Apr 182016
 

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I can’t remember if I saw, the original Jungle Book on television, or in the cinema hall. But, i remember watching it the first time, with complete delight. I loved the characters – Bagheera, the panther who is Mowgli‘s guardian angel in the jungle, Baloo – the sloth bear who had nary a care in the world; the vultures like the Beatles, and of course, the George Sanders voiced Sher Khan – who was as menacing as a Disney film would let him be. Since the first viewing, i have seen the film many, many times – along with the other Disney favorite, Dumbo – and cried buckets of tears each single time, when Mowgli approaches the prone form of Baloo.

The 2016 adaptation of Jungle Book is not a fun and frolic run through the jungles, like the earlier avtaar. It is a film for a grittier, more violent world – where nothing is what it seems.

The story remains the same. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) , human cub, brought up by a pack of wolves, has to be returned to the ‘man village’ before Sher Khan (the man-eating tiger)  kills him. Bagheera volunteers to do the needful.  Along, the way there are many adventures and old favorites return in a new avtaar.

Scarlet Johansen as the python Kaa is quite fantastic

Christopher Walken plays King Louie, with the kind of manic psychoticness that only he can bring to a role. The sheer insanity of the character reminded me of Marlon Brando’s outing in Apocalypse Now‘my ears have ears’ he tells a stunned Mowgli, as he asks the man cub to share the secret o the red flower (fire) with the monkeys.

But, as with the original film – it is Bagheera (ably voiced by Ben Kingsley), Baloo (Bill Murray, thankfully toned down) as the stern dad and mad uncle figures, who provide the contrasts in ‘good’, the boy’s role models. Hopefully Mowgli will grow up with Bagheera’s moral compass and Baloo’s sense of fun.  The interplay between them, is a flavour carried forward from the older film (and the book)

Sher Khan (Idris Elba, as the menacing predator/stalker), is chillingly focused. His pathological hatred towards humans in general, and Mowgli in particular, have driven him over the edge. It is from this precipice of insanity that you see the character unraveling. In his mind, he is fighting the righteous war. Killing humans before humans kill him (and all of them). And, his rage at being thwarted is chillingly brutal.

Neel Sethi as Mowlgi is entirely believable. There were parts you think – God how did his parents allow him to run around with wild animals, till the rational part of the brain tell you – CGI. Given that a child of his age was in a green screen environment, his performance is quite superlative.

The real star of the show is the breath taking CGI. The jungle looks real. The water buffaloes, the hedgehogs, the python skin, the python, look real. The tiger is all together real. The bit where Kaa is trying to hypnotise Mowgli, and you have a shot from Mowgli’s eye level, the python in full glory – you find yourself retreating into your seat.

As entertaining as it was, it was also educational. I got more on understanding wildlife from this film, than through a series of animal world features.  You appreciate how strong a tiger’s legs are, in the sequence where you see Sher Khan’s legs in fully muscular, sinewy glory,  you understand, how they can kill.   the minute observation about animal movements, have been well researched and recreated by the CGI team. This is possibly as close to a real world experience of a jungle and animal life that most kids are going to get (most adults too).

It is not just that, it is also the simple appreciation of the natural habitat and weather patterns.
There is a scene, almost at the beginning, where they show the impact of lack of rain, on the forest. The simulated ‘time lapse’  CGI in describing this is awe inspiring. I think that any school going child, watching that scene, would have learnt more from the 1 minute or so sequence, on drought and it’s impact on forests, than the way it is taught in schools today. The sequence where the monsoons begin, in full glory, and it’s impact on the forest – it is seeing it in a 30 second scene, that makes the power of nature seem all the more real.  The sequence of the water buffaloes stampeding through the countryside, in their quest for water, while Mowgli makes his escape from Sher khan (possibly the best sequence in the film). It would be so cool to teach kids about migratory patterns of animals looking for water,  through a sequence like this. I seriously think it is a must watch for children, it works on multiple levels.

Is it violent? About, As violent as a discovery channel film on how tigers hunt for prey.

I am going to end this one, with an absolutely fabulous rendition of “Wanna be just like you”, by a rasping Christopher Walken

Apr 062016
 

Before Monday, I like most of the human beings on the planet, had not heard of Mossack Fonseca, a law firm based out of Panama, that makes the Firm in John Grisham’s novel, seem like a cuddly toy. Mossack Fonseca was very discerning when it came to clients, they had to be rich. Everyone from sports stars, to film stars, Heads of States to drug dealers; from money launderers to arms dealers – was on their client list. The Firm essentially helped the rich, the richer and the richest to create dummy companies, hide paper trails, and evade taxes.

Someone with a conscience, and with access to the firm’s data, turned whistle blower and handed over 2.6 TB of data made up of 11.5 million files – includes more than 4.8 million emails, 3 million database files, and 2.1 million PDFs- to a journalist with the German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Süddeutsche Zeitung worked with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to sift through the mountain of paperwork. Journalists from across the world, collaborated on following through and verifying what was in the paperwork.

Around 400 journalists from more than 100 media organizations in over 80 countries have taken part in researching the documents.

And, remarkably, in an operation with so many journalists working across so many countries, and with so much at stake, there wasn’t a single leak. Had one journalist in this group had leaked information, it is likely that the accounts and companies would have miraculously shut down, and all incriminating data erased.

On Monday, the #PanamaPapers investigation broke on select media outlets across the world. It seems that the corporations, and High Net-worth Individuals (HNI’s) have been scamming their government’s of billions of dollars in tax revenue, ably aided by lawyers, bankers, accountants and others in position of power. The system that is supposed to be the check and the balance, hopelessly subverted by greed.

One of the things that strikes one, as you go through the various investigative articles from various sources, is the level of complexity in this entire operation. This is data that goes back 40 years, and a fairly established way of hiding ill gotten gains.  This kind of massive evasion could not be possible without a certain kind of nod nod wink wink, by those who make and implement laws. In many countries those who make the laws, are the one’s who have been named. The biggest amongst those names Vladamir Putin, 2 billion dollars . David Cameron’s father was the client of the Firm,  The Icelandic PM (who has since resigned) had set up a company in the British Virgin Islands, that was transacting in Icelandic Debt, while he was negotiating with the banks on the debt, in his capacity as head of government; Nawaz Sharif has been named, as has the King of Saudi Arabia. Mossack Fonseca has helped all of them, and many more, in setting up companies in 22 jurisdictions across the world. This is the opening of the proverbial Pandora’s box.

One of  the most telling comments i read on this

that a whole massive amount of the world’s financial and political corruption got dumped onto the Intertoobz, certainly enough to give more weight to the possibility that every political system in the world—even the nakedly authoritarian ones—is hopelessly rigged, and that the marvelous new world of the miraculous global economy is an even bigger thieves’ paradise than you, me, or even Jamie Dimon thought it was.

Most people, in most parts of the world, do not trust their Government. That is also because they don’t trust the politicians who run their governments. And, they most likely, trust corporations even less. In a world, where the elite are already facing a massive trust deficit with the remaining 99%, this could not have come at a worse time. Anger at the ‘fat cats’ living off the hard work and taxes of the average citizen, is already on the rise. We have been seeing manifestations of this across the world in the last 6-7 years. This is going to make it worse.

Finally, Two points.

  • Not too many Indian names on that list so far. But, a) it is early days; b) Mauritius is nearer
  • Mossack Fonseca is the 4th largest firm in this space. Which means there are 3 more with even more data (and clients)

I hope the whistleblower is safe, secure and remains completely anonymous, forever

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Image source – here.

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Follow my flipboard magazine Panama Papers, where I curate some of the more interesting reads on the topic.

Mar 302016
 

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No. this is not a PR plug. It is just that extremely fulfilling sense of ‘goal met’ .

The teams i worked with for two and half long and hard years, pulled it off. We know all know how we worked, and how much we worked, to get here. Proud of the teams – and the leadership that managed to get to the target a year before schedule.

I couldn’t stop smiling yesterday, when the news came out. I may not be there anymore, but they are still my teams 🙂

Mar 272016
 

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All in all, it wasn’t quite as bad as the critics made it out to be. Definitely worth a watch on the big screen.

The film is set some 20 years after Batman first picks up his cape and cowl. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is a darker Batman than the one’s we have seen before. He brands criminals with the bat symbol (that leads to their death in prison); he is coping with the death of a Robin (killed by Joker); and he drinks more than he should. Also, he is sure Superman (Henry Cavil) is upto no good, and has God like plans to dominate the world.

Superman is conflicted – why he is conflicted is never explained in this film (i guess one has to brush up on Man of Steel to figure it out). Maybe he is getting over the killing of Zod or maybe he is figuring his relationship with Lois Lane; but, there is certainly a tortured hero air about him. And, both he and his alter ego Clark Kent have begun taking interest in the work of Batman .

Lex Luthor is the most irritating Bat Villain I have seen in eons. He makes Danny De Vito’s Penguin (who i loathed) seem tolerable. Jesse Eisenberg plays Luthor as a cross between Mark Zukenberg and the Joker. And everytime he was on screen, i had this terrible urge to slap him.  Oh, and Lex Luthor unleashes Doomsday – and all those of you who are comic book fans know what happens next. 

Wonderwoman though she is never introduced as that (rather as Diana Prince, her alter ego) has stunning screen presence. Gal Gadot wears that ridiculous costume with such nonchalance, that you barely notice that she is wearing a single piece swimsuit with lots of metal sticking out.

The film has more dream sequences than a Hindi movie – and most of it is about people getting killed.

My problem with the film, is that you needed to know comic book continuity to get a lot of the stuff going on. Be it the death of Robin (the costume in the bat cave with Joker’s epitaph); or Diana Prince ; or even Lex Luthor’s relationship with Superman (or indeed with Bruce Wayne). Also the allusions to the comic book universe are there – there is a stunning dream sequence, where a rebel Batman is fighting a Superman who has taken over the world (Red Sun), or the interruption of Flash warning Batman (one of the  crisis books, i forget which one). There are heavy costume influences from the Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller)

Ben Affleck makes for a good older Batman. I can see Christian Bale’s Batman growing up to be this. Henry Cavil is better in this than in his first outing as Superman. Jeremy Irons makes for a rather scruffy Alfred. Amy Adams as Lois Lane – is a plot device, when ever the plot gets stuck, she is rescued by Superman. Holly Hunter is wasted. Jesse Eisenberg was dreadful (and i am being kind).

My other problem with the film is that it takes itself too seriously. Once you set up a hero to be a God or as near a God as possible, it possibly strips the fun part of being human from it. It will help if comic books feel like comic books, and not like a Shakespearean Tragedy. i kept wanting to shout at the screen “lighten up, it is a comic book, superhero team up”. Seriously, directors of Batman movies should take inspiration from Grant Morrison’s style, not Frank Miller. So much angst gets overwhelming.

But, was it a bad film – not by any stretch of imagination. It held together well.  It was enjoyable, and I am looking forward to the Justice League and all the other films that will follow.

Looks like it is Darkseid up next or Brainiac – Lex Luthor’s final promise. And the Justice League. Should be interesting.