Movie Review: Outsourced

Coming from the land of the perennially outraged, I was prepared to be extremely open-minded about this movie. And so I was, so perhaps my review is more balanced that it perhaps deserves.

Story: Todd Anderson works in the call centre for an American company, churning out American gimmicky products, for the American public, in America. The stuff is made in China though, and, to cut costs, his department is being outsourced. To where? India.

If the injury of losing his job wasn’t bad enough, the indignity of having to train his replacement and the team is also heaped on his plate. His manager inveigles him with the threat of losing stock options in a bad economy.

So Todd flies to India.

Review: The movie was very funny, but very superficially. I did laugh at the Indian accent turning ‘Todd’ to ‘Toad’. I laughed at the cow in the office. The half-finished office. I laughed when he did a Salman Khan dance too.

Jolly good! *head wobble*

But it is a glaring example of poverty porn. The guy lands in Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country, and see only shacks and shanties lining the road. He gets down to catch a ferry near the Gateway of India, which happens to be cheek by jowl with Taj and Oberoi. All three edifices are kept out of the frame, possibly to reinforce the rundown-ness of this mosquito-infested, cow-ridden country. It is sad, because right now I am typing this post on a MacBook Air, seated under a Daikin airconditioner, in a glitzy office, in Mumbai. [Let’s ignore the fact that I am meant to be working.] And the impression people have of India is that it is a bunch of yokels, chasing after cows.

Story: There is a story. That’s about the extent to which it is gotten right. The rest is a mad mix of romance, comedy, and drama. And not in a good way. There are no surprises, everything is a trope, and everything is exaggerated. Case in point: a guy wants to put up pictures of his family in his cubicle, so he wallpapers every conceivable surface at his disposal with the photographs. Unless he has a 1000 family members, this is unnecessary and excessive.

Characters: One-dimensional, nonsensical, and stereotypical.

Acting: Awful, hammy performances.

What I liked: It was funny in parts. But that’s because of the afore-mentioned open-minded approach, and my idiotic sense of humour.

What I disliked: Everything.

Rating:

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The Second Biggest Challenge

There are a number of things that trip up my progress with the whole weight loss gig. First, it is my lack of resolution and staying power. I have staying power for a lot of things, unless they are wholly in my control. Then, I tend to take the easy way out. With my new combat fitness class, I am going to be shelling out a substantial sum, and that will goad me into being regular.

But this post isn’t about how I battle my lack of resolution, but the second biggest demon: embarrassment.

In this wonderful class, with an amazing coach, and a fantastic trainer, I am in the worst shape. [I kinda love this sentence, with all the superlatives. hehe.] I am the fattest, not the oldest (but those guys are fitter), and the one with the least ability. And therein lies the rub.

It would be awesome to go into something like this with some sort of pre-existing ability. Like I did with my French classes in Goa. I had already been through levels of French in Pune, and I found the course a breeze. It enabled me to stop feeling nervous and to really grasp the nuances of language that has escaped me the first time. That sort of leg up can make it for me. And it is a tremendous confidence boost, although I wasn’t in competition with anyone else.

Right now, I’ve been to two fitness classes. And it is a struggle not to want to collapse into a heap because everyone else is [literally] running laps around me. In short, I feel utterly humiliated and embarrassed.

Stupidly though, and I know this because I have a functioning brain, all this is purely in my head. Not by a word or glance have any of the others, least of all the trainer, betrayed disgust or disdain for my lack of ability.

So I tell myself, everyone has to start somewhere. Everyone had a first day once. At least I am here trying to get to the next day, the next month, the next year: the next level.

I cannot also myself to be discouraged with lack of immediate progress, because that’s not how physiology works. I have to focus on doing one more rep, being a little less breathless, kicking a little bit higher, and tweaking my form a little more each time. That is going to be enough, but I have to keep telling myself that.

Ultimately, I want to enjoy this process. And focusing on the result isn’t going to get me there any faster or happier, which is more important.

Falling Down and Getting Up Again

Before I started writing this post, I peeked at the page where I am documenting my so-called journey of weight loss. [This post will be indexed there too, so it is kind of meta that I am linking to the container page from within the post. Sorry. I need to geek out slightly.]

Anyway, so I looked at the posts on that page, and I can see fairly clearly that I have gotten absolutely nowhere. I am still as fat as before, if not more. But I haven’t started writing this to whine, but to talk about how I have decided (anew) to change that. The millionth time’s a charm?

So, last year, before quitting my full-time job, I looked up places that taught martial arts. Specifically mixed martial arts. I am not only terribly unfit, but also an unfortunate target of a lot of unwanted male attention. I thought it might me feel a bit more secure to be able to kick ass.

However, due to circumstances, I didn’t join at the time. I saved the number in Keep, and never mustered up the courage to call, nor to tell my family about this new desire. [Because my mum would have been very enthusiastic, and perhaps pushed me to join sooner.]

Last month, I bit the bullet and called the number, terrified of lord knows what. The man didn’t answer, and I heaved a sigh of relief and figured it wasn’t meant to be.

Only. He called back.

Um.

Ok.

Breathe.

Be normal.

Speak to him, you idiot.

I asked him a few questions, and he was unsurprisingly an easy person to talk to. [No matter how many normal people I speak to, I always imagine them as ogres in my mind before speaking to them.]

I laid out all my caveats. I’m 33. I’m very overweight. I have gout. I have a mostly sedentary lifestyle. I don’t know whether I was subconsciously asking him to reject my candidature. He did no such thing. He said that anyone could take the class, and they would progress as per their individual capability and speed. He had an excellent suggestion: come to a class and see what it is like. I was out of excuses.

The next morning, I legged it to the class. I was there for less than 5 minutes, because that’s how quickly I was sold on the idea. I said that I would need a couple of weeks to settle in with a new project that was coming up, and after that I would join the class.

My first class was on Tuesday. It was intense. I couldn’t do all the reps that the trainer instructed, but I tried. My body is out of shape and doesn’t not respond well yet to orders to move it so vigorously. But I tried.

Wednesday, my body was groaning and aching, and my muscles felt fit to burst with agony. I was hobbling around like an ancient crone. I alternated between relishing the stress on my muscles, knowing that it was good for me, and being scared about continuing.

I was still undecided this morning. But I decided to take it step by step: get out of bed; shower and change; get to the class; and then see whether I am able to cope.

I wasn’t able to cope, but I tried once again. Again, I couldn’t do the reps. But I’m going back on Saturday.

Series Review: Bitten

I have to admit that I am a sucker for supernatural series, books, and movies, which is probably evident from the number of them I have reviewed thus far.

Bitten is another in a long list of series that I have started, and instantly regretted. But because I possess an unrelentingly completionist character flaw, I couldn’t stop.

Premise: Elena Michaels is the only female werewolf in the world. She belongs to the American Pack, but has chosen to distance herself from the violence that seems to be part and parcel of that world. Part of her decision stems from a similar need to distance herself from Clayton Danvers, her ex-fiancé. However, when the alpha, Jeremy Danvers, calls due to a situation, she heeds his call to go back. Season 1 focuses on her trying to keep her new life and old from intermingling. The subsequent two seasons have other overarching storylines, but would involve spoilers even for a bare outline.

Review: Bitten is not a great show. It had a solid premise, and I believe it was based on a series of best-selling books. The trouble with adaptations, even though series are more suited to long-form storytelling like books as compared to movies, is that they lose some of the instinctive sense that the original author possesses. Case in point is Game of Thrones. Anyway, I digress.

Theme: The show is an unrelenting drama. And when I say unrelenting, I mean that the drama is ceaseless. There are very few notes of humour leavening the heaviness, and those are few and far between. In fact, I only saw those in the first season, because as members of the Pack started to get killed off, none of the characters retained a modicum of happiness in the avalanche of their grief, desire for revenge, and constant issues.

While there is nothing wrong with dramas, the viewer tires of so much seriousness. Also, some of the issues are not developed convincingly, thus making them hard to support emotionally. By the time I reached the end of the show, there was a strong sense of “Get over yourselves!”.

The tone was disappointing by overall it was possible to overlook. What was utterly ridiculous was a lack of background development. The potential was glaringly there, but not used at all. The wolves’ mythology wasn’t explored, until the second season, and it was a blink-and-miss moment.

Characters: Unrelatable, flat, and one-dimensional characters. No doubt the actors were good, but they had very little to work with. The only person with a seemingly faceted personality is Clayton Danvers, but it is the barest flicker. Elena Michaels is whiny, damaged, and constantly sighing and complaining. Jeremy Danvers is strong and authoritative. Nick Sorrentino is fun and charming, and later also a little damaged. Logan is supportive, till he has problems, then he becomes the ultimate whiner.

Acting: I imagine the actors are good, but due to the paucity of material, they probably couldn’t do much.

What I liked: The premise is interesting. I also like the foreshadowing in some bits. It was very subtly done and natural, and I only caught it because I am an obsessive dissector of stories and dialogues.

What I disliked: The character development, story development, the lack of tone, the unresolved issues, and so on.

Rating: ✩✩

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When Bollywood and Cab Companies Collide

The result is a fantastic explosion of hilarity and background music.

So, for my new consultancy project, I have decided to eschew the tribulations of Mumbai train system, and opt instead for a shared cab ride.

The cab company and I have a long fractious history together, because I routinely complained about their terrible service. Guess I have to eat humble pie now, because their share service has just about saved my goat.

But, occasionally the Gods reward me with a hilarious commute experience that takes the sting out of having to spend 1.5 hours cooped up in a car. (An airconditioned car, so really the sting is more of a gentle brush. I am not an ingrate.)

So. I call for a cab, and get into a smallish hatchback. The airconditioner is at full blast, the radio is playing loudly (not painfully loudly though), and another rider is in the front seat. I was a little surprised by this, because I was the second rider, and she would’ve had the whole backseat to herself before I came in. This conundrum was solved presently though.

The music, as I mentioned earlier, was playing quite loudly. The driver, props to him, turned around to ask me whether the music was too loud. I said no mainly because it was playing 90s Bollywood songs, and they are my guilty pleasure. He then asked whether the airconditioner was comfortably set, and when I replied in the affirmative, he nodded in satisfaction and proceeded to move along.

As we reached the end of the lane, I suggested he take a U-turn back to the highway. However his phone navigation was saying something else entirely. And he says: “Google toh yahan dikha raha hai. Google toh galat nahi bolega!” [Google is showing us a different route. Google wouldn’t be wrong!]

I tried once more, and shrugged. Fair enough, he was pleasant enough and he has a right to go in the direction he feels is best.

Of course, the “route” turns out to be a dead-end alley, with a bustling population of people milling about. I say “people” loosely to include cows, chickens, the odd goat, and a few pigeons for good measure. There were small houses, almost shanties, on either side and presumably the inhabitants’ vehicles parked outside those, adding another layer in this already congested lane.

The other rider was talking the whole time to the driver, because I had subsided after my initial goodnatured suggestion to pick a different route. She laughed, and said he would end up knocking something down. To which he replied, also goodnaturedly: “Chammaat kha lunga. At least traffic se bacch jayenge. For that, chammaat khaane ke liye tayaar hu!” [I’ll get smacked. At least we’ll be saved from the traffic. For that, I’m ready to get smacked.]

By this time, I realised two things: one, the girl was flirting with the cab driver, and once I got a better look at him I realised the second thing. He was young, rather goodlooking, well groomed, and clearly not of the menial labour pool of drivers. That also explained his evident soft skills, of asking whether I was comfortable, because I usually get grunts from cab drivers. And dude was funny. Intentionally so.

So we drove down the steadily narrowing alley, all three of us laughing at the absurdity of it all. Before long, we realised that the alley didn’t have another exit. So we looked for a place to turn the car around. And we found a clearing, but our hero thought it wasn’t wide enough. So we powered on. Of course that was a major mistake. If the alley was narrow before, it was suffocating at this point. We were now stopped because a little further, and someone’s porch would have been knocked down.

Worth considerably more than just the one chammaat methinks.

Anyway, a plethora of people poured out of their homes, in order to investigate our appearance. Our driver speedily gained several helpers, in order to reverse the car (in a considerably smaller space, mind you!) without materially damaging anything. This process took a good 20 minutes, by which time I was in pain from trying to suppress my laughter. Thankfully, no one was paying me any attention, as he concentrated on moving the car, and his cheerleader in the front seat, well, cheered him on.

Once out of the alley, we moved to the highway. We all noticeably relaxed, and the girl began to sing along to the songs on the radio. I have to hand it to Juliet, she sang like a bird. Her voice was clear and high, and damn could she belt out a few songs! Fortuitously, the songs were romantic ones.

She started chatting with him as well. That’s when I, the unwilling but highly amused third wheel, learned that he had an MBA, used to work in an office but decided to take a break, and this was his own car. Juliet was fairly impressed with this streak of entrepreneurship, as evidenced by the change in the register of her voice.

The rest of the ride was uneventful, but their conversation was listing on the side of her being mildly attracted to him, and him slowly freezing in response. To be fair to her, she wasn’t being vulgar, just flirty. But he wanted none of it.

How sad. I’d already thought of what to get them for a wedding present.

Book Review: Being Mortal

 

I have no idea why I picked up this book, and what I was expecting to glean from it. But the fact remains that it is a seminal piece of work, and everyone should read it.

Ok, now that the first flames of ardency have waned a bit, I can be slightly more balanced. But I still think it is an important work, for those who fear ageing and those who have ageing/terminally ill family to look after.

Author: Atul Gawande

Premise: The book is divided into progressive chapters, tackling every step of the terminally ill cycle of a patient. Each chapter takes a few perspectives into consideration: the clinician’s, the immediate family member, and last but not least, the person in question. The chapters progress upon the insights from the previous chapter, and at the end of the book, there is a clear journey from one standpoint to another.

The book relies heavily on case studies to illustrate its point, but without taking away their humanity from the people concerned. There is sensitivity and deep honesty about failings and strengths in equal measure, even on the author’s side.

One factor I loved about this book is that the narrative is not punctured with references. It is smooth and definitely structured, and those looking for facts and figures to back up assertions can find them after the epilogue, neatly codified for easy extraction.

Writing: Beautiful, uncomplicated prose. In fact, and I don’t know know that it is fair to Atul Gawande to make this comparison, the writing for me is reminiscent of another physician: Siddhartha Mukherjee. Mukherjee is one of my favourite authors, and his Emperor of Maladies deserves full credit for hooking my interest to medical non-fiction.

The editing is stellar, and each chapter is a definite and complete in of itself, while still flowing seamlessly from and to the preceding and succeeding chapters.

Pace: This was not an easy book for me to read, as it contained a lot of information. Secondly, it described medical conditions explicitly, and I winced with the imagined pain of it all. It is not a long book, and yet it took me ages to get through, therefore it that sense it is my pace I am judging.

Conclusion: I cannot say I enjoyed this book, because it wasn’t meant to be entertainment. It provokes deep scrutiny of oneself and that it is its goal. To that end, the book is an unmitigated success.

It is my opinion, and based solely on the book, that Gawande wrote this book to make something of his own loss. Although his learnings preceded those events, he saw firsthand how it materially worked on a deeply personal level. Because I picked up this book, expecting a treatise on coming to terms with death, I was taken unawares at first. But ultimately, I identified with his emotions, even though he merely implied them.

Rating: ✩✩✩✩✩

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Payment Terms

I thought I knew all my parents’ stories, because to be fair, I have heard them many times over. It is a source of constant joy, as I think of them coming terms with the world as rather adorable. Neither of them spared themselves or their pride in the retelling, so the piquancy of each tale has lasted.

So when I heard a new story about my dad a few days ago, I was really thrilled.

When he was working in Goa as a hotel general manager, he had a trusted lieutenant in the form of his HR manager, AM. AM, in turn, had immeasurable regard for my father and, since his passing, has kept in touch with my mother regularly. My father had only praise for this younger person, and always said he would go far.

A few days ago, AM messaged my mom to express how much he missed my father and his stewardship. He stressed on how much he learned, just by being with my father, and he narrated a tale to that effect.

One evening, a security guard was yelled at and slightly roughed up by some of the hotel guests or surrounding taxi drivers. He was understandably upset, and marched off to the HR manager to lodge a complaint. My father called him into his office, offered him a seat and a glass of water, and asked him what had transpired.

The security guard went into a harangue against all and sundry. Once he had quietened down a little, my father asked him what his name was. He replied: Namdev. Next: what is your salary, Namdev?

AM, in his retelling, said that he was in shock when he heard this question. What was the GM up to?

The guard went very quiet. My father asked again: what is your salary Namdev?

15000, he replied.

And what does a guard usually get paid?

5000, he replied.

That’s right. This is a difficult business [the hotel had a casino attached, although my father had nothing to do with that part of the business], and there are going to be upsets. We will take action as necessary, however the fact is that we pay extra because being a guard here is difficult.

“You get 5000 to be a guard. And 10000 to take shit.”

I was so flabbergasted on hearing this story. My father was a practical man, but he had a very kind heart. But above all, he had charm and humour oozing out of every pore. I was stunned when AM said that the guard nodded and left without further discussion.

Apparently, I haven’t heard everything.