Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na

Films are made or unmade in the small moments. Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na has many of those small moments that make it memorable.

In Jiggy's birthday party, Jai says "Hum hamesha dost rahenge" and Shaleen crinkles her nose at Aditi - a knowing, shared confidence about Aditi's unrequited feelings. Then, after the party Jai's mother asks him "Us ka mangetar bhi tha?", Jai nods and she hugs him as he breaks down. Cool parents were everywhere in the film, but the tenderness in the relationship between Ratna Pathak-Shah and a fatherless Imran Khan was especially well-done.

The film reminded me of Dil Chahta Hai on many levels. A key aspect of what made it work for me was how real and contemporary the characters seemed. The friendships in DCH leapt out at you in terms of how realistic the interactions between Akash, Sameer and Sid seemed. Similarly the lives of the characters that Jai & co. live with the attendant wisecracking, easy camaraderie and tangled webs seemed lifted right out of the pages of St. Xavier's class of '08.

Worth noting: The film belongs to Abbas Tyrewala. Good direction, tight script, crisp dialog (very Bambaiyya without being clichéd) and quirky lyrics. He wins the award for the funniest ending for a standard romcom story. Imran Khan is believable and likeable, as is most of the supporting cast. The film uses Mumbai as a location more cleverly than any film in the recent past (Satya pops to mind). The title sequence is pure genius. The Khan brothers are an inspired piece of casting - it may be the most memorable film they end up acting in.

A R Rahman rules, hands down. He's copped a lot of flak for having a 'signature' sound. But here (it's been so increasingly in the past few years) the music suits the film to a T without him imposing any stylistic pressure. It sounds fresh, funky and fun with ARR's penchant for using new voices paying off rich dividends. Kabhi Kabhi Aditi, Tu Bolein...Main Boloon ( a very low-key ARR himself - great singing and jazz interludes) and Kahin To (personal favorite, Vasundhara Das is phenomenal) are lovely and Pappu Can't Dance! wins the award for party song of the year, with attendant cool dance move.

Not cool: Genelia was a bit of a weak link, but not weak enough to bring the story down. Very expressive eyes, but her diction didn't quite cut it. The flashback/flash-forward technique got annoying after a while. The script really had no loose ends and trying too hard to explain everything with the airport narrative was jarring.

And really, Tyrewala also takes the award for beating the Gujju stereotype to death with Jiggy. The accent was overdone and there are other lesser stereotypes ripe for harvest. After the horror that was Satish Shah in Kal Ho Na Ho, I'd cop the Gujjus a break and take on Punjabis  for a bit. With upcoming classics like Singh is Kinng, a bit of parody won't hurt their butter chicken-fattened egos.

To sum: Aamir Khan strikes again, in style.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

See Micro...Spot?

One of the biggest challenges Microsoft faces as a company is how we can humanize ourselves to the world. Being called "The Borg" or similar doesn't do wonders for our public image.

I mean, we are a company of human beings. The company is full of really smart and passionate people working on things they genuinely care about. Things go crazy once in a while and we are shown up as being incompetent (Mac vs PC, anyone?) or even worse, malevolent. But the fact remains - Microsoft is a great company with its set of great attributes and flaws (some of which are great too).

Aiming to capture that is microspotting, a blog that focuses on interesting employees at Microsoft. Check it out. My favorite so far is the Dare Obasanjo story. He is the son of a bona fide Nigerian President. He talks about the Nigerian scam emails:

What’s weird about those is that I have to actually read them because I can’t be sure. They could actually be legitimate mail for me — I mean, I know Nigerian Senators and Governors who worked with my dad. So it’s irritating because I actually have to read those emails to be really sure!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The way we live

Musings on gas prices, communities, density and sprawl

What does the price increase in gas mean for us US residents long-term? The obvious is known - more people have started driving smaller vehicles, the market for big SUVs and gas-guzzling Hummers and trucks is going down, more people now take transit or try to.

However, I'm interested in what this means in the macro, long-term sense for the way communities have developed in the US.

If we see this oil price trend continue or even stay at a $4.00 per gallon baseline for a couple of summers more, I foresee a huge change in the way housing gets built and for housing demand in general. General trends I see developing:

- Density goes up. People are moving closer to city and community centers with an emphasis on easy access to transit, proximity to schools, shopping and community-type activities. While driving 30-40 miles every day to drop off + pick up kids, for doing your groceries and going shopping may make sense when gas is $2.50 a gallon, at $4.00 it's murderous for your wallet. People will prefer staying in places where all these things are much closer to home or maybe closer to transit options.

- This in turn means average size of homes goes down. The past couple of decades has seen the average size of a single family house in the US balloon. Astronomical heating bills and long driving distances will see more people opting for town-home style housing, smaller house sizes ( no more 1.5 acre lots) or at least 'friendlier' housing with smaller lots which are more amenable to smaller communities with walker-friendly neighborhoods.

It's already beginning to happen. While sprawl was a direct function of urban decay, urban revival in many towns and cities in the US is seeing a trend 'inwards'. Places like Denver, Portland and other smaller towns have managed to do a great job of revitalizing the city core making it easier (especially for younger people or empty-nesters) to make their way back to living in the city.

To me, this is a good thing. After over two years of living in the suburbs (suburban New Jersey, then Redmond, WA), moving to the city was revitalizing in many ways. This post wouldn't have been made if I hadn't moved - my thinking would never have evolved to this point.

Communities are a function of inhabitants. However, residents too become a function of their communities. There is something vital about living in an area that's denser and occupies a smaller footprint. It's something that's missing in a lot of the 'bedroom communities' that a combination of the real estate boom, cheap gas and a predilection towards big houses conspired to create. Huge McMansions where your house is your fortress and you have no real link to the place you live in isn't going to help make a place seem more like home.

The "walk-ability" of a neighborhood does seem to increase your affinity to the place and foster a sense of community - it's definitely done so in my case. As I've mentioned before, there's a sense of place about here that I have come to genuinely like. There's pieces missing of course - like the fact that I hardly know or talk to my neighbors, which would be unthinkable while growing up in India (though I see similar trends developing there). This lovely piece in the NYT talks about that.

If this increase in fuel prices results in more places like Seattle and Portland which have a reasonable trade-off between sprawl and skyscrapers and a push towards mass transit, at least some good will have come from all this pain.