Thursday, November 27, 2008

In addition.....

Amitabh Bachchan's blog contains his thoughts regarding the ongoing standoff in Mumbai. It is understanding to see the roles played by Mumbai blogs, including those by actors such as Aamir and Amitabh, in getting information out and even thoughts/feelings. Unfortunately, the biggest questions remain unanswered: who are the young men with guns? And which fat men brainwashed them to head fearlessly into Mumbai?

They came by sea and then they went about their sick plan. While the real leaders of this situation sit somewhere safe, eating and getting fat. Are they getting fat on mutton kebabs or are they getting fat on curries? Are they having naans with their meat? And what kind is the naan? These questions may seem strange but the answers would indicate where the masterminds are sitting at.

Oh Mumbai

Not again. Not again Mumbai....

If a city could be given a voice, then given what has happened over the last two decades, Mumbai's angry scream would resonate around the world and render everyone deaf. I can't imagine any other city in the world that has had to endure such sustained nonsense, over and over..and in the name of what? No one knows.

In 1993 it was the Stock Market, in 2006 it was the trains and in between them, the local markets, cinemas, etc were all hit. As always innocents were killed. Now high end hotels, a cafe and another cinema, plus the train station again. On and on...

If the pictures are true, then it was young kids who went on a killing rampage and are still at large. Why? There is no why. Just like in David Fincher's Fight Club, when the young men go out of control and start causing damage without any cause or even a leader guiding them. Out of boredom, out of misguided cause.

Interestingly, there were 3 Bollywood films (Mumbai Meri Jaan, A Wednesday, Mukhbiir) released this year that tried to deal with the horror of the 2006 attack and another with terrorism (Aamir) in general. In all these 4 films, there was a happy ending, ofcourse. Bollywood films usually end on a happy note. They have to because in reality a city like Mumbai isn't left to stay happy for too long. Someone usually comes along and tries to dampen the city's spirit. The city as always is left to clean up and move on.

  • Aamir Khan has a blog entry regarding this madness.

  • Mumbai Met blogs with their coverage

  • Reuters on the use of blogs for news coverage.
  • Monday, November 24, 2008

    Vintage Canadian Cinema

    The Calgary Cinematheque hosted an outstanding film series this past weekend -- Pushing Boundaries: Independent Canadian Cinema of the Sixties & Seventies. The four films shown were:

    A Married Couple (1969, Director Allan King)
    High (1967, Director Larry Kent)
    Montreal Main (1972, Director Frank Vitale)
    Rubber Gun (1977, Director Allan Moyle)

    The series was hosted and moderated by film critic Geoff Pevere, in the presence of all the four directors. There was a brief introduction both by Geoff and the film director in question before each screening and a very informative Q & A session afterwards. I would have loved to attend all four films but thankfully I managed to catch two of the groundbreaking masterpieces.

    A Marriage in collapse

    A Married Couple is an excellent case study of the difficulties a relationship poses for couples sharing the same living space. By observing the lives of a married couple, we can see the struggles and compromises that take place when two people share the same space and how things can start to go wrong. Even though the material is isolated to just one couple in late 1960's Toronto, the genius of Allan King has ensured that the topics displayed on screen can apply to virtually any marriage over the last few decades.

    In making the film, Allan sought out couples whose marriage was in trouble but as he mentioned in the Q & A session afterwards, most of the couples he found were "boring". It so happened that the couple Allan was staying with (Billy Edwards and his wife Antoinette) agreed to allow themselves to be filmed so as to save their marriage. Allan was never in the room because he felt his presence would have influenced the couple, so he left his cameraman Richard Leiterman and soundman Christian Wangler with the couple and their 3 year old son, Bogart, for about ten weeks of filming. In the end, they collected more than 70 hours of footage and Allan worked with the editor after each day's shoot. The end result is a brilliant piece of verite film-making. No acting or fake emotions but raw feelings of anger, hurt and disappointment. Allan called this film an "actuality" as opposed to reality film-making.

    It is such a complex matter when two people decide to share their lives under one roof as demonstrated by how small arguments can spiral into a full blown war. Of course, most small arguments are never about one issue. Each argument is an accumulation of past incidents and events. An example in the film illustrates this problem when Antoinette mentions to Billy that she is fed up with him leaving his shoes lying around the house. The argument that results shows that the real problem is not about the shoes but about each person not taking share of their daily responsibilities.

    Allan King felt that the movie was a two way projector where even the audience projected their feelings onto the screen. In an initial Toronto screening, some audience members identified with Billy while others sided with Antoinette. Allan mentioned a particular example from the film that caused a differing perception in the audience. In one argument, Billy pushes Antoinette out of the house and slams the door. Allan mentioned that some people were sure they saw Billy hit Antoinette but that was not the case. In reality, he was afraid of her and when he pushed her out, he had a worried look on his face as quickly tried to slam the door lest she retaliate back. It was clear from the footage in the film, before and after the scene, that Antoinette was the stronger of the two and it was Billy who was more afraid of her.

    Overall, a true gem of a film! Incredible!!!!

    Rating: 10/10

    Verite again, but on the streets of Montreal

    Frank Vitale's Montreal Main is a living breathing work of art. As Frank mentioned, he didn't have a script with dialogues but just had a framework of the story with some scenes outlined; he knew how he wanted the scenes framed and shot, something that interested him more than coming up with the dialogues. Frank's friends and the other actors improvised the dialogues for a film that was shot on and off, sometimes shooting only a scene per day, for about 15 days. In order to get funding for the film, Frank shot most of the movie on video as a demo. Only after the movie got some money ($25,000 CAD) was the beautiful original score added and a 16 mm camera used to re-shoot the film.

    In terms of a story, the film follows Frank (played by Frank Vitale), Bozo (Allan Moyle) and their friends around on their daily exploits in Montreal. The key cinematic thread involves Frank's attraction to a teenage boy (Johnny), whom he befriends and hangs out with. The friendship causes problems not only among Frank's circle of friends but also with Johnny's parents. While nothing sexual is depicted regarding their friendship, the film tests the boundaries of society's acceptance of relationships.

    The film takes place in a vibrant energetic English speaking art community in Montreal. Frank and Allan Moyle were part of the community and Allan even made a sequel (Rubber Gun which followed Montreal Main's screening) using the same characters. As the community consisted of various artists (painters, writers), it is natural that Montreal Main has an artistic feel to it and flows along beautifully. There are some amazing camera shots in the film with a very open yet poetic ending shot which features faces of customers at a hot dog/arcade shop.

    The Q & A session was particularly enriching as both Frank and Allan expressed differing reactions on seeing the film again and looking back at its creation. Allan felt the movie's topic gave him the creeps while Frank talked about the emotional aspects of the film, citing how now as a father he has trouble seeing the character Frank abandon Johnny in the film near the end. The open ending can either be seen as hopeful in that Johnny is ok or can be taken to mean that Johnny is lost forever.

    Rating: 9/10


    Canadian Cinema hardly has a cinematic presence in this country. It is hard to believe that are many countries like Canada where local films struggle to get distribution and theatrical releases. So it was particularly refreshing to see that despite the near invisible presence, Canadian cinema in the past produced such amazing films. Frank Vitale mentioned that he has been surprised to see that Montreal Main has been getting a revival in the past 2-3 years with even a DVD release out in the market. I really hope that more Canadian gems can be found and atleast released on DVD. Great cinema is always welcome!

    Sunday, November 16, 2008

    A taste of global film festivals

    Kenneth Turan’s Sundance to Sarajevo is an insightful look at the diverse and rich world of international film festivals. While Turan covers popular festivals such as Cannes and Sundance, the real joy lies in the chapters dedicated to the FESPACO (Burkina Faso), Midnight Sun (Finland) and Pordenone (Italy) film festivals. Of the trio, I had never heard of the Midnight Sun and Pordenone festivals but the chapters covering them left the most impression.

  • Midnight Sun film festival

  • The Kaurismäki brothers were co-founders of this unique festival in Sodankylä where films are shown throughout the night because the sun doesn’t set for the duration of the festival. The first time I learnt of a place in Finland where the sun never sets was in Julio Medem’s wonderful film The Lovers of the Artic Circle. As Kenneth Turan points out, Julio got the idea for the segment in the film after he visited the Midnight Sun Festival. Overall, the concept of watching films right through the night is enticing but ofcourse how can one consider it night when the sun is still shining brightly at 4 am when some screenings end?

  • Pordenone Silent Film Festival

  • This is quite a remarkable film festival which not only brings together silent film buffs but also film collectors. Turan writes about how a majority of the silent films were almost destroyed when sound films started arriving but thankfully some individuals saved a majority of these films and kept them for their personal collections. Every year some of these personal collections are being released to the general public with Pordenone being the common meeting ground to discover precious gems and keep the heritage of silent films alive. Also, there is a section in the festival where unknown films are shown in the hope that someone can recognize them. One year in this section Sergio Leone was pleasantly surprized to discover a lost film starring his father Andrea.

    This Pordenone chapter really gave me a new appreciation for silents films especially the following paragraphs which talks about the complex issues in running these films:

    For though there is a uniform sound projection speed of 24 frames per second, nothing of the kind exists for silent films, largely because they were shot by cinematographers who hand-cranked their cameras. They speeded up or slowed down the movement from film to film and even within frames from 16 frames per second to 20-something per second as the action dictated.

    Making things even more complicated is that footage was often supposed to be projected faster than it was hot, ensuring that stunts looked crisper and slapstick funnier. Speeds also varied with decades, and projecting D.W Griffith’s ambitious 1916 epic Intolerance at the late silent speed of 24 frames per second instead of the intended 16 to 18 makes it play like comedy, while showing 1929’s gently romantic Sunrise at 16 frames per second instead of the intended 24 has the unfortunate tendency, says Kevin Brownlow, "to put audiences to sleep."

    Though modern silent projectionists don’t generally change the tempo within films, they must have a knowledge of what the standard frames-per-second count was in each of the films they show plus the ability to work with today’s breed of variable speed projectors. The aim remains what it was in 1911, when a practitioner wrote that the ideal projectionist is someone who "'renders' a film, if he is a real operator, exactly as does the musician render a piece of music, in that, within limits the action of a scene being portrayed depends entirely on his judgement."

    Turan spends the second last chapter in the book talking about a failed French film festival which gives a look at the complexities of running a festival and also sheds some lights on the efforts of the French government to promote their cinema. And in the final chapter, Turan talks about his experiences serving on the jury of the Montreal film festival. This was a very delightful behind the scenes look at how film festival awards are given out, a process that hardly ever gets any press.

    It is good to know that there are great films being shown in most parts of the world, albeit via film festivals. Ideally, good cinema should be shown week in week out, but until big studios stronghold over the world’s theaters is not loosened, film festivals are still the best way for a majority of the planet’s population to view true cinema.

    Note: About half of the book's chapters are available online via Google Books. Unfortunately, the sections on the Midnight Sun Festival and Pordenone are not online.

    Thursday, November 13, 2008

    The more things change...

    the more they go back to being the same. Well atleast in the Italian Serie A!

    On Thursday night Juventus beat Genoa 4-1 to go joint top with Inter Milan at the top of the league standings for a period of atleast 72 hours until Inter and the rest of the Serie A teams take to the field on Saturday and Sunday. Having played one game less, Inter have the same points as Juve (24) and are just ahead of the Turin club by a goal difference of 1 (+10 as opposed to Juve's +9). Milan and Napoli are one point behind the two on 23, with Lazio at 22, Udinese at 21 while both Genoa and Fiorentina have 20 points.

    For the last two decades AC Milan, Juventus and Inter Milan have been the top three teams in Italy not only in terms of titles won but also with the most financial muscle to attract the biggest names in the game. Other teams such as Napoli, Sampdoria, Roma, Lazio and even Fiorentina have attempted to challenge the trio with limited sustained success over the years. One could say that out of the top three, Inter have only recently earned the top accolades after the corruption scandal in 2006 saw Juventus getting relegated from Serie A and Milan having points docked for the start of the 2006/07 season. But things are appearing to be restored to the Italian standards of normality as Juventus and Milan are putting on a comeback of sorts. Although it remains to be seen if either Juventus and Milan can sustain their good form in the long run as their squads are aging and packed with many players past their peak.

    Wednesday, November 12, 2008

    The Art of the Informer


    1. a person who informs against another, esp. for money or other reward.
    2. a person who informs or communicates information or news; informant.


    1. a person employed by a government to obtain secret information or intelligence about another, usually hostile, country, esp. with reference to military or naval affairs.
    2. a person who keeps close and secret watch on the actions and words of another or others.
    3. a person who seeks to obtain confidential information about the activities, plans, methods, etc., of an organization or person, esp. one who is employed for this purpose by a competitor: an industrial spy.

    Informers and Spies are old as human civilization. For whenever a great power (be it a nation or an empire) existed, there were people who utilized informers or spies to find ways to bring down that power. While the terms spy and informer are used interchangeably quite often, there is a subtle difference between a spy and an informer. A spy might employ multiple informers at any given time but an informer is always alone on the lowest rung of the intelligence ladder. One can call an informer the tiny particle that quietly resides in the nucleus of an organization, quietly observing the dance of the electrons and those other highly charged particles. An informer gathers whatever valuable piece of information they can and then has to find a way to relay that information to others on the outside. Now this is not to say that a spy cannot become an informer. From time to time, a spy would have to go undercover on their own and embed themselves within an organization and act as an informer. In fact, some spies might even have graduated from the level of an informer. Another difference between the two would be related to the transmission of information. The informer provides concrete information, something that they have heard or seen. Whereas, spies also engage in the game of misinformation whereby they circulate some lies from time to time to either cause a reaction or to even fish out the truth. The spread of misinformation also has the danger of a "blowback" when the misinformation results in reactions that have dangerous consequences. For example, Steve Coll's book Ghost Wars hints at how misinformation might have contributed to some of the mess that resulted in the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, a mess that is still to be sorted out.

    Through the years, films have been packed with plenty of worthy examples of informers. Titles such as Govind Nihalani's Drohkaal, Mike Newell's Donnie Brasco, Wai-keung Lau & Alan Mak's Infernal Affairs remade by Martin Scorsese as The Departed come to mind. In Drohkaal and Donnie Brasco, police get an informer to break through a terrorist cell and a mafia gang respectively as those are the common settings found in most informer films. But the genius of Infernal affairs was that it simultaneously showed informers existing both in the police world and the mafia gang, thus resulting in a brilliant calculated game of chess. In a way, Infernal Affairs took the complicated world of international espionage and adapted it to the street level of informers.

    As different as all these above films were, they all had one thing in common -- the informer was a tough man able to withstand the rigors of living with the enemy. On the other hand, Mani Shankar has done something very unique with Mukhbiir in that his informer character is a 19 year old lad. The young age of the informer gives the film a very different complexion and gives flexibility to his character in three areas:

    Innocence: Since the informer (Kailash played by Sammir Dattani) is quite young, one can believe the look of innocence on his face. In fact, it is this innocence that allows the informer to warm up to a gang leader in Hyderabad and to win the leader's sister's lustful affection. At times Kailash appears to be a little child at heart and his playful nature allows him to befriend a young boy thus easing the path to a critical victory in the end -- the young boy is in charge of a fax machine in a nearby store and Kailash comes up with a very believable agreement with the boy to fax key secrets to the police.

    Lack of history: The fact that Kailash is an orphan plays a key role in him looking up to his police officer boss (Rathod played by Om Puri) as a father figure. This relationship establishes a feeling of warmth and mutual trust and is crucial to the story's development. Although, at times one gets a sense that Rathod is using Kailash for his own needs but Rathod's wife, who treats Kailash like a son, ensures that Rathod promises to lookout for the boy. Also, since Kailash has no real history of any relationships, he can easily move from one city to another.

    Lack of Self: This is the most important aspect of Kailash's young age. The fact that he has not seen enough of life or truly discovered his identity ensures that he can easily live in any environment. At the film's start, we find Kailash living in North East India and he eventually moves to Hyderabad before being positioned to the underworld circle in Mumbai. Kailash is able to easily slip into another's identity and is quite comfortable no matter where he has to stay. In the film's third assignment in Mumbai, Kailash has to covert to Islam. Quite remarkably, he is able to convert without any difficulty and gives himself fully over to his new religion. This is proved useful in a key scene where he is drugged unknowingly and put through a lie detector test. Any other person might have blurted the truth out but since Kailash believes completely in his new identity, he passes the test with flying colours.

    Overall, Mukhbiir is a real surprize discovery. In fact, just like the character of Kailash, the film appears to have slipped under the radar. Mani Shankar has shown some promise in his earlier films, especially in 16 December, but this time he gets it completely right by properly giving the time to develop his character and even the situations that Kailash lands himself in. There are plenty of relevant details shown on how information can be transmitted or the degree to which Kailash has to risk his life. A perfect example of the level of detail shown in the film occurs at the film's start where Kailash drops a sketch of a terrorist from the travelling bus. Rathod picks up the sketch, takes a picture of it using his cell phone and emails the picture to the police headquarters where they are able to run a match against their database to confirm the identity of the terrorist. The entire sequence takes less than a few minutes and considering that every minute counts for Kailash's safety, it is interesting to see the chain of command that allows such decisions to be made.

    As good as the film is, it is not without flaws, especially considering the events that lead to the film's resolution. But this is a minor complain given the strength of everything else on display. And in one aspect, this film is a close kin of Govind Nihalani's Drohkaal given how the informer is left to fend for himself when others around him are killed.

    Rating: 9/10

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008

    A thing of beauty....

    is a joy forever!

    It is hard to believe a team with an average of 19 could manage to score such goals but just like they did in the previous round, Arsenal's young team continue to play football the way it is meant to be played. Arsenal's midfield consisted of Jack Wilshere (16 years old), Aaron Ramsey (17 years), Fran Merida (18 years) and Mark Randall (19 years) and up forward, Carlos Vela is only 19 and Jay Simpson is 20. Quite remarkable! And Vela's chip, resulting in the third goal, is quite exquisite.

    Film Comment, Panel Discussion..

    A fascinating must read panel debate:

    FILM CRITICISM IN CRISIS?: A New York Film Festival panel discussion hosted by Film Comment September 27, 2008, at the Walter Reade Theater

    Here are some snippets.

    Seung-hoon Jeung talks about the problems facing Korean cinema but the following words ring true of North American or even Indian cinema:

    ...But the problem now is not in terms of established critics versus bloggers but criticism itself versus the mass audience who don’t actually need criticism to pick out a film to see on the weekend. The mass audience thinks criticism should be just a brief guide for making choices rather than a means for getting serious ideas or information. They don’t want to suffer from a headache reading serious film criticism. In other words they’re looking for entertainment, not to be enlightened. They choose films based on word of mouth. They don’t really access criticism in print culture, they just read brief comments on the websites. So the Internet seems to have contributed to this shift in film culture. There was a kind of cinephilic enthusiasm from 1995 to early 2000, but after that the Korean film industry began to fluctuate and many Korean filmmakers began to find it hard to finance their projects.....
    Emmanuel Burdeau: I’m thinking about that because Serge Daney wrote an incredible piece which was called in French "Pour une ciné-démographie" ("For a Ciné-Demographic") which says that you can tell the story of cinema by comparing the people on the screen and the people in the theaters. And he said, in the beginning, lots of people went to see lots of movies in which there were lots of people. And then, he says, when you arrive at the end of the modern age, you have the viewer who is alone in the theater watching a lonely guy walking alone, and to him that’s the end.
    Jonathan Rosenbaum: There’s such a tendency to compartmentalize. I think it’s important, when you’re writing about a film, to think about how it connects to the rest of your life, to other arts, things that are happening to you. I think that film criticism tends to be way too much cut off, when it seems to me if it’s an important art form, it’s important because it addresses the way we live.
    Audience member #4: I’m a film student over at NYU, I’m a cinema-studies major. I was just wondering, given the crisis, what are you guys’ hopes, concerns, and advice for

    Jonathan Rosenbaum: See lots of movies.

    Gavin Smith: Yeah. I was recently talking with someone about the fact that I was just realizing how little film criticism I’ve read, and I’m the editor of a film magazine. Shouldn’t I know everything about film criticism, shouldn’t I have read all the great film critics? I really haven’t. And when I tried to get to the bottom of why that was, I realized it was because I was more interested in going to see movies than I was reading about them. The time in my life where I read the most read about film was when I was a teenager and I didn’t have access to the movies themselves. A substitute was to read film criticism. Once I was out of that cage and could go to the movies, I would spend my time watching movies rather than reading other film critics. There’s no substitute for watching as many films as you can, and watching some of them over and over again....

    Saturday, November 08, 2008

    Nasri, Samir Nasri

    pic: GettyImages, Soccernet

    Very rarely do I get something right while predicting for this Arsenal side, but the man from Marseille ensured that I got something correct for a change. In my preview for today's game, I mentioned: The tactic has the danger of leaving Bendtner completely isolated and not giving Manchester’s defense any worries. In that case, Nasri might be the only real game breaker as Cesc would be too bogged down by doing everything on his own.

    Well Nasri provided to be the game winner as he scored both goals, the second one a beautifully struck shot, to down Man Utd 2-1. The game once again provided that Man Utd are a team that consistently get help from refs no matter which stadium they play at. Today, neither Rooney or Ronaldo were booked for obvious fouls, a penalty for Arsenal was turned away and the ref allowed 6 extra minutes of injury time to be played as opposed to a maximum of either 4 or 5 minutes extra stoppage time for an injury to Almunia. It is remarkable that Man Utd lost considering this was the weakest Arsenal team to have taken to the field in more than a decade against them. Unlike Arsenal, Man Utd were at all full strength with no injury problems and they were even able to rest quite a few players midweek in their Champions league fixture, including Rooney who has scored 6 career goals against Arsenal, including 4 as a Man Utd player and two when at Everton. In fact, Rooney scored his first professional goal against Arsenal back in 2002 ending Arsenal's long unbeaten run.

    Overall delighted at the result, especially since I had to wake up at 5:30 am to watch this game.

    Friday, November 07, 2008

    Film education is now in session...

    "there are no illiterates in the world of cinema"
    -- quote by an un-named director in Kenneth Turan's book Sundance to Sarajevo

    Ah so true! In an instinctive way, people have the ability to decipher what is going on in a film even if they don't speak the language; audiences can atleast make out the nature of the conversation from the expressions and body language of the characters despite not understanding the words. This is unlike a book where if one does not know the language, no amount of staring at the page will help. Words and languages written on a page require a good deal of literacy if one is to understand the meaning.

    Ofcourse, people's level of literacy varies when it comes to cinema. One can say that in the classroom of international cinema, we are all students. Some might be at an undergraduate level, some chasing a post doctorate while others might be enrolled in a masters program. And even if a person can claim expertise in one genre or nation, there are plenty of other cinematic cultures to study.

    In a way, Acquarello's and Michael Guillen's blog names point towards such a cinematic education.
  • Strictly Film School by Acquarello
  • The Evening Class by Michael Guillen

  • I can't speak for Michael but most of my education in film has come from evening and some late night classes. Very rarely have I found the time to attend day time classes, but as soon as the sun goes down, well my makeshift film school comes to life.

    PS: Even though Girish's blog does not have a 'school' in its title, in reality it is a film education and continuing cinematic learning center in disguise :)

    Arsenal vs Manchester United

    pics from:, BBC

    This is it. The ultimate Battle Royale!! Although this year’s installment features the weakest and even softest Arsenal team to take on their traditional rivals. Injuries and a needless suspension have denied Arsenal a chance to battle on equal terms but Arsenal’s opponents will not care too much for that as they will go out looking to inflict maximum damage, such is the nature of these games.


    Until Wenger came to England, Man Utd were the undisputed kings of English football. On top of that, all decisions went Manchester’s way and when Wenger questioned that, it led to Ferguson taking a cheap shot at Arsene. Back then, Ferguson would have hardly expected that the French man from Japan would cause him so much headache. But after winning a glorious double in 1998, Arsenal were pegged back in their effort to sustain repeated title challenges. Three title less seasons followed but after Arsenal beautifully did the double in 2001/02, it looked like they could finally maintain their dominance and even emulate Manchester. But the following season, Arsenal let Man Utd overtake them in the end as Arsenal’s weakness to defend leads was highlighted. Also, in that 2002/03 Arsenal suffered their first hurdle against Everton when a 16 year old Rooney stunned them in the final minute.

    The following season Arsenal did the impossible and went unbeaten through the season but even then, they allowed Manchester to put a dent on their achievement in their 1-0 F.A Cup loss. Things were looking good for Arsenal at the start of the 2004/05 until their visit to Old Trafford. Man Utd were well back of Arsenal and Ferguson tried to rally his team by saying that all of England were expecting Manchester to stop Arsenal. Well, stop they did but not by playing football but by kicking and cheating their way to a 2-0 win. A year earlier as well Man Utd tried to cheat a win courtesy of Ruud Van but his penalty miss was followed by a dishing out of emotions by Keown and company. Unfortunately a year later (Oct 24, 2004) Manchester completed their cheating job and the level of injustice felt by the Arsenal players led to some friction in the tunnel after the game. Up to this day, Ferguson is still waiting for an apology and we are waiting for the full truth to come out. Nonetheless, that defeat led to another Arsenal title bid to falter. Arsenal got revenge in a very subtle way at the end of the season in their penalty shoot-out F.A Cup win over Man Utd. Earlier in the season, Ferguson’s side had stopped Arsenal by kicking the Gunners and stopping them from playing. On the other hand, Arsenal stopped Man Utd by allowing them to play as much football as they wanted. Man Utd dominated possession and freely shot at Arsenal’s net as many times as their hearts desired. It turned out Arsenal’s tactic that day was to give Manchester the illusion of control and were willing to wait until the Red Devils tired themselves out. After 120 minutes, Man Utd were still standing and it required a penalty save from Jens to allow Patrick Vieira to give Arsenal another F.A Cup and as it stands, their last trophy.

    In the 2005/06 season, Manchester once again played spoilers to the team at the top, this time it was Chelsea. Both Arsenal and Manchester were fading in the shadows of Chelsea’s monetary constructed team. The summer of 2006 proved crucial for Manchester’s fate. After Ronaldo’s wink at Rooney’s dismal in the World Cup, it looked like that Ronaldo would never play at Manchester or in England again. But Ferguson ensured that didn’t happen and the following season, Ronaldo lifted Manchester to another league title. Although, Arsenal did their best that season to give their rivals something to think about by winning both their league fixtures. In the first game between the two at Old Trafford, Adebayor scored the crucial goal to give Arsenal their first of the season as the Gunners started the campaign winless in 3 games. On the other hand, Manchester had opened the season up with 4 straight league wins only to be stopped by Arsenal. In January 2007, Arsenal once again defeated Man Utd in dramatic fashion when Eboue crossed (no this is not a typo) for Henry to head home the winner. The game was the last time that Henry would play against Manchester in an Arsenal shirt and as it stands, it was the last time that Arsenal won a game against them.


    No Adebayor or Van Persie present for Saturday while Rooney is well rested for Manchester and they are at full attacking strength with Tevez, Ronaldo, Berbatov and Nani. One would consider that this was a chance for Bendtner and Vela to show what they can do but Arsene might leave Bendtner up front on his own. The tactic has the danger of leaving Bendtner completely isolated and not giving Manchester’s defense any worries. In that case, Nasri might be the only real game breaker as Cesc would be too bogged down by doing everything on his own. There are no real leaders in the team and even though he is only 21, Cesc is still the only player in who can vocally lift the team. So it is crucial for Arsenal to start off positively. If there was a game when Arsenal needed the full support of the home crowd, this would be it.

    Saying this is a massive test is an understatement. The devil himself is personally coming to London to conduct this young Arsenal squad’s baptism with fire.

    Wednesday, November 05, 2008

    The Old Lady continues to get younger...

    A few weeks ago Juventus, the Old Lady of Italian Football, were written off both domestically and in Europe. After all, they had started off poorly in Serie A and only managed a 1-0 home win over Zenit St. Petersburg and a 2-2 draw with Bate in Belarus from their opening two Champions League games. But all that changed when Juventus met Real Madrid in Turin on Oct 21. Del Piero got them off to a perfect start by curling a beautiful goal to lead Juventus to a 2-1 win over a dull Madrid side. Then this past weekend, Juventus added to Roma's misery by registering a 2-0 win, featuring an amazing free kick from Del Piero. And on Wednesday, Nov 5, Del Piero scored two stellar goals to continue Juventus' revival. Despite being 100 years old (ok he will be 34 next week), it is amazing to see Del Piero carry on playing with such intelligence at the highest level. His first goal in Madrid was similar to Messi's goal for Barcelona (in their disappointing 1-1 home draw with Basel) as he perfectly placed the ball into the far corner. Del Piero's second goal was identical to the free kick he scored against Roma but with one big difference -- Madrid's defensive wall was quite poorly placed and Del Piero could have passed the ball into the net but he still perfectly lifted the ball over the wall and dipped it into the corner. Perfection really! And he narrowly missed getting a hat-trick. Seems the Old Lady is not done singing yet.

    There were plenty of other interesting games on Tuesday and Wednesday. Despite having a talented squad, Roma are struggling domestically as they sit near the bottom of the league in Serie A with just 2 wins from their opening 9 games. But they managed to redeem themselves by beating Chelsea 3-1 in Rome to keep their European campaign alive.

    Barcelona are scoring goals for fun again and returned to the top of La Liga on the weekend and are putting together some eye pleasing passes. But on Tuesday, they were a bit too easy going against Basel and were left to rue their missed chances as the Swiss side scored a late goal to peg Barca to a 1-1 tie. Still, the single point was enough to take Barcelona through to the next round.

    Bayern Munich have managed to get both their league season and Champs League back on track and faced a very intriguing fixture away to Florence. This fixture was Fiorentina’s last chance to stay alive in the group stages and it looked like they might have gotten the win they needed after they led through Mutu's 11th minute goal but Bayern tied the game up in the 78th minute to leave Fiorentina with just 3 points from 4 games and almost out of the Champions League.

    Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan team continue to struggle in Europe and were fortunate to leave Cyprus with a 3-3 draw against Anorthosis. Inter lead their group with 8 points, 3 ahead of their Cypriot opponents, and should make the next round, but it is interesting to see if Jose will stick around if things continue to not go as per plan.

    Arsenal missed a great chance to get closer to qualifying for the round of 16 after they were held to a 0-0 draw at home by Fenerbahce. Now the Gunners need to beat Dynamo Kiev at home in two weeks to progress but Kiev will be looking for a win themselves as well because of their last minute home defeat to Porto. The surprize win by Porto moves them to second place in the group with 6 points with Arsenal leading the group with 8 points. Kiev have 5 points and Fenerbahce are hanging by a thread with 2 points.

    A note must be made about AC Milan. Considering how many on-field problems the team has, they managed to go top of Serie A on the weekend, one point ahead of Udinese and their neighbours led by the normal one. Milan are in action in the UEFA Cup on Thu against Braga.

    Monday, November 03, 2008

    A Bihari revenge tale goes full cirle

    Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are two Indian states where politics is brewed with more passion than one could find in most major Indian cities. In the last few years, a few Indian film-makers such as Prakash Jha & Tigmanshu Dhulia have tackled these states cinematically. Jha, who was born in Bihar and understands his home state and even neighbouring Uttar Pradesh better than most, gave us two worthy films in the form of Gangaajal, which was about rogue cops, and Apaharan, which depicted the issue of political kidnappings. Tigmanshu Dhulia's well crafted Haasil showed how political scheming can start as early as college in Uttar Pradesh before morphing into full blown corruption and violence.

    Kabeer Kaushik can add his name to the list of directors who understand Bihar and Uttar Pradesh as he set his first film Sehar in the political labyrinth of Uttar Pradesh and moves to Bihar with Chamku. The battle ground in the absorbing Sehar was between corrupt politicians along with their criminal arms vs honest cops. The film's key success was setting the story in the early 1990's just as cell phones were starting to make their way across India. Baffled by the inability to tap cell phones, the local police in the film are at a loss on how to handle the new wave of criminal activities conduced by aerial waves. Sehar shows how the local police are trained on cell phone operations via a professor and how they are able to use this new knowledge to catch criminals. Even though the film was released in 2005, the film's story about the importance of cell phones in conducting criminal activities precedes Ram Gopal Varma's underworld films such as Company (released in 2002) which depicts criminals being comfortable enough to sit in far off locations such as Kenya and ordering their henchmen to do the leg work in Mumbai via cell phones. In fact, both Sehar and Company compliment each other regarding cell phones. Company only shows the criminals on one side of the phone while Sehar shows the cops listening in on the other side.

    Chamku is an old fashioned revenge story which starts and ends with a barrel of a gun.

    What makes the film so interesting is that the Bihari revenge element is kept on the fringes and instead the core of the story involves the murky Mumbai surroundings of modern day political assassinations. Criminal activities in modern Indian cities often have roots in the fringe states. This is something that John Matthew Matthan understood very well and highlighted in his brilliant debut film, Sarfarosh, which showed how the porous desert border between India and Pakistan could be used to smuggle weapons which then were used to inflict damage all across the country. In Chamku the danger comes from the border between Uttar Pradesh and Nepal where bomb making materials enter the country and make their way to Mumbai. These border transactions are made easier because of corrupt local politicians in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar that profit from such deals.

    Chamku starts out with a battle between Naxalites and the local police forces. After the police are able to eliminate their opponents, a lone survivor Chamku (played by Bobby Deol) remains. Because of his sharp shooting skills and ability to survive, he is given a new lease of life when he is recruited by a special branch of Mumbai police to carry out killings of corrupt politicians. These covert operations take place in broad daylight amid the turf wars taking place around the city. There are plenty of characters who look out for Chamku but are tragically killed. Each time that Chamku survives, he puts it down to pure luck. But it more than just sheer luck. One can even say that it is his destiny that he will get a chance to ensure his life's story goes full circle and he is able to avenge his father's murder. Interestingly, the film's opening voice over narration points towards such a cyclic nature of ‘beginning’ and ‘end’.

    The Good...
    Bobby Deol is perfectly cast for this role as his stern expressions are more than enough to convey his character's feelings. There are some worthy cameos in the film (Danny Denzongpa, Ritesh Deshmukh & Rajpal Yadav) and all their characters are given relevant and interesting parts. Irfan Khan is good as usual in playing Chamku's boss.

    The parallel sequences and even some of the symmetry shown in the film is a delight to watch. Examples: the gun barrel scenes and the two encounter sequences. The hunter from the first gun barrel scene becomes the prey in the finale and the prey from the first shot is firmly in power by the film's end. There are two encounter sequences in the film and in both cases, Chamku survives, the first time due to his ability to outrun the bullets and in the second case, due to some political smooth talking. The two different sequences show that encounter killing is used by police both in Bihar and even in Mumbai with both killing locations being eerily similar in their settings.

    The opening sequence is quite beautifully shot. Picture perfect really! The film starts off with Chamku tied up as a prisoner in the train.

    He looks towards a woman sitting across from him. Beautiful and innocent looking.

    The woman turns away from Chamku and looks outside the train window. The camera then focuses on her and in her eyes one can sense nervousness and even a tinge of anticipation. It was then that I was certain that she was on a mission and was not an innocent passenger. Sure enough, that turned out to be the case. But all this was apparent because of the camera's movements and focus on the character's expressions.

    The not so good...

    The songs in the film are not needed and do not add anything to the story. The time wasted on songs could have been better served by more relevant scenes of the principle characters.  The film could have done with a better title as Chamku indicates a person's nickname and incorrectly presents a soft image of such a powerful film.  And finally, Priyanka Chopra is surprisingly miscast as Chamku's love interest.

    Rating: 8.5/10
    Overall, quite impressed with this film.

    Chamku forms a cinematic bond with two other 2008 films in Mumbai Meri Jaan & A Wednesday. In Chamku before the Mumbai bomb blasts are shown, the melodious song by Mohammed Rafi & Geeta Dutt comes on.

    Aye dil hai mushkil jeena yahan
    Zara hat ke zara bach ke, yeh hai Bombay meri jaan

    Mumbai Meri Jaan ends with this song and dealt with how the characters reacted with their loss. A Wednesday shows how one character decides to take his revenge regarding the bombings. Neither of these two films gives a true face to the criminals involved in the bombings but Chamku gives us some clues to their identities.

    Sunday, November 02, 2008

    Portraying a soccer fan's fantasy

    Carlsberg has come up with a funny commercial which plays to a soccer fan's fantasy by depicting a flashy apartment complete with a woman chef in training, another woman who loves footie and a room with a view.