Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Lives of Others

The West Lafayette (IN) Public Library, has one of the best global film collections you'll find. I was a fan of serious cinema, for sure, even before I came to Purdue, but the fact that there's a public library that allows you to borrow 5 DVD's a time, (for a week, i.e.) for free, makes one 'want' to watch all the movies on offer.
I've watched movies, both Global and American by the dozen after I became a member and I must say that the fun in watching a movie legally, in fine DVD quality print, at your own leisure, re-watching several times those parts that you liked, is quite a few times more than watching a movie on the net, fuming at the low stream rates and the poor picture quality.
Amongst English movies that I've watched recently, I liked 'No Country for Old Men' (knockout performance by Javier Bardem), The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (Every character here is grey, no completely good, no completely bad, though Eli Wallach, methinks, is literally quite ugly) , Pi (By Darren Aaronofsky, the guy who gave us the smashing, 'Requiem for a Dream' and whose style Anurag Kashyap has copied completely in 'No Smoking') and several others that I cannot recount immediately.
I've managed to see almost all of Scorcese's films, Kurosawa, (Rashomon, Yojimbo, Seven Samurai and Kagemusha, out of which the last one sucks like a newborn, while Rashomon impresses immensely), some of Kubrick's films and the Apu Trilogy (I liked the innocence of Pather Panchali, but Apur Sansar and Aparajito were turn offs, IMHO).
Coming to the topic of the post, after watching movies like 'Valentin', 'Children of Heaven' and 'Cinema Paradiso', I thought that I had watched the best that the medium could offer. I soon found out how wrong I was, when I watched this movie called 'The Lives of Others'
Set in last few years of East Germany's existence, this movie is essentially about 'Operation Laszlo', one of the many covert missions undertaken by the East German State Security Police (Stasi) to weed out potential enemies of the state by monitoring their personal and professional lives.
A engaging screenplay, superb direction by a debutant director (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck), brilliant performances by the lead cast, brilliant moments scattered throughout the movie in the form of subtle expressions (mainly by Muhe), a super ending, especially the last dialog in the context of the whole movie (this is not a thriller mind you) make this movie a must watch. And yes, I forgot to mention, that this movie also won the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film in 2007.
A few things immediately came to my mind after watching this film. If the intension in making the film was depicting the horrors/lack of freedom of life in a totalitarian, oppressive state, then I am sure we can find such instances in so called progressive states too. Why, during the McCarthy witch hunt, there were files maintained on suspected communists, their phone conversations tapped and their lives were essentially under the FBI microscope, much like is shown in this movie based in communist East Germany.
I suspect though, that this isn't the case, because nowhere is there any sort of preaching/banner-raising. It is simply a story that is set against an unfortunate background and how the lives of people involved get affected.
I'm hoping though, that there'll be many more films from this guy Donnersmarck (Quite like Bismarck, really, this surname, makes you want to clap your heels as if you heard the word 'Achtung'), because if his first film is anything to go by, the ones to follow should definitely be worth waiting for.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

On Quizzing: Why do I like it?

Decided to start writing again, for some random reason.
Just last week, I found out that there's a Quiz Club at Purdue. It goes by the name 'Purdue India Quiz Club', I think. Being starved of quality quizzing for the past 6 months, my mind literally did double cartwheels when I heard that there was a Quiz Club at Purdue. A long quizzing session later, my heart content with the fact that theres some quality quizzing going on out here, I returned home.
Later on in the day, I asked myself why I enjoyed quizzing so much. This question didn't really seem relevant, or necessary to ask when I was in Pune and attending quizzes by the dozen (esp. during college days)
Some possibilities came to mind immediately:
1) I like to retain and regurgitate useless trivia
2) I like to show off that I know a lot of useless stuff that normal people would not bother to care about.
3) I like to compete with others who have similar knowledge on similar utterly useless topics.

I immediately disproved 1), 2) to myself on the basis of my past experiences. I felt that 1) was not valid because I don't think I have ever made a conscious effort to 'retain' trivia...(Shiva will know, however, that this is not true, we did spend the Christmas of 1996 mugging up Manorama in preparation for a quiz called IQ97, which ended un-ideally for us when, despite my best efforts to identify Cindy Crawford by saying 'Sidney, Sidney...', my team-mate, Darshan Parekh chose to exercise his power of seniority by blurting out 'Claudia Schiffer'...again, long time ago..sab maaf, but these things do stay in your mind)
So, yes, barring this one stray incident, I don't think I have ever consciously tried to 'mug-up' for a quiz.
2) Showing off, and me?? I think not. I don't think I have ever come across as a 'show-off'. But then again, I might be wrong here, people who have been in my company might be able to answer that, but yes, in this context I must say that I never have purposely tried to show that I have a lot of knowledge.
3) seemed like a possible contender, but then, theres so much competition all around anyways, be it for getting admitted into a prized University or for getting that much coveted job. So I think I will rule out 3) too.

I then tried making the question more general, by asking myself, why does someone enjoy a particular activity more than others? My own opinion is that any activity that can make you feel happy, gets an upper hand over the others. The reason the activity can make you happy can vary. People are able to focus their mental and physical faculties better at certain activities, as a result of which they perform better at these activities.
From personal experience I can say that this is true. I seem to be more focussed when I quiz, than when I try to study for an exam (True, and sadly so :) ). Also, over the hundreds of quizzes I have attended/attempted, there have been a lot of 'Voila/wow' moments. I shall define a 'Voila/wow' moment as one in which you have no idea as to how a particular thing happened, since it defies logic. I often found myself recognizing tunes that I had heard (and for all practical purposes, forgotten) a long time ago. One word in a quiz question triggers off a random thought and, what the heck, your 'educated guess' on the basis of that random thought turns out to be correct. I can also remember several instances when some connects just seemed right, just like that, pure instinct. No effort involved here, just pure, random access from shelved memory. I can't think of any other activity that has given me comparable moments.
I've seen people who like to quiz in a very structured way, thinking logically, drawing conclusions from well reasoned arguments and extrapolating information in order to piece together the question-answer-puzzle. I think I personally do not enjoy this style of logical quizzing, though I have to utilize this style of quizzing too, since the above mentioned moments of epiphany are far and few. But I generally feel I have enjoyed a quiz (even when I end up on the loosing side) when there are 2-3 such moments in a quiz. ( I think this also explains why I really really like long questions, where much side info is given alongside what are supposed to be hints to the answer. Even though useless, this side info has, on several occasions, helped me get an answer when what was supposed to be a logical hint did not do the job)

I think I have digressed from my main point though, which wasn't about why I like a particular 'style' of quizzing. (I think this also explains why I do not like writing so much. I am simply not good at it :) )
After much thought, I still don't have a complete answer, only some hints, which may be able to give me a complete answer someday. But yes, till then, I think I shall go with 'Quizzing makes me happy...' as my educated guess!!!