Saturday, February 28, 2009

The multiplex experience

Movie viewing, these days, is a different experience altogether .

Obviously in half a century there are bound to be changes!!!

But it was fun when I did go with our lady Friday in a cycle rickshaw to the theatre and watch a mythological movie. Later there were days when we kids bundled into our old Prefect Ford and drove off to watch a Laurel Hardy film. Or by bus to watch Jerry Lewis or Three Stooges. We stood for hours in the queue. The queue for the ladies was generally shorter and I was sent to buy the tickets. There was no air conditioning and the seats were hard, yet we never complained of the heat or the seating. It was all worth it for three hours of entertainment. There were bugs too for company.

The names of the theatres were also rather quaint - we had Regal, Embassy, Light House, Picture House, Minerva, Plaza, Tivoli and so on.

English movies arrived in India almost two years after they were released abroad. Some of them were even screened at the school. The auditorium would be darkened and a temporary screen set up or at times the large wall served the purpose. We would troop in and sit on the carpet that would be spread on the floor, no chairs, so that more numbers could be accommodated . Viewing movies at school was 1/10 the cost of going to the theatre. Parents were more than willing to let us go and watch these films. I remember Lassie was one of the movies I watched at school.

Once a year we all were packed into buses and taken to a theatre. If we were lucky, it would be a special screening only for the school. If the theatre was close by , we had to walk in twos and a teacher would bark if we moved out of line. We went for Sound of Music, Born Free and many more.

The show invariably started with a news documentary. Those were the days we had just the radio. So we watched the news in action. This was followed by two or three trailers of forthcoming movies. And then the actual movie. An audible gasp - when the censor certificate indicated the number of reels of the movie. And then we would settle down to watch. At times, there would be a pause between reels resulting in an unscheduled intermission . This occurred as there was only one print of the picture sent to each centre and therefore, the timings in different theatres were staggered to allow the transportation of the reel from one theatre to another. These unscheduled pauses were greeted with hooting and whistling.

We also had a friend of my father, who was probably one of the few people of that era to have had a home theatre. Primitive one by present standards. It was the same old projector with reels and a screen and speakers. It would be hauled to different locations in the house, and on a clear summers day, we would watch Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet, seated in the open terrace of their home. The men had their drink, the women and kids had to make good with lime juice. We were also served delicious home made snacks.

The first real change came with the introduction of the 70 mm theatre and the first movie screened there was The Sound of Music. The theatre was air conditioned and had better sound systems. It belonged to a well known actor and he had his huge portraits all over the place, rather garish. But who cared.

Soon some of the old theatres were thus renovated and airconditioned, others gave way to malls, some were converted into what are called ‘function halls’, they made more money renting out the place for weddings.

And this went on till a few years ago, when the multiplex era started in India. Soon we had our very own with an Imax screen. The tickets were priced almost 3-4 times that of the other theatres and the initial reaction was that it wouldn't last. Who will pay close to 100/- Rs for a ticket?!! Initially out of curiosity people did go, but after that most felt it was a cool place to hang out. I mean, you also had places to shop, places to eat, never mind they were as expensive as the tickets. One multiplex led to another and each more expensive. The latest multiplex in our city has lazy boy type of seats to recline and watch in comfort.

We have an advantage, one of the multiplexes is situated close by. And it is a small walk. Tickets can be booked online for a price. Walking meant that one did not have to search for a place to park, and we could shop around, eat at the food court ,watch the movie and come back home. Nice plan. But as luck would have it, for the occasional movie-goer, it was a big let down when the movie did not meet our expectations and then you wondered whether all that expenditure was worth it!!

The younger one and her friends, last month, could not get tickets for a movie at the multiplex, and they rushed to one of the older theatres where they found tickets readily available. They watched the movie, ate the popcorn and had a coke and came back all happy. As one put it , they did not spend much and therefore did not feel cheated that the movie was not as good as the review.

Last week, she came home again and we planned a movie which did not get any rave reviews but had a good star cast. They decided that they would see it at the ‘new’ theatre they had discovered and roped me in. The theatre was just across the road from office, and I played hookey for three hours. The movie was worth the cheaper ticket. Yet, it was a long time since I had been to these theatres. The seats were hard. There was no leg space, (I am complaining !!)almost like travelling in the new low fare-no frills - aircraft . The crowd was noisy. They heckled and hooted for other reasons. And it was not digital, so we knew when each reel ended and the other started. And somewhere along we had just the audio without the video!!

So much for the experience.

I shall stick to the multiplex for the two movies that I watch annually. The rest of the movies, I shall watch on the small screen in the comfort of my home.

Friday, February 27, 2009

If you love the sub ... read on

The subway sandwich is a favourite of mine. And only one of them - the veggie delite . I learnt that it is best to leave our Indian items out of a sub – after all it is a western concept and paneer tikka is a definite NO- NO.
You should think it would be easy just walking into the sub outlet and ordering a veg sub. I had the most terrible experience . I managed the choice of the bread. Then came the veggies, and I wanted my money’s worth, I had all that was displayed, followed by the sauces. The experience almost put me off sandwiches for a year till the younger one took charge of my order . And I was happy once again.

We walked in a couple of days ago. There was a small group that just came in. And they were rather demanding and very sure of what they wanted. One said honey oats , another was emphatic about cold meat, her companion wanted exactly the opposite, please warm the sub for me, no olives, more jalapenos and so on. I was flummoxed. There I stood tongue tied, the daughter had just received a call and she kind of signalled me to go ahead. But no, I stepped back and allowed three others ahead of me, and waited till she finished and came along , and in seconds I was handed a delicious sub which I enjoyed with a chocolate cookie and iced tea.

I realise that I am not the only one feeling intimidated at a subway outlet. I found a whole wiki-how page devoted to ordering a sub, and they seemed to agree that it was a complicated process. I feel better already.
Some tips I picked up at
Decide the bread, meat, veggies before approaching the counter.
Bread choices - Bread:
-Whole Wheat-Honey Oat-Garlic-Italian-Italian Herbs & Cheese.

Whole Wheat and Honey Oat are both made with wheat bread. Italian, Garlic, and Italian Herbs & Cheese are all made with white bread. "Italian" is they claim just a fancy word for "white bread." The bread is made by them. (I wonder if that is how it is in India too) And you can either have a six inch or footlong.

Be specific about the veggies you want – more lettuce please, or less olives, or go easy on the cucumber….
-Onions-Lettuce-Tomatoes-Pickles-Pepperonis-Jalapenos-Green Peppers-Cucumbers-Olives

-white American-cheddar-pepper jack
At our sub outlets I am told they ask you if you want extra cheese - be prepared to pay more if you have taken the extra. It may hold good for other ingredients too.

At this stage I think you need to tell them if you want to warm the sub. Warming of the sandwich is recommended if you have wet items like meatballs in them. The do say you can roast a teriyaki.

Go easy on the sauces. I had a terrible time. Mustard ma'am ?– sure ,why not? – I remember how I loved having mustard sauce with sausages when I was a kid ( way before I turned vegetarian), and sweet onion? or whatever – I love onions and figured it would be good too, – yes some more of that please, and so on, till I had a heavy sub handed over . Ugh!

Choice of sauces -
-Light mayonnaise-Regular mayonnaise-Mustard-Dijon mustard-Honey mustard-Ranch dressing-Sweet Onion Sauce-Chipotle Southwest Sauce-Barbecue Sauce
Meats for the carnivorous
Salami-Pepperoni-Ham-Turkey-Roast Beef-Bacon-Roasted Chicken Breast-Teriyaki Chicken-Steak

And of course if you wish the Salt, pepper, oil, vinegar
Phew! That is a lot, and I should think the term sandwich artist coined by them is quite appropriate for the guy at the counter. I guess a few visits and I would be all set to order my sub on my own.

Read this link too if you want to be a smart one at the subway, some of which has been quoted above
And you could find a clip on YouTube too.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

India at the Oscars

A lot has been written about the Oscars. Like an India-Pakistan cricket match, the whole of India must have had their TV sets on to watch the ceremony live.

So much of India at the Kodak theater.

I was not particularly enamoured by Slumdog Millionaire , though I did appreciate it for the fine editing and piecing of different sequences, but otherwise I thought it was the same old story and more of a fantasy than the Hindi movies we are used to. .

I remember before the touted success of the movie, I had picked up the book at the library ( since the title Q&A appealed to me - and besides I am a quiz -show- fan) but having glanced at the brief description of the story on the jacket, thought it was not my kind of book. Ever since the movie was released, the book has disappeared off the rack and in circulation. I do want to find out how closely the script has adhered to the original.

The gory details that were part of the movie reminded me of a movie my parents had discussed when I was young. - younger than 10 I should think. The movie was 'Mondo Cane' It horrified my mother in particular, and some of it was shared with us. The movie showed the maiming of people to serve as beggars. And it had I believe, rather vivid pictures of blinding subjects, chaining the limbs in order to stunt and handicap the person.

I recollected this discussion after seeing Slumdog and found a few references on google.

Mondo Cane (A Dog's World; also a mild Italian curse) is a 1962 documentary film by Italian film makers that was made about cultural practices in the East and was mainly intended to shock or surprise the audiences in the West. The movie was a huge success. It seemed to have been dubbed a shockumentary in those times. It was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival. The movie's theme song, "More," was in 1964, nominated for Best Song. The film's video packaging states it won an Oscar, although it was only nominated. The film started a fad known as "Mondo film".

There seem to be few similarities between Slumdog and Mondo Cane.

For whatever shortcomings the movie had for me, I guess they were forgotten and it was a great moment when two Indians received Oscars. A R Rahman has produced better music, and so it was not really a great song that got an Oscar, but he truly deserved it for the music he is known for. In my opinion, Illaya Raja and A R Rahman are two music composers who deserve international acclaim.

The Oscars, The Booker. The Indian media will talk about it for some time and understandably too. Until now, we took pride when an NRI scientist won a Nobel, but this is a different story altogether.

If it was not for political interferences we could have duplicated this feat in the sports arena too. Maybe we will soon, despite that ....

Monday, February 16, 2009

All the world's a ....

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts

I shall dwell on that later.

I went to the concert where sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan played along with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra . It was a nice evening.

My ears are not attuned to Western Classical music. And personally, I cannot listen to Western classical music over the radio, the music is soft at parts and then suddenly very loud ... yet I have realised that I like watching the musicians play live and that is when I truly appreciate the effort that goes into the performance. The coordination of many instruments on stage has me enthralled.

Since it was a music fusion of sorts there was also a striking difference in the two styles. The Indian duo of sarod and tabla players came to the stage with just their music instruments and tuning tools. The sarod maestro faced the stage and respectfully covered his foot that faced the audience with a shawl. The westerners sat in a semi circle while the conductor had his back to the audience. Their music sheets all kept ready. Western Classical music, I learn, has a very disciplined structure while Indian classical music involves more improvisations done spontaneously during the performance.

The conductor has always fascinated me. What did he actually do? The Western musicians at any rate had their sheets which they dutifully turned as they played along. At previous performances, I had observed that the musicians frequently looked up from their notes at the conductor. In this performance however, they did not seem to do that at all. They required no cue from the conductor and played to perfection.

Soon after the concert I logged online to have a better understanding of the role the conductor had in the orchestra. And from what I read, it seems that he was not just there to wave his hands about. Conductors communicated the directions to performers. They set the tempo and get the act together. They choose the compositons. They need to have a deep understanding of the basic elements of musical expression, and the music instruments that make up the orchestra. The wave and smaller movements, the flow of the hands all have something to convey to the musician. The conductor has to learn the entire score while the individual musicians need to master just their pieces. He would have to know precisely when each instrument would join in or fade out. Besides he was the public face of the group .

A very important role indeed.

In the larger picture ... in a philosophical vein .... Is the world a concert ( apologies to Shakespeare) and are we the players . And the conductor ?

I have edited this part here. The younger one who read the post in my presence felt that it was just not me - and I kind of agreed with her. Abrupt as it may be..
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