Solo (2017)

The music from this movie introduced me to Agam, Thaikkudam Bridge and Masala Coffee. It was this music that made me curious about the movie. I had seen bits of it before but when I saw the movie was on Netflix, I thought that it was good use if any of my month long subscription.

I saw the Tamil version of Solo. It stars Dulquer Salman. It constitutes four parts – the elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. It looks at the four forms of Shiva. I loved the art and the filming style.

There are many gaps in the story that I was curious about. I like open ended stories. I like non-reveals. I loved this movie.

The Minimalists: Less is Now (2021, Netflix)

The Minimalists are a duo who blogged about minimalism alongside others in the late noughties (2000’s). In 2015, they made a move called Minimalism, about the movement. The movie was a conversation that the Minimalists had with many prominent participants and bloggers of the movement.

Many of the bloggers who participated in that movement have now changed their focus away from Minimalism and moved on to other things. I, myself feel drawn more to the idea that Greg McKeown presented in Essentialism. Minimalism is a movement that forms an ideal foundation for many more pragmatic movements and ideas.

The Minimalists are back in 2021 with a follow-up documentary called Less is Now. In this documentary, they talk about their own story. It features a few experts who talk about the financial, economic and environmental burden cost by “stuff”. The story is interlaced with stories of many ordinary individuals who followed the principles laid down by the movement.

The film is directed by Matt D’Avella, whose YouTube channel I follow. I love to watch the videos that Matt directs and that’s possibly the only reason I wanted to watch this documentary.

I subscribed to a month of Netflix again just to watch this 50 minute documentary. I think just watching Matt’s film making was worth watching this.

Cargo (2019)

A spacey afterlife, I had tweeted after I first saw the trailer of Cargo on YouTube.

Netflix trailer for Cargo

I have had a love affair with space since I was a teenager. But, I wasn’t the brave type of fellow who would enjoy being strapped to a rocket. So, I had settled for dreams of being an engineer on Earth who sent people out into space. If forced to leave Earth, I would definitely not be in the first few flights off Earth.

The only way for me to access space in those teenage years through the pages of a science fiction book. I have recently started reading Indian science fiction again by reading Gautam Bhatia’s The Wall. I thought this was a movie I could watch as part of that project.

Going to space after death! People seem to be going to and from the spacecraft without rockets. But, I wonder if the fear of sitting on a rocket will play a role after you die.

Death is a great segue to spirituality, my other interest. Hinduism views death as the first step in the reincarnation process. One dies. Then, one is re-born. The idea is to break this cycle of life, death and re-birth. My personal reading in spirituality has been centered around the Upanishads. I see them as a mental model to answer some of the difficult questions I have till science gives us more concrete answers.

Cargo combines space and death in a very innovative way.

References

As I watched the movie, I was looking up the movie on Wikipedia and Google to understand more of the space and spirituality references the movie uses. What follows are the ones that I found.

The connection to bulls as the mount used by Yama, the Hindu god of death is the logo for the Post Death Transition Services. It is well branded on the coffee mug that the protagonist uses.

The spaceship where they ‘transition’ human beings from one life to the next are called Pushpak. Pushpak is the first reference to a vimana in Hindu texts. This is a chariot built by Vishwakarma for Brahma, the Hindu god of creation. This is the vehicle that Ravana later stole from Kubera, the Hindu god of wealth who got it from Brahma. Vishwakarma is the divine architect and god of architects and engineers. Look at how technical and step-by-step the ‘transition’ is. Doff of the hat to Vishwakarma?

The lead is named Prahasta. Prahasta is the General of the Lankan army and Ravana’s maternal uncle. In the war with Rama, Prahasta is the general of the army leading the first wave. So, Prahasta in the movie, is one of the first six rakshasa-astronauts who fly the first Pushpak?

Prahasta’s science guy at Ground control is named Raman sir. Doff of the hat to C V Raman?

My take

Many of the Upanishads take the question-answer mode between two or multiple people to tackle deep philosophical questions. Many of them have a guru-disciple setting. I think the movie sets the spacecraft as a back drop to have a few question-answer mode between Yuvishka as the student and Prahasta as a guru.

I would consider everything else being nothing more than setting up the scene for this conversation.

I am not sure if the human-rakshasa agreement where humans agree to be led by rakshasas is a commentary on the present political climate?

I think there are more references and hooks that are present in the film that I may not get as I am not a full time movie goer.

Varane Avashyamundu (Malayalam, 2020)

I got my wife a Netflix subscription for a month and the first thing we got to seeing is the Malayalam movie, Varane Avashyamundu (transl. Groom wanted). We had missed watching this in the theatres in February. The story starring Shobhana, Suresh Gopi, Dulquer Salman and Kalyani Priyadarshan and marks the directorial debut of Sathyan Anthikad’s son, Anoop Sathyan.

The movie begins with a single mother – daughter duo looking for groom for the daughter and ends with the daughter selecting a groom for her single mother. But, intertwined in this simple narrative are various societal issues. These include broken marriages, single mothers, adoption, Army men who return from Service but unable to survive in Society and many more. These were issues that Sathyan Anthikad also covered in his movies in the 1980s and 1990s. That Anoop Sathyan covers some of the same issues in 2020 is quite telling.

Shobhana is a single mother who has escaped from a broken marriage. Lalu Alex plays a supportive brother who helps her escape and supports her as she is living life. Her daughter, learning from her mother’s experience thinks a love marriage is destined for failure and attempts to find a groom for herself. She uses matrimonial websites to find her match.

Suresh Gopi plays a troubled military officer who has done great things while in the Armed Forces but struggles to fit in into Society. He says he finds it easier to face the enemy than to tell a woman that he loves her. He undergoes psychological treatment from a Doctor as he tries to fit into Society.

Dulquer Salman is an orphan who has been “adopted” by a TV series star grandmother. He has his own love life collapse during the movie with his colleague who flies away to the US to pursue her career. He then finds love again, with Shobhana’s daughter.

I think the movie tries to throw light on several societal issues that no longer get too much coverage in Malayalam movies that once were it’s mainstay. I think some of the questions that the movie raises are still not fully answered in our Society today. I enjoyed the performances of all the main protagonists – Shobhana, Dulquer Salman, Kalyani Priyadarshan and Suresh Gopi.

Ayyappanum Koshiyum (2020)

When AK released in theaters, our daughter and financial priorities meant that we decided to wait for the movie to release on an OTT platform. AK came out on Amazon Prime this Friday (March 13, 2020). We decided to watch the movie at home. We streamed it on our television set using Chromecast.

The COVID-19 virus had hit Pune with 9 positive cases. People were being wary of visiting malls and theaters. So, we decided not to catch any of the new movies in the theater over the weekend.

I had watched YouTube interviews (one and two) of the cast which included Biju Menon and Prithviraj before watching the movie.

Poster art for the movie. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Ayyappan Nair is a Sub-Inspector in a tribal area of Attappadi in Palakkad. Koshy is a retired havildar with an ego of having served in the Indian Army. The Police and Customs joint team arrest Koshy with liquor in a no-liquor zone. Upon arrest, Koshy makes his contacts known and the police are worried about the influence. Ayyappan Nair comforts Koshy with tactful words and seeks to appraise Koshy about the seriousness of his offence. Koshy now sobered by the realisation that he might have to spend time in jail, appeals to Ayyappan Nair’s humanity and the fact that he has a bedridden mother and two children at home, near Christmas time. Ayyappan Nair says he cannot help in the situation since it is a joint operation. Koshy acts as if he won’t be able to control himself if he can’t have a glass of alcohol. Ayyappan Nair commits a faux pas with encouragement from his superior of offering a glass of alcohol to Koshy who captures this on video in his phone.

This is the premise from which the whole movie starts. What follows are complications because of Koshy’s ego and Ayyappan Nair’s sense of justice that a person with influence can get away with so much in our society while the poor who have little or no-influence are made to suffer. Nair and his subordinate are suspended despite 27 years of unblemished Police service. Ayyappan Nair’s dismissal from police service returns him to his old ways – his wild animal self unleashed by knowledge of what a person with influence is able to accomplish. His wife is branded a Maoist and sought to be arrested. Ayyappan Nair’s good faith and trust built in his community, knowledge of the law and some good snooping skills are probably what saves him.

I find it hard to believe that Ayyappan Nair lets his guard down as Koshy films him at the beginning of the movie. He mistakes it for the fact that Koshy is looking for a contact on his phone. There wouldn’t be a movie if this didn’t happen.

As Koshy’s character develops, that his actions are not only ego-driven but are also a reflection of his relationship with his father. He seeks to gain his father’s approval which seems to drive his machismo. He soon learns of this, reprimands his wife for not having acted earlier despite living in fear and decides to teach his father a lesson.

Koshy also tries to teach Ayyappan Nair a lesson but interference by his father complicates a simple issue that the two men could deal with. Koshy admits defeat and claims that Police uniform is the only thing that would tame Ayyappan Nair’s wild animal reaction.

Ayyapan Nair’s tribal wife is one of those confident female characters who shatters Koshy’s machismo. It probably begins Koshy’s journey of self-realization and moderation. Ayyappan Nair’s journey back to moderation begins at the end of the movie.

The best way to end this review is to quote from another review:

This is a movie of two men and their egos. If you need an adrenaline rush and enjoy larger than life images venting out animalistic urges, go for this. It is a good watch for this day and age.

Anjana George, The Times of India

I’d recommend watching the movie.

Review: Mission Mangal (2019)

I went to PVR Cinemas at Pune’s Phoenix Marketcity Mall to watch Mission Mangal on Friday, August 15, 2019. Being a self-professed space geek, I expected the movie to be a cringe-show. It was.

Poster of Mission Mangal
Poster of Mission Mangal

Mission Mangal (2019) is a Bollywood movie inspired by the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM). The mission involved the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) flying a mission to Mars. The mission, a technology demonstrator, succeeded on it’s first attempt. The movie carries a disclaimer at the start of the movie which says that it is a fictionalised account.

The on-film depiction of ISRO is no where near it’s original. I don’t think a scientist in ISRO are insecure in their knowledge that they would feel threatened by a person who got his experience working in NASA and who returns to serve his country. This is the description of the villain of the movie. I think MOM borrowed and learnt a lot from NASA for the actual mission. MOM’s first signal acquisition was in fact from NASA’s Deep Space Network in Australia. I don’t think the movie really needed a villain.

The other issue that bothered me a lot is the need for a hero. Akshay Kumar is no where near the scientist that ISRO has. His imitation of talking to former President Abdul Kalam in Tamil was the lowest point of the film, in my opinion.

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) was made much more muscular and eye-candy than it actually is. There were a lot of holds on that American launch pad. Bollywood also made it into a two stage launch vehicle rather than the four stage rocket it is. I loved the sound and capture of the lift-off which reminded me so much of the Shuttle launches. India countsdown in minutes and seconds and not from 100 seconds.

There are struggles of the women scientist in ISRO. Tackling pressure at home, managing family, managing expectations of mother-in-laws, difficulty in getting a flat because of belonging to a certain religion and live-in-relationships. I would have been happier if these stereotypes would not all be pushed throughout the film. Also, I didn’t miss the stereotype of a woman who could not drive on road handling navigation for an interplanetary mission.

So, with all those things that I didn’t like in the movie, it still pulled through because it manages something that I think ISRO fails at communicating. How difficult it is to get funding for a mission. What parameters are considered and how difficult it is to plan a mission. It also attempted to explain orbital mechanics. The movie takes a dig at superstitious practices that ISRO itself follows. Akshay Kumar’s only positive show in the movie seems to be standing up as a rational person to some superstitious practices in the Mission Control Room.

I still think that the movie is a good starting point for a movie based on a scientific mission. For that, it is worth seeing. As I said at the beginning, I cringed a lot while watching the movie.

It took me a long time to write this review. Two other reviews are worth your time – Vasudevan Mukunth’s and Raja Sen for the Hindustan Times.

The movie ends crediting ISRO on it’s 50th anniversary and the women on whom the film is loosely based.

Laakhon Mein Ek

My brother introduced me to Biswa Kalyan Rath on YouTube and saw him later when he appeared on Amazon Prime Video in his own stand-up comic avatar in Biswa Mast Aadmi. Television ads for Season 2 of the show prompted me to check out the show, Laakhon Mein Ek on Amazon Prime Video.

When I visited the app, I realised that the television ads were for Season 2 and hence decided to start at the beginning, with Season 1. I went through both seasons in about 3-4 days. Each season has about 8 episodes and hence 3-4 days isn’t too much overload.

I had two broad take-away from the series. One was the lack of empathy in our modern life. We don’t know what stresses and sacrifices the topper faces in Season 1. We don’t empathise with the person running the institution and his investment into the organisation. The show has the point of view of one of the characters and you would think he was quite self-centred when you think about things emphatically from other people’s point of view. Similarly in Season 2, we don’t really look at the health sector and the various pressures that a Medical Officer is faced from doctor’s working under her, the suppliers and the government agency and departments involved. Each in turn also has various strings and pressures acting on them that makes it such an eye-opening watch.

The other broad lesson is that truth comes out only when one person breaks the rule that everyone in the environment agrees to, knowingly or unknowingly, and questions the status quo. Then, too, it isn’t the whole truth.

I would definitely recommend watching the show to get a chance to see first hand the empathy that I think you need in the world today and also realise how difficult it is for a truth to come out in the open.

The Mars Orbiter Mission story

Imran Khan has directed a short movie on the Mars Orbiter Mission and is now available on YouTube (trailer).

The video helped me relive September 24, 2014 again. On that day, I watched Mars Orbit Insertion from Mumbai while my fiance (and now my wife) watched with her sister in Kerala. On that day, she didn’t understand the importance of the crucial Mars Orbit Mission maneuver. But, she got it only today after watching the video with me today.

Must watch whether you follow space and definitely if you have a partner with whom you want to communicate the enthusiasm for space exploration.