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!

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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

Dirty Picture

Every now and then comes a movie that changes your perspective of someone who was alive, replacing that actual person in your head with the person who played the character. The movie makes you think, even as it makes you laugh.

Dirty Picture is one such movie. In the case of Vidya Balan, the second such movie. After Ishqiya, I cannot recall any other movie that has such an impact.

Did Silk Smitha live her life with the same careless attitude and rush that Vidya Balan portrayed? Did she score her roles through the casting couch? Did so many men influence her life or did she really forge the path she wanted by using whatever means was available to her?

My memories of Silk Smitha are vague. Not being a horny teenage boy in need for material, my interactions with her were restricted to recollections of adults discussing her latest movie. Then cable came and there were far more interesting, frothy Hindi movies to look forward to and the dusky actress never really made it into my living room.

Balan wears so many faces that it is hard to keep track of who she really is. The innocence of her face belies the sexiness of her body. The movie literally takes us through the years, as Balan puts on more weight, gains the look of someone depressed and addicted to alcohol and we never realise who the old Silk was till the movie gives us a quick and ruthless flashback.

Silk is perhaps the story of many women in the entertainment industry. Even if they were telling just the story of a single woman, there are so many truths through the movie.

Sex sells like nothing else does. (Else Katrina Kaif wouldn’t be a ‘star’ today, among others). Movies have one reason only – entertainment. True, there are intelligent movies, arty movies and all that. But majority of the movies are made to entertain. To make people forget what’s outside. To create a fantasy. And who better to create a fantasy than a woman with luscious curves?

Was she a victim or a champion? Even through her tantrums and diva-like attitude, Balan manages to keep you charmed and rooting for her through the movie. She changes so many faces… every nuance is calculated and poised for impact. Here is an actress who sinks into the role so deep that it is hard to differentiate the character from the actress.

The supporting cast seems rather demure and faded, even Naseruddin Shah. Or maybe Balan just overshadows them all. Surprisingly, it is Emraan Hashmi who has the most dignified role and carries it off with more elan than Tussar Kapoor in his polo neck shirts. Of course, it guess it would be bad PR for him if he didn’t manage to get a role even in his sister’s movie.

The questions in the movie are haunting… was Silk a true feminist? Or just a depressed female trying to live her life the best way possible. Of course, as the movie says, today’s shame is tomorrow’s hero. But the movie seems to portray her more of a hero.

It brings to mind a line I’d read in a book. “She was given three minutes onscreen and told to sell sex. She sold buckets of it.”

***

A friend wondered if Balan can actually make a comeback after this movie. Her weight gain, all the exposure and such.

Indian audiences are still quite hypocritical. They have grown to accept lead actress stripping for an item number but are they mature enough to see so much skin and then see her covered up and in another role again? Or will this be her defining moment?

We pretend to be respectable and honest, while what we really like to see is the other side. Is there more space for true actresses like Vidya Balan in our generation? The intelligent actress?

There are very few women in the industry who can carry off an entire movie by themselves. And she is one of them. Actually, I cannot recall another actress of this generation who can do that. Nope, not the Katrina Kaifs and Kareena Kapoors of this world. Nor Priyanka Chopra. But for most part, this is still a  male-dominated industry.

Female leads ‘retire’ after marriage. 44 year old men continue to play young boys. Comebacks of 40 year old women are scorned as leads, while men can make a comeback as a lead at any time. Movies are written for the men at any age, while the women are relegated to the background.

Even Hema Malini, who was supposed to be the queen, hasn’t managed a comeback. Or Sridevi. Or Madhuri Dixit, though I personally loved Aaja Nachle.

I certainly hope Balan can reinvent herself yet again. Would definitely want to see more interesting cinema.

Delhi Belly

If you really think about it, the entire movie is the result of one guy eating food from a street cart in Delhi.

But then again, it isn’t that simple either.

Delhi Belly is one of the best hindi movies I have seen in a long time. It is a tapestry where each thread delicately links to another. And like all Bollywood movies, it has a healthy dose of love/romance/sex and all that but set so realistically that you can help but laugh.

If Guy 1 had not eaten that piece of chicken, served by the hands of a guy who was rubbing his crotch before serving the food, the story would not have happened.

But his motivations and desires drive the story, giving it bizzare twists, right till the end. And this guy – he isn’t even like the ‘lead’ in the movie.

Like all Aamir Khan productions, the movie is clean and sharp. Every character has some reason to be in the movie, unlike hindi movies that throw in random cartoon characters for entertainment. Okay, well, maybe one such character exists.

There’s drama, there’s fun and there’s sheer bawdiness that doesn’t disgust you like the sly, thigh-slapping jokes of another genre.

I wonder why they are trying to block the movie from screening because nothing you hear is something you wouldn’t hear on the bus or metro on your way home. The conversation, the drama and the confusion.

Plot?

3 guys… roommates. Arty types, if you insist – a journalist, a photojournalist and a cartoonist. A girlfriend – a little ditzy, as required and surprisingly well executed by Shenaz Treasury (apparently, the ‘wala’ has been dropped).

So she has to deliver this package and convinces sullen boyfriend Imran Khan to. But they pass it around, one of them falls prey to the fabled Delhi Belly and the parcel sorta falls low on the priority scale. But it does get delivered, and thereby the drama starts.

If you do think of it, it isn’t a new plot. It has been done several times, including in your own hindi cinema. But never with such flair and comic timing, and brilliant camerawork.

If you feel some the cinematography reminds you of some english flick… don’t complain. Least we got it right.

But never thought Delhi Belly would ever be something to laugh so hard about.

Transformers 3

Yet another movie with living cars and other machines. And a movie that makes me say words that I never thought I would – I miss Megan Fox.

Seriously!

She was hot, she seemed to have more brains and purpose than the tall, European chick in white who is there in the 3rd installment of the cartoon-to-movie saga.

Everyone knows the first one was the best. It was a plain good-vs-bad, blow up cars and buildings fiesta with some kick ass cars that turned into, well, living machines. On TV, even the second one seems okay.

But this one? It started going downhill from perhaps 20 minutes into the movie.

Sam is all but forgotten by the country that he so daring helped save. So now, he’s out hunting jobs and he obviously cannot ask all those covert ops guys for  reference. But he still manages to score a smoking hot girlfriend who seems to be heavily influenced by Wilkie Collins novel Woman In White.

But those autobots and deceptions haven’t forgotten Sam, even if his country has. So there he is, back into the action, playing messenger boy.

Perhaps Hollywood is being heavily influenced by Bollywood, but they are trying to add a lot of luurv and pink hearts into all these movies. So Sammy is in love with the woman in white, who has a boss – Patrick McDreamy Dempsey.

Dempsey apparently ran out of roles of playing chocolate boy, so now he tries the other cape – the villian. And fails miserably. You can manage to watch him playing syrupy lover because he just needs to look dreamy… but a villian?

Humble request, Mr. Dempsey. Go back to your Enchanted world!

I really don’t know what happens in the rest of the movie. There was a lot of metal, that I take were those good and bad machines blown up – I couldn’t tell who was who. There were also a lot of humans being blown up but there was no blood.

New York has apparently succumbed to all the alien/terrorist attacks, so the scene is now moved to Chicago.

So a bunch of buildings are destroyed, love triumphs, the good guys win and Sam has his sexy car aka BumbleBee and the sexy girlfriend. And all would’ve been well with the world if the bloody movie has been about an hour shorter… or better yet, never made!

Sidenote to all those directors planning more movies in 3D – DON’T!

Avatar was super cool and all that because they took the time, the money and the effort to make it look that awesome. We don’t want to put on ugly, uncomfortable glasses for 3 hours just to watch a piece of paper fly close to my nose once in the fricking movie. Make it normal. Save us the torture.

PS: I would want the Woman in White’s white jacket. All that debris and chaos and there isn’t like one smear on it. Not a single one. Or her make up.

Why Pirates 4 Is Not Savvy?

For starters, Cap’n Jack Sparrow does not think it is savvy. True story. He rarely says ‘savvy’ in the movie. He does not seem as drunk, funny and smart in the movie either.

The movie starts out funny, Sparrow is in chains and at the gallows as usual. But his escape lacks the usual flair. There are long moments in the movie where nothing really happens. There is a lot of conversation and it seems like the movie makers are trying to give Jack some ‘heart’ by adding the whole romantic perspective with Penelope.

Penelope Cruz makes a far more interesting, convincing and hotter pirate than Kiera Knightley did. She has the moves, she has the face and she looks good wearing a captain’s cap. But the whole movie just falls flat because it lacks the one thing that made the other movies in the series a hit – panache and well, fun.

There are far fewer one-liners from Sparrow… there is a lot less swaying… and he does not have a good anti-Sparrow character, which was perhaps Orlando Bloom and Knightley put together. They were straight, simple with a bit of badness… a nice contrast to Jack’s true but slightly twisted concepts of good and bad.

Oh yes… and the lack of weird creates. This is Pirates. We expect Davy Jones’ type of weird beards, Krakens, the witch Tia Dalma and dangerous expeditions… and the Black Pearl!

Instead, we had Black Beard, who did not even have a beard. All he had was a sword that wasn’t even shown properly. Davy Jones least made you feel creepy.

As for the other villain side, you have a bunch of Spanish soldiers who are intent on destroying the fountain for, wait for it…………………………………. religious reasons! Shoot me dead now!

The only interesting character in the entire movie were the mermaids. I wish they had taken over the movie.

Oh and what was the point of 3D?

Let’s not make this a serious message movie. Pirates is supposed to be fun. Let’s keep it on the high seas.

Break Ke Baad

If this movie actually had a break in between, I’m not sure how many people would’ve returned for the rest of it.

Let’s consider the things wrong in this movie…

The female lead, played by Deepika Padukone, is called Aaliya. Every movie that comes out these days needs have exotic sounding names like Aaliya, Alisha etc. And the female lead, in the ‘new’ genre of ‘strong’ women generally smoke, drink and are headstrong and totally pooh pooh theories of love and are ‘career oriented’. Unlike previous movies, they don’t shed their tomboyish attitudes till the last scene.

The male lead, played by Imran Khan, is called Abhay, in another cliche of making cutesy sounding names. He is the male stereotype of current cinema… and after failing to make a mark in how many ever movies he acted in post-Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na– he had returned to the stereotype – the man who is sweet and sensitive to the point of a toothache, cries, is patient and is basically Mother Teresa, Gandhi and Princess Diana rolled into one.

What is the main problem here? Not particularly sure… The movie starts out well, if cliched. Boy and girl are childhood friends and girl is from dysfunctional family. Obviously, they are both very well off, which is crucial for the Volkswagon Beetle, the plush rooms and all that. What surprises me the directors pay so much attention to ‘detail’ but completely overlook the fact that a girl and guy in their teenage years never really remain friends.

Anyway, this couple turned into a couple and have been dating. But then Aaliya or Al, decides she wants to go study Mass Communication in Gold Coast.

And that’s where my sore point No.1 comes in. WHY say Gold Coast when you pick some random, cheesy place in Australia with lame beaches, show a shot of the Bondi Beach in Sydney (that’s about 1000 kms from Gold Coast) for an example and then turn to the Great Ocean Road, which is in Victoria. Just say Australia and leave us be happy in our illusion. A normal tourist might think ‘oh this is Gold Coast’ but I lived in that city. I know that place and what you showed was not GC!

Anyway, to cut the long and boring story short… the couple have fights, the usual long-distance shit. Except Abhay manages to fly down to ‘GC’ after one drunken phone call from Al and some guy and beats up the so-called guy with Al, she breaks up with him and yet he continues to stay in the same place as her.

The place, by the way, looks like a shack outside of Goa. A rocky beach with a single bed, and the usual wood shack thing going run by an extremely plump Sameera Reddy (Nadia) who is a tattoo artist, bar tender, cook, slumlord and all those other things. And Nadia becomes Abhay’s godmother. Abhay discovers his passion in life is to really cook and that’s cuz his fellow taxi driver likes his food, opens up about 3 restaurants under a year as Nadia invests.

Oh yeah Al… she breaks up.. she hooks me and leads him on. She breaks up… she wants to be an actress, that her actress mom doesn’t want but Al lands a role in her first play at her first audition for a Hollywood flick, so mommy forgives all.

And then some more drama. Boy gets brainwave to announce his marriage, make her jealous and hey! It is you I’m marrying.

GAH! If there was ever a guy who was so patient and loving in real life, he’d have shot himself too by this point.

Zilch chemistry between the two of them. Imran Khan knew how to act, I thought but apparently not. Deepika has improved but is cliched and still quite wooden. And the director needs to realise that cute props and a great set does  not really make for a good movie.

Is there any reason to watch this movie? If it is the last DVD lying around the house and you are dead bored with absolutely nothing else to do. Make sure your DVD remote is functional though.