Sunday, June 20, 2010

Raavan – Mani Ratnam’s Ramayana

    This was one movie I had to write a review on. Mani Ratnam’s modern day rendition of Ramayana has very little in common to the original epic we are used to hearing but the basic premise remains the same- love, bravery and later betrayal.

Major story line spoilers ahead. I guess this would have been Mani Ratnam’s rough draft of the movie:

    Ram is posted as a police officer in Lalgarh and comes there with Sita. Lalgarh is a strong hold of Raavan, a Robin Hood type character with a tinge of Naxal tendencies. Laxman and his group of motley police officers gang-rape Surpanika, Raavan’s feisty sister who later as commits suicide as per the requirements of the script to stoke Raavan’s evil side. Raavan promptly kidnaps Sita with an intention to kill her, but desists due to a strange fascination with her. An incensed Rama meanwhile teams up with Hanuman and scours the forests for his beloved wife.
    Raavan’s adoration of Sita grows on by ever growing day and he asks her if she would stay with him in the forest. Hanuman meanwhile finds Sita but ends up getting caught. He warns Raavan to surrender Sita and spare all his people a gory death. Not wanting to end up dead, a few others convince the rebel leader to send his brother, Vibeeshan to talks along with Hanuman. Rama now shows himself to be a sneaky character and dispatches Vibeeshan with finesse and a 22 mm revolver.
    With all options of peace dead and buried, a climatic end ensues with Raavan and Ram poised precariously on a burning suspension bridge. Sita begs Raavan to spare Ram’s life and in return promises to stay with forever. Touché! Raavan obliges, but Sita returns to her beloved husband who wants her to take a polygraph test to prove herself. Sita heads back to find Raavan, but her husband tails her and puts an end to the dreaded bandit.

    Add in a few human emotions, songs, exotic locations and you have got yourself an authentic Bollywood script in three paragraphs! BTW I hope Mani notices this blog and invites me to co-author his next movie script. I am sure I could add a few twists here and there.

    Abhishek Bachchan seemed ill at ease playing Beera and his portrayal of the rebel was less than convincing. For folks down in the south like me who happen to grow up with tales of rebels like Veerapan and his murderous deeds, the portrayal seemed to lack the anger and attitude required. I wish there had been a fast-forward option to skip his dance sequences where he seemed totally ill-at-ease. Ragini is not a role that a lot of current Bollywood actresses could have done justice to, and I would say Aishwarya has done a decent job. The eyes are meant to emote fear, but Aishwarya tries to do that by breathing hard! Vikram seemed to fit right into the role of police officer who is ready to do anything to get his wife back and then ask her to take a polygraph test once she is back. Only problem he seemed to have was acting in Hindi.

    What shines in the movie is Mani Ratnam’s unique storytelling. This is not the run-of-the-mill Karan Johar movie where all the dots are connected. You are left to make some basic assumptions on why certain things are happening the way they are. Rehman’s scores in the movie seem nowhere near his best. The camera work is great and the landscape where the movie was shot is breadth-taking. Overall I think I liked the movie. Shoot me now...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

North India Trip – Chandigarh and Delhi

    We had journeyed into the biting cold of rotang and gone until Darcha on our little adventure. Here is what happened earlier on our quest to reach Leh.

    Here is what happened on our way back. While returning from Darcha, we were better equipped to stop and enjoy the snow at Rotang. Spent some time there and headed back to the wretched road to reach Manali in around 3 hours. Guruji, our beloved host, suggested that we bathe at the Vasisth temple hot water spring and we had a gala time obliging him. Felt hungry right after the bath and had a great dinner in a hotel in front of the temple.

Himalayas for you

    We woke up early the next day and headed to manikaran, a hot water spring around 80 kms from Manali. The hot water spring here is hot enough to cook food for lots of people coming to the gurudwara where it is located. The few brave souls who entered the water didn’t linger as the acidic water causes a burning sensation and make you feel giddy if you stay there for a long time. We had a light breakfast at Manikaran and later stopped over for tea at Kasol on our way to Chandigarh. Kasol is infamously known as the local drug den and we could see a few people smoking joints here and there.
   On our way down, we hit a major traffic jam and could only go until Bilaspur before light faded. Stopped around 10 kms before Bilaspur city for tea where the dhaba owner came forward with local information regarding that place. I would like to thank all the very helpful people in Himachal Pradesh who generally come forward for help if they realize that you might need it. We stayed at the Bilaspur local fisheries guest house. The respect and salaams make you wish you worked for the government; almost.

Leaving Himachal Pradesh

    We left for Chandigarh early after thanking the officer in charge of the fisheries. We had to travel until Delhi that day. Until then, I knew Srini to be a rider who didn’t take a lot of risks. But seeing him step on the gas trying to reach Delhi before sunset, I realized he could step it up if the situation demanded.
    Chandigarh is a model city where there is no need to ask for directions. There is a board at every junction indicating which part of the city you are in and explaining all routes and directions. The heat did dampen our enthusiasm, but I found that the rock garden in Chandigarh to convey the message that ‘art doesn’t need brushes and canvas or soapstone, even broken household stuff would do’. The master pieces that Nek Chand created in a shack are now the cynosure of the entire city. Reached Delhi at around 9 p.m. and settled into our friend’s place for the night.

At Rock Garden, Chandigarh

    We started off the day with a visit to Qutb Minar, the earliest and most prominent example of Indo-Islamic architecture. The 72.5m long tower is the world's tallest brick minaret and was completed in 1386 by Firuz Shah Tughluq almost 200 years after work began. I would suggest the audio guide for any first timer there who is interested in the history of the place.

Cousin Srini at Qutb Minar

   Very close to the Qutb is the Alai Minar, an unfinished tower that if completed would have been twice as tall and broad as the Qutb Minar. Alauddin Khilji, the driving force behind the Alai Minar died before the first floor was completed and his successors did not deem it necessary to continue work on the tower.

Alai Minar,Qutb Minar in the background

   The nearby 7m tall Iron Pillar is one of the world's foremost metallurgical curiosities as it 98% pure wrought iron and a testament to the skill of the ancient Indian blacksmiths. It was built at the time of Chandragupta Vikramaditya and has withstood corrosion for more than 1500 years.

Iron Pillar

    We next visited India Gate, one of the largest war memorials in India. It commemorates the 90000 Indian soldiers who lost their lives in World War I fighting for the British Empire. Now it is just a place to hang out with friends and have ice-cream. We bought lots of litchis that served as our lunch. Srini wanted to take a picture with one of the jawans but was asked to ‘bugger off’. Entertaining.

    We later visited the Red fort and stayed for the Light and Sounds show which explains the history of the city from Shahjahan’s time to Nehru giving his speech of freedom from the ramparts of this fort. The show gets pretty boring with time and one advantage of having an SLR camera is that things never get boring. Srini used the time to catch up on lost sleep. Later visited Chandini Chowk for shopping and stopped by at Parantha street for dinner. Fabulous kulfis you get there.

Red Fort

    Our second day in Delhi and the weather had been great so far. I wanted to visit the Delhi Metro once to find out how the entire system worked. Srini flatly refused to accompany me and told me that he was prepared to wait until the Bangalore metro was up and running. One thing I noticed is that even though the infrastructure in Delhi is way better than most other Indian cities, there are way too many cars on the road. And that’s why the Delhi Metro is such a vital cog in the city’s infrastructure.
    One possible reason to seeing so many cars on the road here is that petrol is cheap here and CNG is cheaper. Enabling your car for CNG fuel ensures that taking your car out is almost as cheap as taking your bike out. And what would you prefer considering Delhi’s extreme climes – car or bike? This seems to have resulted in a strange fetish among Delhi people to own a car that is at least one level more than the neighbour. Strange! In comparison, Bangalore folks don’t care or don’t know who the neighbour is!
    We moved to Srini’s friend Sagar’s apartment for our last day in Delhi. We knew we were in safe hands when the first place he showed us in Delhi was Khan Market.  Torn between gazing at the amazing cars and the hep crowds; the cars proved just too irresistible. We later had authentic North Indian chat at Haldiram’s. We were all set to leave the next day, but by that point in time, I was totally in love with our capital city.

P.S: Thanks to the gods of Delhi for the great weather while we were there. You can now revert to the usual.

North India Trip - Himachal Pradesh and beyond

    Once Srini, my cousin and I decided go on a long bike trip in North India, we began the stretched out process of planning for it. We wanted to go as far as possible along the Delhi-Chandigarh-Manali-Leh road and back on Srini’s rusty dependable CBZ.

On the way to Rotang

Here is a sketch of how it went. You can skip this part unless you are planning a similar trip:

Day1 - Start from Bangalore to Delhi (2061 kms) by train.
Day2 - Boring train journey with bad food.
Day3 – Reached Delhi and unpacked the bike. Left for Chandigarh (250 kms) and visited Kurukshetra on the way.
Day4 - Leave for Manali from Chandigarh (350 kms). White water rafting and amazing ride.
Day5 –Leave for Rotang from Manali (50 kms) and stay at Khoskar (70 kms from Manali) for the night.
Day6- Going further into the wilderness. Visited Keylong (110 kms from Manali) and Darcha (145 kms from Khoskar) before returning to Manali.
Day7 – Hot water spring bath at Manikaran (80 kms from Manali) and stayed put at Bilaspur for the night. (Manikaran to Kullu-30 kms and Kullu to Bilaspur-154 kms).
Day8 – Back to Delhi. Visited Rock garden and rose garden in Chandigarh. (Bilaspur to Chandigarh-135 kms and Chandigarh to Delhi-250 kms)
Day9- Qutb Minar, Red fort and India Gate, Lotus temple and Chandini Chowk.
Day10- Travelled in the Delhi Metro. Visited Khan Market and dinner at Haldirams.
Day11- Shopping at Palika Bazaar. Got the bike packed into the train and set off to home in the evening.
Day12 – Another train journey.
Day13 – Reach Bangalore by 7 a.m. Back to usual grind.

We left Bangalore on 28th May at around 10 p.m on the Sampark Kranti express. Srini had already loaded his bike into the same train that morning for 2200 rupees.  After spending the next day planning, sleeping and eating uncooked railway food, the blistering north Indian heat welcomed us into Delhi. We were desperate to get out of the heat; got our bike back and pushed it to a nearby petrol bunk. The first thing that impressed me about our capital was the well connected roads and infrastructure. We hit the karnal road and left for Chandigarh immediately. Stopped at Rasoi dhaba a k.m into Haryana and got our first taste of simply exquisite authentic north Indian cuisine.

In front of a 3 km long tunnel before Kullu

After travelling in a car for more than two years, I took some time getting used to bike travel. We reached Chandigarh at around 7 p.m. Srini played the student card well and got a 50% discount at Plaza hotel.  One cardinal rule I would add for bike travellers in India is to pretend you are students; gets you the best rates everywhere.

River Beas in full flow
We left for Manali at around 8 a.m. You know you have entered Himachal Pradesh when the pleasant breeze of the mountains replaces the heat of the plains. They say that the journey is more important than the destination and we had a gala time on the way to Manali; be it rafting in the cold waters of Beas river and having chilled beer with the owner afterwards or travelling through a 3 k.m. long tunnel just before Kullu. Reached Manali at around 9.30 p.m. and settled into the cosy house of our host – Das Guruji.
Guruji is an 80 year old ayurvedic doctor who still zips around Manali in his Santro. His secret: Wake up on time, sleep on time, eat on time and eat nutritious food. In that case, any software engineer is destined to die early.  Guruji seemed glad to have visitors and chatted with us way into the night when all we wanted was sleep.
Normal work day in Manali

                We have a great sight awaiting us on waking up- snow clad peaks on the road to Leh, our final destination. Our plan to go to Leh hit a serious roadblock when we learnt that all roads to Rotang were closed every Tuesday for repairs. The policeman in charge ignored our pleas that we would not be able to read Keylong/Darcha before end of day. I spent time exploring the nearby hills and working on my photography skills with Srini as my guinea pig. Finally the policemen relented and let us go ahead at around 4 p.m.
    The road to Rotang, which is at an altitude of 15000m, was bad with plenty of places where you could puncture the bikes if you drive carelessly. It took us two long hours to reach Rotang and we were too cold and tired to even touch the ice, let alone play with it. Exactly not how I imagined my first visit to an ice clad peak.  Those images of people playing in ice faded as we had a tough decision to make- whether to go ahead towards Keylong in the fading light or restart our journey from Manali the next day.

Me at Rotang pass with furry rabbit

Rotang pass

    We decided to head forward after some discussion. Around a k.m. into the drive, the roads were replaced by one foot streams caused due to the melting ice and light started fading fast. Srini started vacillating that we should have gone to Simla and the relatively easier Spiti in Kaza valley; I wanted us to go forward in spite of these difficulties as this was to be our adventure to script. It was at these times that both of us pushed each other to our physical limits and I was thankful to have somebody I trusted. We headed forward to Khoskar around 20 kms from Rotang.
    A few more kms into this treacherous ride, a few people warned us about a muddy stretch where their 4 wheel drive had almost got stuck. Once we heard this, Srini rode very carefully expecting any slush of water to be quicksand. And our bike almost got stuck at the exact same location they had warned us about. Fortunately the CBZ came through under these exacting conditions and we went forward to the welcoming village of Khoskar for the night. Never were we so glad to see a dhaba or a village or have a cuppa. The untidy little room were rented there probably costs a lot less than what we paid, but we would have paid a lot more for that at that point in time. We were now officially in the midst of an adventure.

On the way to Keylong

    We woke up in the morning to find that Khoskar was a beautiful little village surrounded by snow clad mountains on all four sides. Took some great pics. We met a Delhi Constable who had come to Khoskar through the Kaza valley all the way from Simla. He advised us to go to the famous Chandrataal lake on that road. He warned us that he had to get the help of a crane to extricate his new alto car from 4 feet deep pit of water where it had got stuck. Both Srini and I made a mental note to avoid that route all together and headed Darcha.
    We filled up petrol in Tandi, around 5 kms before Keylong. Ideally for a Leh trip, this would have been the last location to fill up the tank. Darcha is around 35 kms from Keylong. Throughout the way to Darcha, we came across breathtaking valleys and mountains and stopped at regular intervals to take pictures.

The beautiful little town of Keylong

   Written on a board in the treacherous way to Leh – “If you are married, divorce speed”. Not that you can ever find smooth roads to accelerate there! Our Himalayan adventure ended at Darcha but both of us looked back at the mountains one last time promising ourselves that we would one day return to complete the journey to Leh.

Liked my blog on the first part you the trip?? Here's what happened next- North India Trip Continues