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The Lego Movie / The Grand Budapest Hotel

By on Mar 9, 2014 in Reviews | 2 comments

The Lego Movie   I admit that I was sceptical going in to watch The Lego Movie whether it would be actually good, or a merchandising ploy to turn toys into a movie gone too far – like the 2012 critical flop Battleship. I tend to dislike animated films in general because I often find them simplistic in terms of themes, with changeable “characters” (toys, cars, sea life) made with an eye towards the merchandising rights. Given that context, The Lego Movie was a pleasant surprise. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller use their tried technique of making smart contemporary pop culture references from their previous effort 21 Jump Street and tell it through charming, retro-style animation afforded by using Lego characters. I was very impressed by how smartly the casting was done to pick up actors who are big in Internet pop cultures: Chris Pratt from Parks and Recreations, Will Arnett from Arrested Development, Alison Brie from Community, Charlie Day from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Elizabeth Banks from The Hunger Games trilogy. If that top billing of voice actors with niche and rabid fan bases online doesn’t get you interested, there’s also Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, and Liam Neeson among top Hollywood actors – each, again, who are favourites of the Internet crowd. This self-aware casting is what elevates the dialogue in The Lego Movie from just the jokes they are in the screenplay to in-joke pop culture references, adding another dimension to the film. I reckon that these will be jokes only the older viewers will be able to recognise and appreciate. The retro animation style captures the fascination kids have with Lego toys and is sure to make anyone who enjoyed playing with them in childhood reminisce. It’s overall a very cheerful and uplifting film, but the scenes which show father-son bonding moved me to tears – of sadness – because of the troubled relationship that I have with my own family. Besides that, there are also undercurrents of commentary about capitalist culture and mental health issues; perhaps that was me projecting my own views on to the film, but much in the way of Lego pieces, the film’s plot gives you the canvas to interpret scenes in your own way. Rating: 4 / 5 *** The Grand Budapest Hotel As a self-confessed Wes Anderson fan, I had been looking forward to the release of The Grand Budapest Hotel for a long time. What I wasn’t expecting – when I caught it at the Odeon in Guildford on première weekend – was to find a completely packed theatre. Somehow, I never thought Guildford would be a place full of Wes Anderson fans! Let me take a step back here. If you’ve never heard of Wes Anderson, he known for such films as The Darjeeling Limited, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou – and, my personal favourite – Moonrise Kingdom. His films are critically renowned for their unique visual style, deadpan dialogue, and ensemble casts (often) featuring Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe. What sets Anderson apart for me is his ability to dive into deep, emotional topics of life and representing them in a visually striking fashion. The Grand Budapest Hotel, unlike many of his previous films, is loosely inspired by the real-life events of Stefan Zweig – a famous German writer. The story is set during World War II, with Ralph Fiennes leading the cast as M. Gustave, the manager of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Gustave is a womaniser who loves “pleasuring” his elderly women guests, and through that, ends up being bequeathed a famous painting. It’s a story of murder, prison break, and troubled families – far more bloody and gory than Anderson’s previous work, but perhaps fitting with the theme of the times during WWII. The plot is decidedly less quirky and employs less of the tracking shots between different locations that Anderson is so famous for. Little-known actor Tony Revolori as the lobby boy Zero plays the foil and protegé to Fiennes’ character with aplomb. Fiennes himself is assuredly funny even in bleak situations; he slips so perfectly into the character of a British hotel manager. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a genuinely well-crafted film which I would recommend without hesitation to fans of indie cinema and / or Wes Anderson. I’m not sure whether the average punter would enjoy it though, because the film is not “accessible” in the same sense that, say, Moonrise Kingdom was. Rating: 3.5 /...

Anoushka Shankar’s “Traces of You” India tour

By on Dec 15, 2013 in Reviews | 1 comment

Anoushka Shankar’s “Traces of You” India tour

Exun 2013

By on Dec 4, 2013 in Tech Takes | 3 comments

This weekend, I was at Exun 2013, one of Delhi’s biggest computer technology symposiums (along with Code Wars). Having been a participant at the event for many, many years it felt nice to be back as a judge at Exun and meet so many bright kids into technology. I signed on for Exun when DPS RK Puram’s HoD, Mr Mukesh Kumar, got in touch with me a couple of weeks ago about conducting the junior quiz, senior quiz, and crossword. I expected nothing short of the best teams at this event, hence why I knew I needed to put in extra effort to ensure the tradition of Exun’s event standards were maintained. It was an amazing – and tiring – experience to conduct the three events, but I loved every minute of it. Raghav Khullar helped me build the question archive for all events, and Exun members / Mukesh sir helped me with organisational logistics at every stage. And with that, I present the archives for Exun 2013: Junior Quiz: Prelims (PDF, ~370 KB); Finals (PDF, ~3.3 MB) Crossword: Prelims (opens in a new window); Finals (opens in a new window) n.b. I’m aware of an error in the one question in the finals, where the answer should have been “SILKROAD” and not “SILKROUTE” Senior Quiz: Prelims (PDF, ~680 KB); Finals (ZIP, ~6.7 MB) n.b. I had to use PPTX for the finals presentation decks because it contains embedded media. Hope the teams enjoyed the quizzes and the crossword. Feedback appreciated! :) This slideshow requires...

Why I voted for Congress in Delhi Elections 2013

By on Dec 4, 2013 in Personal | 4 comments

My newsfeed on Facebook and Twitter is filled today with millenials, like me, who voted in an Indian election for the first time posting pictures of their fingers marked with indelible ink. Without any concrete demographic information, but based on what I saw anecdotally, the eventual 66% voter turnout probably comprised a significant portion of millenials. For me, it feels weird that the first time I’ve ever voted in elections was in the UK, not these Delhi Elections. I’d have taken my phone along to take pictures, had I known it was allowed. I saw many people at my polling station with phones, although I’ve heard other reports that people had to leave their phones outside. (The Election Commission of India’s website, unfortunately, has no FAQ for voters. For some reason, they also keep two designs for the website live.) My newsfeed is filled with ink-stained finger pics. I think Election Commission of India should tie-up with Instagram to verify voter count. — Ankur Banerjee (@ankurb) December 4, 2013 The process was surprisingly painless. I only had to wait for fifteen minutes before I got my turn to vote, with the usual procedure of checking electoral rolls and inking of my finger. And it was at that point I headed to an electronic voting machine, behind a bewildered old couple who’d never seen the contraption, and cast my vote for Congress. *** Ever since I’ve been back in Delhi, I’ve been trying to decide which party to vote for. I’m not particularly in touch with Indian politics these days (I don’t even read newspapers here) but it’s hard to escape the constant cacophony of various parties conducting rallies and advertisements everywhere. Every day on my daily run, I would hear at least one ad on the radio from BJP, with an annoying jingle about how they will reduce prices of vegetables and remove corruption. There are hoardings at bus stops talking about prices of onions and the number of rapes in Delhi. While both are sad in their own right, I can’t see myself supporting a political party which bases its entire campaign on ad hominem attacks trying to play on the anti-incumbency factor. Reducing the debate to prices of vegetables is a joke, given that it’s a lot to do with inflation in the Indian and global economy at large, rather than a local factor. More importantly, it isn’t as if BJP is particularly spotless when it comes to a track record in combating corruption. But perhaps my biggest reason for not supporting a Hindu fundamentalist, right-wing party like the BJP is because of its prime ministerial candidate for the general elections next year: Narendra Modi, who features prominently in their advertising campaigns across Delhi. I believe it’s a matter of national shame for India that a person who sat by and watched as one of the worst communal riots happened in India got off scot-free, and is in the running for the Prime Minister of India. For his face Perhaps the same argument could be lobbed towards Congress politicians for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. My grandfather himself sheltered Sikh families in his house when those riots took place and risked his life to turn away mobs who were going house-to-house looking to murder people. Yet, as far as I know, none of those perpetrators are running for the post of running the entire country, even though they may or may not have been convicted. I don’t care for argument that go along the lines of “Gujarat has advanced a lot under Narendra Modi”. That sounds just like the argument supported Adolf Hilter’s rise to power in Nazi Germany. I cannot support a politician who is so morally bankrupt and who has never apologised for the 2002 Gujarat riots. My second choice was the Aam Aadmi Party. Started by political activist Arvind Kejriwal, the party has built its credentials on an anti-corruption platform. When I first saw their logo (on a McDonald’s TV screen, no less), I actually thought “Aam Aadmi Party” was a tagline Congress was using, because of AAP’s use of tricolours in their logo. AAP certainly has been loud and vocal about what they want to do, and because of the pedigree of their leader, I wanted to check out their manifesto (summary in English, entire manifesto in Hindi). They make quite a few lofty promises: reducing electricity bills, 700 litres of free water per day, schools and hospitals in every neighbourhood, et al. All very noble goals, but nowhere does their manifesto do they mention where they will find the money to do all of their stated goals. Higher taxes? Surely that’s not going to be better for the “common man”. For instance, take their promise of providing 700 litres of free water per day, per household. According to a paper published in 2008, the average daily household consumption of water in most Indian cities is 400 litres, so 700 litres is vastly generous. But why should this be provided for free? Access to clean water is a right worth fighting for and there are many parts of Delhi which go without it, and eliminating a revenue source completely (because it’s unlikely most households would ever exceed their free quota) isn’t generate revenue to expand water coverage across Delhi households. Similarly, they claim to have 20% of Delhi’s power needs generated by solar energy...

The Pot Belly / What A Comic Show reviews

By on Nov 28, 2013 in Reviews | 0 comments

My trip to The Pot Belly Cafe was mildly adventurous. Since I got a new Nokia Lumia phone, I decided to check out how accurate its HERE Transit app is with Delhi transport. I started off from my house near Moti Bagh and took a bus to AIIMS. At this point, the app kept telling me either to take a 465EXT route bus – which never arrived despite being listed multiple times – or to take route 540 from South Extension, 500 metres away. I thought, “500 metres ain’t too bad” so I started walking towards South Ex from AIIMS. At first there was a usable (in Delhi!) footpath, which soon narrowed down to a single-brick wide pathway alongside a busy highway. It was at this point that two guys on a motorcycle alighted next me. Now, it was dark – around 8pm – and I expected they’d either mug me or ask for directions. The mystery was soon resolved when one of the guys approached me and asked me whether I wanted to buy a Nokia Lumia 920 for “a reasonable price”. I politely declined and reached my destination eventually by bus. I learned later that it’s a common scam in Delhi to be approached by people pretending to sell you a phone at a seemingly bargain price, and then swap the phone with a dummy when the transaction takes place. I was headed to Shahpur Jat – a “ghetto version of Hauz Khas Village”, as a friend described it. I was little prepared for the shock when I entered the “village” from the incorrect entrance and had to navigate narrow alley after another to get to my destination. (Directions on Zomato or Google Maps weren’t helpful.) Karmanya may have been scared to get shanked in HKV, but on this occasion I felt that was an actual possibility. The closest parallel I can draw to what the general vibe is when I’ve had to visit relatives in Katwaria Sarai. Anyway, I finally did reach my destination, The Pot Belly Cafe. Not a particularly upscale option as it specialises in Bihari cuisine, which was part of the attraction to me since it would be something different. This place had been picked on Prateek‘s recommendation (a foodie who runs an amazing food blog over at Belly Centric); I was also meeting up with other Twitter-friends – Souvik, Apoorv, and Karan. The interiors look like a fancy dhaba. We started off with baskets of meat and vegetable pakoras for starters. Pakoras are fairly typical and our group was still hungry so we decided to order more starters. The next set of starters we ordered were “phish phingers” – cylindrical fish sticks with crispy potatoes of the kind you get at Yo! China – along with the Bihari staple of litti chokha. Litti is basically roasted chickpea which is stuffed into a fried jacket, like a jacket potato, served with (on this occasion) with chana dal. My impression of litti chokha from litti juices that I’ve drunk earlier wasn’t particularly amazing, so I was quite surprised that this was tasty! Bihari burger with mutton Maithili Thali Champaran-style mutton For the main course, we chose three dishes. Bihari burger turned out to be a cross between a normal burger and a pav bhaaji, with a mutton patty and filling in super-sized pav bhaaji buns – enough for two people if you aren’t feeling peckish. Champaran-style mutton was boneless, tender mutton served with paranthas and raita. And lastly, Maithili thali was a puri dish with diced paneer. The portions were good enough for sharing among the five of us. Somewhat out-of-the-way, The Pot Belly Cafe is an excellent choice if you want to try out Indian cuisine that’s typically not classified as “sexy” among eating-out choices or easily available. Make sure you figure out where it is first though! It’s very easy to miss. (Slice of Italy / The Coffee Garage are good landmarks in case you need to seek directions.) Rating: 8 / 10 *** SDA Market (opposite IIT Delhi) isn’t my usual choice for venue for a meal due to the lack of choice in cuisines. Not much space in such a tiny market anyway. However, I had noticed signs for a new establishment called What A Comic Show, and I was intrigued by it because I assumed it would be a comedy club. I wanted to give an Indian comedy club that supported local comedians a shot. It wasn’t until I met up with Bhavika for dinner yesterday there that I realised that What A Comic Show is a restaurant – hence the name, rather than a comedy club. The restaurant is stocked with comic book memorabilia (with scary “no touching!” signs) on all shelves, with custom comic book graphic art poster for each table top. The menu, too, is a cardboard slab with comic book action font. What A Comic Show primarily serves Asian and Continental cuisine. The Asian section, to be honest, is quite disappointing serving what passes off as Chinese cuisine in India. The Continental menu, on the other hand, is loaded with many interesting choices. We ordered the mix bell pepper bruschetta and mushroom toast for starters. The quantity was overkill for a starer, since each portion is quite large for two people with four pieces each. For mains, I ate their signature “All Flavour Burger” – a delicious...