Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Outsourced" Not a movie review

It has been almost two weeks since my last post..sheesh! Oh well.

Writers (WGA):
George Wing (written by) &
John Jeffcoat (written by)
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content.
USA:103 min (theatrical version) / Canada:98 min (Toronto International Film Festival)

A couple of weeks ago I managed to catch the independent movie "Outsourced" at the TheaterN in Wilmington. I absolutely loved the movie. Here is a link to the movie's website, the producer Tom Gorai has a facebook site too! link

If you believe that indie cinema is good for you and you want to try and spread the word about this film and try to see if you can get it screened in your area, here is a link to what you can do.

Trailer of the movie and my "Not A Review" after that.

"Outsourced" begins when a Seattle call center manager ,Todd (Josh Hamilton) is told he is being downsized, his only option is to go to India as a consultant to train the call center people there, in things like sounding "American" and to try and get the MPI (minutes per incident) on the phone down to 6 minutes from the 13-15 minutes they were spending per customer.

Todd has little choice, he has no interest in going to India, so naturally it is not going to surprise you to see Todd go thru all the things that people fighting something undergo especially in a place he does not want to be in initially. The cultural and other differences are almost overwhelming for Todd (he misses the guy who has come to pick him up because the sign he is holding up for him is misspelled as "Toad" instead of "Todd" and he misses him in the crush of humanity outside the arrival area. On his own Todd manages to reach the town of Gharapuri away from Bombay where he finally meets Puro (shortened from Purohit) played by Asif Basra the "future" call center manager. He convinces Todd to stay at his aunt's place rather than at the only hotel in town as he will be looked after better and the food and water will be hygienic.

Todd agrees reluctantly and is educated in a few more of the differences when his hosts get shocked that he eats with his left hand and gets a demo about why that is not done, this was pretty hilarious. He also gets grilled about not being married (is it because he is gay?), no living with his parents and not seeing them often. Todd being American does not have as strong a sense of his identity as do the Indians around him especially when it comes to family ties and social obligations.

Todd's goal to improve the MPI is helped both by Puro but even more by the smart, charming and outspoken Asha (played brilliantly by Ayesha Dharker) his best employee who has a crush on him. She asks Todd why it's necessary for Indian call-center workers to pose as Americans while selling cheap junk made in China (Made me crack up!).

He is however not challenged by his job and has a tough time believing that the employees like some of the tacky stuff their company sells, but his transformation has slowly begun. While on an impulsive trip to a McDonald's knockoff he meets a fellow American who offers him a simple bit of advice "I was resisting India. Once I gave in, I did much better".

His transformation is complete when he takes a dip in a local water tank (that he overlooks from his host's house) following his dousing with colors after the Indian festival of Holi. I could not help but notice the metaphorical reference here to baptism and to a spiritual meaning attached to the cleansing of oneself in water something prominent in Hinduism as well.

As Todd and Asha draw closer he comes to understand India better. He comes to understand the circle of preservation, destruction and creation as exemplified by Kali. He also find out about the significance of the Shiva lingam and the Yoni, the oneness of and the complimentary nature of the male and the female, through his interaction with Asha. Dharker is brilliant here and in several more scenes. Certain things are not as easy to talk about for her and her inner conflict, her reticence and her intelligence and outspokenness and the feelings that Todd evokes in her are portrayed very well by Dharker with her expressive features and body language.

Asha in a lot of ways exemplified the changing face of the Indian woman who, thanks to education and economic freedoms appears to be stepping out of the box that tradition and culture create for her. She is engaged to be married to a guy from a family (that her family knows for generations) since she was a child, and in Todd she sees someone who will let her express her freedom. So is what they feel for each other love?

Asha explains to him that given the cultural background that this time with him is like a "Vacation in Goa". He asks her if that is all he means to her a vacation? Asha responds to him, tears in her eyes "You are the only vacation in Goa".

I thought this was a more honest portrayal of a modern Indian woman than one often sees in some of the Bollywood movies. Where do Todd and Asha go from here? There relationship has something deeper in it and I would let you watch the movie to figure that one out.

There are quite a few funny moments in the movie including one where the Indian and American words for an eraser had me in splits. Indians call an eraser "rubber" which causes confusion with their American customers. "Rubber" is slang for a condom as Todd tells them, much to the chagrin, shock and amusement of the Indian employees. The funniest part was when one of them looks at it and wonders aloud "How does that work?" Look for a hilarious scene where Asha does the American accent and Todd the Indian way of talking, including the shake of the head (Clip below).

The movie has captured India very well, and everything about India as we see in the movie is genuine..the taste, culture, sights (you can almost get the myriad smells of the place too) , the people and their humanity.

I thought the director John Jeffcoat, does a great job here in how he uses a light hearted movie to portray the different cultural nuances on both sides, their effects on love, work and friendship. He also examines the effects of globalization on people and their sense of identity.. personal, cultural and national. He does it in a light hearted manner using humor and some astute observations that make the message subtle but a very important one.

Events in the movie reflect the reality that the individual on all sides of this issue is powerless before the economic forces. Traditional values and notions do get questioned and change is scary but it is often how one reacts to change that matters what the movie is saying to its audience and that the call is to be pragmatic about it.

This is one heck of a charming movie.

Hilarious clip from the movie where Asha and Todd imitate each others ways of speaking (American and Indian).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Jane Austen Book Club (Not A Review)
Rated PG-13 Drama

I went to this movie not quite knowing what to expect, all I knew was it had a 68% rating and it was about a book club. I was I would say it is one of those movies that has its funny moments and this one of those light hearted movies that are easy to watch. This is not meant as a back handed compliment, the movie is very enjoyable.

And one does not need to be familiar with Jane Austen to be able to “get” this movie, although knowing some of the details about characters like Mr. Darcy would surely help. I have read four of the six Austen books but that was years ago, and other than “Pride and Prejudice” I don’t remember much about the others. However this did not prevent me from enjoying the movie.

This movie is about a book club that focuses on books by Jane Austen over a period of six months covering her 6 books. The club has six members and is founded by Bernadette (Kathy Baker) who has been married six times. The club is an attempt to help her friend Jocelyn (Maria Bello) who is dealing with the loss of her dog and no man in her life. The other members of the club are Prudie (Emily Blunt) a high school French teacher and her husband (Marc Blucas) with whom she seems to be growing distant. This is further complicate by a growing attraction between her and one of her high school students with whom she seems to be falling in love.

Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) is soon to be divorced by Daniel (Jimmy Smits), and has no idea that something is wrong with her daughter. Sylvia's lesbian daughter Allegra (Maggie Grace), appears to be in love with her friend and all seems well there. Prudie's mother (Lynn Redgrave), an ex-hippie dominates her life and casts her shadow across it even when she is not there.

The sole male member of the club is Grigg (Hugh Dancy), who appears to have made his money in software and has never read Austen but has a thing for science fiction. Jocelyn attempts to pair off Sylvia with him. What Jocelyn does not see is that Grigg has a thing for her instead. In this respect Jocelyn does seem like an Austen heroine in that she is blind to true love that is staring her right in the eyes.

The members meet at each others homes and these moments are inter-cut with scenes of them reading the books. While these may not seem much to viewers, I mean how else do you convey to the viewer that the characters are enjoying reading the book? But there lies the charm of the movie. All the meetings coincide with emotional upheavals in the lives of the characters, Daniel realizes how much he loves Sylvia, Allegra breaks up with her lover, Jocelyn starts to realize what she feels for Grigg and Prudie stands at a crossroad (figuratively and literally) as she is about to make one of the most significant decisions of her life.

What I loved about the movie was how in many ways the romance, emotional lives of the characters paralleled those of Austen’s characters. Also loved how the characters would obliquely refer to those events while talking about that particular Austen book either to buttress or rebut a point. We watch as these characters evolve over the course of the books and I for one was very curious to find out how it ended.

Some might refer to this movie as a chick flick. I kind of don’t like using that term for it implies that there is nothing of substance in the movie for men, and I strongly disagree. The movie is akin to curling up to read a comfortable book and the lessons about life and love from Austen’s books are timeless as can be attested to by how popular they continue to be.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Schmooze Award (or two) & "Down The Nile" Not A Book Review

I have been awarded the "Schmooze Award" by Lotus Reads (Thank you my friend!) and Naina Ashley (Thanks!).

About the award :- This award is for the bloggers who “effortlessly weave their way in and out of the blogosphere, leaving friendly trails and smiles, happily making new friends along the way. They don’t limit their visits to only the rich and successful, but spend some time to say hello to new blogs as well. They are the ones who engage others in meaningful conversations, refusing to let it end at a mere hello - all the while fostering a sense of closeness and friendship.”

Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff (Hardcover)
by Rosemary Mahoney
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Travel never makes one cheerful. But it makes one thoughtful. It washes one’s eyes and clears away the dust.

With this take on Gustave Flaubert’s quote from one of his travels on the Nile, ends Rosemary Mahoney’s wonderful travel memoir about her solo trip in a rowboat down the Nile from Aswan in Egypt. While this might not seem like a big deal in itself, consider the fact that Egyptian women are never seen rowing on the Nile and tourists are not allowed for their own safety and that makes her feat all the more impressive.

However it is not this mere fact that is notable (the author is a self described loner), Rosemary Mahoney is an excellent chronicler of the sights, sounds, her feel of and for the people and places that she encounters. She has a keen eye for all these and a talent for narrating her experiences in vivid and rich layered detail. She integrates her own sense of the place very well with historical narratives from two Victorian era explorers Gustave Flaubert (more known for his novel “Madame Bovary”) and Florence Nightingale (who I only knew about for her achievements as an pioneer in nursing, something I remember from my days in school) who were also on the Nile at around the same time. The past is so seeped in to the earth of this place and is borne out in lines such as those when the author writes about being “startled by the sight of a mummy’s linen-wrapped skull and shoulders poking out from the side of a mound of dirt” and of stepping over old bones and pieces of pottery.

The author has to buy a boat to begin her rowing trip, and while that does not seem like a big deal, it is a big thing in the male dominated culture of Egypt where women are just not seen as doing certain tasks. The men do want to help her, by dissuading her from her quest with reactions that range from disbelief, to offering to row for her as that is too far for her to go. She even comes up with an excuse to make this job of buying a boat easy, coming up with the boat being a gift for a fictitious husband!

And she does tire of the constant questions, the ridicule, the banter, the haggling over money, the stares, the declaration of love, flirtation and desire to have sex with her and requests for money from most of the men that she encounters. But while this is tiring for her on one level she also feels sad for the state of some of these men for being caught as they are due to their circumstances and geography, in a culture that permits no intermingling of the sexes. And their cheap come hither is often comical and sad as the men invariably turn to talking about sex.

There are a couple of interesting conversations that she has with Egyptian men including a male prostitute Ahmed in his 20s, in Luxor whose clientele consists of mostly older women who are foreign tourists. This was very instructive in many levels and provided a glimpse in to that strange world where some Egyptian men think nothing of providing sex for money but are willing to kill an Egyptian woman who could be their sister but who may not be a virgin prior to marriage.

At the end of this book is her chilling encounter with Mahmoud a poor fisherman who pursues her one moonlit night that suddenly turns ominous after he startles her while she is asleep in her boat just before Qena her final destination. What is it that he really wants and Rosemary’s reaction to him are very instructive about the gulf between two people owing to difference in culture, language and gender.

But not all men in this book are the same, the one that stands out is Amr, a Nubian so unlike most Egyptian men in his reserved, polite manner reflected in his offer for Rosemary to take his boat, no questions asked.

The development of the friendship between the author and Amr despite their many differences is heartwarming. But despite being different he too is very much a part of his milieu for in his view women should be at home too “Nubian way from long time ago. ... Nubian woman should not be doing nothing. Nothing. They should only be staying home and minding the house.”
We get to meet his beautiful sister Hoda, who will likely be condemned to being a spinster owing to a deformed foot. Your heart will also go out to Safaa who Rosemary encounters working at a hotel (with her propensity to use the word “Crap”) who tells her “Rose, I tell you. I wish I could be free like you.

Mahoney excels at her narrative especially as she rows down the river and her description of it, the lands around it are vivid enough that you can actually feel the strength of the river, its calm and the history that it has witnessed and been a part of. The searing heat and the wild exotic birds are as very much a part of her journey, especially the heat which Mahoney brings very much to life with prose like…

The heat was borderline equatorial; it asserted a heavy downward pressure. Dogs and humans felt under duress here, flattened and exhausted and flayed. When I removed my hat, the sun had made the top of my head sting in a vivid, concentrated way – it was like having a freshly baked nail driven into my skull.

I enjoyed reading this book and the part that I got bogged down was the part where the author seems to take forever to find the boat, but now that I look back I think I was feeling what the author felt as she was badgered and tired by the countless questions from the fishermen about why she wanted a boat.

The distance Mahoney covered and how she did it may not rank up there in terms of solo adventures, but I found that the well worn adage “Focus on the journey, not the destination” to be particularly true after reading this fine book.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Militants Draw New Front Line Inside Pakistan

I read the above headline and the attached article in today’s NYTimes with some trepidation and concern.

November 2, 2007
Militants Draw New Front Line Inside Pakistan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan,
Nov. 1 — For much of the last century, the mountainous region of Swat was ruled
as a princely kingdom where a benign autocrat, the wali, bestowed schools for
girls, health care for everyone and the chance to get a degree abroad for the talented.
Now the region is the newest front line in the battle between Islamic militants, who are sympathetic to the
Taliban and Al Qaeda, and Pakistan’s nervous security forces. For the first time, heavy fighting has moved beyond Pakistan’s tribal fringe and into more settled areas of the country.
The battles are part of what has become an expanding insurgency within Pakistan, aimed directly at the government of Gen.
Pervez Musharraf, the president, rather than at the NATO and American forces across the Afghan border who have been the target for several years.
Many here say the militancy is fueled by anger over the government alliance with the Bush administration and what is seen as a pro-American agenda that has grown in prominence with the return of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. She has accused the militants of trying to take over the country.
The conflict in Swat reflects many of the reasons Pakistan has become such a
dangerous place in recent years: the aggressiveness of the militants, the passivity of the government and its security forces, and the starved civilian apparatus, including schools and hospitals, which has failed to provide the backbone for a counterinsurgency strategy.

With the Iraq war costing upwards of 200 million a day (not to mention the cost in lives and the indirect costs like interest on borrowing and care of the wounded) and the saber rattling with Iran, and an overstretched military, I am afraid we again continue to ignore the peril of what is going on in Pakistan.
I could go on but I am just frustrated at the state of affairs and the fact that things may not change soon.