Thursday, June 30, 2022

Anek--Another Ayushmann Khurrana gem

Ayushmann Kurrana is much appreciated as an actor, but even more for his role selections.  In an interview he said that diversity is India's strength and its weakness.  He and producer Anubhav Sinha search for socially relevant roles and with "Anek" (2022) decided to tackle a regional prejudice.  Commented on he felt he was becoming successful as a few of his films had been remade in other languages in southern India.

Most Bollywood and even regional films have little emphasis on India's northeast.  Many of the residents are frowned upon for their Chinese appearance.  There is only a 22 kilometer corridor known as the Chicken's Neck that connects the Northeast states from the rest of India.  There were protesters against becoming part of India in 1947and still there are some who want to separate.  When we pick up the history there are competing factions. 

As A Canadian I am well aware of a Quebec sentiment that resents being part of Canada.  Francophones feel alien in some ways while there is English resentment of bilingualism.  There is no significant violence and if we are honest both the English and French are better off for what they each bring to the table.  In addition Canada has welcomed people from all corners of the world.  India truly is a diverse country with a multitude of languages, religions and ethnicities.  We live in a very connected world and would all benefit by better understanding the connections.

Racism is an ugly blot on mankind, but undeniably does exist.   In India it is displayed by caste,religion, languages, skin color, Chinese appearance and regionalism.  Check  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/08/bollywood-and-skin-colour.html

The film has two parallel themes.  One theme is a traditional military/diplomatic effort that erupts into killing violence from time to time and lots of covert activity led by Aman, known as Joshua.  The other theme is led by Aido, a young woman who boxes and wants to make the Indian national team, but has run up at least partly against racist sentiments. 

Aido and Aman have a close relationship, but she doesn't know he is actually an undercover agent who wants to prevent Northeast elements from gaining independence.  She wins a tough match and is congratulated and told by Gopal she should represent India.  They break up when she learns he is an undercover agent.  He of course is starting to better understand the other side.

Near the end is some violent fighting and Aman captures a resistance leader he had been told to kill.  He felt there was a need to negotiate with both factions.  There was some ambiguity left, but will Aido do better in the ring and establish herself as an Indian?

Anubhav Sinha produced, directed and co-wrote the script.  Before getting into movies he had some experience with theatre, music videos and a very successful tv. show "Sea Hawk" (1997).  Other credits include "Ra-One" (2011), "Article 15" (2019), "Thappad" (2020).  Both his wife and brother are film directors.  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/09/article-15.html

Mangesh Dhakde provided the music.  He comes from a Indian classical music family that exposed him to jazz, Western Claasical and Brazilian. Mangesh joined the Film and Television Institute of India where he studied for 4 years  His credits include:  "Lipstick Under my Burkha" (2016), "Article 15" (2019), and "Thappad" (2020). Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/05/thappad-or-in-english-slap.html

Ayushmann plays covert operative Aman  He has developed a reputation for choosing roles with a social element to them.  For example in his first feature he was a sperm donor with "Vicky Donor" (2012).   In "Dum Laga Ke Haisha" (2015) he tries to get out of an arranged marriage with an overweight girl better educated than him.  In "Shrubh Mangal Savdhan: (2017) he had erectile disfunction.  In "Article 15" (2015) he played a military officer fighting caste discrimination.  In "Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui" (2021) he plays a man sexually attracted to a transgender women.  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/01/chandigarh-kare-aashiqui-another-social.html

Andrea Kevichusa plays the leading lady, Aido.  A boxer who wants to represent India in the hopes that it will give greater acceptance for her people.  Andrea was a model and caught the eye of film makers.  As an actress she was surprised to learn that her birth state wasn't recognized as part of India by a co-worker. 

It is an action film with lots of shooting, but one that questions taken for granted prejudices.  It may be unusual for women's boxing being a tool for breaking barriers, but there is a history of boxing and racial barriers.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/02/muhammad-ali-by-ken-burns.html  There is a contrast between violence of guns and the violence of organized sport.  Freedom has always come when someone resists the status quo.  As an outsider I feel I am more aware of a situation than I was previously.   For those closer to the situation hopefully they will have better understanding.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Do Paise Ki Dhoop, Chaar Ki Baarish

This film had been completed in 2009 and as of March 2015 had not been released in India, although shown at film festivals.  Netflix is now offering it under LGBT selections, but it would appeal to a wider audience.  India is a conservative country and this must have offended some in critical positions to make it available to wider audiences.  The two lead characters are a prostitute and a homosexual.  They are brought together to care for her disabled son.

 The world is full of people struggling to survive and moreso to find some sort of meaning to their lives.  We learn the prostitute, Juhi turned to that profession after her husband abandoned her after he became aware of his son's physical incapacity.  The homosexual, Debu was a lyric writer who was not able to get paid for work he had done.  It was an unusual set of circumstances that brought the two together.  She had a problem getting a maid to take care of her son, Kaku.  Debu was right out of money and had no place to stay.  Juhi was at first repulsed with his offer thinking he didn't understand the demands of the job.  It required taking the son to the toilet, feeding him and putting up with his fits.  

Kaku was mute and communicated his desires by banging signals on a metal can.  Although mostly seen in a cheerful mood he could get upset, for instance at his mother entertaining strange men.  

Juhi was getting older and combined with her higher fees was losing customers.  She refused to lower her rates and became frustrated and more aggressive in trying to get customers.  Debu tries to stay out of it, but one can tell he doesn't approve.  Once she catches on to the fact that Debu is gay she tries to seduce him, but he is very resistant.  He seems to attract another gay and even leaves, but that doesn't work out.

Debu tries to get Kaku involved with more physical and social activities.  At one point he also tries to get him to make sounds that blend into words.  The most critical one was "Maa" and Kaku says it in front of his mother, but it turns out he prefers Debu to his mother which upsets her.  

There are many misunderstandings due to sexual issues that draw laughter.  Tears are brought to some because things are not working out.  But of course there is a happy ending.

This film won best screenplay at the New York Indian film Festival in 2009.  

 Deepti Naval was director, writer, editor and producer.  She had migrated with her family to the U.S. where she earned a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts and became involved with American Theatre.  She became an actress in India.  She was married to Prakash Jha, a prominent Indian director. writer and producer.  As an actress her credits include:  "Firaaq" (2008), "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" (2011).

Gulzar was a prominent lyrcist listed as a musical advisor.   Shared Oscar with A R Rahman for "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008).  A big award winner for lyrics.  Started back in 1960 with his early ones used in this film.  Some of his credits include:  "Bunty aur Babil" (2005), "Paheli" (2005), "Guru" (2007), "Jab Tak Hai Jaan" (2012), "Drishyam" (2015), "Raazi" (2018), "The Sky is Pink" (2019) and "Chhapaak" (2020).  Check out http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/12/the-sky-is-pink-my-top-movie-for-2019.html

Sandesh Shandilya wrote the music score.  Some of his credits include:  "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham..." (2001), "Socha Na Tha" (2005), "Jab We Met" (2007), "Road to Sangam" (2009).

Kiran Deohans was responsible for the cinematography.  His credits include:  "Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak" (2001), "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham..." 2001), "Jodhaa Akbar" (2008), "Agneepath" (2012),

Rajit Kapoor played the lead, Debu.  Credits include "Ghulam" (1998), "Shaitan" (2011), "Ki & Ka" (2016) and "Raazi" (2018).

Manisha Koirala played Juhi.  Born in Nepal and has appeared in many different languages.  She has been a United Nations ambassador and apeared with the Dalai Lama.  Credits include:  "Bombay" (1995), "Dil Se.." (1998) and "Sanju" (2018.)

Aanaj Naval played Kaku in his only listed film.  He a is nephew to Deepti.  He was very convincing as the handicapped youngster while at the same time very charming.

Old time Bollywood fans would enjoy some of the songs from earlier movies and word play.  The three main characters are surprisingly all very charming.  You will laugh and perhaps come close to tears.  The world and India have moved forward on LGBT issues and the good thing is it lets the rest of us better appreciate their contributions to society.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Steve Coogan in a Strong South African Movie

Steve Coogan is well established as a comedian and even though I also saw him in "Philomena" (2013) it can be hard to break an image. For me his role in "Shepherds and Butchers" (2017) settles the issue.  He is a professional actor with a good selection sense.

 "Shepherds and Butchers" is a court room drama, different than most I have seen.  It is set in South Africa during apartheid.  We see a cold blooded murder of seven blacks by a white man as they emerge from a van.  Everyone in the court concedes Leon did kill the seven men with no apparent motive.

Steve Coogan's character is the lawyer, John Weber who is mystified at first, but twigs onto the fact that Leon had worked in a prison on an execution team.  Leon had wanted to avoid military service and was offered the prison work as an alternative.  

His introduction to his duty of taking care of condemned men was very abrupt.  Within a day he participated in an execution of 7 black men simultaneously.  Many of the men were crying and a few wet their pants.  Their deaths were by hanging.  Later Leon learned one of his responsibilities was to measure the clothing so that death would be instantaneous.  He also helped to bury the men.

It is likely the bodies we witnessed being dropped were dummies, but one time an inmate only broke his neck but was still alive in agony.  The guards had to pull him up without touching him and drop him so that he died.   It seems most of the condemned men were black, but at least one white man who Leon had met with his family was included.  

John who was against the death penalty decided there was no point to denying his client had killed the 7 men, but was concerned what motive could drive a man to do such as cold blooded murder,  Leon did not want to talk about his experiences and the court didn't want to force him.  John asserted his rights and explained why he wanted to reveal Leon's job.  The reluctance to testify was nerve wracking.

We learn Leon has been separated from his wife and daughter after many arguments and fights.  He would not admit to feeling affected by what he was shamed into doing.  His lawyer kept pushing.  A clincher was when re enacting the events he learned that the trigger was the slamming of a van door being very similar to the drop of the hanging platform. 

Today we more conscious that those who do degrading work are diminished in the process.  It had been pointed out that Leon had not been tested for aptitude or trained.  

During the credits we were notified that South Africa had executed a large number of men.  After Nelson Mandela, gained power in 1994 executions were abolished.   It seems the film was meant to make points against capital punishment and employer abuse which it accomplished.

An unanswered question was if justice was achieved.  The aggrieved relatives were not satisfied.  We need to deal with the underlying causes such as poverty, abuse and neglect. 

Won an audience award at the Berlin Film Festival.

Oliver Schmitz was the director.    Born and raised in South Africa he was a co-owner of a nightclub that was able to defy segregation rules.  In 1988 his first feature, "Mapantsula" was anti apartheid film that at first was banned in South Africa, but afterwards won awards and had been shown at Cannes.  Most of his films have been in German and he now lives in Berlin.  He has done a few South African films usually with a racial theme.

Writer Brian Cox also produced.  His credits include  "Remember" (2015) and "Mandela:  Long Walk to Freedom" (2013).  

Chris Marnewick provided the inspiration with his first t novel.

Music was provided by Paul Hepker.  Some of is credits include:  Oscar winner "Tsotsi" (2005), "Rendition" (2007) and "Eye in the Sky" (2015)

Leah Striker was responsible for the cinematography.  Most of her films are in German and she has worked with Oliver Schmitz.

Megan Gill edited the film.  Earlier credits include  "The Ghost and the Dark" (1995), "Tsotsi" (2005), "Rendition" (2007) and Eye in the Sky" (2015).

Casting was done by Moonyeenn Lee who was born in South Africa, but moved to England where she formed a talent agency in 1974 and got into casting going back to South Africa.  Her credits include "Hotel Rwanda" (2004), "Tsotsi" (2005), "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" (2008), "The First Grader" (2010), "Safe House" (2012)"Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" (2013) "Homeland" (2014) and "Eye in the Sky" (2015).  She died of Covid-19 complications.

Steve Coogan developed a reputation as a mimic; on one occasion he mimicked an interviewer.  Most famous movie "Alan Partridge" ( 2013) was about a mimic.  Other credits include "The Trip" (2010), "What Maisie Knew" (2012),  "Philomena" (2013), "Despicable Me 2" (2013)"Stan & Ollie" (2018).    Steve has also been involved as a producer and a writer.  He did a stand up comedian tour.

Garion Dowd played Leon.  He comes from an acting family with his mother a drama teacher while his father and brother are also actors.

Andrea Riseborough is a British actress whose credits include:  "Never Let Me Go" (2010), "Oblivion" (2013),  "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" (2014, "Witness for the Prosecution" (2016) and "Battle of the Sexes" (2017).

Steve Coogan proved to me at least that he is much more versatile actor than I had assumed.  The film he chose (or at least agreed to) is a film with a strong message.  I doubt few would be offended by the message, but many would find it too strong for their stomach.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Andrew Bacevich: The Age of Illusions

 Andrew Bacevich is a contemporary of Donald Trump, although they have never met they lived in what the Chinese like to call "interesting times."  Bacevich feels we have all been too obsessed with Trump, so much so that we have failed to understand the forces that made him possible.  

The Cold War ended between 1989 and 1991.  It was supposed to be about Capitalism and Communism and when the Soviet Union collapsed it was hailed as a victory for the freedom loving Capitalists.  Bacevich disagrees that underneath all the ideological rhetoric the real dynamic was for power.

For many it meant a loss of a defined enemy.  The Military became voluntary which attracted high school grads at poorer end of society.  University graduates and the better off declined to join the armed forces.  The American president became the most powerful man in the world as he can trigger a nuclear war.  There is a vetting process for presidential candidates and to be successful one must undergo scrutiny by Wall Street, the National Rifle Association, the Israel lobby, Koch Brothers, Evangelical churches among others.

During the Vietnam War, many either fought or resisted (by protests and draft dodging), but another group avoided it.  That included Donald Trump with more than one deferment.  Andrew Bacevich served in Vietnam and stayed in the military for 23 years and eventually became professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

George W. H. Bush was the first post Cold War president and one of his accomplishments was a successful limited war.  

Bill Clinton was very astute and charismatic.  Amongst other things he broke up restrictions for banks that later led to problems.  Pushed globalization which meant expanding U.S. trade with many American jobs being taken over by lower wage countries.  Considered risk averse he did authorize military actions in Somalia and the Balkans.

George W. Bush surrounded himself with "experienced" politicians who helped drag him into the Iraq War.  At one time he answered the rhetorical question, "Why do they hate us?' with the answer "They hate our freedom." 

Barack Obama seemed he would be a peacemaker, but got involved in mid East conflicts and Libya.  Infuriated some by negotiating the Iranian Peace Agreement and the Paris  Climate Change agreement.  Obamacare got off to a rocky start with much resistance.  Gay marriage became legal nationwide in 2015 with large parts of the country stunned by this new freedom.  Of course anything done by a black man would be resented by segments of the population.

As we approach the 2016 election, Bacevich draws our attention to the state of the nation.  Poverty on the increase, retirement savings diminished for many, homelessness on the upswing, opioid deaths at new record, 24.7 million fatherless children, 40% divorce rate, highest incarceration rate in the world, 40 million regular visitors to porn sites, 33,000 killed by firearms.  In short a lot of despair.

A lot of candidates offered to run the gauntlet.  Hillary Clinton expected an easy nomination, but ran up against Bernie Sanders who put up a strong fight.  He believed that without economic democracy there could be no political democracy.  Hillary with a slick presentation was able to finally win the Democratic nomination, over the man labeled a socialist.

On the Republican side, tv. celebrity Donald Trump assessed the situation better than his opposition.  Despite his libertine reputation he was able to garner evangelical support as unlike his rival for their support, Ted Cruz because he was more credible to bring about an abortion ban.   Michael Cohen had another perspective on this angle (and others).  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/11/disloyal-michael-cohen-version.html   Although easily criticized Trump was loved by the media who gave him a free platform for his message. 

Donald Trump is criticized for dividing the country, but Bacevich claims it was already divided and Trump not only recognized it, but was able to exploit it.

The book was published in 2019 and Bacevich was well aware of many flawed policies of Trump as well as his behavior and he was uncertain about the 2020 election.  He felt "...American politics will almost surely remain a forum for hyperbolic promises."  He would like to see stewardship replace the notion of increasing consumption.  He also feels freedom should have obligations as well as rights.

American technology has boosted speed, efficiency and precision, but has tended to convenience and relief from boredom which has allowed corporations to gain greater control of our lives.  We are close to the limit of how much we can tame nature and some acknowledge climate change is only one risk, with others including pollution, littering of plastic, deforestation, etc.  America is losing its political and cultural domination of the world.

In conclusion Bacevich maintains real necessary change will not come from the top down.  In the past Americans have rallied around causes that forced government action, such as abolition and the Depression.  He suggests a worthy and necessary cause is climate change which could lead to "a conception of citizenship that seeks to harmonize individual freedom with the common good."  His last sentence, "For Americans to shirk that responsibility will almost surely pave the way for more Trumps--or someone worse-to come."

Not sure how he would react to the January 6th insurrection, except as proof there are more factors involved than worship of Trump and that some elites will go to great lengths for power.  One hopes that Americans will wake up and realize there are higher priorities than hating others and overcome an egocentric view that they are "exceptional."  It will be difficult for Americans to accept they are only part of huge world.

Friday, June 17, 2022

My Best Mistake

 Is this compatible with my previous blog on Regrets?  On one hand this is about how people have overcome an obstacle/mistake to gain further success and claim they don't regret and in fact are glad for the obstacles.  On the other hand I would suggest they each handled a setback that most would regret in hindsight by dealing with it in a better manner.  Daniel Pink would tell you that problems offer opportunities.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/06/the-power-of-regret.html

The world of sports reveals many mistakes, particularly for a manager who has to decide who to draft, and who to play.  One example was Scotty Bowman, considered to be one of the best hockey brains made a mistake that could have ended his career before it got launched.  After an injury cut his hockey playing days short he had been given an opportunity to work with Sam Pollock.  One of his tasks had been to notify players that they didn't make the cut.  When a young Serge Savard showed up expecting accommodation, a few months after it was embarrassing and costly as he should have been notified.  It is hard to pinpoint who really made the mistake, but Scotty's job was on the line.  Before too long the mistake was  smoothed over and Serge went on to be a Montreal top player and Scotty went on to become one of the top hockey coaches of all time.

 Politics offers a lot of opportunities for mistakes.  It is very easy to offend someone and if you offend the wrong one it can be disastrous.  Bill Maher and the Dixie Chicks suffered for being outspoken.

Shortly after the 9/11 attack, a guest on Bill's show, Dinesh D'Souza made a statement that the attackers were not cowards.  Bill agreed , "We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from two thousand miles away.  That's cowardly.  Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly."  Sponsors backed out and critics led a charge that resulted in cancellation and blocked Bill's employment.  Eventually he returned to television as many did respect his honesty and he was able to maintain a provocative stance.

Steve Jobs is one of the most interesting characters discussed.  For me some new information was provided or maybe it was a reminder.   His birth mother requested her son be adopted by two college graduates, but initial effort failed and she had to be persuaded to accept two parents who had dropped out of high school, but turned out to be helpful for an innovator.  As usual it is difficult to read about Jobs without describing him as an "asshole," but he is deemed to have offsetting qualities.  After setting up Apple and proving his genius he offended board members so much that they forced him out of his own company.  Twelve years later he returned and helped launch Apple into its current maga status.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/05/the-no-asshole-rule.html

Mario Puzo is best known for "The Godfather." (1972), but the main reason he wrote it was to pay off gambling debts.  Gambling would be a big mistake that just keep putting him in a deeper hole.  He had written two books that received good reviews and was able to eke out a living with magazine articles and editing.  He wanted to be taken as a serious writer and resisted turning an outline (presented to get some needed cash) into an actual book.  With his back against the wall he did do the book, but along the way made another mistake--he accepted a low offer for the movie rights.  Partly in compensation he was offered to write the movie script which won him his first of two Oscars. 

Farmer's Almanac had one secret formula and one incredible fluke (a fortuitous mistake).  A brother in law of mine used to quote their weather predictions, one of which was a little off.  Going back to the founder Robert B. Thomas felt he needed a weather forecast for his annual reference guide.  Surprisingly he was able learn about Galileo's observation about sun spots that affected our global weather in an 11 year cycle.  That  worked pretty good, but one year 1816, the owner had been ill and unable to write the forecast.  When pressed he joked there would be snow in July.  It was recognized as a mistake, but it was too late to destroy all the printed copies.   A massive volcanic eruption in the Dutch East Indies  and its dust circled the earth lowering temperatures which resulted in July snow in the United States.  This helped to consolidate the reputation for the Farmer's Almanac.

Other covered notable celebrities that overcame mistakes include Billy Joel, Brian Williams, Steve Spielberg and Seth MacFarlane.

While many of us wallow in our mistakes and failings others have learned, persisted and overcome them.  Some mistakes are actually innovative and good luck.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Cosmos: Revisited 40 years later

The title is well explained by Carl Sagan,  "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be."  He further points out genetic connection between trees and animals.  In effect this subject is the most all encompassing blog I have ever attempted.

 Originally released to PBS in 1980,I can remember viewing it in parts with Dan Lovranski, a second cousin to my wife.   This version had updates and another more recent version with Neil DeGrasse Tyson is further updated.  A copy of the book has been on my shelf for a few decades and proved useful.

Science can be difficult to explain to non scientists.  They used animated segments, art work dramatized video reenactments.  Locations visited, included Siberia, Alexandria,Egypt; Calcutta, India; a Navajo reservation, Angkor Wat, Rome, Paris and Tokyo.  Carl Sagan is a good showman and very articulate presenting his case,

 Carl Sagan, not only was a legitimate scientist but has been a popularizer of science which some resented.  He inspired many and was thought provoking   Carl Sagan suffered a lot of criticism for his popularizing efforts, but also was able to penetrate the public's disregard for science.  For some he opened the door to a more detailed study of science and how science impacts public issues.  There is room for detailed studies, but honestly they don't have the impact with the public if they cannot be explained.  It is a similar skill to putting an 800 page book into a two hour movie--something gets left out and something is subject to distortion.

Carl was an advisor to NASA and helped develop some of the ideas.  Robotic mobile equipment and determining difficult landing choices.  He helped develop message to aliens on a disc to include different languages, music and mathematics symbols.  He failed to make contact with aliens.  The odds indicate there must be other developed life forms.  One speculation was that perhaps as other societies reach the technical capabilities to communicate they self-destruct, which hopefully makes us take a closer look at our own projection.  He advocated for more robotic missions rather than manned flights.

The concepts of infinity and eternity are incomprehensible.  He gives examples of large numbers and pointed no matter how large number one can devise you can always add one to make an even bigger number.   Sagan points out the Hindu religion is the only religion that deals with the infinite universe.  In addition to long time scales they have the concept of destruction and rebirth.  

He suggests perhaps the spark of life may have come from meteors. Likely life was one cellular for millions of years, but gradually we evolved towards the variety we see today.  Sagan points out that all life is connected including trees and humans.  Plants need carbon dioxide while animals need oxygen.  Plants convert energy from the sun that provide animals with energy and building blocks.   The brain evolved and Sagan points out we all have a connection to a reptile brain.  He speculates may that aliens might have  more developed neuron system that allows them to think much faster. 

Knowledge  is accumulated gradually.  One of the early breakthroughs was from Erastothenes, a scientist in Alexandria was able to calculate the circumference of the world by the shadows of a stick in two different parts of Egypt.  He posted that the world was about 40,000 kilometres around and that was amazingly close considering the primitive tools available.  

Science is built on small understandings.  Isaac Newton made a big breakthrough regarding gravity, but admitted that  "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."  Sagan recounts many small steps with such as Euclid, Hypatia, Johannes Kepler, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein and many others.

The Russians were first to land a rocket on another planet, Venus.    We learned about the surface beneath an impenetrable cloud like atmosphere that was essentially lifeless.  Sagan was one of the ones that realized there was a greenhouse effect and further considered such a prospect could be in earth's future.

Mankind is vain, including many leaders and would be leaders.  Too many of us take for granted our good life and assume the best is yet to come.  As "Cosmos" points out life is fragile. It has taken billions of years for life to evolve to its current point with humans on top of the ladder.  Knowledge has gradually built up and  we truly do understand much more than our ancestors, but it has gone through many dark periods where we have lost many thoughts and calculations.   Best to remember that species have died, civilizations have disappeared, even stars die.  Climate change and a nuclear winter are real risks. Last episode was about the big risk--did other civilizations self destruct--nuclear war--lost knowledge

Communication with foreigners has always been a challenge, but more so with aliens.  Sagan suggests we look at animals, especially whales who have shown ability to "speak" over thousands of kilometers. Cuneiform writing on rocks was an early precursor led more sophisticated form and with the invention of paper, ink, and printing on wooden blocks in China.  Moveable printing in Europe allowed the more rapid spread of information.  Now of course ideas spread electronically.  Writing allows us to communicate across ages and over great distances where before we relied on word of mouth.

 Misinformation and misunderstandings are common.   Wild speculations (including his own) can capture the public's fancy, but real breakthroughs generally come through tedious calculations.

In short, Carl Sagan opened up our awareness to the Cosmos.   We are really very small, but part of a glorious entity.  Will we learn how to get along?  Will we use the accumulated wisdom of the year for a happy future? 

Earlier blog:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/10/carl-sagan-and-our-future.html

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Servant of the People: Final Episodes

Previously I was able to watch the first season.  After awhile Netflix offered the remaining two seasons.  More recently was I able to fiinish the series.  What makes it unique is it ended because Zelensky became the actual president of Ukraine.  Check:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/03/servant-of-people-season-one.html

 It is not a coincidence  Throughout the series there was a lot of satire comedy, but the last few episodes had the feel of a campaign. 

Much of the humor was local.  Donbass, Luhansk and Crimea were mentioned, even the USSR.  A reference to Galicia where some of my wife's family came from.  One censored bit was a joke made regarding Putin's Hublot watch that had been used for an anti-Putin chant.

Zelensky was cast as an opinionated history teacher whose students liked his views.  Over the series he is portrayed in conversations with Plutarch, Abraham Lincoln, Ivan the Terrible among a few others.   There were pleas for national unity realizing there is strength in diverse unity.

The over riding issue from start to finish seems to be corruption.  In the first seasons Zelensky is always fighting corruption.  Near the end Zelensky is jailed as he has upset corrupt factions that are able to cook up phony charges.  He is rescued by international forces and some honest Ukrainians who realize his sincerity and honesty.  

The last 2 episodes to be honest seem like campaign advertising.  It seems idealistic (like many campaign promises), but Zelensky seems like a leader.   A segment has been added in the last episode that looks back on the events of 2015-2019 where promises made have led to a much better life.  Medical students who at first weren't interested but in reality had taken the good life for granted.  A campaign promise was to pay back debts as main mission to earn real independence.  Another one was to advocate for language equality--Zelensky's first language as with many other Ukrainians is Russian.

On March 31st, 2018 a political party was registered with the government, taking the name of the show.  On April 21, 2019 Zelensky was elected president.

From my first blog the available information of the crew was very sketchy and is now a little better.  Am listing some partly because I fear they may be lost to history.  

Writing staff included Andr Yakoviev, Oleksiy Kiryushchenlo, Yuriy Kostyuk, Yuriy Mykulenko with  Volodymyr Zelensky a creator and also a producer.

Serhiy Koshael was the cinematographer.  Andriy Kiryushchenko wrote music.

The series had been telecast not only in Ukraine, but also Belorussia  (in prime time) and even Russia. After the Russian invasion over twenty nations picked up the series including Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Moldova and Finland.

Ukraine is under fire.  Putin's ego has put him in a corner.  The easy romp turned out to be more difficult.  Many of his own people have turned against him.  He belittles Zelensky, but in fact Zelensky is perhaps the most admired leader in the world  He says the right thing and talks to the world.    Perhaps his producer background has taught him the importance of marketing. He has been allowed to talk to many international parliaments and has talked with such popular cultural institutions as the Cannes Film Festial.

Financial squeeze is not as total as it could be as some countries are resistant, mostly autocracies asSaudi Arabia, but also much of South America, Africa, India.  China has tried to keep a distance, but is wary of the example that could be used against it regarding Taiwan    One worries that Putin will be desperate, but helpless.  The U.S. has picked up a battle axe and marshaled other nations to send weapons and financial support.  One result has been the price of gas and for many it will be the price of food.  

As you watch you have the advantage of a backward view of history.  Tv. is not real, but it does express idealism and you can appreciate the leadership of Zelensky.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Jana Gana Muna

At first the story seemed confusing, a dead body picked up, then I thought I picked out a hero, then he did something very brutal.  Mobs were yelling and screaming and being beaten.  That was in the first half.  The case went to court opened up in different directions. Then one could see the cold relevance to events elsewhere in the world.  I am reminded of the January 6th hearing and how crowds were whipped to a frenzy.  Thus is my memory of "Jana Gana Mana" (2022).

Huge twists, but more importantly were the underlying social structure and the people who wanted to gain power against the common people.  Corruptions and manipulation with some surprising resistance. 

The plot is key.  You think you know what will happen and anticipate the twists, but until near the end it seems just like another courtroom drama.  It is hard to imagine the court room procedures are normal, but they serve to make a few points.  Apparently a sequel is in the works. 

The dialogue is Malayalam and available in other regional languages, but English is prominent in the court room.  Lately I have increased my Malayalam selections as many of them are outstanding.

One of my favorite type of films.  A surprise ending (with a hint for more to come) with a message.  The message is a local one (India with its peculiar social structure), but with global implications for human nature.

Dijo Jose Antony was the director in only his second film.  He has acted and been a playback singer.

Sharis Mohammed was the writer in only his fourth film.  His first was also the first for Dijo Jose Antony

Jakes Bejoy composed the music.  Had done "Forensic" (2020).

Sudeep Elamon was the cinematographer with nine film credits beforehand.

Sreejith Sarang was the editor.  Mostly worked in Tamil cinema.

Mammootty narrated the story.  He had trained and practicised as a lawyer.  He is a very prolific award winning actor with over 400 film credits.  His films include "Bhoothakkannadi" (1997), "Kerala Varma Pazhassirajua" (2009) "Karutha Pakshikal" (2006), "Varsham" (2014) "Pathemari" (2015) and my favorite movie seen in 2020, "Peranbu" (2018)  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2020/03/peranbu-top-film-out-of-india.html

Prithviraj Sukumaran plays an activist lawyer.  He has been in mostly Malayalam films, but also Tamil, Telegu and Hindi.  While in his school performed in plays and debated.  He went to the University of Tasmania to study engineering, but got sidetracked with film roles.  Films include "Urumi:  the Warriors Who Wanted to Kill Vasco Da Gama" (2011), 'Koode" (2018),

Suraj Venjaramoodu played the police officer who you thought you knew, but he is more complicated than first impressions.  Has over 250 credits since 2002 including "Pulimurugan" (2016) and "Thundi Muthalum Driksakshiyum" (2017) and "Vikruthi" (2019) and "The Great Indian Kitchen" (2021)

Mamta Mohandas in flashbacks the dead teacher.  She has appeared in "Forensic" (2020).  She won a playback singer in 2006.

A film containing a lot of emotion.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

EE Nagaraniki Emaindhi

Have you ever wondered where writers get their ideas?  Or what is involved in getting a film produced?   Some writers choose to write about writing and sometimes it can be interesting.  Many critics and viewers have noted a superior dialogue for this movie.   It seems natural to take liberties, but the film claims "based on almost true stories."  

The plot is about four friends who while in college made a short film, but since then have gone their separate ways.  United by an interest in making films they get together and coincidentally are approached by an attractive promotions woman Shirley who uncovers their background and interests.  Vivek had written and directed short films.  Karthik was managing a club and had been promised his own club if he would marry the boss's daughter.  Kaushik wanted to be an actor, but was dubbing for films.  Uppa was a wedding photographer.  All of them had worked on Vivek's short film.  Shirley steers them to a short film contest held in Goa.  The topics are assigned by lottery and Vivek draws romance which after a breakup he won't do.  Then later out of desperation he relents.  They recruit a few local actors including Shirley.

Short films are ignored by many, but they are a training ground for future feature film makers.  The 4 friends take on different tasks, writing directing, acting, camera, editing, music, etc. The script changes after many discussions to make a more effective film.

The weird title translates to " What Happened to this City?"  

Tharun Bhascker Dhaassyam was both director and writer and one suspects he has undergone many of the trials depicted in his second feature.  He graduated from the New York Film Academy.  After a few shorts, (one of which was shown at Cannes) his first feature was "Pelli Choopulu" (2016) which received awards for feature and script.   This film was his second feature.  His wife Latta worked on production and costume design for his first two features. 

D. Suresh Babu was the producer.  Noted for "Eega" (2012), "Drushyam II" (2014)

Vivek Sagar wrote the music.  An earlier film was "Pelli Choopula (2016).  He has been a playback singer.

Niketh Bommi was the cinematographer.  Earlier films include "Soorarai Pottru" (2020).

Ravi Teja Girijala was the editor.  Other films include "Pelli Choopulu" (2016), and "C/O Kancharapalem" (2018).

Vishwak Sen played Vivek.  He has also directed one film.

Sai Sushanth Reddy played Karthik in his first film.

Abhinav Gomatam played Kaushik  He went on to do "Shyam Singha Roy"  (2021). 

Anisha Ambrose played Shirley.

Vijay Deerakonda made a cameo appearance in the same year as "Arjun Reddy" (2018).  "Pelli Choopula" (2016) was an early boost to his career.   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/09/arjun-reddy-and-kabir-singh.html

 The viewer can think of this as a buddy movie or a road movie, but I think of it as a writer's movie.

Another recently viewed movie giving a perspective from another writer. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2022/05/home-comedic-clash-of-generations.html

Saturday, June 4, 2022

The Power of Regret

 The title seems counter intuitive. We are taught to forget about our past failures and move forward.  Daniel Pink did not let me down as he takes a closer look and tells us how to use our regrets to further our life.  This is a deep book that cannot be read without a lot of personal reflection.  As its subtitle claims you will understand "How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward."

Pink starts with a story about how a famous song got started.  If you know Edith Piaf, you probably have heard "Non, Je ne regrette rien."  The author contends despite the memorable song she had lots of regrets.  She would not otherwise be considered human as she dealt with several relationship breakups, poor health and addiction problems.

 We all do have regrets, but they contain many differences that can help us understand better.  The author is able to suggest different strategies to deal with regrets and even suggests how you can turn the concept to your benefit.  There are many scientific studies and anecdotes to illustrate different perspectives that guide one to cope with feelings of regret.

At one point he identifies four types:  Foundation, Boldness, Moral and Connectivity.  

Foundation refers to the concept of regretting you didn't better prepare for the future, in fact were focused on enjoying life as it happened.  A favorite quote from Bobby Knight "The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win."  Winning or getting the most out of life requires a conscious effort.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/05/a-big-disappointment-with-one-of-my.html

Boldness refers to not taking a risk.  Asking someone you wish to know better out.   Or going into business.  You regret the missed opportunity.  Jeff Bezos had a high paying job, but felt the future would be tied to the inter-net and he could make a lot o money selling books on the inter-net.  He quit his job and invested all he could into this new venture that became Amazon.  How he reasoned was to project himself to the age 80 and realized he would regret not taking this risk and at the same time would not regret if his risk failed.  In other words like many regrets it focuses on what was not tried rather than actions that failed.

Moral refers to violations of right behavior.  You felt coerced into something that you at the time and certainly later on was wrong.  It could be not speaking up against abusive behavior.  It could be joining in on some form of abuse.  Morality does mean different things to different people and Pink draws upon Jonathan Haidt speaks of a moral foundation that we all have that for many include issues others might not think of that way.  One example might be respect for parents.  Pink comments that Haidt affected his thinking and he also did mine.    http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/02/the-righteous-mind.html

Connectivity to the breaking of relationships.  Childhood friends who drift away or an event causes a disruption of a friendship or estrangement within a family.  Pink uses an example of woman who drifted away from one of her closest friends and then regretted and fear the break.  At different parts of the book he refers to the relationship while in the writing process.  At the end they both are grateful for a reconciliation while the author admits it may not always work out. 

A Chinese proverb says "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.  The second best time is right now."  Accept you can't change the past, but can do better for the future.  

Often you are harder on yourself than you would be with a friend or even a stranger.  One strategy is self compassion.  Ask yourself if a stranger came to you with the same predicament would you be kind?  Do you feel your regret is unique? or do you feel others share it?   Is your regret an unpleasant moment or does it define your life?  Aligned with this strategy talk of yourself in the third person--doing away with "I" may help distance yourself.

 An interesting application was used by staff at Duke University who wanted to increase a response to a survey.  They offered a draw for a gift certificate and split the survey recipients into two groups.  In one group they were told everyone was entered into the draw.  The second group were told that if they hadn't returned the survey they would not be eligible for the prize.  Not surprisingly the second group returned a higher rate of the surveys.  In the second group apparently individuals wanted to avoid missing the prize and this phenomena was labeled "loss aversion."  In other words they anticipated a regret winning the draw, but losing eligibility.  Some of this thinking was part of the Covid 19 vaccination strategy as some were concerned that if they weren't tested or vaccinated they would regret passing on the virus.

A movie seen many years ago struck me as a courageous way of dealing with regret. In "bachna ae haseeno" (2008) A young man  played by Ranbir Kapoor, about to embark on a new love looked back at some romantic relationships and felt very guilty for how he treated the women.  As it turned out he ended up visiting India, Switzerland, Italy and Australia in an effort to apologize.  The women had all moved on with their lives and in some cases he managed to make their lives smoother.  It had a happy ending, partly because he overcame his regrets and of course the script called for it. 

We all have regrets and as the author guides us we can turn many of them to benefits.  Read the book; this blog is only a sketchy introduction to something that could change your life.

I would like to close with two quotes and a website.

James Baldwin's quote is at the beginning:  "Though we would like to live without regrets and sometimes proudly insist that we have none, that is not really possible, if only because we are moral."

The author ends his book and research with:  "After a few years immersed in the science and experience of our most misunderstood emotion, I've discovered about myself what I discovered about others.  Regret makes me human.  Regret makes me better.  Regret gives me hope."

To get a feel for the book check out (and contribute which I did) to his website:  http://www.worldregretsurvey.com/

An earlier blog on Daniel Pink;s "To Sell is Human"  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/06/to-sell-is-human-and-we-all-do-it.html

An earlier  blog on Daniel Pink's   "A Whole New Mind"   http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2014/02/a-whole-new-mind-by-daniel-h-pink.html