Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Movies Roundup 2014

 First things first, 2014 was a sub-par movie year for Bollywood. No two ways about it. The last couple of years had raised the expectations but this was back to the superstars and their regular Rs. 200 crores rubbish, for the most part.  Also, personally this year I ended up seeing far fewer movies in theatres primarily because the downtown cinemas that had started screening Hindi movies dialed it down, and most of the non-mainstream movies like Filmistaan, The World Before Her etc. never saw the light of day in this part of the world. However, my friend Parth had thrown a helpful challenge, to also take into account the overall movies watches, including those at home. Though I failed miserably on my 2014 resolution of 100 movies overall (theatres and TV) but the last month of the year saw a strong upswing with a TV moving to the bedroom. Ended the year with 14 movies in the theatres and 24 on the smaller screen. Barely passed with 38% marks. Toning down 2015 expectations to 50 movies overall.

 Moving to the real deal now. Just like in 200920102011, 2012, & 2013 I made a quick note of my initial thoughts and a rating on 10, purely on how much I enjoyed it. As always, very keen to hear your thoughts and exchange some notes. Welcome 2015 and let the show go on!

  Starting with the popular stats first, only for movies released the same year.

Year     # Seen Hindi:English:Bangla   Top Rating      Avg. Rating
2007     32               22:10:0                           9.0             5.78
2008     30               23:7:0                             8.5             6.35
2009     24               18:6:0                             9.0             6.85
2010     25               16:9:0                             8.5             6.62
2011     22               15:6:1                             8.5             6.77
2012     28               12:11:5                           9.0             7.33
2013     28               14:14:0                           9.0             7.12
2014     16                10:6:0                            9.0             6.16 

 The average rating was significantly impacted by the worst movie I have seen in the last 10 years - Gundey. And it breaks my heart that after a 10 month stay at the bottom of IMDb rankings, it's now the 3rd worst movie in history.

Coming to the top 5, and with just 16 movies, decided to go with a mix of Hollywood and Bollywood this time. (All posters courtsey Wikipedia)

5. 2 States

Exaggerated, stereotypical plot but thoroughly enjoyable. Besides one pretentious social message, a fun, feel good movie. 7.5/10.

4. American Hustle

.Smart, fast paced and genuinely funny. Smooth performances, great lines with Jen Lawrence a cut above the rest. 8/10

3. Haider

Recommended to not watch it with real life biases and enjoy a brilliant movie. Pulls you into the story from get go. Haunting. 8/10

2. Gone Girl

One of the most intriguing characters in modern cinema. You'll forget whom you're rooting for and what you want. Gripping. 8.5/10

1. Queen

Characters & situations you identify with. Touches upon prejudices without being preachy. Spectacular Kangana and support cast. 9/10

Below, a collection of tweet reviews of all the movies of 2014.

American Hustle - Smart, fast paced and genuinely funny. Smooth performances, great lines with Jen Lawrence a cut above the rest. 8/10

Gundey - 0.5/10

Highway - Superb performances by Alia & Randeep, beautiful locales & cinematography, soothing score, unnecessary parallel thread. 7/10.

Gulaab Gang - has a message, and is delivered in simple black & white. An outstanding Juhi Chawla. Unnecessary music. Masala lines. 6/10.

Queen - Characters & situations you identify with. Touches upon prejudices without being preachy. Spectacular Kangana and support cast. 9/10

2 States - Exaggerated, stereotypical plot but thoroughly enjoyable. Besides one pretentious social message, a fun, feel good movie. 7.5/10.

Finding Fanny - eccentric, funny, realistic in an over the top way, heart warming performances and Goa beautifully captured. 7/10

Haider - Recommended to not watch it with real life biases and enjoy a brilliant movie. Pulls you into the story from get go. Haunting. 8/10

Gone Girl - One of the most intriguing characters in modern cinema. You'll forget whom you're rooting for and what you want. Gripping. 8.5/10

Happy New Year - 5/10 (a series of tweets on the movie here)

PK - 7/10, but that's irrelevant. Here's the full review - And an earnest request to watch it.

The Interview - Utterly outraged that a topic as fascinating as North Korea was completely messed up in this terrible comic attempt. 3/10.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

PK - Review

Photo Courtsey PK's Official FB page
Came back after watching PK a couple of hours back, and was getting my thoughts together for a review. In the meanwhile happened to glance at the Twitter trending topics in India, expecting some Aamir Vs SRK fireworks. One of the top trending topics in India right now is #BoycottPK. We don't come across irony this thick even in our movies. 

Yes, it's got a bit of E. T. (Koi Mil Gaya), Forrest Gump, and a lot of OMG. The music is slightly below the usual Rajkumar Hirani (RKH) standard, though very hummable, and the message is in your face, and underlined in bright pink just in case you manage to miss it. But the trend tells me all of that is completely besides the point. 

PK is more of what a junior school moral science video should be like (which we don't show in our schools) with some of the biggest stars in the country, espousing a cause which shouldn't even require hundreds of crores of rupees to send the message. But we're a large country with high illiteracy rates and years of divide based on religious grounds, and I admire the makers and the actors for taking up a project like this. They have no obligations to equally represent every religion to prove a point, but to be fair to them, they do make an effort to not totally single out one. 

The movie is about the simple message of removing middlemen between us and the Almighty. Though perhaps not as relatable as the 'Jadoo ki jhappi' of Munnabhai M.B.B.S  or 'Gandhigiri' of Lage Raho Munnabhai, 'Wrong Number' of PK is a message which is more universal than a cursory viewing of the movie suggests. With hashtags like #BoycottPK it becomes that much more evident how dire the situation is and why we need movies like this to get even a few minds to raise some questions.

My request to you will be to criticize the movie as much as you want from a cinematic perspective, and the plot has enough holes to be unable to cover Aamir Khan's modesty, but please watch the movie and ask a few others to do so too. PK is vulnerable and innocent and requires our support. 

It's very easy for superstars like Aamir Khan to churn trash and make Rs. 200 crores, and many of his contemporaries do so every year without fail. Glad that he used his reach to try and make a difference, while making the 200 crores. I am glad that WeSupportPK started to trend in the meanwhile.

Monday, December 15, 2014

2015 Cricket World Cup Schedule

The World Cup starts on Feb-14-2015 (Australia)/Feb-13-2015 (USA) with the first Pool A matchbetween hosts New Zealand and Sri Lanka, in Christchurch. The same day Australia take on England in Melbourne to start things off for Pool B.

There will be a total of 42 group stage matches to decide the 8 quarter finalists. 

Pool A consists of: England, Australia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Afghanistan, and Scotland.

Pool B will have: South Africa, India, Pakistan, West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland, and UAE. 

The quarter finals will be held on 4 consecutive days (March 17-20) in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Wellington respectively.

The two semi-finals will be on March 23rd and 25th in Auckland and Sydney, with the final slated for Sunday, March 29th (Aus)/Saturday, March 28th (USA) in Melbourne.

You can download the .ics calendar file from ESPNCrincinfo (here). This can be easily synced with the calendar of your choice (Outlook, Google Calendar, etc.) as well as your mobile calendars.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Restaurant Review - Nue

The latest entrant to the vibrant and growing Seattle food scene is Nue. Technically not yet an entrant, as they're getting ready to officially open the place soon. Thanks to a friend who is friends with the owners, we had the opportunity of a special invite lunch.

Located in Capitol Hill with many other trendy and quirky eating joints, Nue focuses on the global street food fare, with their personalized take on most dishes. In their own words

"...As avid travelers, and insatiable eaters, we set out to build the same kind of casual gathering, food and drink place we consistently frequent while abroad, but for whatever reason, can never quite find back home.  As seemingly diverse as they are, the divey tascas of the Iberian Peninsula, the explosively colorful markets that blanket Asia, the smokey outdoor grills found throughout the Balkans and the vivid town squares of South America all share a lot in common: simple, unassuming, always unique, conspicuously approachable, often times surprising and most importantly, insanely delicious.  This is the food we like to eat..."

The place has a warm and welcoming feel to it with mismatched wooden shelves stocked with random paraphernalia, an open kitchen right next to the tables to tempt you with the sights, smells, and sounds and a communal dining concept. There are three - four large tables were guests from different groups can sit together, get to know each other, and enjoy different cuisines. We struck up some interesting conversations around the abnormal cold snowy day and global food stories with a gentleman moving back to Seattle from Europe after many years and some local Seattle-ites.

As it was a pre-launch special invite affair the hosts offered us a prix fixe five course menu.

First up was the Ethiopian Beer Nuts and Lardo on toast. The nuts were very similar to the large Brazilian nuts we're used to, and came in a bowl with spiced popcorn. It had appetizing written all over it. The Lardo as we were told is an Italian dish of thin slices of pork fat, slightly simmered and served over even thinner crispy toasted bread. The Lardo surprised us with the amount of flavours it packed in those thin sheets. The food blogging cliche of melting in your mouth will not be unwarranted in this case because that's apparently the very purpose of this dish.

Ethiopian Beer Nuts

Lardo on Toast

It was quickly followed up by the South African dish of Bunny Chow. Highly influenced by the Indian community living there for centuries this is like a soup bowl, but more cylindrical in shape and filled with a chicken and chick pea curry, reminding us of familiar tastes from home. While the curry with it's Indian spices tasted familiar the presentation and the combination with the bread added variety to the experience.

Bunny Chow

The third course was a light, tangy, quinoa salad from Lebanon called Tabouli. The quinoa seeds were starting to sprout and this shared plate came with chopped onions, cucumbers, and plenty of lime juice. A refreshing break in the middle of the meal.

Lebanese Tabouli

The final entree was a Romanian burrito like dish called Mititei. The bread was somewhere between a small taco and a large burrito. The main filling was some very well cooked pork, smothered in three kinds of sauces, one of which seemed to be yoghurt based, one a surprising horseradish, and the third I am yet to figure out. The host recommended we fold it into a burrito and enjoy, and we did just that. It was the dish of the day for me.


The meal was completed by a liquid nitrogen cooled, extremely creamy Vietnamese Coffee flavoured ice cream. I have to admit our group was especially excited about the liquid nitrogen part, expecting beakers and petri dishes on the table, and though slightly disappointed with the lack of drama the creaminess of the ice cream mostly made up for it.

The liquid Nitrogen cooled Viatnamese Coffee Ice Cream

I wish the owners - Uyen & Chris - all the very best for their endeavors and hope they will be able to open Nue to the public sooner rather than later, and I can confirm that we will be seen sitting at those friendly tables every other week.

A satisfied bunch!

Sunday, November 09, 2014

One Plus One - Review

After four and a half years with Google's Nexus phones (Nexus 1 - 2009-10, Nexus S - 2010-12, & Nexus 4 - 2012-14) I decided to give the latest entrant in the 'pure Android' world a try. Technically 'pure Android+'. One Plus One (OPO) is a high end Android smartphone manufacturer from China that came out of nowhere in 2014 and with incredible specs, state of the art Android experience, and unbelievable prices, has taken the geeky world of phones by storm this year.

Let's get the basics out of the way first. The 64 GB Sandstone Black phone at 5.5" screen, and 162

gms feels large, but not heavy. The unique "sandstone black" material at the back feels distinct (like hard velvet as many have commented) and comfortable to touch. The device is massively powerful with a quad core Snapdragon 801 2.5GHz processor (compared to Snapdragon 800, 2.3GHz of the Nexus 5), and to support that kind of power and large screen it comes with a 3,100 mAh battery which keeps the phone going on for an entire day, and sometimes more. Like the new Nexus line of phones the battery is not replaceable and inside the phone, and it doesn't have the option of an external memory card. However at 64GB of memory and more and more multimedia moving to the cloud I am not sure if anyone really needs more memory than that. Oh, did I mention it has a 3GB RAM? 3 GB. Your laptop may have a comparable RAM even today. In short, the phone is exceptional fast and has very nice touch sensitivity. Besides the great stuff inside, they've also paid attention to the details and have delivered a top notch packaging and branding experience (pictures below).

The "hard velvet" back
Because of the large size of the phone, the manufacturers have smartly placed the power and volume buttons mid way through the sides, so even someone with a small hand should be able to control those buttons. 

The camera is also a thing of beauty, with a 13 MP back camera and a 5 MP front facing camera. Of note is the 4K UHD video option. I have not seen such clarity in phone pictures so far. I maybe getting over my prejudice against the phone camera finally. Oh, it also has a Slow-Mo setting (60 fps) which does make for some interesting action videos - running, eating, crowds etc. And the OPO comes with some small but unique features such as switching on the flashlight by simply drawing a V on the screen, even when locked, or a circle to switch on the camera. Have shared some pictures clicked using the phone so far.

Green Lake, Seattle (HDR)

But the 3 things that have set the OPO apart so far are (1) the Cyanogenmod OS, (2) Invite Only distribution system, and (3) $350 price point.

Fall Leaves, Queen Anne, Seattle
If you've heard about the OPO then chances are you've also come across the term Cyanogenmod. While you can read the details right here in their own page, the description is precisely what they claim it to be "CyanogenMod (pronounced /saɪ.'æn.oʊ.dʒɛn.mɒd/) is an enhanced open source firmware distribution for smartphones and tablet computers based on the Android mobile operating system. It offers features and options not found in the official firmware distributed by vendors of these devices." Basically it provides the pure Android experience and enhances it by unlocking many features you won't get in the regular phones. An example will be the ability to set brightness at any level and not just 5 preset levels. Or adding options to the power menu. Or changing the navigation buttons at the bottom. Your Android, your way. Yes, you can install Cyanogenmod on any Android phone if you're comfortable with rooting, and updating the OS as and when they arrive. As this is the first "legit" phone to come bundled with Cyanogenmod you can get the latest Over The Air (OTA) updates to keep your phone and its features always up-to-date. As a long term pure Android user I am very particular against bloatware (unnecessary software that manufacturers add to their devices) and you can rest assured not to be bothered by them. And yes, it's as Android as it gets, you have full access to the Google Play store and all apps and services. They've also promised a 90 day update to the latest Android version, so that countdown for the Android Lollipop version has already started. 

Again, Green Lake, Seattle. HDR.

The 2nd interesting thing about the OPO has been the distribution system. Because of the extreme positive interest in the devices they have kept the distribution invite only, and getting the invites has been a matter of immense pride, fortune, and perseverance in the geek community. In fact, they opened the phone to pre-order on Oct-27 of this year and the demand brought their servers down. According to latest numbers they have sold 0.5M units since launch in May 2014 and have plans of touching the magic 1M mark with the holiday demand. The China based company has solid leadership with veterans from the industry and if the first six months are to go by you'll hear a lot more about them. They have famously spent $350 in marketing till date.

Finally, the price. This beast at $350 is something you could have only expected from the Nexus so far. But this year, after 5 versions of the ridiculously prices flagship phones at the $300-$350 mark, Google has joined the iPhone league and launched it at $649 (unlocked). The OPO on the other hand has taken up that sweet spot ($349 + shipping ($15) for their 64GB version). That's a price point very difficult to go wrong with the kind of specs they're providing.

After four days of usage I will give the phone a 9.5/10 (just had to deduct 0.5 points for the size, but you can say I purchased it knowing fully well). A fan already. Also a fan of the roasted chicken +Veni  cooked over the weekend:)

Sunday, November 02, 2014

To Sir, With Nerves

Happy birthday Sir. Happy 49th in fact. I was a year away from kindergarten when you started winning hearts with those dimples in Fauji. Today I know how thirty feels. But not quite how thirty feels with a DDLJ behind you.

9 years back I wished you. From my heart.

2 years back I wished you. Again from my heart.

This year I thought of sharing something with you that's helped me make friends throughout my life, and also something that helped me feel a bit like you, throughout my life.

Just as I had made my first trip to Mumbai, hopeful of bumping into you at some crossing, posting this here with the same hope of you finding this link floating around somewhere in the online world. Pardon the arrogance here!

All pictures courtesy Wikipedia.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

3 Friends. 3 Books. 1 Plug.

I feel like the Amar Singh and Baba Siddiqui of the Indian literature space with three friends coming up with their books at the same time. Although I have read only 1.5 of these, but having being an avid reader of their blogs and 140 character quips on Twitter I can confidently vouch for these works of fiction and trivia. 

1. Arnab Ray's 'Yatrik' 

One of the most well established names in the Indian blogging scene for over a decade now, Yatrik is Arnab's third book in five years. I got to know Arnab, much better known as Greatbong, through his immensely popular blog - Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind, and count him as one of my closest friends and more importantly favourite writers. His first book was a collection of short, hilarious stories based on the India of the '90s, while his second book was an Indian horror story that charted a new path for that genre of writing in Indian English. Yatrik is right up his alley mixing some sensational concepts with human relationships and emotions, a subject that he has dealt with much dexterity in many of his blog posts and his previous book - The Mine. I was fortunate to have read many early versions of the book over the last few years, and definitely feel it's an interesting story told in an engaging manner. As long as you don't go in with the expectation of the usual Greatbong style of humour, or any humour almost, you're in for a treat of a story.

Available (from Oct-1-2014) at 
Physical version: Amazon India (Rs. 221 + Free Shipping) & Flipkart (Rs. 260 + Rs. 40 shipping )
Kindle version: Coming Soon

2. Diptakirti Chaudhuri's 'Bollybook'

This guy loves Bollywood and trivia as much as I want to love Bollywood and trivia. Again, have known him through his blog - Calcutta Chomosome and his very active Twitter stream, and online merged with offline in a delectable dinner at Delhi Darbaar, CP. This is also his third book, after a beginner's and intermediate's guide to cricket during the 2011 World Cup and that second book - Kitnay Aadmi Thay (KAT) which made me a fan for zindagi, aur uske baad bhi. I haven't even read Bollybook, but have heard it has parts of KAT and a lot more. I can just tell you this much, if you have a passing interest in Bollywood and trivia, then I challenge you to find a better way to spend a few hundred rupees than this book. I just placed my order on the Kindle while writing this post, and can already think of quite a few friends who're getting this on their birthday's over the new few months.

Available at -
Physical version: Amazon India (Rs. 370 + Free Shipping), Flipkart (Rs. 374), Amazon USA ($62.78)
Kindle version: Amazon India (Rs. 370), Amazon USA ($6.69)

3. Parth Pandya's 'r2i dreams: For here or to go?'

Parth is yet another quizzer extraordinaire, lover of Bollywood, cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, the quintessential Indian, living abroad. We were acquainted through some quizzes held in Microsoft's Seattle campus and the one spectacular Bollywood quiz conducted by him where my wife & I managed to make it to the finals from a written round of over 50 teams. I have read some of his pieces through his blog and Facebook posts and this one post - "Why I Hate Helium?" convinced me to buy his book whenever he came up with one. Parth has a conversational, casual style peppered with vivid details and descriptions laced with some Hrishikesh Mukherjee brand of humour. He also conducted an interesting study on the term R2i (Return to India) on his Facebook timeline, triggering grieving comments from friends.  

Available at -
Physical version: Amazon India (Rs. 769), Amazon USA ($10.44), Pothi (Rs. 286 + Shipping)
Kindle version: Amazon USA ($7.99)
Also available on Kindle Unlimited.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Midsummer Night's Tale

Your topic for "Just  A Minute" is -the Football world cup. Your time starts now.

1. Pele-Maradona, Brazil-Argentina. Choose your poison and stick to it.

2. Extreme heat, we're talking 40C+ & humidity making sauna-tionalists feel at home

3. Late, very late night games as India's time zone is not on friendly terms with any country that dares to host the tournament

4. Inconspicuous, esoteric nations only found on maps coming to life

5. Endless World cup history and trivia

6.  Mom coming to the TV room at least once a night, checking on the score, before going for a quick shower to beat the heat

7. The sound of excited commentators wafting through the neighbourhood at unearthly hours

8. World Cup special magazines, read cover to cover, twice over

9. Dreams of becoming a journalist with The Telegraph to cover a World Cup at some point

10. The guarnateed load shedding (power cut) at least once during the game. Usually perfectly timed with the only goal scored

11. Discussing that tackle and that dribble during lunch break at school the next day

12. Newspaper clippings of the black and white pictures from the match played two nights back

13. Dad joining Quarter Finals onwards. Though it took the Semi-Finals and beyond to keep him alert after the half time whistle.

14. The secondary citizenship of a random country of our choice for those 30 odd days

15. The ultimate adulation and jubilation of your team lifting the trophy, or the heartbreak of the other team doing so.

The inevitable feeling of emptiness after Doordarshan (Indian national television channel) aired the final commercial. The beginning of the next four year wait. 

That wait ends today. Let the celebrations begin!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Mealster - Review

[Updated with comments from Rohit, the founder]

Amazon's headquarter in Seattle's South Lake Union has a fairly large employee base, and surprisingly these people get collectively hungry right about noon time. To tackle this unusual problem there are cafes, restaurants, and food trucks dotting the area. However, demand seems to grossly outweigh supply, especially during the peak period of 12:00 -12:30 PM. Add to this the occasional lunch time meetings and the constant companion - Seattle rains. This gives rise to a demand for lunch delivered to your desk. Although this had been acknowledged for a while by one and all, it took sometime for a bunch of enterprising guys to come up with a business plan. 

Introducing Mealster. I'll let them explain how it works directly.

Fairly simple. And comparatively affordable, as for the same ~$10 price (inclusive of tips, taxes and delivery) you get food truck fare, usually less filling than the restaurant fare Mealster has been offering.

I tried them out for the first time today. Sign up and checkout was a breeze, you can use all sorts of cards and Paypal. Here's a snapshot of their menu for this week.

Meat option

Veg Option

And here's how it actually looked. If you have a 3D printer feel free to download a plate.


  • convenient
  • affordable (comparatively)
  • filling
  • tasty
  • healthy (I'd like to believe!)

  • need to warm the food as it can get slightly cold
Rohit: This seems like a hard / external problem to solve (e.g. esp in case of cold weather etc.). I would to add that the containers are microwaveable (and ecofriendly), so one can take out the raita and heat the container/food for 1 minute in the microwave (ease of reheating). We will try to look into options of having warmer bags that are used to carry the food boxes.
  • no specific time mentioned (between 12-1 PM)
Rohit: Great point. We are planning to come up w a delivery window for each building (based on our delivery route). We will keep our subscribers informed about updates via our mailing list and website.
  • lack of options as of now (tie up with only 2 restaurant - Chutneys and Sichuianese Cuisine)
Rohit: We are working to onboard new restaurants on a weekly basis, for the next few weeks. We will keep our subscribers informed about updates via our mailing list and website.
  • flight food packing feel and flimsy plasticware
Rohit: I have passed along this feedback to Nitin, the owner of Chutneys. They will be looking into better options.

Will recommend giving these guys a try.