Thursday, January 30, 2014

Old Wine New Bottle

History was made last weekend at the Australian Open Men’s final. Stanislas Wawrinka, still somewhat obscure in the big league despite being ranked among the top ten players in the world, got his name inked on a Grand Slam trophy. And he beat Rafael Nadal to do so, an opponent against whom he had never won a set in their previous 12 encounters. Not to mention his demolition of Djoker in the semi-finals.

But as significant as this achievement was, to me, the bigger accomplishment was that he is now the top-ranked Swiss player, pushing Federer to the second spot.

Yes, read that again. Roger Federer, the nice guy, the classy guy both on and off the court, the guy who epitomized everything Swiss, is no longer the Swiss No.1! Never thought I would live to see such a day.

I think I have ranted about the nice guys in sports enough number of times: be it Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Steven Gerrard, Didier Drogba and of course Federer. So this post is NOT about nice guys, but about their gradual withdrawal from sports as a new generation of power hungry, aggressive and competitive young players take over. So while you simply relish the energy of Eugene Bouchard, Corey Anderson or Julian Draxler, you still miss the legacy of the old horses who became your role models while you were growing up.

But then there are these rare breed of late bloomers who are just tasting success despite being in the circuit for ages. So while you admire the grit and determination of a Li Na, who at 31, just won her second Grand Slam and her first Australian Open or cricketers like George Bailey, David Hussey, James Tredwell or Saeed Ajmal, all of whom burst into the scene much later their contemporaries, you also question their long-term survival in the game. As you see the likes of Venus Williams and Roger Federer gradually fade away in their twilight years after an illustrious career, Li Na or Wawrinka are just getting started. They may not be as graceful or as exciting to watch, but the very fact that they constantly gnaw away, patiently waiting for their chance, never giving up, is inspiration enough.

Youth, dynamism, raw talent: these are synonymous with any sports, but may be, just may be, it’s time to look beyond charisma and stand up for the good old warhorses.

Not because they are old, but because they remind us that the glory of the past is not behind us; just yet…

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ode to Engineers

There was a time I aspired to be an engineer: I mean being a middle class Bengali girl in Kolkata with professional parents, that was all you could aspire for. This was also the time when I religiously followed cricket, listened to Britney Spears and wrote testimonials on Orkut.

Or as history would call it, the dark ages…

Now, to set the record straight, let me begin by saying that I simply adore engineers. I really do. I think they are the best thing that happened to mankind after beer. Ok, beer AND Leonardo DiCaprio. My kid brother is a nerdy programmer and no, I still haven’t disowned him. Even in B school, almost 80% of my batchmates were engineers and most of my closest friends still are. Of course, given that I work in an Investment Bank, where engineers are everywhere (like AAP party members), I thought I would begin with a tribute to this much maligned, misunderstood species who are really just uglier versions of Sandra Bullock lost in space in Gravity.

If you are a diehard Big Bang Theory fan as I am, you know what I am talking about. As brilliant as they are, these guys (and it’s mostly guys) simply can’t get their act together when it comes to a social event, lighting up the dance floor at a party or simply making conversation with a woman which doesn’t begin with, “So which is your favourite Star Wars/Star Trek character?” For the last time, we DO NOT care about superheroes, and NO, The Dark Knight is NOT our favourite movie. And no, we DO NOT find it fascinating to discuss the Modulus of Elasticity or G-Type Joist Girder as tea-time conversation. Similarly, it’s NOT cool to turn up everywhere dressed like Arvind Kejriwal nor is it acceptable to introduce yourself as , “Hi, myself Lovely Singh, IIT-Bombay 2011”. But yes, we do secretly adore you as much as we hate to admit it.

We love the way you fix things (laptops/HDDs/mp3s) AND how grateful you are for being given the opportunity to do so…

We love the way you save us from tears when we are struggling with last-minute assignments which involve Excel VBA, SQL, C++ and other acronyms we have no clue about…

We love the way you dig out the most appropriate movies/songs/series for our every mood even though we are so ungrateful…

We love the way you make us hot chocolate when we are upset even though it’s your birthday and we have no idea about it…

We love the way you crack the silliest coding jokes AND proceed to explain them even though we maintain a straight face every time…

We love the way you passionately go on for hours about the latest tablet /computers /iPhone /gadgets when we are really trying to figure out how to make a call from the godforsaken cellphone…

We love the way you drop us home or pick us up on a cold winter night after we are too tired from partying on a Saturday night while you were home worrying about us…

We love the way you patiently drive us around from one mall to another during the sale season, wait outside the changing room and patiently hold our handbag while we assume temporary insanity over clothes and shoes and yet ask for nothing in return…

We love the way you offer a shoulder to cry on after we screw up each time, every time…

We love the way you stay up the entire night to help a friend who needs you…

We love the way you surprise us with your acts of kindness even when we take you for granted…

But most of all, we love the way you stand up for us even when we don’t deserve it…

So, to all the engineers in my life: no matter how much we make fun of you, how much we slander you for your lack of social skills or how much we crib about your annoying habits, life wouldn’t be same without you guys!

To all the closet Sheldons out there, once upon a time, I wanted to be you, but you do a much better job!

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

From Alfred Hitchcock to Steven Spielberg to James Cameron to Clint Eastwood to Woody Allen, Hollywood has been blessed with the most talented directors, but if I had to pick just one guy who stands out, it has to be Martin Scorsese: here is one man who just churns out the most awesome movies year after year after year. If Raging Bull became a rage in the 1980s and Goodfellas took the 90s by storm, the last decade has been nothing short of phenomenal as Scorsese outdid himself with each movie. Every time he dishes out something which leaves you spellbound and you gasp, “this has GOT to be his best work”, the very next year, he comes up with something even more amazing, even more breathtaking and even more awe-inspiring.

Why? You ask yourself, and the answer has to be Leonardo DiCaprio! Every director needs his muse, and I can’t imagine a better actor-director combination than this one. From Gangs of New York to Aviator to The Departed to Shutter Island, the duo has conquered the imagination of millions of movie buffs worldwide, while garnering critical acclaim at the same time.

The latest in the offering is The Wolf of the Wall Street, and trust me when I say that it kept me riveted at every frame. At almost three hours, it was as long as your average Suraj Barjatya family drama, but not for one moment did I feel that the pace was slacking or the editing could have been better or a particular scene was not required. If anything, I cursed the prudish Censor boards for snipping off six minutes of the movie in order to ‘placate Indian sensibilities’. Anyway it’s an R-rated movie, anyway it’s meant for an adults-only audience and anyway it’s not exactly prime time family viewing material: then who are you exactly protecting by those unjustified cuts? Your inner moral police?

Having said that, I don’t think those additional six minutes would have made much difference to my opinion about the movie. I loved every bit of it: the sharp dialogues, the over-the-top sales pitches, the debauchery that comes with obscene amounts of money, the excessive substance abuse, the scandalous lifestyle, not to mention the single-minded focus on greed.

But most of all, I loved Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort. It’s never easy to portray a real-life character, especially if he is very much alive. Some of my favourite movies are biopics and in each case, the lead actor simply rises to the challenge: think Morgan Freeman (Invictus), Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Brad Pitt (Moneyball), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Sean Penn (Milk), Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness and Ali), Adrian Brody (The Pianist) or Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind). DiCaprio himself has done it so many times before in Aviator, Catch Me If You Can, J. Edgar, The Basketball Diaries, Total Eclipse and This Boy’s Life, but in this movie, he IS the Wolf of the Wall Street.

For someone who works in an investment bank and is fairly close to the world of unscrupulous bankers, the movie is hardly an eye-opener, rather a confirmation of the widely-known but less acknowledged malpractices. But without getting into a moral argument, without being judgemental and without going in the rights and wrongs of the game, I look at it from the purely entertainment point of view, and as far as entertainers go, this one is right up there.

Wall Street is indeed packed with wolves, but none more exciting, more charismatic and more captivating than this one

Friday, January 3, 2014

The African Fantasy

Did you have a happy new year?
Did you dress up, drink and party till the next morning?
Did you look back at 2013, set your FB page on review and write long, meandering and incoherent status updates?
Did you make unrealistic resolutions, only to break them in the first week itself?
Did you send season’s greetings texts to random people you barely know?

If you did, then tell me all about it till I kill you slowly and painfully by making you watch Dhoom 3. I have somehow never enjoyed “celebrating” a new year especially in Bombay, especially with all the crowd and noise and mostly because I have never found anything to really “celebrate”. For me, it doesn’t change really change anything drastically and life goes on just as it did the previous year. So no, I don’t have much to look forward to in 2014, except may be some specific goals, i.e. vote a new government to power (if only I knew which one), watch a few live matches of the soccer WC in Spain (preferably one in which Spain is playing) since Brazil is no longer an option and of course, find the dream job now that I am on the verge of completing five years in the same industry following my MBA. These are more fantasies than actual concrete goals, and like all fantasies, they are more attuned to the imagination than the reality.

And speaking of fantasies, I ended the year by watching Chander Pahar (Mountain of the Moon), the most expensive Bengali movie ever made, based on the fantasy fiction of the same name by Bibhutibhusan Bandopadhay. Exclusively shot in Rhodesia, it’s a visual delight and a traveler’s multiple orgasm. For someone who has always wanted to visit Africa, this was my three-hour journey through the continent in all its glory: the Victoria Falls, the Kalahari Desert and of course the African safari. While the movie itself was long and tedious, it just sparked my fascination with Africa even more.

If I ever had a fantasy, Africa is definitely one