Movie Review: Invictus

Film: Invictus (“unconquered”) For more info. on the title click here.

Director: Clint Eastwood

Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon

This film is based on the book “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation” and captures the rise of Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa post his release from prison and his role in the success of the South African Rugby team in the 1995 World Cup.  Morgan Freeman plays the role of Nelson Mandela, while Matt Damon plays the role of the captain of the South African rugby team, Francois Pienaar.

The movie brings to light happenings during the Mandela Presidency that are fairly unknown in most of the world. The insights into the Nelson Mandela Presidency, his heart felt desires in unifying blacks and whites post-apartheid, his use of rugby as a means to unify the people, his security team comprised of both blacks and whites, his simplicity and affable nature etc.  are all cleverly blended into the script without appearing forced. Morgan Freeman as Mandela is brilliant. Matt Damon has a relatively secondary role in the film and was clearly under utilized. Director Clint Eastwood tries to bring together politics and sports in the film and somehow the focus on Mandela seems to have come at the expense of sports in the film.

Mandela’s conscious attempt in trying to unite the country through rugby is brought out very well at various stages in the film. On the other hand, the transformation in Francios Penaar’s family could have been better handled to make it more believable. His girl friend’s role in the film for instance was needless and had nothing to contribute. Likewise, the change in the mindset of the rest of rugby team did not receive enough attention and did not seem believable either. Nevertheless, the film is an enjoyable watch but its nothing to rave about.  In fact, it pales in comparison to Clint Eastwood’s previous film, Changeling.

p.s:  Since this is a film on Rugby I can’t help but think about “Chak de India” (hockey) and “Lagaan” (cricket). The context of the these films are very different. But the sections of these respective films that focus on sports are so much better handled in the Hindi films.

Marrying Anita: A Quest for Love in the New India

Title: Marrying Anita: A Quest for Love in the New India
Author: Anita Jain

The author is a journalist who relocates to India partly with the objective of finding a husband!  The book is a memoir of her experiences in India and mostly focused on her relationships. Despite the book having no conventional story as as such, it is engaging and interesting. The book captures the more culturally progressive social scene in India particularly among the younger generation.  She brings to light the prejudices she encounters at various times (while renting a house, dating etc.) highlighting the issues faced by second generation Indians from the US in India —  too Indian to be treated as an American, and too American to be considered an Indian!

The author’s interaction with her parents in the US (first generation Indians) is truly hilarious and very believable.  The book is admirably candid and funny, especially the various relationships and their cultural dynamics.  For NRIs (especially if you are out of touch and curious to know what its like to be young in India these days), this book a perfect read. If you are socially conservative you are in for a rude shock. If you are progressive, you might still be in for a few surprises. The author has a great writing style and the book is an enjoyable read.

Book Review: 2 States – The story of my marriage

Title: 2 States – The Story of my marriage

Author: Chetan Bhagat

Ok, I read yet another book written by Chetan Bhagat 🙂 This book is based on the coming together and the eventual wedding between a Punjabi boy and a Tamilian girl. The bulk of the book is on the clash of cultures between the Punjabis and the Tamil Brahmins.  The book is a fast read, a sure page-turner, ideal for a long flight, and has all the makings of an entertaining Bollywood flick (with Ek duje ke liye fading in public memory the time might just be right for another shot at a similar, yet different theme with a happy ending). Given the theme of the book and its story line there is great scope for humor and the author exploits this to the maximum. The clash of cultures is nicely portrayed with plenty of hilarious situations. The authors description of the boy’s experiences in Chennai are well captured and authentic.

Like all his books, this one too is focused purely on mainstream populist Bollywood-like entertainment in text form – there is music, sex, comedy, you name it.  The downside is that the book a little too filmy, in a number of places, particularly towards the end.  The role of boy’s Dad is a perfect example. Then, there is the heroine lecturing all and sundry in the midst of stalled wedding to win over several hearts and minds.  Then, there is the girl’s mother getting to share the stage with leading playback singers  SP Balasubramaniam and Hariharan! Unfortunately, there are no foreign trips to accommodate the duet in Switzerland. The author settled for Goa instead. In the true spirit of Indian films, where “plug and play” pieces fit into various films with slight variations (like the hero’s friend with a comedic side track a la Vivek in Tamil films), the author seems to be developing his own “modules” so to speak — the hero delivering tutoring sessions seems to be his favorite having made it at least to a couple of his books.

In summary, an entertaining read and at Rs. 90, a sure no-brainer.

Mohammed Azharuddin: Tainted Star to Muslim Mascot

Life is about to come a full circle for former Indian cricket captain, Mohammed Azharuddin, as efforts are underway to revoke the lifetime ban imposed on him by the BCCI. After attempting for years to get his ban revoked, Azhar seems to have found the route to redemption in politics.

In the caste ridden politics of Uttar Pradesh, Azhar turned out to be at “the right place at the right time”. Joining the Congress was a master stroke far better than any of his delightful leg glances.

It was widely believed that Azhar’s minority status was his big liability when the scandal broke. Most other accused players escaped with relatively smaller punishments, while some bigwigs like Kapil Dev walked away completely scott free. Despite his repeated attempts to make peace, the BCCI turned down his requests and ended his career in every way imaginable.  Ten plus years hence, its a different story. Azhar’s minority status is his biggest asset as the Congress attempts to corner the Muslim vote, and checkmate Mayawati, SP and the rest of its opponents in the short and long term. It has been a long wait for one of India cricketing stars but it surely seems like this second innings is going to be a game changer for him.

It has been quite a journey for Azhar. In fact, it has all the ingredients of a Bollywood flick — humble beginning, rise to cricketing stardom, family discord, divorce and re-marriage into the world of glamor, Bollywood connections and links to the underworld, a major match-fixing scandal, turns underdog as everyone except him escapes a life time ban, tries all he can, fails,  finally chooses to enter politics, wins election by a thumping margin and finally on his way to revoking the ban. Throw in a few item numbers, and the odd villain and some sc0pe for revenge and you have a Bollywood sizzler!  Quite a heady mix, huh?

Now, check out Azhar on screen.