Vantage point

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Adios Shiok!

Madhu Menon's restaurant Shiok (Bangalore) is closing down on March 31st. I went there only once, at its old location in 2004, and was totally floored by the quality of the food, the service, the cocktails, and the painstakingly composed bar. Madhu's personal hospitality, and the company of some other "cartelians" made it all even better. Lovely memories that I will cherish forever. As many of you might know, Madhu quit a lucrative IT job to start the restaurant. And he did it, not with the help of some business partners or investors, but pretty much on his own. Not the easiest thing to do. And his personal touch, attention to detail, and commitment to excellence shone through in the layout and design, the menu, the service, and of course, the delicious and authentic East Asian food. Madhu's personal instructions to the chef to customize the food to our individual liking, and then mixing together some heavenly cocktails (I haven't had a better Illusion since, in 4 years in the US) made it a night I will never forget.

That was the last time I visited Bangalore. So although I met Madhu later a few times in Bombay, that was and will remain my only visit to Shiok. I wish I had been able to go there more often and had more memories. I wish I could have gone to the new location, and lounged at Moss as well. But alas, it's too late.

But it isn't too late for you, dear reader, if you live in Bangalore. You have ten days in which to visit Shiok, and try as much of the delectable menu (vegetarian menu here) as you can. The best is his signature dish, the drunken beef, which you people in Karnataka should have lots of, what with the beef ban and all. Also memorably yummy - fragrant prawns, green curry, and the hot n sour rice noodles. The drinks are at a discount, so try as much of his cocktail menu as you can too.

And I will *sigh* go to the barely passable sole Thai restaurant in my tiny town, have their inferior food, and raise a toast to the exciting 6 year-long ride Madhu had with Shiok, and the countless memories he helped so many people create.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Is the Island even an Island?

This is a LOST post. Being written after watching S6E08. So spoilers abound. If you like LOST, but haven't caught up yet, do a well-left. If you don't like LOST, do a well-left too. :)

Something has been bothering me since the first few minutes of the first episode of season 6. When they showed the parallel univers/otherverse/flash-sideways, whatever you call it. Where Oceanic 815 doesn't crash. After the turbulence in the plane, the shot goes out of the plane's window, down through the clouds, into the water, and way at the bottom of the ocean bed, where we see the island completely submerged. With the Dharma barracks, the four toed statue foot, and everything, and even a shark swimming around with a Dharma logo on it.

And when I heard Richard Alpert say in a short preview of next week's episode, something like, "let me tell you a secret, all this that you see, isn't what you think it is or what it seems."

So that got me thinking.

How exactly does an "island" go underwater? And not just underwater, but at the bottom of the ocean bed? How can that happen? A massive type of plate tectonic activity maybe. But it has to be REALLY massive, and impact the world in other ways too.

Also, remember that in season 5, Eloise said the island always keeps moving, which is why it is so difficult to find. Unless the LOST creators are totally throwing geology out of the window, how can an actual island keep moving? If it moves, it clearly is not attached to the earth's landmass, but floating on water. I am no geologist, but I am sure all islands are attached to the bottom of the sea bed, or rise up from there, like big mountains. That is, if you swim under the water surrounding the island and keep going down, you will see a wall of sorts all the way down. You won't be able to swim "under" an actual island. There are floating islands, but they are usually manmade and tiny.

Which means, the LOST island isn't exactly an "island" at all! It is something that floats. Maybe it is some sort of a ship or a craft, or something. And the donkey wheel that Ben moved, is what steers it. Why is this island-craft there? What is its purpose? What sank it in the otherverse? We'll find that out soon, I suppose.

But for now, I am locke-ing it in. The island is actually a floating craft.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Shutter Island Review

*SPOILER ALERT: Although I don't give away any explicit spoilers, any intelligent person who reads this review first, will easily figure out what is happening. Not that you even need to read this review for that, IMO. Anyway, alert ends*

This movie, had it been made say 15 years ago, before Memento or Fight Club or even the absolutely kitschy Identity, would probably have been hailed as a memorable one worthy of the all-time top 50. But in 2010, with so many other movies foreshadowing what is happening, it fails to thrill to the extent that Scorsese probably intended.

To make matters worse, all the promos of the movie on TV keep telling audiences they will be blown away by the twist in the movie. Once you even know there is a twist, it is blindingly obvious what it is going to be. And as Bharath noted, Scorsese does the movie no favors by repeatedly dropping some hints that if you were a) clueless, help you to correctly figure out the twist, or b) suspicious, confirm what you had been suspected since the first 20 minutes of the film.

Having said that, it is still a pretty good movie, and worth watching once. Especially worth watching on the big screen, for the creepy and mindbuggering audio-visual layout. Robert Richardson, the studly cinematographer behind such gems as Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds, has outdone himself in creating a haunting, ultra-dominant and inescapable atmosphere of the island that completely pulls you in. Even after figuring out what is going to happen, you stay engrossed chiefly because of the cinematography.

And of course, the performances, all brilliant. Dicaprio is the most unrewarded, if not underrated actor of our times. In terms of acting, he hits it out of the park, but Scorsese forcing him to tip his hand plot-wise takes the sheen off it. Ben Kingsley is an imposing presence, and perfectly manages to portray the amalgam of ruthless efficiency and genuine compassion that his character is all about. But the best of the lot for me was Mark Ruffalo, another under-rated actor I have been a fan of since he, IMHO overshadowed Downy in Zodiac. Ruffalo's character is also possibly the best written in the movie, and he is the only one who in the end manages to sail through the pledge, the turn and the prestige.

The who the what and the huh?

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige"."

- Cutter (Michael Caine) in Christopher Nolan's The Prestige

One of my favorite movie lines of all time. With such universal applicability. So I am going to use them here. Movies like Shutter Island are elaborate magic tricks. Where it falls short is, that even before the Pledge and especially after the Turn, it actually goads you to look for the secret. You don't really want to know, but it refuses to let you delude yourself. And after you figure it out, it mostly fails on the Prestige. Except for Ruffalo's character.

Scorsese should still be commended for wandering into such unfamiliar territory, so late in his career, and coming out relatively unscathed. And he does show his genius in the end. When, even after the big and by-now anti-climatic revelation, he leaves you wondering. With Dicaprio's final line that goes...


"Which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man?" Leaves you wondering, is he more like Lenny from Memento, willfully wrapping himself in a purposeful delusion? Or is he like whatzizname from Identity, someone who can't help it?

I say it's the former. And that's what makes you leave the theater on a satisfied note. If only the skill shown with that last line had been applied throughout the movie. And, well, more importantly, is only the movie had been made 15 years ago. Because no matter how much better Scorsese had made it, in 2010, really, most sentient beings should be able to figure out the twist half an hour into the movie.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Another Symbolic But Symptomatic Obama Wuss-Out

Obama has either backtracked on, or backburner-ed, or compromised on, almost every bold position he held during the campaign. Public option, closing Gitmo, Dont Ask Dont Tell, Wall Street Regulations, Ending No-Bid Contracts...... the list goes on and on.

And every time the list grows, a simple fact is underline - Obama does not hold any core principle or belief so passionately that he would not compromise on it, or let it go. Hate Bush and Cheney as much as you want, but you've gotta admit, they stuck to their principles. Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, on opposite sides of the aisle, may never have a serious chance of running the country, but they stand for principles they believe in. If Obama had been even half as steadfast as Bush, he would have achieved a lot. But he's been a complete pansy.

Anyway, the latest wuss-out. Symbolic and with very little impact on American lives, but symptomatic of his principles-optional administration.

First read, from his campaign website, Barack Obama on the Importance of US-Armenia Relations

Now read, Obama against Armenian 'genocide' bill or Obama Administration ‘Strongly Opposes’ Genocide Resolution, Will Work to Prevent Its Passage

Another campaign promise bites the dust. Another so-called principle cast aside.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Du kya ek repTa?

I was born in Indore but never lived there for more than a couple of vacation weeks every year. However, I did spend almost every summer and diwali vacation there until I went to college. So I have always had a curious and amused outsider's perspective on the city and its people. Indori folks accents, mannerisms, their way of (barely) doing business, and their immense self-confidence.

So I was delighted when Mohit forwarded me youtube bits on Indore by this guy Rajiv Nema. Each of them is incisive and hilarious.

The one I enjoyed the most was this, about shopping in Indore. As a kid, I would often get dragged by my mom as she and her sisters went on day long shopping expeditions in cloth market, sarafa bazar, MG Road, and all these places which scarred me for life. Even when I am picking up groceries in Walmart, I worry that some Indori employee will jump out of the jeans aisle and say "Dyekh to lo beeya, dyekhne ka koi pesa nee." Anyway, this bit perfectly captures the sort of conversations that Indori garment shopkeepers have with the ladies who shop there -

I also spent many childhood vacation hours with my parents looking for the address of whichever one of my fifty seven million relatives in Indore we were going to visit. This bit seems eerily similar to most of our attempts to ask people for directions. Where, more than telling you were to go, the people seem interested in talking about some direct or indirect connection with the person you are visiting.