Saturday, February 28

Repair and reuse

It is funny how people getting their shoes repaired can be news. I am listening to NPR and a story that people in the US are getting their shoes, luggage, clothes repaired and reusing them due to economic slowdown is amusing to say the least. Of course it says not everyone is being frugal and people are still buying new shoes, with one girl preferring to replace than repair.

When I first came to this country I was amazed at how repair shops are rare and expensive. Back home you just walked over to your corner shoe/purse/luggage repairwala and your shoes could be as good as new in a couple of bucks. I remember my brother getting his school shoes repaired at least twice a month. Or getting those school mandated leather shoes polished from the chappalwala at the start of every new year so they looked brand new. The hundreds of times my dad repaired purse zippers for mom.

In its own weird way the story made me feel at home, very nostalgic and a kid once again.

Saturday, February 21


The Oscars night is almost here, Obama is the new President and a lot is being written about the Pink Chaddi campaign. Three unrelated events that remind me of Milk, one of my favorites for the Oscars this year along with Frost/Nixon.

Reading this piece brought back the conversation I had with my husband as we left Milk. Both of us wondered about the gay situation in India. About how we were clueless of any discussion of the issue beyond the frivolous depictions in Karan Johar movies. How many of them were forced into an arranged marriage? Who has it easier in India, a gay man or a woman? The protests against Fire, and the subtle depiction of lesbians in Jabbar Patel's Umbaratha. Did we know of any LGBT groups in college? Did we know at least one gay Indian personally?

Coming back to the movie, I think Milk is a beautifully made film. It portrays the gay rights movement in the United States through the life of Harvey Milk. It is neither provocative, nor preachy. It is more like a dramatized history lesson that gives you what happened in those last eight years of Harvey Milk's life. But all along the amazing performances not just by Sean Penn and Josh Brolin, but the entire cast, touch your heart and convey the truth that gays are humans. There are no stereotypical characters or oversimplified generalizations about the gay community. Milk's message that if all gays come out of the closet everyone will know at least one gay and realise that gays are normal humans, and deserve basic human rights is both commonsensical and profound.

And Sean Penn. He is simply brilliant. It was difficult to imagine that we were watching the same man from Mystic River we loved the night before. He brings Milk to life through almost impeccable mannerisms and voice. It is an Oscar worthy performance, just like Frank Langella's Nixon is.

But amidst all this the real message is Hope. As I watched Milk give the hope speech in the trailers, I couldn't help but think of Obama. And during the film too. There was a certain familiarity. Even though both men appear different, in different settings and with different issues they speak the language of hope, of optimism. After experiencing the election and the movie the similarity was even more striking. And it made them "normal."

Tuesday, February 17


I have now seen almost all the films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars this year. I have yet to see 'The Reader', but among the other four I think 'Milk' and 'Frost/Nixon' are the real contenders. While I loved 'Slumdog Millionaire' and thought that 'Benjamin Button' could have been shorter, 'Milk' and 'Frost/Nixon' were simply amazing movies. Like my husband said, it is probably because we are more interested in and enjoy political subjects. Maybe.

Since the time I heard about the film when the real David Frost appeared on the Daily Show I had been waiting to see it. Initially I wanted to check out the real interviews, considering that it is based on real life and would have enabled comparison. But now I think it was good that I did not. I went there with an open mind and was completely taken by the film. The performances are amazing, especially Frank Langella. He is a very convincing Nixon, an Oscar worthy performance indeed. Someone pointed out that he did not get the Nixon grin right. But even without it he sent a chill down my spine. While Langella humanized Nixon , neither he nor the film went so far as to generate sympathy for what Nixon did. In spite of having heard and read enough about Watergate before this, I had never fully grasped why he did it. The film brought some perspective. Nixon was apparently a rather petty man. And that again made him human. Even at the peak of power he could not let go of his pettiness.

As for Frost, it was a surprise. I saw him old and imagined him to be either geeky or somber. But he turned out to be a frivolous, at times irritating character. He worked hard on the interviews, but I was left with the impression that he could not imagine or understand the immense significance of the interviews until quite late into the process. And the "confession" seemed more due to Nixon's failing than Frost's strategic victory. But then I guess it must have been rather intimidating to interview that man. Frost was after all an interviewer not an interrogator.

The film's documentary style also works for the story. I don't think a greatly dramatized film version would have been as effective or appealing. The director establishes the main characters very well through the first half of the film, which helps us put the interview in perspective; understand why both of them reacted or did not react as they did. It ends as soon as it has served its purpose, told the story of Frost/Nixon. And you leave amazed and relieved that men in power can have a conscience.

Monday, February 9

Of Chimpanzees and tools

I chanced upon these amazing videos and must say it humbled me. I believe that animals are not just dumb creatures and these simply vindicate the point. The related piece on National Geographic is also very insightful.

"I had not known that chimpanzee yawns are contagious—both among each other and to humans. I had known that chimps laugh, but I did not know that they get upset if someone laughs at them. I knew that captive chimps spit, but I hadn't known that they, like us, seem to consider spitting the most extreme expression of disgust—one reserved, interestingly, for humans. I knew that a captive ape might care for a kitten if you gave one to it, but had not heard of a wild chimpanzee taking one in, as Tia did with a genet kitten. The list goes on. Chimps get up to get snacks in the middle of the night. They lie on their backs and do "the airplane" with their children. They kiss. Shake hands. Pick their scabs before they're ready."

Though Mary Roach warns that "because chimps look and act so much like us, it is easy to misread their actions and expressions, to project humanness where it may not belong," it difficult to not to. I remember watching a Nature episode The Best of Nature: 25 Years on PBS and it is difficult to express the emotions it stirred. The part about the rehabilitated research chimps is extremely touching to say the least. I couldn't find the exact video but it is a must watch.

Here is the other video from BBC which shows the chimpanzees using rocks as an anvil and hammer to break nuts. I remember breaking walnuts like that and most of them usually rolled over or broke into a million pieces, unfit to be eaten!

It amazes to watch the chimpanzees in action. It is beautiful and scary all at once.