Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Voters' Rights

The Republicans lost the presidency and control of the Senate, although they did improve their minority position in the House.  Control of everyday life seems to be with legislators, but really it is the voters that need more control.

 Instead, after reviewing their strategy and analyzing the results, Republicans at the state level have decided to tighten up voting regulations which to most observers (myself included) will make it more difficult for citizens to vote.  They say they are concerned over election security, but others are more honest and admit they need these new rules to ensure they get elected.  Georgia has been pretty blatant, but others are doing the same thing.

One politician, pretending to be frank suggested some people are not qualified to vote as they don't understand the issues.  He's right.  None of us do.  The people he thinks are qualified really have been fed so much misinformation  that they often vote against their own self interest.  Few are really taught critical thinking and are susceptible to repetitive advertising.  The wealthy, with vested interests control a large share of the messaging that goes on.  In turn their elected legislators set the rules.

No one understands all the issues.  The issues are explained and prioritized.  Most voters have their own set of priorities and if they hear the right words from a candidate that simplifies their decision.  Unfortunately many of the words can be misleading and others confusing.  It is difficult to determine what is really in the voter's best interests.  It boils down to government policies effect everyone and all responsible citizens would want to vote for someone they trust to make the right decisions.

Very often the Constitution is cited as the most basic law of the land, but because it was written by men with vested interests it is not perfect.  The idea of balance is a good one, but in reality is difficult.   The southern slave holding states were concerned that they could be outvoted by the northern industrial states and forced some compromises.  Relatively less populous they got an agreement that slaves could count as 3/5 of a person so that their populations would be closer to that of the northern states.  To really make up the difference they also engineered a setup where each state had two senators regardless of population.  As one of two legislatures that meant they could balance against the House of Representatives that was based on population.  Furthermore in deciding the presidency the electoral college was set up so that each state would be given electoral votes equal to the number of Senators plus the number of Representatives.  A small state actually had comparable  leverage to the bigger states.  In the beginning the senators were actually appointed by each state legislation which would be one step removed from the voters, who were only propertied white men at the early stage.  The result of all this was that of the first 12 presidents 10 were slave owners with the exceptions of John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams.

A more modern innovation has been gerrymandering which has been done by both parties.  The state decides the boundaries of each representative district.  Computers have enabled the parties in control of state legislatures to calculate where the most optimal lines can be drawn.  It has now become common that while one party gets the most votes in a state, the state may send to Washington more representatives of the other party.  The decision of which candidates represent a party is generally chosen by fewer voters in primaries.  Thus we have elected members more afraid of primaries than the general election with good reason.

A rule in the Senate (not originally in the Constitution) requires that on particular votes 60 votes (out of 100) are required to pass laws.  Currently that means that Republicans can block much legislation.  The Democrats currently have 50 members, but the Vice President can break ties when the filibuster is not in effect.  There are tricks that can be done, but the minority Republicans have disproportionate leverage.  It is now such that the minority party (representing fewer voters) can block legislation that is favored by most Americans.

It is easy to see how vested interests can leverage power.  What about the voter?  They should be able to have their wishes respected, but in fact it never seems to work that way. 

The Democrats are not angels, but one needs to study the Republican agenda.  Basically they want lower taxes, fewer regulations and less government spending.  Everyone can easily agree to less taxes and at one time or another complain about bureaucracy.  Government spending is subject to personal opinions and one can be certain there are differences between well off people with power and the majority that are less well off with little power.  Still most voters understand that the Republicans represent big business.

What can Republicans do to gain support from voters?  They have the money of the rich and powerful (or most of it) to not only bombard their messages (please note how legislation and courts supported by judges picked by Republicans has allowed the rich to more anonymously donate more money).  The message is easily distorted.

One of their favorite tactics is to smear any progressive legislation with "Socialism" trying to associate that with evil, ineffectual dictatorships like the Soviet Union or Venezuela.  There are already many Socialist tools in America that have made life better for millions with social security being only one example.

Most people can understand the Republican economic agenda favors the wealthy and in practice hurts the majority.  They have learned that people can be persuaded to vote on their issue priorities.  The Republicans have found a few issues that are decisive for many voters.  Abortion is a big one.  Another big one is gun rights.  As gays have gained some rights others want to cut them down.  On top of all this is racial prejudices and fears.  Pretty much all of these are distorted to the detriment of all voters, but they see their one issue as being paramount.  Progressive legislation which would benefit all is dismissed.

Polling results on specific laws often favors Democrats but they do not get the power.  Think of the Republican appointees to the supreme court.

The Republicans with their wealthy supporters are able to control much of media attention.  Blatant misinformation is all too common often delivered in self righteous tones.  Jane Mayer has some relevant thoughts on how dark money has become dominant;

Fair elections give credibility which in turn makes it easier to govern.  Better decisions are made.

What can be done to protect the interest of Voters and Promote Good Government?

Many Europeans and even American political parties do not accept a head of government candidate unless they reach at least 50% plus one.  Why should the most powerful politician in the world be elected with less than 50% which means really over 50% prefer someone else?  Get that 50% fairly and those on the losing side can better accept the result.

Recognizing that despite what many claim, they really are voting for a party, a set of policies and/or traditions Proportional voting makes sense.  In the United States it could be done either nationally or more likely based on each state's population.  This would encourage multiple parties which more accurately reflect human opinions.  More of my view:

Yes it does make sense to vote for good people and to represent your specific local concerns.  It is possible to combine regional candidates with proportional representatives in at least two ways.  One is that in each agreed upon regional area you can vote for a candidate who wins first past the post while other seats are allocated on a larger scale. Two you can have lists that let voters know where their preferred and local candidates rank  so they can evaluate the probabilities of getting the representation they want.  This encourages political parties to be careful in how they decide on lists and not just favoritism.   There are voters who do vote for the person, even against other preferences.

For practical reasons after election results are finalized each party needs to be concerned how they represent the different regions of the country.  It would be relatively easy for the party with the most members, especially if they are well distributed.  Parties with lesser members need to take care of regions that voted for them and look for opportunities to cover areas not covered effectively by other parties. 

Minority party rights are needed to assure voters that their voice does count.  Just because one party lost the election, doesn't mean their voters can be disregarded.  Looking at history it is very common for new ideas to be rejected until they are recognized for their value.  -Filibusters originally gave a minority party to draw attention to an issue.  Having a platform to express concerns opposed to established policies is important.  Under proportional representation most governments would be coalitions, but on some issues more than 50% votes should be required.  Inevitably there will be ideas that take a long time to percolate into acceptance, but the alternative might be a dictator who may or more likely not be both benevollent and knowledgeable.

Misinformation is too often a decisive factor.  During an election campaign time is very precious and it often seems that existing remedies take too long.  The politicians has concerns to control the flow of information and it must be admitted that some information is honestly mistaken.  Context is often ignored and creates its own distortions.  Independent authorities could be helpful, but difficult.

The number of Senators can be somewhat adjusted.  The city of Washington has more people than a few of the states.  Puerto Rico has a unique position, but is not recognized as a state.  Should these two areas be recognized as states there would be 4 more Senators that at present look likely to be Democrats.  Of course as a political issue there will be those who want to stop it and will use all their resources against it.

The voters did put candidates in power and should not be surprised that they want to stay in power.   The suggestions are really at best a starting point.  Political power either shifts very slowly or very abruptly.

If you are curious about my political evolution you can read:

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Lighthouse of the Orcas

During the Pandemic movies have provided me with enjoyment and solace.  Streaming services and the library offer a lot of treasures and one can be selective.  My tastes are likely not exactly the same as yours, but there are as likely also commonalities.  "Lighthouse of the Orcas," available on Netflix is very moving.  Based on a true story means it has some relevance.  With a real natural theme it will resonate with most humans.

The movie offers a closer more intimate view of killer whales.  The protagonist based on the life of Roberto "Beto" Bubus who physically contacted and played with the whales.  The killing part is brief and perhaps brutal, but also natural when the whales come on shore and kill a sea lion.  Beto loves the seals and sea lions and rides a horse.

The movie starts with a mother bringing her 11 year old autistic son from Spain to the Patagonia region of Argentina based on a nature video that stirred her son.  The lighthouse keeper who is under pressure not to have physical contact with the whales is not very co-operative with the mother's desire to help her son and quickly dismisses her.  He decides to look up autism and changes his mind.  Nonetheless his boss is adamant that he would not allow any physical contact between the boy and any whale.  Firing is threatened.

He sets out to win the boy over and it is very small steps that move in the right direction.  There are feelings developing between the mother and Beto, but she resists because she fears being abandoned as her husband had done.  While progress is being made with the boy and the relationships, the father back in Spain is making legal demands that cannot be denied.

Autism is portrayed realistically.  The boy mostly has a vacant stare, except is disturbed by noise and other children.  When he is happy he wiggles his fingers.  The whales get his attention and he responds by following how Beto gets the whale's attention by pounding on the water.  He later shows interest in grooming a horse.  In reality Beto did go on to work with other autistic children showing that nature therapy often helps autistic children. 

Gerardo Olivares, the writer and director born in Spain had done a lot of traveling doing documentaries involving wildlife and later began working with fictional features.  He has also been a cinematographer and editor.

Pascal Gaigne, wrote the music.  He was born in France, but now lives and works in Spain.  The award winning composer has worked with directors from Spain, France, Cuba and Finland.

Oscar Duran handled the cinematography.  One of the outstanding features of this movie is the whales which are mesmerizing.  Filmed mostly in a remote part of Argentina.

The actual subject of the film, Roberto "Beto" Bubas wrote the book of his experiences that is the basis on the film and took part with a stunt role. 

Maribel Verdu, plays the mother coming from Spain in hopes that her autistic son might benefit from meeting a man known to work with whales.   She was born in Spain and has acted in Spain, Mexico and Argentina.  She did television commercials before getting into films at the age of 13.  The award winner has appeared in such films as "Belle Epoch" (1992), "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (2001) "Pan's Labyrinthe" (2006), and "Biancanieves" (2012).  After two years without a role she had given up on acting until Guillermo del Toro approached her for "Pan's Labyrinthe."

Joaquin Furriel played what might be called a whale whisperer who lives by himself.  Born in Argentina he started acting in television series in 1998 and did his first feature in 2011, but still spends most of his efforts on television.  

Joaquin Rapalini plays the 11 year old  autistic child so well that some assumed he was hired because he was autistic.  From Argentina he performed in a few films before this one and has done a few since. 

A trip to Nova Scotia and a few hours on a whale watching cruise are very fond memories.   It is wondrous watching such creatures in their natural environment.

The idea of animals helping treat autism and other conditions was explored in two earlier blogs regarding equine therapy.  Check out: and

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Knock on Wood

What is luck?   Generally it is an outcome (good or bad) that is important to us, but outside our direct control.  There are rituals some go through to increase their chances of some desirable outcome.  Or others do nothing, but hope some desired event will transpire.

The author Jeffrey S. Rosenthal was born on Friday, the 13th in Toronto and after education including Harvard is now a professor of Statistics at the University of Toronto.  Statistics can be pretty heavy stuff, but Jeffrey has actually been a standup comedian with an appropriate sense of humour.  Statistics deal with probabilities and recognize that most occurences are random or predictable.  

Statistics are scientific, part of the natural world that in humans is sometimes in conflict with the supernatural world.  Florence Nightingale was an early user of statistics as she pressured British military authorities to recognize that more soldiers were dying from disease than enemy weapons.  Many thought disease was just bad luck instead of inadequate sanitation.

 We can all recall events that seemed a matter of "luck." and often find ourselves ritualizing habits to improve our chances of good luck or minimizing bad luck.  Jeffrey feels that we attach supernatural forces to random and even predictable events.  He identifies "luck traps" that confuse the issue.

Luck traps are tools for examining the truth behind a "lucky" event.  Jeffrey recounts several ways we can be deluded.  Bias, Alternative cause, many hits, many people different meaning.  You already know some of them and can readily understand of any you aren't aware of.

Before the 2016 election, although the author was supportive of Hilary Clinton and felt Trump unqualified he agreed to a bet that he would pay another person $1.00 if Hilary won, but the other person would pay him $2.00 if Trump won.  Jeffrey feels a bit guilty at the results, but doesn't feel he was a jinx.

Scientific experiments often herald new breakthroughs, but are sometimes overturned by later experiments.  The author points out that each experiement is subject to randomness, biases and have possible alternative explanations.  He cautions that each research paper be regarded as a preliminary assessment subject to later confirmation or refutation.  Experiments should be replicatable.  Author feels those who successfully replicate an experiment should get more recognition.

Lotteries are one tool that people feel luck can help pull them out of their ordinary life.  There are many systems of picking numbers, but Jeffrey makes us aware that the odds are almost impossible for any individual.  But that doesn't stop people from buying tickets and developing their system.  He discusses March madness and its incredible odds.  Warren Buffet once offered one billion dollars for anyone who could predict each game and no one was able to claim it.  It may be fun, but the odds are incomprehensible.

Jeffrey got involved with a lottery retailer scandal.  It started with a complaint from a customer in Coboconk, Ontario who felt his retailer seller had cheated him out of his winning ticket.  He was able to convince Lottery Ontario to give him the winnings, but with a request to keep it confidential.  Other people began to question the process which concerned the lottery administration. Jeffrey was called in to do a statistical analysis where he discovered that retailers were winning an improbable number of  lotteries.  Statistically he could not prove any particular person was guilty, but it became obvious that the retailer had an advantage by hiding from the actual winners.  Changes were given such as a mandatory bell when a winning ticket is run through the checking machine.  Other jurisdictions in Canada and the United States uncovered cheating

There can be a comfort in accepting randomness.  The author met parents of a man who had died of a rare cancer.  They had read one of his articles and recognized that their son's death was not punishment for something they might have done.  The randomness was a comfort.

You may think his statistics take all the fun out of living, but he disagrees.  "I firmly believe that the world can be and should be the way it actually works without appeals to supernatural forces.  I think this leads to more logical thinking and better decisions while still allowing for incredible and wondrous experiences on this vast planet we all inhabit."

 A summary of how I feel you can best control luck comes from an ancient Roman philosopher, Seneca.  "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." Opportunities are everywhere, often disguised as problems.  Search for them and be open to other facts and opinions.

An earlier blog based partly on "The Luck Factor" by Dr. Richard Wiseman who had some interesting observations one of which mentioned by Jeffrey.  Read:

How I met my wife has elements of luck, but also of reacting to opportunities.  Many of you might have similar stories.  How we have met important people in our lives often involves unfathomable number of events.  Read more:

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Chhichhore is for Losers (ie. most of us)

Winning is our goal.  Winning sports contests or university admissions is a focus of life and is reflected in many movies.  "Chhichhore" (2019) starts off with one of the extreme consequences of not winning.  Really not winning at a much wanted goal, but overlooking there is more to life.

 The folks at the National Film Awards in India recognized Chhichhore" as the best Hindi film of 2019 and the award was supposed to have been presented in May of 2020, but due to the Covid  pandemic was delayed until 2021.  In the meantime the lead actor, Sushant Singh Rajput committed suicide which in terms of this film is ironic.

The plot is set up with a student's attempt to kill himself because he failed to get accepted at a nationally recognized university.  His parents are divorced and both upset and to some extent blame each other.  The son is very badly injured and his parents steel themselves for the worst.  The father who appears to be a successful businessman decides the best strategy would be to tell his son about his own "loser" past and draws in some of his loser friends from his university days.

The story is told in installments with the doctor interrupting to comment that if there is not an improvement the young man will have to undergo some risky surgery.  There is doubt that they should continue.  But they do.  Their stories are about college students who were assigned to a particular residences because they weren't considered good enough for another residence.  They develop a camaraderie to support one another.  They get involved in a sports competition and although not as talented as their main rivals they pull out all the stops (many comically unethical).  Several of the protagonist's friends are brought to the hospital to explain their part of the story and they appear successful--some coming from the United States.

An important part of the story is the protagonist and his wife.  At college he had been told those in his residence didn't have a chance with the women on campus.  With the help of his friends he was able to make an impression on one woman who he later married.  It was amusing how he broke down the barriers.  But once he got into the work force he did become a sort of a workaholic and had great plans for his son, subtly pressuring him to pass the all important admission test.  He divorced his wife, but they kept a relationship because of the son.  

After his attempted suicide she blamed herself for letting her husband have custody.  Because the son expressed the feeling of being a loser he decided to tell his own story which his wife tolerated reluctantly and then more enthusiasism.  She was very involved with the residence in their competition.

You can guess the ending and you would probably be pretty close.  We are taught to strive to win, but not so much how to deal with losing.  The bottom line is that there is more to life than winning.  Despite or maybe because of he serious theme there is a lot of laughter.

Such a movie was the result of and experienced and talented crew.

Producer Sajid Nadiadwala is the grandson of famous filmaker A.K. Nadiadwala and got an early start as a production assistant.  His first produced film was in 1992 working with stars like Akshay Kumar, Sanjay Dutt and Salman Khan. Rani Mukherjee, Preity Zinta and Priyanka Chopra.   In 2009 he signed up Sylvestor Stallone for a Bollywood film, "Kambakkht Ishq."  He has directed Salman Khan in "Kick" (2014) which was Khan's highest grosser for date.  He produced and wrote script for "Household" (2010) which launched the most successful franchise in Bollywood with several sequels manged by his production company.   He wrote the story for a Marathi script, "Lai Bhaari" (2014). He has also produced such memorable films as "2 States" (2014),  "Highway" (2014),  "Tamasha" (2015), "Rangoon" (2017) and "Super 30" (2019).  I have blogged three of his movies that left a strong impression: and and

 The director and one of three writers, Nitesh Tiwari has done a few outstanding films  including "Bhoothnath Returns" (2014), "Dangal (2016) and "Bareilly ki Barfi" (2017).  Piyush Gupta  has worked with Nitesh on "Ittefaq" ( on the scripts for "Bhoothnath Returns" and "Dangal"  The third writer Nikhil Mehrotra also helped write "Dangal," but also wrote "Banjo" (2016) and "Ittefaq" (2017).  The three get along so well they are collaborating on "Panga" (2020) which is directed by Nitesh's wife, Ashwinny Iyer Tiwari.

Casting was handled by Mukesh Chhabra.  He did casting for such films as "Amal"(2007, directed by Canadian Richie Mehta), "(Kai Po Che  (2013) which was the 1st feature for Sushant Singh Rajput), "Highway"  "Haider" (2014), "PK" (2014), "Tamasha" "Madaari" (2016), "Wrong Side Raju" (2016), "Dangal" "Sanju" (2018)"Kabir Singh" (2019) "Super 30" and "Dil Bechara" (2020 which was the last film of Sushant Sngh Rajput before his suicide).  I have blogged many of his movies including: and and and some that are linked with Sajid Nadiadwala above.

Music which is mostly unobtrusive was provided by celebrated Bollywood composer, Pritam Chakraborty. He has composed for such films as "Jab We Met" (2007, containing one of the best romantic songs of Bollywood), "Life in a Metro" (2007 where he on screen as playback singer), "Rajneeti" ( 2010), "Yeh, Jawaani Dewani" (2013), Ae Dil Hai Mushkil" (2016) and  "Dangal" (2016).   A key playback singer he uses a lot including in this film is Arijit Singh who is my favorite male singer.  Dancing is more celebratory.

The cinematographer is Amadlendu Chaudhary who got his start in the Marathi film industry including India's Oscar nomination, "Harishchandrachi Factory" (2009).  One Bollywood movie was "Stree" (2018).

The editor, Charu Shree Roy got her start with shorts.  As a writer, director and editor she won an American film festival award for "Chasing the Rainbow" (2013).  She won an editing award for the feature, "Lipstick under My Burka" (2016).  The editing for "Chhichhore" is tricky with heavy use of flashbacks and she was nominated for an award.

Sushant Singh Rajput played Anni, the protagonist as the father and in flasbacks as the younger student.  As noted earlier he committed suicide only a few months after the release of this film.  He was a National Physics Olympiad winner and cleared as many as 11 engineering entrance exam.  He was very popular in a tv series and his first feature film was "Kai Po Che."  Other films included, "Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!" (2015) and  "M. S. Dhoni:  The Untold Story" (2016).  He will be missed.

Shraddha Kapoor played Maya who eventually married Anni and later divorced him.  She was born to a film family and took theatre course at Boston University but dropped out to start acting career.  Her first film was "Teen Patti" (2010), but her big breakthrough came with "Ashiqui 2" (2013) which led to a short with Arijit Singh.  Other films included :"Ek Villain" (2014), "Haider" (2014), "Rock On 2" (2016) and "Stree" (2018).  She has also sung in a number of the films.

There is a supporting cast representing the student companions and older versions who are very good.

For my experience this is a unique film very well done.  I saw it on Hotstar and am not sure where else it might be available.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

How I discovered Malayalam cinema and enriched my life

The world is a very big place and we can never even be aware of every nook and cranny.  It is hard to imagine all the different languages and how they shape our thinking. 

To develop a film industry it is necessary to build a base first.  Netflix, Prime and Hotstar have all discovered there is a diaspora in their markets that retain an interest in their original cultures.  The streamers also have the problem of filling space for their regular audience and have learned that the invention of subtitles has opened new markets for these foreign language films.

I never heard of Malayalam until recently and probably would not have if streaming services had not opened up my awareness.  True enough it is not just masterpieces that are available, although they help open the door.  Malayalam with approximately 36 million speakers in Kerala, India and spread around the world has somehow learned the formula for successful films.  For the entertainment consumer we really don't appreciate all the elements that fit together for our enjoyment, but for films, such elements as writing, directing, cinematography, editing, acting, design, lighting, sound and many more are necessary.  For me, Access Bollywood was a good source of information and has since listed and made references to regional language films of India and Pakistan.

My discovery was in stages.  First I came to love Bollywood (beyond the stereotypes) and learned almost by accident there were regional languages with their own cinematic history that overlapped with Bollywood.  

An early exposure was to "Aalorukkam" (2018) that seemed like a long boring search of an old man for his son not seen in 18 years.  Then he was shocked to learn that his son was now a daughter and living as a wife with a child.  He reacted perhaps as one might expect of an old man in a backward culture and left disgusted.  The movie had an ambiguous ending where he stopped the taxi he was in and we were left to ponder if he had changed his attitude.  Since then I have learned that Kerala is in fact more progressive regarding transsexuals than many other parts of the world.

"Ok Kanmani" (2017) was seen only because it was presented to me as the original of a poor Bollywood movie.  It had Dulquer Salaam in the lead and I agreed it was the superior of the two.

"Uyare" (2019) was the big breakthrough for me.  Listed as my second favorite movie seen in 2019  It was very well put together with very likeable actors and even after watching the trailer I was caught off guard by a pivotal plot event.  It is pictured at the top.

"Virus"  (2019) seen during the Covid-19 pandemic was about a medical staff trying to contain a viral outbreak.  It had both Parvathy Thiruvothu and Tovino Thomas who worked so well in "Uyare."  Based on a viral outbreak that was contained in Kerala, India after heroic efforts.

 "Take Off" (2017) is set in Iraq and Tikrit during the ISIS attack and is realistically gory in parts.   Parvathy appears again, but this time appearing older, more mature on a second marriage with a child.  Fahadh Faasili  is becoming more recognizable and credible. Writer-editor Mahesh Narayan made his directoral debut with this film, but has worked in Telgu, Tamil and Hindi films.  Read more:


 "Kilometers and Kilometers" (2020) has Tovino Thomas playing a simpler man with money problems who agreed to tour with an American woman on his motorcycle.  Typical romance with the two at cross purposes, but with some beautiful scenery.  Tovino and Gopi Sundar (the composer) were listed as producers.  Jeo Baby was writer and director and has gone on to "The Great Indian Kitchen" (2021).

"Drishyam" (2013) was not seen by me until this year, however I had seen the Hindi version  in 2015 and wrote about it (see  Jeethu Joseph originally wrote the script for another director, but when asked to change some details and use a younger actor decided to direct it himself.  The film set box office records becoming the highest grossing Malayalam film at the time.  It has been remade in several languages including Kannada, Telegu, Tamil, Sinhala, Hindi and Chinese.  My first awareness of Mohanlal.  Siddique was another prominent Malyalam actor that I had earlier seen in a memorable Telegu movie, "Naa Bangaru Talli" (2013)

"Drishyam 2" (2021) was a sequel.  Where we thought the mystery details had all been wrapped up in the original there were logical consequences.  Mohanlal was there to further protect his family with his clever strategies.  

"Pulimurugan" (2016) probably more of a typical Mohanlal vehicle as an historical action film.  It broke many of the box office records set by Drishyam

"Grandmaster" (2012) with Mohanlal playing a police detective.  Siddique had a cameo role.  It was a significant film as it was the first Malayalam movie released with English subtitles. 

The other big male star in the early days was Mammootty.  Both men were in action movies and projected a quiet mature masculinity.  They were the leaders others relied on. 

Bhoothakkannadai" (The Magnifying Lens) 1997)  has Mammootty as a prisoner who has skills used by prison staff.  His magnifiying lens allows him to sneek a view of the outside, but we learn it is a bit distorted.  Writer director A. K.started as short story writer and playwright.  Some of his early film scripts were commercially successful in the Malayalam language.  This was his first film as a director and it earned some regional awards.

"Karutha Pakshikal" (2006) shows Mammootty as the poor father with three children and one of them blind.  Family sticks together despite odds.  Really a tragic ending, but stoic acceptance.

"Kerala Varma Pazhassiraja" (2009) was set in British colonial times with Mammooty playing a rebel. The British were using their divide and conquer strategy,   Much of the action is in a Wuxia style.

"Unda" (2019) a police force is requested to protect an election in hostile territory.  There are Naxalite rebels that we seldom see.  Reveals ignorance of local customs   Mammootty is a police leader who gradually learns to adapt.

"Pathemaari" (2015) a story about migrant workers and return home every three years or so--a few become wealthy, but most just survive.  Dubai gains labor for their ambitious projects and Kerala, India gets money. for those left behind.  Mammootty won an award for his part.  Mammootty, like many others has acted in other languages such as in my favorite movie of last year:   Gave me a lesson in geography, not realizing where Kerala was located, but in this film Malayis sailed in a traditional sailing ship to Dubai and later by more modern means.  

I believe  I saw a clip of Dubai used in "Bangalore Days" with similar narratives and voice about a radio host greeting her listeners was used  in "Pathemaair" (2015).  I am not sure which city was in the clip, but it certainly seemed identical.  Perhaps an explanation might be that Anjali Menon had spent part of her life in Dubai.

"Bangalore Days" (2014) turned out to be one of my favorites this year.  Briefly it is a well structured romance with a good mix of comedy and drama. For my experience it uses a number of unique plot tools.  The actors are noticeably believable.   Discovered writer director  Anjali Menon and went onto explore more of her films.   Dulquer Salaam, son of Mammootty, and Fahadh Faasili have meaty roles, while Parvathy Thiruvothu has a supporting role.  Check:

"Ustad Hotel" (2012) written by Anjali Menon was the second release for Dulquer Salaam.  A frustrated Swiss trained cook ends up working with his grandfather in Kerala. 

"Koode" (2018) directed and adapted by Anjali Menon was a fantasy romance.  Starring Prithvirag Sukumaran in only my second viewing of him and Naziya Nazim as the female lead.  Parvathy is in another supporting role further demonstrating her versatility.   

"Urium:  The Warriors who Wanted to Kill Vasco Da Gama" (2011)  Kerala was the first landing point of Vasco Da Gama who quickly discovered spices in big demand in Europe.  He was later killed there.  I had only a vague idea where Kerala was, but this film helped focus the significance of the location.  Cameos by Bollywood stars Vidya Balan and Tabu.   Prithvirag Sukaumaran as an action hero.

"Mumbai Police" (2013) despite title was not set in Mumbai, but rather Kerala.  An unexpected twist.  Prithvirag Sukamaran is a police office trying to recover his memory after figuring  out the culprit and has to reconstruct what happened.  A few surprises along the way and a very big twist at the end.

There were numerous other films of varying genres and qualities, but this list is a good place to start your own exploration.  After viewing these examples I will be on the lookout for the better Malayalam films.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Einstein by Walter Isaacson

 Few of us really understand Einstein's theories, but we have all been affected by his thinking.  This post is not intended to explain his theories as frankly I have only a crude understanding.  He surely was a genius, but was more than that. 

It has often been reported that he was slow to talk as an infant.  His parents were educated and he was encouraged to learn in his youth.  He was an exceptional student, but he rubbed some teachers the wrong way.  He was lucky to get a job in a Swiss patent office.  

He had a vivid imagination and a talent for physics, but not at the same level for mathematics.  He did take his job seriously, but it also left him with a lot of time for theoretical thinking.  A lot of what he is remembered for happened while he worked at a low level position.  He was in contact with those he had met while in school.  

He did not reach fame until one of his calculations was confirmed by a total eclipse of the sun in 1919 and we can think the powers that be that the war was over.  His main claim to fame is the equation e=mc2.  At the time it wasn't thought so much for practical uses (such as a bomb), but with his other theoretical thinking did advance our understanding of how the universe works.

After he became well known getting academic jobs was much easier.   He became a professor in Berlin, Germany and developed contacts among the physics elite including Niels Bohr and Max Planck.  

Against his parent's wishes he married a Serbian woman,  Mileva Maric who was also a physicist .  After two children (not including another that was uncovered many years later) they divorced.  An interesting detail of his divorce was that several years in advance he promised Mileva that she would get his prize money from the Nobel Prize for which they were both confident.  After several years of being blocked by the Nobel Prize Committee he won in 1921 in a very carefully worded statement avoiding giving credit for a theory.  Essentially he honored the agreement with his wife.

He spent a lot of effort in refuting Quantum physics, although on good terms with some of its strongest advocates.  Neils Bohr  tells us there is randomness, but Einstein resisted that.  Einstein visited Bohr in Copenhagen and during one of their discussions on a bus ride they overshot their destination and after realizing their oversight went back, but overshot their stopping point again.  In arguing against Quantum physics Einstein stated that God <more generally meaning universe maker> would not play with dice to which Bohr replied "don't tell God what to do."  For me this hinges on free will and like Einstein I feel all actions are predictable if you have enough information, but I would like to believe there is some randomness. 

Two of Einstein's loves were playing the violin and sailing.  He performed with his violin in public, but also to entertain guests.  He managed to sail, although unable to swim wherever he happened to live.  Both activities were relaxing for him.

A pacifist much of his life he changed his opinion and expressed it after Hitler attained power.  In 1933 he made a move to America, thinking it would only be temporary, but in fact he spent the rest of his life  working from Princeton University.  He helped to found the International Rescue Committee recently headed by David Miliband.  He was against the McCarthy hearings which he felt were like fascists he had encountered in Germany.  The F.B.I. had an extensive file on him with much misinformation  suggesting he was sympathetic to Communism which he explicitly was not.

Einstein gave his support to the Hebrew University, but became concerned over Jewish atitudes regarding Arabs.   As far back as 1929 he voiced such opinions as "Should we be unable to find a way to honest co-operation and honest pacts with the Arabs then we have learned absolutely nothing during over 2,000 years of suffering." 

Originally he did not believe that an atom could be split to release the energy he knew to be contained.  Niels Bohr figured an atom could be split.  Another physicist, Leo Szilard became concerned that German scientists would beat the rest of the world and noted they were buying up uranium from the Belgian Congo.  He remembered that Einstein had been friends with the Belgian Queen and felt he might be able to block the German purchases.  He tracked Einstein down while vacationing on Long Island and with Eugene Wisner discussed what should be done.  They went beyond thinking to block German purchases and felt the Americans needed to win the science.  They all agreed that they needed someone with prestige to contact the White House and at first decided on Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh was actually an isolationist (and Nazi sympathizer) and the group looked elsewhere.  It took a chain of events before a letter reached the attention of President Roosevelt with Einstein's signature.  He wanted no further involvement, but did occasionally provide some calculations.

Several refugees had a lot to do with the development of the bomb.  Many of them became horrified with what might happen.  Einstein developed the idea that the world needs a suprnational authority to control military power.   He was afraid of nationalist sentiment which too often leads to war.

After his death, by his request his body was cremated and he ashes scattered in a nearby river as he did not want to end up as an object of morbid veneration.  Before cremation his body had been subjected to an autopsy and the pathologist extracted his brain thinking it would be of interest to scientists.  However it was bandied about with little worthy studies coming from it.  In 1999 part of it was sent to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

How does one come up with new innovative ideas?  Einstein did give some clues.  "A new idea comes suddenly and in a rather intuitive way.  But intuition is nothing but the outcome of earlier intellectual experience."  He was curious and rebellious against regimentation. 

Walter Isaacson has written about some pivotal characters and adds to our understanding.   Some of my thoughts on another book of his:

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

It's Okay Not to be Okay

I am not sure where the phrase comes from, but the Koreans latched onto it and turned it to a very popular tv series.  In the romance category "It's Okay Not to be Okay" was a winner across Asia, including Australia and seems to have had an impact in North and South America.  The New York Times declared it one of the best international shows.  It is lauded as a "Healing film." The core of the series is the development of a threesome.  Korean fashion designers did well off the dresses and jewelry of the female lead.

It is modeled as a romance, but set in a psychiatric hospital.  The leading male is a psych ward caretaker.  The leading lady is an anti social children's book author.  An autistic older brother is a key character.  A female psych nurse who spent a significant part of her youth with the other three is tied into a love triangle.  There is a mystery that slowly unravels and relationships that develop and intertwine with others.  The supporting cast is well developed.  

Sex is underlying in almost all films, but in Korea there is a television code that only allows suggestive sex, not actually simulated or nudity.  It is charming as the viewer can easily imagine the sexual tension that is eventually released with a kiss and even lying in bed together.  It is danced around in this series in a delightful manner.  If you crave nudity and more simulated sex you had better avoid Korean tv. dramas, but might be surprised by Korean movies.  But if you crave romance and all the tensions involved this will be very engaging for you.

Animation is well used.  Flashbacks from different perspectives advance the story and understanding.    They also like to substitute a younger version on one actor in action with a current actor so the viewer cqn appreciate the signficance. 

Jo Yong with only her second script based it on her own love story with a man with a personality disorder.  She acknowledges she didn't handle it well.  She studied autism through talking to siblings of autistic children.   From the series she has been encouraged by Park Shin Woo, the director and the illustrator Jam San to publish five books that were used for the script. 

Park Shin Woo, director had now done nine television series.

Nam Hye-Seung, composer and musical director took a music degree from Yonsei University.  She has been very prolific with films including one of my favorites "Crash Landing on You" (2019).  Read more; 

Kim Soo-Hyun plays the psyche ward caretaker.  At the beginning he did not seem like a typical male lead (too youthful and leaden), but as the series progressed one could appreciate his versatility and understand his enormous popularity.  His role called for a emotionally depleted younger brother of an autistic man.  He has won numerous Korean awards and is popular all over east Asia.  Some of his films include, "The Thieves" (2012), "Miss Granny" (2014) and a cameo with "Crash Landing on You" (2019).   He came to this film after his obligatory military service. 

Seo Ye-Ji plays the children's book author and frankly she plays a bitch in some ways right up to the end.  But she is glamorous and also shows a wide range of acting.  She has appeared in numerous tv. series since 2013 plus a few movies including "The Throne" (2015).

Oh Jeong-Se plays the autistic older brother and is very key.  Has appeared in "Swing Kids" (2018) for which he won a best supporting actor award.  He has been in films since 2003.  In "It's Okay Not to Be Okay" he describes himself as younger than he looks.

Park Gyuyoung plays the nice girl who you root for and completes the foursome that are inter acting with one another.

Kim Mi-Kyung plays the mother of the nice girl and manages to advise and console almost all of the other characters.  Been in many television series and movies including "Secret Sunshine" (2007).    

Kim-Joo Heon plays the publisher who starts out as the boss bribing people to protect the book author but becomes more likable towards the end of the series.  He has appeared in numerous tv. series and films including "Train to Busan" (2016). 

Jang Young-Nam plays the head nurse at the psychiatric hospital and perhaps provides the biggest character range of any.  Keep a close view.  She has won several awards including for "A Werewolf Boy" (2012).

Kang Ki-Doong played the friend who also grew up in the same town and operated a small restaurant.. 

I have now seen over ten Korean tv. series and can recognize patterns, but also have seen a lot of unique ideas.  They are addicting.

As usual I have bolded movies I have seen and would add they are all worth watching. 

A more recently viewed series:

Friday, March 5, 2021

Bangalore Days

This film was just supposed to be one paragraph on a larger theme, but it has been so engrossing I would like to specifically recommend this one for those who like such things as a well constructed movie with a happy ending.    It was a cross between a dramatic and comedic romance.  To me there was a unique twist which I won't reveal as well as the usual complications in romances.  There was also a play between modernism and tradition.  Available through Prime, the dialogue is in Malayalam with subtitles.

A young woman is coerced into meeting a prospective groom, although neither feels ready.   A plot tool is used to change their minds and later occurs for another slightly different change of heart.  She has two close male cousins, one of whom already lives in Bangalore (the destination of the newlyweds) and the other is keen for new adventures with his two youthful companions.  The groom is polite and considerate, but not too interested in consummating the relationship.  The three cousins entertain each other to the annoyance of the husband.  The adventuresome cousin turns out to be a motocross competitor who has been banned from racing for a year.  In a round about way he learns about the groom's history and tells the bride.  He meets a woman who gained his interest as a radio host but isn't what he expected.  Complications of course neatly and somewhat uniquely resolved. 

Writer/director Anjali Menon actually grew up in Kerala, but spent part of childhood in Dubai, finished high school in Kerala and later studied television production and joined the London Film School.  An early film, she wrote was, "Hotel Ustad" (2012).  She went on to adapt a script from the Marathi original, write and produce "Koode" (2018) another well worth watching movie.

Gopi Sundar has over 140 credits as a film composer and has served as a music director and playback singer.  Some of his films include "Uyare" (2017), "Chennai Express" (2013), "Pulimurugan" (2016), and "Take-off" (2017). 

Cinematography was handled by Sameer Thahir who has also been directing, writing and co-producing "Sudani from Nigeria" (2018).

Editing done by Praveen Prabhakar had also edited "Ustad Hotel" and "Koode."

Sophia Paul,  co-producer  this was her first film but has since gone onto produce more Malayalam films.

Anwar Rasheed, the other co-producer had directed "Ustad Hotel."  This was also his first film as a producer and gone on to produce 4 more films.

Actress  Nazriya Nazim played the main character who got married, moved to Banglore where she was joined by her two cousins.  She played a twist I have never seen before.  She won best actress award for this role from the Kerala State Film Awards.  She went on to produce "C U Soon" (2020) and "Kumbalangi Nights" (2019).

Nivin Pauly plays one of the three cousins who works in software in Bangalore, but is looking for a traditional Malayi girl.   He has over 40 actor credits since 2010 and has started getting involved with producing.  He also acted in a movie, currently watching, "Om Shanthi Oshaana (2014).

Dulquer Salmaan  played the adventuresome cousin.  In real life he is a son of the famous Mammootty.  Schooled in Kerala, Chennai and graduated from Purdue University.  His first film was "Hotel Ustad" for which he won a debut award.  Others of his films include "OK Kanmani" (2015), "Charlie" (2015) and "Solo" (2017).  He is also a director of the Bangalore based Motherhood Hospital

Fahadh Faasil played the groom.   He started his film career with a head start as his father was a Malayalam director and gave him a role at age 19 in 2002.  Unfortunately it was a commercial failure and Fahadh opted to complete his education in the United States.  He made his comeback in 2009 with "Kerala Cafe."  Since then he has been very busy with films including:  "Take Off" (2017),  "Njan Prakashan" (2018),  "Super Deluxe" (2019,) "Kumalangi Nights" (2019)) and "C U Soon" (2020).

Parvathy Thiruvothu has become one of my favorite actresses.  Some of her films include  "Qarib Qarib Single" (2017), "Take Off (2017) "Uyare" (2019) and "Virus" (2019).  My most recent blog on one of her movies,

Isha Talwar played the match for Niven Pauley.  This was her tenth movie and she went on to do "Tubelight" (2017), and "Haar Kisse Ke Hisse Kamyaab" (2018) 

As part of my background research I watched two other movies written by Anjali Menon with some of the same cast and crew.  " Hotel Ustad" (2012), "Koode" (2018) were each excellent films and I am looking forward to future films involving these people.   All these films are part of a bigger project on Malayalam cinema which should appear in another week or so.

As I like to do I have bolded the movies I have seen for the first listing.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021


The Trump era seemed insane to us.  How can so many people vote against their own economic self interest?  Religion may be one factor, but to me a bigger factor is racism.   Racism sounds terrible to many of us, but what is it really?  One idea is that it is fear of the unknown.  We feel we can identify with people who look like us (and our loved ones), but evolution has taught us to distrust and even fear the unfamiliar.  That is the psychology of it, but the sociology adds in group pressure to conform to individual fears.

Prejudice means pre- judging.  In the old days one might have to make a split second decision that meant life or death.  Those times may seem less today, but we still tend to make judgments quickly and it is hard to change them.

How serious is it?  People are dying.  People are discriminated against.  Society is less efficient/effective and peaceful.   "One Night in Miami" starts off with a little vignette that shows Jim Brown (football hero of many including me) being greeted very friendly by a southern gentleman and his daughter who are both very enthused meeting him and bring out to the porch some lemonade.  As it happens the gentleman is called by his daughter to help move some furniture and when Jim Brown offers to help he is told "you know we don't allow niggers in our house."  It admits that many people can admire black athletes and entertainers, but draw a line at different levels of intimacy. 

Today one hears of violent abusive acts against Asians who have been associated with the Coronavirus Virus, an association made by Donald Trump.  But he was deflecting from his own guilt and appealing to a racist base.

Racism has been tied to political agendas that favor those with power who are able to consolidate and use it as leverage for their selfish ends such as tax reductions and de-regulations meant to protect citizens.  Too many people let their prejudices make their decisions.  In fact racism costs everyone:

One fact to deal with first.   It is not desirable to ram down new (even contradictory) thoughts into people.

We know that prejudice is reduced by contact.  Those places with most contact (big cities) have the least prejudice.  We also think that education reduces prejudice and it might be fair to say the contact is also education.  Human attitudes can be very difficult to modify, but over time attitudes do change and it is in everyone's interest that racism be eliminated, but realize it will take time.  Modern societies are making progress, but not without resistance.  

Education would not be effective if those teaching are not also believers.  The first task is to teach the teachers.  Although the overall process needs to begin as soon as practical, we must make educating the teachers a priority.  Fortunately teachers are already relatively educated, but perhaps could benefit from more specific education that not only would increase their understanding, but also be a tool.

The first item is to admit that we are all prejudiced and it comes in many harmful forms.  While this post is focused on race, our prejudices span all races, liberals and conservatives and includes those of us who feel we are above it.  It is a survival mechanism that we distrust differences that are not understood and that includes sexual identity, gender, size, culture, age, etc. etc.  With an university course in my past we were asked to write an essay on something we were prejudiced against and I chose old people even though I had two grandmothers that were a big part of my life.  I shared some distrust and could see much prejudice all around.  My contacts with racial and ethnic minorities have been limited, although I fancy myself a progressive.  Another example of prejudice more prevalent than is acknowledged:

Racist dynamics enter many different aspects.  History is one area.  Culture (music, sports, literature)   Youth is key as lifelong habits are being formed from birth.

Contact is an area that would be resisted at racist cores.  Anti discrimination laws are a tool that should enforce contact at the government level.  Where people live and where they go to school are difficult to control as economic factors enter.  We know blacks as a whole are poorer and until that is modified will tend to live in poorer neighborhoods and attend nearby schools.  While some use racist strategies for their economic agenda, their economic agenda is a divisive tool that hurts everyone.

Public schools are critical.  Some people will use their wealth and power to send their children to schools that are monolithic (not integrated).  At this stage we need to make that more difficult, perhaps by restricting current government support to schools that do not have significant racial integration.  The eventual goal is that parents would prefer their children learn in an integrated environment.  If we could encourage schools in white districts to hire a significant number of minority teachers there would be extra contact with the establishment whites.  Rather than have busloads of students torn out of their neighborhood at some expense we should offer exchange programs.  There needs to be some incentives for participants, but that should not be as expensive as bus fleets.

Whites with racist attitudes are maybe already in a minority position and will gradually feel less communal support.  This can lead to desperation and offers the one issue voter conservatives are looking for.  In the meantime they are fighting against the inevitable, realizing it is not pleasant to be a minority.

 Hate crimes need to be dealt with more strongly.  Not so strong that they stir up further resentment, but with an educational component.  Just as sports teams have learned racial diversity and acceptance makes for a better team, businesses also need to appreciate that.