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Aug 31, 2006

Musical composers in the Hindi film industry

I watched Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, and was really moved by the scores and songs in the fim. The trio of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy are definitely my current favourite 'band' of composers. Their first real hit was the classy Dil Chahta Hai (Farhan Akthar). The songs were melodious and suited the film well (loved the didjeridu intro for the song set in Australia). 'Koi Kehe' is still a fav (danced to a minute of this song in my varsity days).

The trio has created musical magic ever since - each movie that they've composed for have had their tunes following the flow of the movie, like the aussie instrument in DCH, or the heart-beats for Kal Ho Na Ho. Another favourite is the (brave) attempt at macabre music in Kyun... Ho Gaya Naa. Their music has made my movie experience a whole lot better.

Another 'Hindi' composer I admire is AR Rehman. Though most of his Hindi work is a rehash of hits in Tamil, they seem to have that special variety that keeps listeners hooked. I'll post some thoughts on the Tamil music industry at a later stage.

A composer I've tried to follow after listening to a few hits is Sandeep Chowta. He worked on a few films by Ram Gopal Varma like Mast, Company (maybe more, I stand to be corrected). Its the background score that is real quality - quite necessary for some of the suspense-filled stuff from the South Indian director. I also enjoyed his work in Bollywood Hollywood.

Another up and coming composer is Pritham (Dhoom, Kaal, Garam Masala). Some really catchy numbers.

My big negative in the composing arena in Bollywood is Anu Malik aka Mr Xerox. Maybe he was creative in his young days, but now (at least since I've started listening to his music) he seems to have lost it all, and relies on popular work from other composers (especially English songs) to make his hits. He has thrown a few surprises during the course of his work like the theme from Ashoka, and songs from Refugee, but in general, his composition really shows a lack of creativity. Maybe its just me.

I'm sure I've missed many, but on a whole, the Hindi music industry has displayed a lot of innovation and creativity lately. I'm really optimistic of the kind of work that will be produced in the future.

Btw - have you listened carefully to the string-filled background music while viewing Desperate Housewives? Just love the stocatto and pizzicato notes...

An interesting link on how to play the didgeridu -

Aug 28, 2006

Madam & Eve comic strips

I'm a big fan of the Madam & Eve cartoons by Dugmore, Francis & Rico. Its a satirical and creative depiction of life in South Africa as protrayed by the 2 central characters - Gwen Anderson (Madam) and her loyal maid Eve Sisulu ('bless you!').

The comic strip first started a few years before the new democratic government came into being in 1994. The charming way life was depicted during those times as well as currently is sure to bring some nostalgic memories (I know I had quite a few of those moments while reading through the collections for the first time). The cartoonist, Rico, should be complemented for suceeding to bring out the classic expressions of the primary and secondary characters (especially Thandi, Gwen's son's Zulu girlfriend's baby sister - mixed relationships, just one of the many themes that get touched on).

My favourite week of cartoons (and there are many - this one happened to pop up at this moment) was the head-hunters going after the latest black graduates for top positions in BEE companies. The way the the graduates deal with their hostage negotiators still cracks me up.

Go ahead. Browse through the cartoons on the site. Even if you are not living in South Africa, you'll be able to relate to the stabs they creators take at international events.

The cartoons spawned a TV sitcom (a let-down from the cartoon) and many international prints. The cartoon has a large fan base, and many of their publications are a hit at the local libraries. One columnist even suggested that every coffee table in SA should have a copy of Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom and a copy of a Madam & Eve collection. I agree.

Here are a couple of cartoons, courtesy the Madam & Eve site, that I found hilarious.

Aug 25, 2006

Movie of the week - Tsotsi

South Africans were on a high earlier this year when the announcement that the home-grown, 'proudly SA' production of 'Tsotsi' had won the Oscar this year for best foreign film. It was the first time that a SA film (or African - I could be wrong) has won an award at the Oscars. As is typically the case, all the problems of crime and corruption were forgotten for some time and the focus was rather on a significant achievement. Example instances of such phases have been the winning of the 1995 Rugby WC and 1996 African Cup of Nations, breaking the 400 run barrier (again) to chase down the highest cricket score in history, winning the right to host the 2010 Football WC.

As you can see, most are sports-related. Going beyond the fields and arenas to the cinema world was a significant leap for the SA film industry. Only Charlize Theron's Oscar for best actress (in Monster) had ever put SA on the international film stage.

Ok, back to the movie. I watched Gavin Hood's Tsotsi ('thug' in street language) after the awards were announced, so it was with a bit of anticipation (always a bad start - especially when I watch Hindi movies). The result was a provoking, and thoroughly enjoyable work of art. I think the film made more relevance to me as I could relate to most of what was being relayed by the production. At the time, the SA film industry had hardly any reputation for producing quality movies - this one was a pleasant surprise.

The movie is based on Athol Fugard's play by the same name, but adapted from the 80s to make more relevance to life in SA today. It tells the story of the life of Tsotsi, a faceless teenage criminal who, through events in his life, evolves towards an ordinary citizen. It touches on a number of themes close to the heart of someone living here - Aids, domestic violence, crime, the growing divide between classes of black families, etc..

The soundtrack was a major highlight. The mixing of SA-style Kwaito music (at the right places) really gave that authentic, downtown feel. Cinematography was excellent. I enjoyed the creativity of shots in establishing a scene as well as during the portrayal of the emotions of a character (especially Tsotsi's at the climax). The screenplay will also get my thumbs-up for its adaptation, dialogues and the all-important climax.

But its the excellent role of Tsotsi and the actor that played it (Presley Chweneyagae) that gripped my attention till the end. The way that the character is peeled away from the image of a hardcore gangster to a ordinary human being with feeling was a real treat to watch. Towards the end I was hoping (spoiler warning!) Tsotsi would not get shot (apparently he does get shot, but only after the end credits have rolled).

Well done to Gavin Hood and his cast & crew for bring out a real and passionate film without falling for the temptation of commercial filming. I enjoyed the fact that the focus fell entirely on the slumlife in SA without a hint of the visual extravaganza of modern Johannesburg. The movie is now the highest grossing SA film ever, and apparently inspired real-life gangsters to turn a new leaf (don't ask! :) ). Presley Chweneyagae became a star overnight and has featured in a couple of commercials since. New film cities have been planned in Cape Town (SA's cultural capital).

Pros: the kwaito soundtracks, Presley Chweneyagae, theme, the climax
Cons: very few. I could possibly mention the additional characters that failed to add to the central plot (like the disabled homeless guy on the wheelchair).

Aug 22, 2006

Sound editing basics

I've been assigned the role of the sound engineer for our skit for the onam function in a couple of weeks time. Most of the work entails the recording of sounds from popular Malayalam comedy shows. If you are a regular viewer of these shows, you'll know what I'm talking about.

I've not really played around with sound editing software mostly because the previous PC I had couldn't handle most apps. In fact, I recall using the computer just for work and the occasion music through winamp (old versions). The work done in the open-source world has kept me interested ever since I started working. After a few searches for audio ripping software, I came across Audacity.

Its a really cool software for sound editing and mixing. It was quite easy to understand the functionality available, and after a couple of minutes of messing around I think I've got the hang of it. Love the little effects available. I managed to download and install the LAME encoder for conversion to mp3 formats. The only problem was that the software (in true open-source fashion) only supported non-propriatory encoders/decoders. Since almost all malayalam videos come in VCD and DVD format, the ripping wasn't really possible at this stage.

After a bit of searching this morning I came across a shareware software called Alpeak AudiMovie Express. Really neat. I managed to test it on a VCD format, and the output (mp3 format) was perfect. Its got a trial period, but serves me well at this stage. I've been using mplayer for Windows for a long time now to play movies (compressed and non). Apparantly its possible to rip audio from VCDs through this software as well - I haven't yet tried it out.

Another recommended software was virtualdub.

Open-source's the coolest thing since ice cubes!

Aug 21, 2006

Thinking of buying a car...? Think again, you middle-class citizen...

While surfing around for information regarding potential cars in SA, I came across the following site: (courtesy MoneyWeb).

Yesterday a controversial, yet informative consumer advice program on MNet called Carte Blanche mentioned that owning a car in SA is the worst possible investment someone living here could do. Most cars averaged a 30% drop in value after its first year of use, while the Citroen's figured really badly. The comparison was conducted against other 'luxury' fixed assets such as boats, planes and cattle (?). Interestingly, the Nguni cattle (a local bovine) scored highly, thus owning such a farm provides the best return on investment.

A car is an essential if you want to survive in the Johannesburg urban jungle. Public transport is dismally poor (the government is apparently on course for a public transport rejuvenation through taxi & bus upgrades & the development of a new train service as part of prepping for 2010), and the local taxi's and trains are only recommended for thrill seekers with well-covered life insurances.

The motor industry segment in SA is one of the most profitable of all industries. Cars apparently costs 30% less in countries like New Zealand. Still, its a major status symbol among the up and coming Bluppies (non-derogatory term given to the fast growing black executives (yuppies) in SA) in Jozi (nee Joburg). Research by a weekly Sunday newspaper revealed that SA has one of the fastest growing number of millionaires in the world (other countries in the top 4 include South Korea and India).

SA has great potential, but I fear, unless government does something to curb the growing divide between the rich and poor, the bubble is going to burst. The regular industrial strikes that has made the news lately is testament to that.


Aug 17, 2006

Movie of the week - Anniyan

The Tamil movie left me dumbstruck the first time I watched it. During one of the occasional visits to Fordsburg (the 'Indian' area in Joburg), I spotted the DVD while dancing my way through the obstacle course of little stalls in the square. This was around 6 months ago. The humour of the week amongst my friends were the various stunts that the viewer had to endure when watching a Rajnikanth ("naanda Rajnikanth... naan lateaate sollaathe, stylee sollee...") movie. One of the classic that I can remember was the scene where there's Rajni and two villains plus Rajni's one gun with one bullet. How does he kill his attackers? Simple - he puts a knife's sharp end next to the barrel of the gun and fires. The bullet splits and hits both of his attackers. All in a day's work...

The DVD had Rajni's latest offering, Chandramukhi (an adaptation of Fazil's Manichithrathazhu - a far better outing that the Tamil version, but that's another debate), as well as 2 unknowns that I had never heard of - Anniyan & Sachien. I bought the DVD thinking I'll get my fair share of laughter through Rajni's stunts. My experience in Tamil movies was very limited. The only other movies I had seen were Minnale and Kkaka Kkaka. I enjoyed both immensely, and have been an avid fan of the director since.

After the first half an hour of Rajni's entrance and stunts, as well as a couple of minutes of the pretty Nayantara, I got bored and decided to surf the other movies. Sachien looked the typical romantic drama, so I gave that a miss. The other movie I had never heard of - not even about the main actors or the director.

The story took some time to start taking shape, but once hooked, the story started to grip me. The plot was unique, the characters were realistic, and the actors brilliant, particularly the main actor Vikram. I was impressed by the quick character-changes by the main actor between the various personalities towards the end of the movie. The direction and slick editing helped further enhance the viewing experience. It was pure exhilaration watching the Matrix-style action sequences. Vikram seemed to flow with the action and never looked awkward (credit again to the action team and the video edits). It was a change to see familiar Malayalam faces like Mani, Nedumudi Venu & Cochin Haneefa in this movie.

The highlight of the movie was definitely the gripping soundtrack (the composer is an established Harris Jayaraj who composed earlier hits for movies like Kkaka Kkaka), and the strong portrayal of the character Anniyan. The credits for the latter goes to the combined team effort of the actor, director, composer and last but definitely not least, the script writing team. Its a classic example of how a well-worked character (hero, in most cases) will drive the outcome of a movie. Other excellent examples of this include Tom Hank's Forrest Gump, Russel Crowe's Maximus Meridius, and Mel Gibson's William Wallace. A Malayalam movie hero that stand out include Mohanlal's character in Kireedam.

I enjoy watching movies where a clear evolution of a character can be seen. Usually, a difficult character reversal protrayed to perfection, sticks to my mind like butter on bread. This movie was highly entertaining and real visual head-rush. Loved it!

Pros - acting, direction, gripping plot, entertaining soundtrack.
Cons - the songs may have been forcefully entered into the movie; Prakash Raj seemed to have been wasted - his character was a bit unreal.

The movie was apparantly one of the biggest hit of the year in the Tamil film industry. Kudos to the tamil film community and audiences.

Aug 16, 2006

Dead, but not buried?

After a couple of years as a consultant in the field of information security, it looks probable that I might be moving away from this field in a couple of months time. Its been serendipitous experience for me in this area of work. The only prior knowledge I've had in this field had been a couple of information security courses at varsity.

It was with high expectation that I started working in this field, but that was dashed quite quickly when I began to realise that most of the interesting work was done already, or was being done by specialist computer scientists. All I had to do was to use the work they did to prove to others that they were indeed right (if u know wot i mean). Anyway, that phase is almost done, and I might be moving to another side of engineering pretty soon.

Now might be an apt time to share some of my experiences in this field:

1. Security is one of the last items in the list of priorities amongst the clients I've worked with. Some of my best work has been broken down because the client did not understand the importance of change (and why should they? "if its working fine, why mess around with it?"). I've often compared IS consulting to flogging a dead donkey. Yea, yea - so its my responsibility to educate them? Screw that - I'm an engineer, not a primary school teacher...

2. The 'sensational' part of security is the cool tools and techniques to demonstrate a hack eg. breaking an XP password, or surfing the internet when other cannot, or messing around with someone else's machine. These little tricks earned a lot of respect amongst friends and colleagues.

3. Anyone can be an expert in this field. All you need is some experience working with OSs and Cisco products, and a keenness to play around with open-source security software.

4. Very few keep up to date with the latest hacks. Its unlikely a minion company may be affected by an attack because of the effort and skills required.

5. Having said all this, the glorified role of a IS consultant is still an essential to many major organisations like banks because, like every aspect of modern business, bad news can have serious negative implications on the services offered by an organisation. When the sh!t hits the fan, everyone gets to feel it. I've not heard of any such news in my years in this role, but, like 9/11, anythings possible. In my opinion, the information security field is a dying field, as safer options for performing essential functions will begin to appear - and the role of a hacker will begin to diminish.

Aug 14, 2006

Its that time of the year again.. yeah!

The skit for our onam festivities is progressing steadily after the lengthy 7hrs spent working on it on Saturday and the couple of hours yesterday. The scriptwriting team usually starts off with a toast (the meeting should really be sponsored by Heineken considering the rate at which beer is polished off) and a few thara jokes. The alcohol's supposed to be the catalyst that inspires our creative genius; I think its just a really good excuse to get sloshed.

The script is peppered with dialogues from those classic mallu movies like Paandipada and Killukkam, some good ol' character and actor bashing, and some (hopefully slick and funny) soundtracks. The plan is to incorporate a few other item numbers into the play such as the thiruvaathira kali (a traditional south Indian dance characterised by sari-clad pennengal with slow but sure hand and foot tapping movements. I know, there's a lot more - please excuse my lame definition).

The highlight of onam for me is the sadhya. I just love the variety of items on store in a sadhya. Ahhhh... Can't wait for it.. :)

I've spent a few onams in Kerala a long time ago, and I remember all the traditions and activities that were in store when the festival time arrived. School festivals, flower arrangement competitions, atham, vellamkali... the list is endless. I hope to one day spend time in Kerala during the Onam festival week and relive those moments again. And I would highly recommend this to any tourist visiting India during this time. Its just the place to be.

Back to reality. The date for the function here is set for the 3rd of next month. We're doing good for time. Looking forward to pulling this off as well as we have being doing in the last couple of years. Now how about that round of beer...?

Aug 11, 2006

My Indian yatra pics

I've posted the link to pics from the visit to India at the end of last year.

Had a blast with my cousin & her husband... Hope to do it again sometime soon.


Btw - forgive my spelling and grammatical errors... I hate reviewing my work... Takes the fun out of posting something...

Proudly South African

I had an appointment yesterday with a sales rep from a reputed security company in South Africa. Since I moved to my new place, I've not really spent much on the upgrading its security. The townhouse came with all its typical SA decorations - burglar bars, security gates, intercom, electric fences... A rendition of the kind of lifestyle the residents of South Africa face nowadays.

The debate on the SA's high crime rate is a favorite topic between the people here. One can hardly remember a day that does not contain any reference to the crime. Typical arguments that source crime ranges from lack of employment to illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe and Nigeria.

The infamous Rivonia offramp is now patrolled at night by 2 police vans. Patrolled is actually the wrong word - more like sitting and waiting for something to happen. I can only feel sorry for these policemen that have to lay await for something to happen. What about the crime lords that have to put something on their tables - they can kiss the Rivonia offramp goodbye now, because some dumbasses decided to hit the same place twice in 2 weeks, and that too high-profile individuals. I can imagine the group that hit the offramp standing in front of the presiding underworld judge answering to their stupidity - "who the *@&(* hits the same place twice".

The sales rep showed me a range of options from pull-shut mechanisms, to reinforced steel, to plastic-free paint covers. I plan to take a few quotes before making my mind. Its funny - little children dream of one day playing with angels, or going to this chocolate factory. We South Africans dream of one day moving to a land where we won't have to lock our doors at night, or walk on the streets without worrying about the people walking around of you. Many South Africans see New Zealand and Australia as typical places where this dream can be fulfilled.

So, in spite of all this, what makes me "proudly South African" (a government initiative to discourage people from leaving SA by stressing the positives of SA while sweeping the problems under the carpet)? I've thought about this for a while, and came up with this - its that little glimmer of hope that something positive can be concocted. That one day, the butterfly would emerge from its cocoon.

Aug 10, 2006

Movie of the week

I recently watched the Malayalam movie Udayan aanu tharam. Its your usual feel-good movie, spattered in true Sreenivasan style with situational comedy, one liners, and a central theme that moulds the movie from beginning to end.

The movie looks at the malayalam film industry with a touch of satire. From the role models of aspiring directors and scriptwriters, through to acting skills training and the various 'side businesses' of the superstars.

I've a couple of key criteria that I must be satisfied with before I can give a favourable verdict.
1. (And most importantly) a great script/plot.
2. Character-driven acting.
3. Innovative cinematography and sound & visual editing techniques.
4. The movie has something different about it when compared to others in its genre.

This movie had an excellent underlying theme. I liked the protrayal of the 'ordinary' scriptwriter/director. The climax may have been a bit 'utopian' but its unfortunately part and parcel of the mallu masala movies from the last couple of years.

The actors fit their characters to the tee. I thought Salim Kumar's character was a bit of a third leg. The pick of the lot was definitely Rajappan aka Saroj Kumar :) The end where Saroj Kumar pulls the facial reactions of a 'psychic' reminded me of Sreenivasan at the end of Kaalapani when a gun is pointed to his head.

The cinematography had nothing spectacular, but nothing more should be really expected from a drama/comedy. The various instances of visual humor worked without being too obtrusive (over aaki illa).

I thought the scenes between Sreenivasan & Jagathi and Sreenivasan & Mohanlal were hilarious. The background score and all the songs (though maybe out of place in the movie) was melodious. Sreenivasan's son has a future in music. It was good to see Indrans (kalyanam kettan minimum, thaali kettan olla arogyam venam).

Verdict - A must see. I'll definitely watch it again.
Dialogue that stands out - Heh... Make-upinoke oru parithi ille da...
Comparable movies - Vadakkamnookiyendrum, Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala, English Medium.
Downfalls - The ending, half-utilised characters, nothing spectacularly different about this movie.

3... 2... 1... We have lift-off

I've finally decided to chase the wave.

The creation of a blog has been toying in me for some time now. Its been the usual story - work, work work. Never really had a chance to make it an ongoing thing. I started a blog a while back on a South African ISP called MWeb. Very pricy (subscription, I mean), and the interface wasn't really that user-friendly ('ergonomically incorrect' - as some fellow engineers might put it). Got a few tags 'cause of my unfallable commitment to the Indian cricket team (most of the other bloggers agreed with my opinions on cricket commentators (particularly SA & Aussie (yea.. say no more)).

So its back to the writing pad again (so to speak).

Here's to a successful second outing.