Goa, Brooklyn, New York and St. Louis

Last night, I forgot to carry the house keys when I went out with biwi to a restaurant to catch up with a couple friend.

I realized it the moment I closed the door and I was like fuck, fuck, fuck.

But it was too late to do anything about it. So I didn’t think much and we all enjoyed our food and wine and conversations. While we were at it, I did check with my landlord over Whatsapp if he had spare keys to the house by any chance. He didn’t. Eventually we called up another couple friend who live in Goa (very close to our own house), and then we went over to their place and I had a Tuborg there and biwi had some Baileys and then we had some more conversations, followed by a good night’s sleep in their spare bedroom. The next morning, they also shared with us a phone number of a guy who opened locks. That guy soon came over to our place and he took 800 bucks and after 15 minute of effort, opened the door for us. Biwi and I did nothing much during the day but in the evening we watched this movie called Brooklyn, on our home projector. I loved the way the movie was written and shot and put together as a film. Below is a trailer for those who haven’t seen the film and though the movie is not for everyone, lovers of fine subtle cinema would get what I have to say about this movie.

From a ‘story’ perspective, the movie managed to remain just above that threshold that’s required to keep any story moving forward without making you fall asleep. The story could have slipped off very easily, had the makers tried to be any more “arty” with it. I appreciate the way the makers managed to get the movie just enough dramatic – like that supposedly spicy food that has just enough spice for it to be called spicy – anything less and it would be labelled bland – anything more, and it would be called playing safe.

In a typical commercial movie, it’s very clear what the protagonist wants and there are serious obstacles in her journey of trying to get what she wants – especially if she ventures into a new territory.

In Brooklyn however, the leading lady Eilis, in spite of venturing into a new territory (moving from Ireland to US) – wants very little from life and there is not much of an obstacle in her journey anyway. This typically makes for a boring story but this movie has just enough going on for you as an audience to care about watching Eilis doing the things that she does and meeting people whom she meets. The story gets powerful (and thus safer) as the film progresses and ends almost perfectly well.

I also loved everyone’s acting. And the colour tone of the film. And the costumes. And the details given to how everyone looked – the makeup, the hair and all of that. And the way most scenes were designed to take place in locations that avoided the need for tremendous amount of money to be spent on visual effects and grand sets to create a world from 1950s. I have been trying to write a short story where biwi can play the lead protagonist and I can shoot for zero budget, and so I know how hard it is to write anything worthwhile when you have constraints. I like it every time I see a nicely written movie. Brooklyn was a nicely written movie.

I might end up going to Brooklyn for a day or two in September.

New York I mean. Just like that. No, not because I watched the movie. LOL, no. Not like that. I’ve just been having this feeling (since last few days) to go visit Sweety, my sister, who lives in St. Louis. To reach St. Louis from India, you either fly to New York or to Chicago (and then take a connecting flight). And so I have been thinking about spending few days in New York before I fly to meet her. There is nothing much to do in St. Louis anyway. By the way, call it a freaky coincidence if you will, but I was reading this book by Mark Twain called Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (have been reading it since last year actually – had picked up a cheap paperback copy from Jasidih Railway station) and the hero of the book, while on his river adventure, crosses St. Louis – of all the places in this world!

It might not sound like a big deal but till like few days ago, if you asked me where St. Louis was, I would have probably told you ‘in Italy’.

Yes, even when my own sister lives there – I didn’t know about the city. The thing is, she has been living there for only about a year I guess (she was in some other city in US before that), and though I am sure she told me where she was moving to, when she moved to St. Louis, who the fuck remembers a name like that? I didn’t. And so when I felt like visiting her and therefore asked her few days ago where she lived and she told me it was ‘St. Louis’ and then a day or two after that, I was reading this story by Twain and then Huckleberry Finn starts crossing St. Louis and I was like WTF man – is this happening for real?

On the lines of my WTF emotions, there is something else I’d like to share. A few days ago I was on my way from Goa to Bhopal to shoot a wedding. It was not a direct flight. I had few hours of waiting time at Mumbai airport. I decided to have few bottles of Tuborg and felt pretty good about it. I even published a Facebook status saying how drinking during transit was so cool and all that. And then I mostly slept in the Mumbai Bhopal flight. And then worked hard in Bhopal for the next two days. On my way back to Goa, I had a similar waiting time in Mumbai. But this time, while waiting at the airport, I had coffee and muffins and wrote emails. The Mumbai Goa Jet flight was surprisingly full of people in spite of the departure time being so odd (0230 AM – early morning). I took my seat. A nice window seat. And I thought I would have a nice sleep and all that, given that I was so tired from working all day. But sleep didn’t happen. No, not because of the coffee. The guy who came and sat next to me was fucking high on alcohol and kept chatting very loudly with three of his friends, all seated in the row behind me. He was the only one from that group, seated in my row – occupying the middle seat. And he fucked up my sleep. I wasn’t sure any more if I still liked the idea of having alcohol while waiting at airports during flight changes. Definitely not for everyone. Do it only if you are going to sleep after boarding. Like me. I still remember the last (and only) time I was in New York. I had just one night to spend in the city (had arrived from Boston and had a morning flight to catch for LA). I spent most of that night, drinking with a friend who was attending her school reunion party and had decided to take me along with her (this was the first time we were meeting in person). So anyway, I drank, drank and drank. And then I puked some and then as the sun was about to rise, I somehow managed to reach the airport and caught my flight to LA. And yes, you guessed it right, slept all through those six hours. And puked some more after reaching LA. I mean not at the airport or anything like that. But puke I did. And I think, I will end this post on that note. However pukish that note might be. Bye.

I took out my new Samsung Note5 to shoot raw photographs

Biwi and I went for a monsoon trek in Goa yesterday and I thought of trying out my phone-camera capabilities in a real-world scenario. I got myself a new Samsung Note5 about two weeks ago. Those who want to know how many “megapixels” the phone-camera has, fuck off. Everyone else, yes, so what was I talking about? Phone-camera capabilities, right.

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I love the fact that this phone has the option to shoot photographs in DNG (equivalent of RAW mode that bigger cameras offer).

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The above photograph shows me trying out the phone-camera on the first day of receiving the phone. I showed this image to biwi today and the only thing that she had to say was – ‘how booby I look’. ‘You occupy just 20% of the frame’, I sighed.

For those who don’t know what shooting in DNG or RAW means, well, simply put, it captures a much wider range of exposures (and overall range of colours) in a single click (of course limited ultimately by what the camera’s digital sensor is capable of). Now this really is very important for most professional photographers – except may be those who work in the news industry and don’t have enough time to edit there images. Because only when you have a raw digital photograph, you can truly extract the colours and give all your images a consistent look, that pleases you. Trying doing the same with a Jpeg image is just a software gimmick (based on smart algorithms). A Jpeg file simply doesn’t have the extra information on colours and exposure (captured from reality) to rely upon. As an upside, a high resolution Jpeg image would only be around 4 to 5 Mb in size, compared to 25-35 Mb that a raw file will end up taking (or more – based on the camera type / resolution).

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A racing event started as Biwi, I and a few more trekkers waited for a bus (that would take us to the trekking start-point). I was so happy – I could begin testing my phone-camera capabilities even before the trek had commenced 🙂

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The starting point for the trek was about one and a half hours bus ride from Panjim. From there, it was a roughly two hours trek to a waterfall. There wasn’t much climbing involved – but the route was slippery at many places. And it kept raining for most part.

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A walk on a leaf is a delicate act! 😛

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All the images in this blog-post were copied from the phone to my laptop and then processed in LightRoom. Most were shot in DNG but not all. The picture above where biwi is posing in front of Santrem waterfall, was accidentally shot in Jpeg. It still is a good photograph but do you notice, compared to all the other images, it lacks that certain depth and richness and vividness of colours? If you don’t, you don’t have to shoot in DNG really! 🙂 And if you do, well, this is why having raw images is important!

Let me also talk about a small issue with Note5 that makes it very easy for you to miss storing raw images (happened a lot with me yesterday).

You can save raw picture files only when you shoot in a “Pro” mode that the default camera app offers. But “Pro” mode is not the default setting of the camera-app. You have to manually change the setting (it takes a single click though). The camera then retains the “Pro” but only as long as you don’t go for video. And this sucks. I was shooting few video clips too yesterday, using the default camera app. And every time I would go back to taking pictures after that, the “Pro” mode was deactivated – and that meant no raw files. 🙁 I didn’t realize this many a times – and ended up with several Jpeg only files 🙁 I hope that as I start using the phone-camera more often, my muscle memory grows and takes care of this issue (by making me automatically check the mode before shooting).

What is a monsoon trek without some slippages and falls? 🙂 By the way, the blur that you see in the above two images was unplanned (and though it works for these two, I lost many shots because of it). The learning is, you cannot rely upon the camera app’s default ISO and shutter speed settings (even in good light) to shoot action / fast moving stuff. This is probably more of an app issue though – or may be there is a sports mode (that I am yet to explore) that doesn’t let the shutter speed fall below say 1/200 seconds. Until then, I will stick to manually setting up my ISO and shutter speed the next time I go out shooting.

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So what are my concluding thoughts?

I think it’s a brilliant camera in the right hands. I already know it would not be very effective in low light – but the same goes for my GH4. From morning to early evening though – I don’t think I need to carry any additional camera for street photography (or when I am on a vacation). I shall try shooting with my phone more often now and see how my feelings evolve. What do you think of these photographs by the way? Still want to buy a DSLR to get better pictures? 😀

The Fencer – movie review

The Fencer is a a simple feel good cute movie, where everything works – the acting, the setting, the visuals, the sound, the story, the music. And yet the only reason I don’t feel like giving it anything more than 7 on 10 is because – well it is such a risk-free movie. You would know it when you watch it. To those wondering what the movie is about, the trailer should do the job. To those who have seen Shahrukh’s Chak de India (and loved it – which I guess should include everyone, because how can you not love Chak de??), this one is basically the Russian version of Chak De India (produced by Finland), with far lesser drama (different style of telling a story if you may; nothing against more drama) and with the women hockey team replaced by a team of cute kids who are learning a new sport. And Marta, love you – you were awesome (you would know what I am talking about once you have seen The Fencer – it’s definitely recommended).

PS: I saw this movie as part of the International Film Festival of India. The producer was happy to announce that Finland had selected The Fencer for Oscar submission.

Moor (2015) movie review

I might not have seen many Pakistani movies, but this one, from a production and aesthetics point of view was as good as any big budget movie – from India, Europe or Hollywood. I saw it yesterday as part of the International Film Festival of India, in Goa and for the first 10 to 15 minutes, I was like, WTF – is this really a movie from Pakistan? Such stunning visuals, such impactful sound-track…. And the music, mind-blowing!

But here’s the thing, by the time the movie ended, I was sure I could not rate it more than 6.5 on 10. 🙁 As a movie the story didn’t lead up to anything great at all. I think the writer made the story-telling more complex than was needed (for an otherwise simple straightforward story about corruption and honesty). Also – there were too many different colour tones, which didn’t feel right at times. The effect was jarring. There was this weird lack of coherency in story-telling that made me uneasy several times, after first half hour. Though I must add that the movie never slipped away totally. It kept coming back to being watchable and enjoyable (without distraction).

Some actors were good but there were many average and some below-averages ones too – which was a major turn off (the first dialogue scene itself was so fake). There were few actors (including the lead actor) who worked perfectly well when they didn’t speak much, but didn’t look convincing many a times when they had dialogues – they looked and felt like theatre artists. Must add here that the lead actor and the actress were stunning to look at. Really really good looking. On this note, let me also mention that the main villain was a look-alike of Kulbhushan Kharbanda. Just FYI.

As a summary, I would say that in spite of some super strong aspects (cinematography, sound, music, overall context and some good actors), Moor kept getting randomly over-dramatic (in an abstract fashion) every 15 minutes – till the very end. It almost felt like two different people had made two kinds of movies and then they had been put together by an editor. One director would let emotions carry forward the story, another would make characters speak to each other in a randomly dramatic fashion. So essentially, this was good attempt at being a great movie but IMHO could not get there!

Much Loved (2015) movie review

This movie is about the life of prostitutes in Morocco. Every fifteen minutes, someone fucks someone. And there are some amazing things about it. The movie, by sheer means of visual storytelling, conveys how prostitutes can be loved, raped and abused, just like anyone else, even when all the three actions, on a physical level, are just sexual acts. You also get to see prostitution as just any job. You see the challenges with this particular job – the boycott by family members and neighbours, feeling of loss of power with powerful clients / police etc. This movie offers a fine, realistic glimpse of the life of prostitutes in Morocco, portraying a very neutral look at their lives. You relate to them on many levels (good days at work, bad days at work, cracking jokes with friends, finding support and solace in friends in times of despair etc.). All the actors are great and look and feel authentic (except the few Europeans – who looked very caricaturish).

Above are the things that I liked, but there are issues with the movie too. There are passages which feel either repetitive or longer than they need to be. As a feature length movie, it falters many a times in the ‘pace’ department. It just keeps randomly slowing down, now and then and that’s some major turn off, for a movie that otherwise has so much visual stimuli to turn you on, quite literally.

PS: I saw Much Loved last night in Goa as part of the International Film Festival of India.

Flocken movie review

This Swedish movie revolves around a school girl and is set in a small village where she lives with her mother and sister. I saw the movie in Goa today, as part of the International Film Festival of India. The director Beata Gårdeler was present to introduce the movie at the festival, but weirdly, the organizations did not care to arrange for any Q&A after the movie got over.

Flocken is a powerful movie where everyone has acted brilliantly. The movie starts off with a neutral (or rather happy) feel to it, and then as it progresses, you can see things getting darker and darker. By the time it ends, you are left with a depressing feeling. You want to enter the story and make things right for yourself. You feel outright bad for the girl (who is dealing with getting raped by her classmate; and very few people believe her). Surprisingly, no one is shown as a clear villain in the movie. Everyone’s point of view is presented in subtle ways (and more so, in cinematic ways – by use of visuals more than dialogues). Overall, this is an example of fine cinema. One might not like how the movie ends, but one cannot ignore the consistent gripping impact the movie has on the audience. Good job Beata!

Bebe Tiger (Young Tiger) Movie Review

Bebe Tiger is one of those indie fiction movies that have a very documentary movie feel to them. I saw this French movie yesterday in Goa (India) as part of the International Film Festival of India. It’s about the life of a young refugee in France (from Punjab, India). Another movie around refugees that I had seen just few weeks ago was a movie called Dheepan (both these movies are doing their rounds in film festivals and are yet to release commercially). Both the movies are essentially about bringing out the day to day lives of these refugees and yet, they generate such different emotions. Personally, I liked Bebe Tiger better. It was more subtle and the focus on plot was minimal.

Because I don’t like to talk too much about the plot in my movie reviews, let me just focus on the things that left an overall impact on me as a member of the audience (so that those who haven’t yet seen it, can decide if they want to see the movie or not).

Bebe Tiger is a fast moving movie. Almost feels like an editor’s movie. Because the focus is not too much on the plot, the fast edit actually helps keep the pace just right. I also loved the acting by everyone (and the lead actor did total justice to the role). The visual language throughout the movie is very consistent. And I think that is the only real problem with the movie. Nothing really happens. Things happen of course, but they are too mild to distract you from the idea that what the film-maker really cares about is for you to feel how Many (the young refugee from India) feels on a day to day basis in France. And so, though I liked the movie, it left me with a slightly hollow feeling of something amiss (had the exact same feeling after seeing another indie movie – Mina Walking).

Bottomline – definitely a good movie but so much potential to be better.

Unbranded – movie review

I saw this documentary movie in the recently concluded Mumbai Film Festival. I don’t think it is a festival-worthy movie. There are a lot of great images but the overall story is extremely hollow and boring for most part. The donkey was the star though (amidst all the horses). I think if someone can make a 15 minute short about this story, retaining all the stunning visuals and the donkey part – it would make for a pretty recommendable watch. The feature length documentary is not recommended.

The Threshold – movie review

I saw this movie in the recently concluded Mumbai Film Festival. It was an interesting movie but I find it difficult to give it a ‘recommended viewing’ rating. I liked the movie but felt almost throughout that it lacked something. Two actors and one single location for more than an hour, needs a really really intense gripping out of this world story to have a real impact.

As far as acting goes, Neena Gupta easily outdoes her only co-actor – apna Vyomkesh Bakshi (who was there too, at PVR Citymall, to watch the movie).

I wish the makers had been able to pull off better sound – the voice literally cracked in certain scenes. That is not acceptable from a choreographed movie. For a low budget movie where you don’t want to spend much on location and production in general, Mina walking was class apart. Because when you are watching Mina walking, you are not thinking that it’s a low budget movie. Just because things look real, and everything is shot on location, does not make a movie look and feel low budget. I just think Mina walking had so much amazing visual stuff to offer. Threshold does not offer much visually. And therefore it feels like watching a play in a theatre where actors are all who matter – not the setting. I have this feeling, I would enjoy a play on the same script more that I did the movie. Because if a movie is only about actors – then you probably don’t need to make a movie no?