The Sanjay Leela Bhansali Controversies

Sanjay Leela Bhansali (or SLB as he is referred to since we hate long names) has been known for movies that are essentially a walk through a beautiful palace, with some characters in between to display great clothes & jewellery. There’s a two year gap between his last movie, Bajirao Mastani, and the new one, Padmavati. And there’ve been controversies on both.

  1. Queens don’t dance. It is insulting to show them dancing!
  2. Costumes: Queens don’t wear such costumes. They are dignified and covered
  3. Intimate scene between the King and a woman! Uff!
  4. No problem with the actors but not sure if these were the ones who should’ve been. chosen to play these characters
  5. Insulting to culture!bhansali-first-poster-padmavati-deepika-padukone-sanjay_08aca446-9e79-11e7-ba2d-20fa1b34073f

Which movie were these issues for? Why, both! Same issues. New meaning to “Formula movies”?

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Review: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

I read this book more than a year ago – the e-book version. Then I went and picked up the hard copy of the book because some books just don’t cut it in the e-version. You need to hold the book and savour it.

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is one of the coolest books I’ve read in a long, long time! And I’m someone who consistently meets the GoodReads 50 Books A Year Challenge. The storytelling is so fluid and easy, yet compelling, that you are switch between timelines and plots without that common jarring interlude. I_Am_Pilgrim_-_hardback_UK_jacket

This is a spy thriller, a remanent of the John Le Carre days, set in the modern world. The spies are more intelligent, more severe and so is the other side.

The plot begins, very simply, at the scene of a murder. A murder that seems to be the perfect crime, with absolutely no clues. And it seems to have drawn a lot of inspiration – in terms of how to clean up a crime seen – from one of the protagonists’ books.

The other protagonist is a man born into Islam, a firm believer. His father’s execution by a particular Islamic regime becomes the reason he turns to terrorism, as he believes that they were responsible of the corruption of the society, which eventually led to his father’s death. It is beautifully and compellingly written, drawing us into two distinct worlds and its underbelly without missing a step.

The two men, on ends of the world, and on two distinct paths, are forced to intersect when the former is set on the chase of the latter – and he needs to find him before the man can execute his simple, yet terrifying plan.

Unlike the deluge of crap books and movies that sets everything in the US of A, much of the action here happens outside the US. In little towns, described so well that you can almost smell the dust on the streets.

This is a book that deserves to be read in hard copy. Make sure you have ample time to finish the book because it sure is hard to put down!

App Review: Kindle App

I use a lot of apps. Even for regular sites like Twitter, I like to try out third-party apps. For work. For games. You get the idea.

But I’d never gotten around to using the Kindle app, primarily because I wasn’t convinced about reading online. I can read news articles and such, but reading entire books was a little tough. It lasted till I forced to switch over to e-books, and finally got used to it. Reading online doesn’t quite have the same joy and fun (and quite often, the sentences just don’t stick in your mind as well). But it sure is convenient. Many books, all the time.

So when Amazon offered ‘Kindle Unlimited’ for just INR 199, I figured it was time to give it a shot.

The first mistake I did was not perusing the books available in this list. “Over 1 million books” says the tag line, but any reader worth his / her salt knows that there are over 1 million crappy books in the world.

Let’s talk about the app itself first:

The Interface:

You’d think that a company whose first business was books would have some insight about readers and what they like. The home page is a film scroll, with editor’s picks listed below. But there is no option for me to make bookshelves. Unlike your book shelf at home, it is annoying to see all your books on a tiny little screen. I’d rather have book shelves on the home page, but that could just be me.

Then the scariest thing: Kindle reads your entire phone. ALL your files. And it lists every bloody PDF, epub, mobi or any other book format that is there in your phone. Now, apparently you can undo this if your documents are not in a folder named documents or books. But I find no way to stop the app from scanning my phone and listing the books. I have several confidential documents on my phone and I hate the fact that another app is accessing it. Even with Cyanogen’s Privacy Guard, you cannot stop this from happening.

There is a folder called ‘Kindle’ on your phone but unsurprisingly, there are no temp files there, but the app thinks it is okay to scan your phone and list all the documents it thinks you want to be listed on Kindle. And there is no option to ‘remove’ the particular file from Kindle. It deletes it from your device. Talk about taking over your phone !!!

The Menu has surprisingly limited options. You can choose ‘All’, ‘Books on your device’ and a couple of other options. Then, of course, settings which is less than nothing. A couple of options for sync, naming your device and that’s pretty much it.

Finding a Book:

If the reason you signed up for Kindle app, like I did, was the ‘Kindle Unlimited’ Option, then you’ll find it frustrating to access the Kindle store. There is no one-click option to access the store. You’ve to click on the cart, go to the kindle store, click on the ‘kindle unlimited’ feature and then you have the further task of narrowing down categories, and browsing through hundreds of titles. I’m not sure what algorithm is used to list the books, but there is no way to change that. This is fine on a bigger screen, but on a phone, it can be tedious scrolling through books 10 at a time.

You can search for a book, but it might or might not be available in the Kindle Unlimited Series. They perhaps expect you to browse like in a library, except on a 5 inch screen.

I searched for nearly 20 titles or more (How to be a woman, Raven Black, Unladylike: A memoir, Wikileaks, Alibi, Secret Sisters, Queen of the Oddballs, Book of Shadows, Run to the Hills etc). Some where available in Kindle format, but the ‘over 1 Million titles’ did not include any of these in the Kindle Unlimited Series.

I finally found one story about Wikileaks that I finally downloaded, and another chick lit. Then the process of downloading it to your phone, which means you need to repeat the entire process of going back to the Kindle store and trying to find a book, if you are trying to build up a collection.

In any case, you cannot have more than 10 books at a time according to Kindle. Not sure what the fuss is in this case, but moving on…

Now, if you want to find the book you downloaded from Kindle, there is no one-tap option to choose the file from ‘My Kindle Unlimited’ or some such thing. You’ve to pick it out of your library, among all the other books. For people like me, who are typically reading more than one book at a time, it is plain annoying. And no, I don’t want to be making ‘ collections’ of books to access.

Reading: 

This was one part I thought would be sorted. Perhaps I was peeved by the whole experience of finding a book to read (which took me over half an hour). The minute I opened the page, I found the settings annoying compared to the other ebook readers I’ve used.

Moonreader, for instance, allows you to handle the brightness of the screen with just a tap on one side of the screen. You can even set up scroll options etc with one-tap.

With the Kindle app, you’ve to go to the ‘menu’ on top of the page. Brightness options are limited – there was only ‘system brightness’ and if you manually tried to set the brightness, even the lowest was too bright at night.

The second annoying thing was something I noticed in the first chapter. It says “2 mins to finish chapter’. What the hell? By this point, I was beyond fiddling with controls of the app, so I don’t know if there is a way to turn this off. It is in unnecessary annoyance and I’m not sure what the developers were intending to do with it.

The third thing: ‘Popular highlights’… some of the lines are automatically highlighted while you are reading. This is turned on by default and there’s a way to turn it off, but again, multiple steps. Again, I’m not sure why this is a default feature.

I hate the entire experience of the Kindle app.

Verdict: The app seems to be attractive to bookworms, but with Google Books and many other third-party apps around, there’s absolutely no compelling reason to use Kindle app. There are no good books and it is simply annoying to handle. And thus far, I’ve not found a good collection of books either. Perhaps they are looking to push their device, but this is absolutely not an attractive preview.

The privacy concerns are quite serious.

Next: Uninstall

Book Review: The Girl In The Spider’s Web

Is it legally, ethically, morally wrong for one person to take over a character and storyline created by someone else and take it ahead?

In this particular case, I think it is. In this particular case, I wish this book had never been written.

Why? Let’s list out the reasons:

  1. The murder of the character of Lisbeth Salander: Not literally, though that would’ve been better. The Lisbeth we were introduced to and grew to love was a mystery. A simple person with a very clear black & white view of the world, she had few requirements and despite being a little socially awkward, was someone you would be okay hanging out with you in the same room.
    The Lisbeth we meet in this book is portrayed a genius certified, a hacker of unmatchable merit in the entire fricking world. A hacker who belongs to a bunch of hackers (loosely indicating Anonymous). A hacker who takes on the NSA for reasons that are mentioned in a long-winded manner.
    The Lisbeth in this book is unravelled and laid out in one short book for the reader’s ‘enjoyment’. And by that one simple act, the author destroys a beloved character forever.
  2. The weakening of Blomkvist: You know this man as a good reporter in a world where there are so few. And in this book, he is a completely weak, confused man who doesn’t have a say in anything. But he is so intelligent, so keen about Salander that he heads out on a wild goose chase or close enough to search for her.
    *Spoiler Alert*
  3. Bad writing: The first 3 books kept you up through the night, wondering what would happen next. It was fast-paced, intriguing and a beautiful web. This book is a bad attempt at ‘plugging the gaps’ or so it seems. The author is hell bent on explanations, because the earlier pages require those explanations, so it gets quite long winded. And then confusing. And just tedious.
  4. Crappy Plot: Sorry, but there are no other words to say it. The author has taken every little bit of news about hacking that he came across in the past few years – Edward Snowden, Anonymous and their exploits, NSA’s all-seeing eye, some corporate espionage – and tried to put it all into the book. So you have the NSA, you have a hacker’s group (to which Salander belongs), you have a game developer and some corporate espionage. And then the attempt to tie it all together.
    Then, the author remembers that Lisbeth never does anything without an actual reason that matters to her. Or so he thinks. So instead of developing a good villain, he fishes in the old pool of characters, and gets Salander’s SISTER as the villain. That naturally means more back story and more tedious text.
    Sure, you can say that roots of all of these were their in the earlier books but sometimes, when you end a series, it is for good reason.

This entire book is written simply to make money. And it comes at a high price – the death of a beloved character in recent times.

Buy The Girl In The Spider’s Web Here.

Did Twitter kill Blogging?

Okay… I know that bloggers are the “in” things of today. There are plenty more people writing blogs about all sorts of things. But I think back to some blogs I used to follow in the “blogspot” days… about 8-10 years ago, and I realise that they were so much more fun, interesting blogs.

And ALL of those people today post ‘micro blogs’ or have turned to Twitter entirely to express their funny but short viewpoints. And the blogs that were awesome then have gone a little commercial, such that it feels like reading a popular newspaper on the Diwali weekend.

I dug back into my memory and found vague names of the blogs I used to read quite often. Half of them were dead and most of them had migrated to tumblr or some  micro blog site. And most of them were just giving a 240-line explanation of their 140-character tweet.

Now, it is definitely more challenging to be intelligent, funny and good within 140 characters, that too without offending too many people or getting misunderstood. But there is something about scrolling through a nice blog on your computer on a lazy day, sort of like reading a novel but more of a real person’s thoughts.

And then of course, there are the photo blogs. I like photoblogs. I own one of them but as someone pointed out, it sometimes get boring looking at just photographs on a blog. Pages and pages of awesome photographs – how long are you going to see that? Unless, of course, they are all photo essays.

The Hobbit

I first discovered Hobbits when I was 12. I had not heard of Tolkien then and was quite happily living in Narnia, when I discovered Middle Earth.

For an extremely bored, annoyed 12-year old, The Hobbit was a beautiful discovery of dragons, little men, dwarves and adventure. Surprisingly, I don’t remember all the details of the book, except for the musty yellow pages and a book cover that has been changed many times over now.

I waited nearly two decades for the movie to be released, praying that Peter Jackson would be the one to direct it.

Peter Jackson remains true to the book. The Lord of the Ring series captured every painstaking detail of the book, yet managed to keep it simple. A book like LOTR was perhaps always meant to be made into a movie. The human brain tends to fizzle out when reading the entire book in one sitting. But while LOTR is big – big lords, big wars and bigger evils, The Hobbit is still in its infancy, as a book and as the movie.

The movie’s advance technology (which apparently people have been cribbing about) seemed quite awesome. This would perhaps feel overwhelming in a scene of sheer chaos, but when the fights are smaller and the characters are not as evil, it feels good to watch. It took me a while to adjust to the simpler plot. We kept expecting those big armies of elves etc.

The movie also seems a little inspired by Star Wars, particularly the Goblin King who resembles Jabba the Hutt, including that slightly sarcastic way of talking. Before people begin criticizing it, please do remember that this was a book for the kids.

And Gollum aka Smeagol… is it ironic that of all the awesome characters in the movie, we come out imitating Gollum and his precioussss and the talking styleses? He is creepy, vulnerable, calculative and absolutely, delightfully unpredictable. It would be worth watching the movie just for this one, schizophrenic scene between Smeagol and Bilbo Baggins. Of course, we could rave about the technology that made the 6 foot 1″ Richard Armitage as Thorin (quite majestically though… almost makes up for not having Aragorn in the movie) and other things.

But this is only the beginning and there are two other parts to go… quite a feat to stretch a small book into three parts without making it seem boring or long. And the movie, which is only 2 hours and 50 minutes and NOT 4 hours as some say, leaves you longing for the next part.

Here’s to the hobbitses.

Leaving you with the Soundtrack 

The Sacred Gandhi

It started with the discovery of a new site that lists the best prices of all the online book stores. Which led to searching of random books and laughing at the prices. Till I decided to look for one of the controversial books – the biography of Indira Gandhi.

This was a book I had looked for in all the local bookstores and they all said they didn’t stock it. Now, it was never clear to me if this book was banned officially or unofficially. But the story remained that it was tough to find on the Indian shores.

A Google search of the book, however, showed that there was another biography of the daughter in law. This one, The Red Sari, was written by a Spanish author and was is originally titled ‘El Saro Rojo’.

Released in 2010 or thereabouts, Sonia Gandhi, I’m told was fighting a legal battle to prevent the book from being released. It was touted by the Congress party was ‘fictionalized biography’ (not sure what that means) and most of the articles I could find online, which were very few, quoted only ONE line as their defence.

“She suddenly thought of fleeing this country that devours its children” is the line that is quoted, referring to Sonia Gandhi’s reaction after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. If that is the worst this book could state about Sonia Gandhi, I’m quite sure Congress wouldn’t have to worry much. But given the fact that there is barely any mention of the book post 2010, nor copies available easily (the Spanish translation is available somewhere), it does make me curious about what Mrs. Gandhi does not want the public to know.

She does have her right to privacy, but as a public figure, there are certain aspects of her life, like her citizenship that should be public knowledge. If she does want to rule us, from even behind the scene, the least she can start with is being legally Indian.

Many readers of this post would perhaps ask why this anti-Congress spree. As I’ve often said, I’m not anti-Congress or BJP, I just hate politics with religion. And I’ve become wiser in the past few months that no party is better off.

And of course, the scams, the controversies and the fact that Manmohan Singh just sold out our country to America’s biggest retail chain.

But the question I’m asking here remains simple. What happened to The Red Sari? Will it ever be available for readers here?

I know the Indian Constitution allows to ban books and other relevant  materials if it is inflammatory. But what could possibly be the rationale behind banning of a book?\

Maybe the people currently fuming over this post and putting this blog on the ‘to be watched’ list have some answers?