated him!!  For several weeks, he couldn't eat or sleep right, as he kept playing the match (against Zhang) mentally in his head.

After weeks of mental torture, Surya finally decided to change his game and mindset to win at any cost.  Nothing else in his life mattered at this point except to be a winner.  For many weeks, he would train with a coach and personal trainer to hone his body and mind like never before.  He entered the Midwest Championships and started playing with this new improved style of play and won his matches more easily.  In his matches, he made more errors but also hit more winners too, and overall this new aggressive playing style took less out of him physically.

At last, in the finals, there was his old nemesis Zhang, once again ready and waiting for him.  Surya was nervous as he walked into the court.  Remember the game plan.... controlled aggression is the key, he kept telling himself over and over.  As the two players warmed up, those words kept echoing in his head.  Surprisingly, after a few minutes, Surya's tension started to fade away.  The foe on the other end, while a tough opponent, was after-all a familiar one.  The game plan was clear, and Surya started to believe in the game plan as well as in himself.

As the match progressed, Zhang was playing his usual unpredictable style.  But this time, Surya was up to the task.  He took the ball early and moved Zhang both deeper and wider, thus limiting his nemesis' options.  The match was tight, but Surya's game plan was paying dividends.  Controlled aggression... controlled aggression..., he kept telling himself.  He won a tight straight-setter 7-6 (8-6), 7-6(13-11).  As soon as the umpire uttered the words "Game... set... match...", Surya dropped to his knees, overwhelmed and overcome with joy over his huge victory!

This win was a particularly satisfying one, because he knew it was a match that could have gone either way.  Surya would go on to play many more matches, and in the process he would become a more confident young man.  As his game grew, so did his personality.  He had stretched himself beyond the 78.0 x 36.0 feet rectangle -- he was ready to face any opponent within those four lines as well as anything that the rest of the world could throw at him!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Obsessed -- Part I

It was a warm and humid summer evening.  As many were heading back home, a young teenager named Surya was heading in the exact opposite direction.  He was wearing a simple T-shirt and shorts and carrying a small gym bag with him.  There was spring in his step, a look of eager anticipation as he sprinted across the sidewalk.  After about 15 minute walk, a satisfied smile came across his face as he finally reached his destination -- the community tennis court, a place where he would visit almost everyday.

As he stepped onto the green concrete, Surya headed straight to the practice wall.  It was this wall where he began honing his skills over many years.  A perfectionist by nature, he was also a very shy kid who had trouble fitting into a society where almost everyone else was a different race than him.  But once he stepped on the courts, all the shyness would disappear! The repressed emotions would run free and the real Surya would come out.

Surya started to hit back and forth against the relentless wall with his over-sized racket and his own relentless drive to hit each ball perfectly.  Tennis was more than a sport to him -- it was also a haven, a second home away from the cruel world that surrounded existed beyond  the 78.0 x 36.0 feet rectangle.  Unlike most people, the tennis court never passed judgement on him or discriminated against him because of his race, color or religion.  It openly accepted him as he was, all day & everyday.

As Surya continued to hit against the wall, the satisfaction of playing started to fill some of the void within him.  Much of the loneliness was still there, but this small amount of solace would be good enough to get through the day.

The next day, Surya came back to the exact same practice wall and began hitting the exact same way. A tall thin man approached him -- he was outgoing and had an almost arrogant swagger about him.

"Hey kid, wanna hit?"


"Whats your name?"



Roy and Surya started to play a three-setter.  Surya was up 3-0 in the third and deciding set, when nerves suddenly got the best of him. Oh god I'm so close, I better not lose this one, he thought.  He made error after error with his shot-making.  Shots that were winners turned into unforced errors, and he lost the match 6-3 in the final set.

As a dejected Surya walked towards the net to shake hands, Roy, looked down at him in disgust and said "Congratulations kid, you just beat yourself!". Surya was hurt and in total disbelief!  What an asshole!! Did he just rub my loss in my face?!?!

As he walked home, Surya began to realize deep down that Roy was right. He had choked away the match and he knew it -- it left a bitter taste in his mouth and he hated it more than anything.  He was also no longer in the tennis court, so it made the bad feeling even worse!

But this incident also sparked a fire inside young Surya later that night.  The anger switch turned on inside him, a change that would mark a defining moment in his life.  A few days later, Surya called Roy casually for another game.... but deep down, all Surya really wanted  was revenge, a chance to make the douche pay for his remarks!


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Director of obsession

Howdy folks, good to be back to blogosphere after such a long layoff.  Contrary to popular belief, my blog isn't dead, just merely lying dormant thanks to my hectic schedule which has only let up recently.  It's been almost 9 months since my last blog post and more than a year since the last movie from one of my favorite directors of all time, Chris Nolan.

Christopher Jonathan James Nolan was born in London on 30 July 1970.  Nolan's childhood was split between Chicago and London, and he has both British and American citizenship.  Oddly enough, many of his films feature British actors like Gary Oldman and Christian Bale doing an almost perfect American accent on screen.  There are several notable traits in Nolan movies which make them so unique and special -- here are a few:
  1. Morally ambiguous lead characters -- In Insomnia, Al Pacino's Will Dormer is a damn good cop, but he accidentally shoots his partner in a stakeout and then tampers with the evidence to cover up his guilt; in Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio's Dominic Cobb steals information from people's brains for a hotshot businessman so he can clear his innocence and get back to his family. Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne, while having noble intentions on eliminating crime from Gotham city, those intentions come from his pain of the murder of his parents, spawned from an unhealthy need for revenge.
  2. Very grounded and naturalistic approach -- Virtually all of Nolan's films are rooted in reality, even those about a person's dreams.  All of the characters in his movies are very believable and grounded.  Inception was a movie about dream stealing but even those dreams felt like the dreams of real people.  Nolan was also the only director to make Batman into a real-life person, something no other director could do before.  While other directors made Batman into a superhero, Nolan made him into what he really is -- a tragically heroic vigilante.
  3. Obsession, guilt and revenge -- Ahh yes, what Nolan movie would be complete without at least one of these three themes woven into its storyline?!?!  In Memento (later remade into Ghajini in Tamil and Hindi), Leonard Shelby is hell-bent on getting revenge on his late wife's killer;  in Insomnia, Will Dormer is feeling so guilty about killing a fellow cop on a stakeout and then tampering with that evidence that it doesn't allow him to sleep.  But perhaps nothing says Christopher Nolan better than obsession!  In The Prestige, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are constantly obsessed with topping each other at being magicians.  But as obsessed as those two were, no character in the Nolan universe is more obsessive than Bruce Wayne/Batman -- constantly driven toward fighting crime & feeling constant guilt over not being able to save his parents, he pushes his mind and body to the limit everyday to rid Gotham city of criminal scumbags.
  4. Love stories just aren't his thing -- Let's face it, a grounded approach featuring gritty realism combined with obsessive guilt and anger just doesn't go very well with flowery love stories!  The closest Nolan came to a love story was Inception and Memento, which features the protagonists tortured by the memory of the loved ones they lost.  But even those aspects were simply just supporting accessories injected into an otherwise different main storyline.  It's not that Nolan is not capable of writing a love story, it's simply the fact that it doesn't fit very well with his style of directing.
  5. The acting performances -- Nolan's directing seems to automatically  inspire his actors to give it their best.  That's why, in all his movies, the actors bring their A-game to the set, which naturally lends itself to great performances.  Great direction and great acting ultimately translates to great movies overall.
Above all, what makes Nolan so effective as a director is his diligence, attention to detail and work ethic.  It's probably the one reason that Nolan never makes a bad movie (at least so far); out of 4 stars, none of his films will ever get less than three.  He works diligently to make his movies top-quality, and the characters in his stories are obsessive, diligent people who equally push themselves just as hard to try and achieve their goal(s). 

But perhaps what I like most about Chris Nolan's movies are that they are not only great masterpieces, but you can actually learn from them:

See you guys on my next post!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Expectations too great

A few years ago, I went into a doctor’s office for a routine checkup.  Being an Indian doctor and given the fact that I was also Indian, as he was doing his routine activities (like checking my blood pressure, etc), he also started asking questions (in his broken English) about my personal life:

Doctor:  So where you’re from?

Me: Chennai originally.  How about you?

Doctor:  I’m from Hyderabad.  [writes some info in his chart]  So what age you got married?

Me: 28.  My wife and I…

Doctor: [interrupts] Why so late, man?!

Me: [looking at him perplexed, and a little annoyed] Excuse me?

Doctor: [glaring at me angrily] When I got married, I was 22.  My wife was 21.  Nine months later, we had our kids.  That only is the correct way.  Nowadays, everybody’s getting married like 28,30, 32… very bad… very, very bad!

At this point, I was doing the slow burn.  I was tempted to put my fist through his judgmental face but then I remembered that I needed this arrogant bastard to write up some prescriptions for me.  So I  kept my mouth shut, got my needed prescriptions written up and got the hell out of that office as fast as possible.  What was meant to be a simple doctor’s visit ended up being an ugly reminder about the great expectations… ridiculously high expectations that me and other Indians like myself face from our families and our own Indian community every day.  Here are a few:

  1. A.  You need to get good grades – When they say good, they mean only one thing: A+ and a perfect 4.0 GPA!  Good grades in Indian terms equates to perfect grades…. no room for error! Needless to say, I didn’t quite make the cut on this one.  My GPA wasn’t too shabby, but it wasn’t quite “good” either.  I don’t mind this one so much since it sets up to do well in our careers, but one should only strive for good grades, not expect them as a minimum.
    B.      Hold a high degree like MBA or Phd – Unless you’re studying to be a doctor, you need to get one of these to be brag-worthy for your parents and relatives.  Again, I came up short.  In fact, when one of my aunts was wife-hunting for me many years ago, she felt “utterly disgraced” when she had to mention in the matrimonial ad that I only had a Bachelors degree and not a Masters.  Oh, the horror! How can she ever show her face in public again?!?! :-P
    C.      Become a doctor, IT Professional or engineer – Your parents did it, your great grandparents did it… so you should do it too right?! :-P  Gee, I wonder what they’d say about my brother, who did game programming and shader writing work for the movie industry.  Doesn’t exactly fit the mold, does he?!?!
    D.      Make a good salary – Closely tied to Expectation C.  Just like expectation A, when they say good, they mean a stable, kick-ass awesome job that pays close to six figures or more!  Only then can you afford the nice car and house that's required of you after you marry. You also need a state-of-the-art blackberry cell phone that lets you do everything, including balancing your checkbook. After all, you gotta have the bling for the marriage thing! And, oh yes… if you’re a guy, it helps to be in a leadership position in your company so that your parents, relatives and your eventual wife can brag about you to their friends and relatives about how important you are -- fervently checking your Blackberry for new emails every 2 minutes helps a lot!
    E.       Get married before age X  and have kids before age Y – Now we come to the really fun expectations – ones that have time limits! This particular expectation is one of my biggest pet peeves and my reason for writing this post.  The reasoning behind this expectation is simple – get married young… and have your kids soon so that you’ll be young enough to raise them for a long time…. and then force all these expectations on them… so that they’ll be successful and have their kids young enough… so that they’ll be young enough to raise their kids for a long time…. and you’ll be a young enough grandparent to help them out... well, you get the idea.  For the marriage requirement, if you’re a guy, age X is around 30 (well, at least it's better than that idiot doctor's ridiculous requirement of 22!); if you’re a girl, this age limit is two years before that.  As for the kids’ thing, age Y is about 18 months after age X -- within that time, you have to either conceive or give birth; otherwise, you’ll face ridicule and banishment from the Indian community - alas, I came up short here too!  Now, why did I group marriage and kids together into one category, you ask?!?!  Well… because in the Indian community, the two are one in the same! After all, the wife is just a baby-producing machine, right?!?! :-P

All these expectations are a reflection of our Indian culture which can be summed up in one word – pressure!  Pressure to be wealthy… to be successful… and push ourselves to the limit to fulfill all the expectations listed above so that we can also be considered good enough to be a normal Indian.  Narrow-minded proponents of these expectations would argue that it’s this immense pressure that turns coals into diamonds, but the same pressure can also crumble the coal to dust.  The problem with pressure is that there will be only stress/tension from trying to meet an expectation and a temporary relief from fulfilling it -- there will be no joy in anything that you do; even if you’re a coal turned diamond, you’ll never be a happy one!  Call me crazy, but that sounds like a recipe for disaster.

All these incredibly unfair expectations only make us wound up, hyper-driven and running around like rats in an endless rat race.  Take a look at these rats below:

They aren’t really rats, but all of us.... running nonstop to meet expectations... running to beat the guy/gal before you..... running to buy more things... running to keep up with the Joneses.... and running endlessly to find the happiness that eludes us every single day.  If you’re in this race, please get out of it.  Stop worrying about what other people think or expect -- do your best in your endeavors and let the chips fall where they may.  Life is too short to be a rat in a rat race.  And for those of you ultra-conservative, narrow-minded wet blankets who keep pressuring us…. please get off our backs and get yourself a goddamn life!