Basking in the sunshine

BaskingInTheSunshine

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Pre-determinism

If this moment was already pre-ordained,
That I would write these words,
That I would smile thinking that thought,
That in some corner of the globe right now,
There is a person laughing out loud,
Another crying out loud,
Someone ranting mindlessly,
Someone giving the most inspirational speech,
If it were all pre-ordained,
What do you and I have to worry about?
Ah, you might say that this worry too is pre-ordained,
But isn’t it your mind that is worrying?
What are you doing?
Just watch your mind,
Following its pre-ordained course,
Rushing through the forest of objects,
Streaming its incessant emotions,
Carrying along the boat of thoughts,
Unto that unknown destination.
It’s just a beautiful picture – let it be.
You go on, not worrying about the past or the present or the future,
It’s the mind’s job.
You go on,
For thou art that not.

Kaatru Veliyidai – An assault on the senses

Spoilers ahead…

It is oft-said that no two people watch the same movie (even though they ‘see’ the same movie, they ‘experience’ different movies). To me, a movie is an experience that goes beyond the 2-3 hours that I spend watching it. A Mani Ratnam movie never fails to create this experience – the impact of watching the film lasting much longer than the duration of the film, as one tries to unravel the layers built into that final package, making sense of dialogues, fitting scenes into the neat little theories that we have already made for Mani Ratnam (mirrors, trains, rains, his trademark romance, sharp dialogues), being in awe of the technical superiority of the whole film, and more and more these days, what is new that Mani Ratnam is attempting (the switching between the past and present in Alaipayuthey, the completely offbeat editing style of Raavan(an), what is left unsaid, and so on).

The opening sequence, shot in grey and the fonts that looked like they were dripping with blood and ending with VC being captured as a prisoner of war, created a dramatic start to the movie. Contrasting that was the casual conversation that followed between VC and Girija that ended in an unexpected edge-of-life moment in all senses. A brilliant start to the gripping first half – tightly packed with plenty of songs and the chemistry building up between the two in lots of ‘Mani Ratnamesque’ moments – Leela going in search of VC to his ‘camp’ reminiscent of Karthik going in search of Shakti to her ‘camp’. ‘Naa ippo duty la irukken’ pops up here verbatim – a dialogue that we heard in Alaipayuthey too from a doctor when she gets a call from her lover 🙂

As in all of Mani’s movies, the supporting characters steal the show here too with a few scenes – Leela’s friend and Elias (RJ Balaji plays the part perfectly). Mani Ratnam uses both of them to understand and ponder over what’s going on in Leela’s mind and, of course, providing us his trademark comic relief with just a couple of ‘natural’ dialogues. The dialogues in the last scene between the two too are crisply written.

A R Rahman outperforms himself yet again with the songs and the background music. It is sheer magic to experience the music unfold throughout the movie. In this movie too, he utilises one of his oft-used and effective techniques of using the song in a slightly different form as a background score, carrying over the emotions and the lingering moments (a reflection, really, of how nothing truly leaves us – we continue to carry the emotions from the past and they surely express themselves in different ways – as strengthening of a bond, as the doubts that creep in when faced with a decision to make; how music never leaves us – the much subtler carrier of emotions than words and thoughts and action): ‘Vaan’ at the beginning, ‘Tango’ instrumental reinterpretation in a scene that follows the song and AR Rahman’s humming at those moments when VC is the most vulnerable, including that last scene.

There are lot of ManiRatnamesque moments throughout the movie. One such is the conversation between Karthi and another officer over a beer about comparing the war with Pakistan to Mahabharata, which also portrays clearly VC’s attitude to everything in life. Mani relishes in showing the beautiful little joys of life that we derive from art – humming while going about one’s work around the house, just gathering of a group of friends where singing, dancing happens naturally (and it’s not just a group of friends here but a group of officers strongly bound together away from home and who face war day in and day out), reciting Bharatiyar poetry. All this made me reminiscent of that brilliant single shot of Vedic chanting, Carnatic music lessons and Bharatanatyam lessons happening at the river bank at the break of dawn in Thalapathy.

Mani has talked about the evolution of the urban women in our society with time: from Divya (Mouna Ragam) to Shakti (Alaipayuthey) to Tara (OK Kanmani) who were more and more empowered to make their choices. Here, we can see the evolution in the way some of his other characters think as well. In 2004, Aayitha Ezhuthu was a new age and ahead-of-its-time story even for that time, with Michael reacting with surprise and not shock or shame when Esha says that she may be pregnant. Mani tracks the further evolution of that attitude in this film. There is a casual offhandedness about a pregnant bride and VC saying that he will marry only after the birth of his first child (which may actually come true, if Leela ever agrees to marry him).

The core of the film is Leela and VC’s intense relationship. This is the first film of both Karthi and Aditi that I watched and was blown away by both their performances, especially Karthi’s. He can be the charming wooer and it’s no surprise that Leela falls for him, especially given her ‘fandom’ from her school days after hearing about VC through her brother. The initial scenes of their getting together are crafted beautifully. The songs accentuate every emotion. Mani is no stranger to weaving his story with songs and those short dialogues within the songs (Yaaro Yaarodi, Yakkai Thiri/Fanaa). ‘Tango’ does that perfectly yet again. Formal dancing in the Armed Forces, it seems, is a remnant of the British culture that is there even today. After one of their first tussles, his coming to her home and wooing her back with Nallai Allai was beautifully picturised. It actually didn’t seem out of place at that point since we had already been introduced to his influences of Bharatiyar and Tamizh and interest in music. This scene was immediately followed by him bragging to his friends about getting her back – another glimpse of how things would continue to evolve throughout the course of their relationship.

The whole relationship is complex, intense, passionate, exposing both their vulnerabilities and strongheadedness. He doesn’t really seem to care about anyone but himself, but he does care about her at some level – it was too buried amidst everything else for it to come through. He was a work in progress at the beginning of the film and he still seemed to be so at the end. On the other hand, Leela struggles with herself throughout the movie unable to be without him and unable to be with him. The discovery that she is pregnant (another brilliant piece of acting by Karthi when he shows with just the change in the expression in his eyes that he discovers that she is pregnant) and his answer to her Yes or No question finally seemed to force her to take the step of separating herself from him. Even at the end, Leela introduces VC as Varun and not Appa to their child (she does name her Rohini as he had wanted for their imaginary twins (Rohan and Rohini)). Does this mean that she doesn’t entirely believe that he has changed? That it was just another episode in their alternatingly passionately loving and suffocating relationship? That she had outgrown him in those three years, that she was already prepared when she decided to have her child that she doesn’t ‘need’ him? I felt the transformation in her rather than in him in that last scene although she tells him that the child is his ‘poruppu’. A very classy and understated performance by Aditi.

Though the scenes that show VC at work and even during his first flight with Leela gave a glimpse, I felt that it did not help us understand more about the officers in the Armed forces and what they go through in their job. There was a lot of buildup about this in the promotion of the movie before the release, but that didn’t quite come through. Just enough was maybe retained to understand why Karthi was an extreme character. And that, I think, made the whole sequence of events leading from their capture to escape even weaker. There was no suspense in their escape and it seemed to happen matter-of-factly. This was the weakest part of the film.

Kaatru Veliyidai, in short, was an assault on the senses in all possible ways – the highs of the music throughout (the soul-stirring humming by Rahman in key scenes including the last one, which stays with you long after (another ‘impact’ of the film)), breathtaking visuals that are weaved into the story and don’t stand out just because they were shot in scenic locations, a complete transportation to the look, sound, feel of being amidst snow-capped mountains, the intense chemistry between the two, the emotional highs and lows, and the frustratingly simple sequence of events leading to their escape from Pakistan.

I would rather watch a Mani Ratnam film any day, however flawed it may be, than watching a film by someone else. Mani always celebrates the joy of life, and in this film, he goes a layer beneath and the joy, though present, is more elusive, as we also tend to experience in the stark reality of life.

P.S. At Escape (Express Avenue, Chennai), where I watched this movie, at least two scenes were not shown (they seem to have been shown in other places/theatres): death of Leela’s grandfather and the dinner table confrontation between VC and Leela’s parents. Wonder if this was a last-minute cut to the film to fit it into 140 minutes, as some news articles report. Would have felt more complete watching these important scenes which seemed to have shown VC in his worst element.

What if someone other than Voldemort had cast Avada Kedavra on Harry Potter?

I have been pondering this question of late. From the information that JK Rowling has given us from the Harry Potter books, what is expected to happen (or not) if someone other than Voldemort had cast Avada Kedavra on Harry (while Harry was still a Horcrux)?

There are several aspects to be considered before answering this question. Firstly, Harry’s body does not contain only his soul but also Voldemort’s, i.e. Harry Potter = Harry Potter’s body + Harry Potter’s complete soul + Voldemort’s one-eighth soul.

Next, Avada Kedavra seems (http://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/65638/what-type-of-damage-does-avada-kedavra-do) to make the body on which it is cast lifeless and separates the soul from the body (in a single-souled body). Therefore, assuming that Avada Kedavra can make the body lifeless, which soul(s), if any, would an Avada Kedavra separate from Harry’s body? Would souls have the choice of their fate? To move on or be a ghost maybe. (As an aside, are the talking portraits some form of a ‘Horcrux’?)

But then, Harry is a Horcrux, that is, he’s a container for Voldemort’s soul. Applying the rule for destruction of Horcruxes, he cannot be destroyed simply by Avada Kedavra. However, which part of ‘Harry’ is the container for Voldemort’s soul? Is it Harry’s body only? If it’s Harry’s body only, then the Avada Kedavra should not be able to have the usual effect it would have on a body of making it lifeless (which can be thought of as rendering the container incapable of holding a soul). If it’s not Harry’s body only but also his soul, then, well, the container (= Harry’s body + soul) cannot also be destroyed by Avada Kedavra. Therefore, the Avada Kedavra is not expected to produce the effect of making Harry’s body lifeless when it is cast by someone other than Voldemort. Consequently, Voldemort’s one-eighth soul cannot be destroyed by casting Avada Kedavra on Harry.

Finally, Harry’s blood runs in Voldemort’s body as well – which is a sort of Harry’s Horcrux, so Harry cannot die. Therefore, Avada Kedavra, if was cast by someone other than Voldemort, even if it manages to separate his soul from his body, since his body cannot be made lifeless, could he have just flipped back to his body?

What exactly happened when Voldemort cast Avada Kedavra on Harry in the forest? Harry’s body, I think, couldn’t be made lifeless since it was the Horcrux-container. However, both souls split from the body. And Harry and Voldemort respectively went into the ‘after-life/limbo’ zone since each of their souls was split from Harry’s body. Harry’s soul chose to come back to his body. Could Voldemort’s one-eighth have also chosen to come back to Harry’s body or some other object? Was Voldemort afraid of the limbo zone and chose not to bring that part of his soul back?

In any case, it would have added more drama and intrigue to the story and to the aura of The Chosen One if someone had tried to cast the Avada Kedavra on Harry and it failed to kill him or had produced some unusual effect.

Riding into Heaven

Pictures2

Mahabharat

I have been hooked to this latest series on Star Plus. It ‘looks’ great – the sets, costumes, camerawork. The graphics could have been better at some places though. Great performances by most of the actors. The superhero images for all the warriors are built very well. Catchy music and fitting theme songs for each character. The chorus really elevates the visuals. Most of the music sounds ‘modern’ as well. The show seems to be very popular on youtube. Doesn’t drag much like other mega serials except for some parts. On the whole, it maintains a good pace, though I wish some of my favourite parts like Yaksha’s conversation with Yudhishthir were a little longer. Great idea to bring on Krishna right from the beginning with his thought-provoking words. There have been some changes to the story to add to the dramatic effect, but it sort of stays true to its own version.

That was more about the ‘cosmetics’. How does it all come together and create an impact? Dharma seems to be the link throughout. We are reminded time and time again of the oaths that people take (Bhishma’s is of course most impressive), their Dharma which sometimes is apparently conflict with their oath, and the idea of Tapasya. Krishna guides us through the whole process of trying to understand what Dharma is.

I am impressed by the way the female characters (in fact almost all the characters) have been developed. I doubt if it was this way in the original version also. For instance, after Draupadi’s Swayamvara, once Kunti asks the Pandavas to share the ‘alms’ they have received, Vyasa comes and tries to clarify the situation and help them discover their Dharma. Given the unusual decision, there are also extra oaths that the Pandavas and Draupadi have to take during their marriage. The translation of the original text only seems to refers to the fact that Draupadi will regain her virginity after being a wife to only one of the Pandavas every year. In the very well written book, The Palace of Illusions, by Chitra Divakaruni Bannerjee, where we follow the story from Panchali’s point of view, this aspect is explored and Draupadi feels how it’s a convenient thing from a patriarchical point of view that she becomes a virgin after every year, but what about her feelings and memories? This issue has been addressed by the version shown on Star Plus (of course, the whole idea of Adharma with respect to Draupadi’s marriage to the five Pandavas comes about only because kings were allowed to have multiple wives but a woman could have only one husband). Both Draupadi and the Pandavas take the oath that they will do Tapasya at the end of every year to detach themselves from the bonds and memories that were formed and start anew. A very balanced view is thus shown and Draupadi also speaks her mind in every situation.

In fact, at every difficult situation, the discussions keeping Dharma as the focus is what makes this version very appealing. The back stories with how someone in their previous life did something and that’s what is affecting them in the current life are avoided for most parts. Somehow, when there is the awareness that given any situation, we can take a decision based on Dharma that is appropriate for that situation rather than trying to find a reason from previous lives and previous Karma that we seem to be unaware of, gives more strength to the arguments and decisions. Anyway, at every moment in life, there is always a non-zero probability that a disaster strikes us. There is no point thinking why the disaster has struck. The more important thing is how we react to that.

Having Dharma as the central focus, we get to see how different characters react to the notion of Dharma. Bhishma – how his one oath changes his whole life and the fate of Hastinapur. Yudhishthir – the son of Dharmaraja himself but he too gets caught in the technicalities of Dharma (he seems to have been painted in an even better light in this series). Duryodhan – who doesn’t care about Dharma but consistently behaves with his only goal of becoming the emperor in mind. Karna – constantly in conflict with his promise to his friend and his knowledge of Dharma. Shakuni – wicked and clever and knows how to manipulate the notion of Dharma to suit his plans. Krishna – clever and knows even better how to give strength to unusual (but appropriate for the situation) interpretations of Dharma. The presence of Shakuni and Krishna make for such a contrast.

On the whole, a very engaging series. Anyway, we can never tire of reading/listening to/watching Mahabharat. Epic indeed.

On Life

On Motivation
Doing a PhD, as many people have experienced and recorded, requires a lot of self-motivation which may seem elusive very often. Throughout the course of this period, I have been trying various tips and tricks, like the Tomato Timer, 30-day challenges, watching TED videos, and reading various stuff on the internet. The thing is you don’t know what will help at which point and you can’t but help become a little philosophical and a little distressed when things don’t go your way. The latest quote which I found very practically useful is the following: ‘The secret of work: Let the end and means be joined into one.’ That’s yet another representation of the golden mantra of ‘Living in the moment’ or ‘Carpe Diem’! The search to find motivation everyday shall continue. Thankfully, when the deadlines appear closer, finding the motivation also seems a little easier. The hardest challenge sometimes is to relish and do efficiently the apparently mundane things, but if one doesn’t have the determination to do that, it’s very hard to become a good researcher.

On ‘Transport’ of things
How much time do we spend in transporting things? Most of the mundane activities in everyday life involve transport. Moving things from the supermarket to home. Moving things from outside to within the body. Moving things from home to work. From work to home. From here to there all the time. Apart from basic necessity, we do this transport to maintain a sense of order as well. Does so much movement outside restore some order to the rush that’s happening within us as well? Shouldn’t we act in the same spirit when we move these objects in the external world as we would do when we want to move those parts within us and rewire those neurons as well?

On Music
Moving those parts within brings us to music. That inexplicable thing that effortlessly helps move those parts within. No matter what emotion the mind creates, it is also capable of creating the perfect piece of music that reflects that emotion. Is music something beyond exciting the intellect and moving the heart? It certainly gives more than it takes. It is not a mere permutation of the basic notes. Between those notes, there is so much to discover. Music feels divine.

On God
What is divinity? Godliness? Another secret of work is to feel like it is a form of worship. In religious rituals, whenever we offer something to God, it is supposed to be made with the best of ingredients, intentions, and purity. In that way, if every apparently mundane thing and every important thing is done with the feeling that we are doing it in order to worship God, it can give a little more meaning to life. As humans, if we can think of God as another being, then somehow we feel this emotional connect, but otherwise, in verifiable terms in the present, what is the notion of God that we have? When I try to do something, the purpose of doing that I think is God. For instance, with washing clothes, cleanliness is I guess Godliness. In this context, Dharma also appears. Dharma also seems like another notion of God.

On Dharma
What is Dharma? The question that Mahabharat tries to answer through various incidents. It seems to depend on so many things like place, time, the person concerned and the person in relation to whom it concerns. Invariably, with Dharma comes Dharmasankat where there appear to be multiple Dharmic ways ahead. Let us assume we sort out this problem and find out what the Dharmic way is. With that ends all confusion and there is no more the question of one’s desire. Coming back to how to find the Dharmic way, it seems like one should define one’s own Dharma and stay true to it. In other words, stay true to your own conscience. According to Sri Sarada Devi, ‘The mind is everything. It is in the mind alone that one feels pure and impure. A man, first of all, makes his own mind guilty and then alone he sees another man’s guilt.’ In other words, only when you impose your Dharma on someone else do you find that person to be guilty. Also, if, as individuals, we are clear on what our Dharma is, then no external thing can ever touch us.

On Desire
Desire is the ultimate killer. The cause for disappointments, sadness, and all such emotions when it is not fulfilled and temporary thrills and joys when it is fulfilled. Again, it is the mind that creates those desires and it is not impossible to rewire those neurons and remove those unwanted desires. Despite life denying us time and time again so many things that we desire, the desire itself continues to flourish. Some desires do seem desirable, in the sense that without a basic desire to live and accomplish things, life can seem meaningless. Is real freedom then removing these desires that dissipate our emotional energy and only allowing our mindspace for the Dharmic desires? In other words, can we let our ego die every moment and give life to the things that truly matter?

On Beauty
Beauty is like a breath of fresh air whenever we encounter it, leaving us wonderstruck, emptying our minds of all other emotions and making us sit up and notice and focus on only that. What is beauty really? Beauty to me seems to be Focus. Why do certain scenes look so beautiful? Why do certain actions look beautiful, like Federer hitting that perfect forehand? When all matter is the same set of fundamental particles rearranged in myriad ways, why do only certain things appear beautiful? At the same time, why do photographs of even mundane things that choose to use the focus in a different way look so beautiful? The key seems to be focus. Beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder. Is it then maybe possible to focus deeply or widely enough on every single thing and feel its beauty? Furthermore, can we look beyond everything and focus on the One?

On Oneness
There is verifiable oneness in matter, as we see that all forms of matter are made of the same set of fundamental particles – already discovered or still in contention. There is oneness in the emotions that we go through as humans too. It is possible to connect with another person’s emotions expressed as words or music or when interacting with that person in other ways. When we connect with any form of Oneness, when we connect the parts and that becomes more than its sum, that leaves us with an extreme satisfaction – almost a desireless state. Is that then the goal of life? To connect those dots every moment? To find the motivation to work, irrespective of its nature, through divine music, or conforming to Dharma, or fighting one’s dissipating desires, and find the beauty that connects everything that is conceivable and is experienced by the mind? Is it only an intellectual exercise or something more that gives peace?

On Karuna
Are you searching for a reason to be kind? asks Rahman. Putting it a little differently, how do we so easily find a reason to be unkind? With the feeling of Oneness comes the feeling of kindness (apparently what makes us human) too. Dharma, which can become an intellectual exercise if we only analyse situations ‘rationally’, gains meaning only if it is guided by Karuna. And always thinking of others. Again, being aware of that Oneness every moment, can we discover more kindness in ourselves, Dharma that is guided by Karuna, and our capability to love infinitely?

P.S. What a combination of reading Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore, listening to Swami Chinmayananda, watching Mahabharat, watching tennis, listening endlessly to A R Rahman and Sanjay, and doing a PhD can do is this.