Wednesday, April 29, 2009

WALL-E : The Review

Last night I saw a scary movie, a science fiction set in the future. But unlike other scary science fictions like "Jurassic Park", "Frankenstein" or "War of the Worlds" where we fear unknown creatures from this world or another, here the fear factors were humans and the world that they live in. Humans from several centuries later, no doubt, but humans nevertheless. And the movie was scary, not because the bleak future it depicted is unfamiliar, but because the future it shows is uncomfortably familiar to the very pleasant present that we live in. The film I am talking about is WALL-E.

The movie starts on a future earth where there are no humans. As far as the eyes can see, there is garbage – fields of junk stuff, skyscrapers made of garbage blocks and mountains of trash. Everywhere there are signs of the human civilization that no longer exists on the dead planet which evidently is unfit to sustain life anymore. Did I say dead? Not completely. There’s a cockroach which roams about in the trash, and there’s his friend WALL-E. He is a robot whose name stands for Waste Allocator and Load Lifter - Earth Class and whose job is to compact trash all day and arrange it into piles of neatly arranged stacks. For almost the first 40 minutes of the film, we hear no dialogue – we see WALL-E at work and hear just the sound of the wind blowing amidst WALL-E’s garbage filled world, snatches of recorded announcements, and a fragment of a movie on a video tape. Just when you start grasping the enormity of the task that lies ahead of WALL-E, something comes down from the sky and changes WALL-E’s life forever.

As I said, the movie scared me. Over the years, we are accustomed to Hollywood films that have been telling us that USA is the savior of the world. This is one that dares to say just the opposite. So when we come face to face with the future humans who buy things based only on advertisements, haven’t looked at the sky or walked on their feet all their lives and depend on robots for the smallest of things, they don’t look strange and ridiculous at all. On the contrary, that society of extreme consumerists and lazy individuals is very much like the American society that I see around me. And aren’t we all, in the rest of the world, inching towards that very future every day? If we continue to cut forests, generate trash and poison the air and the water at the same rate as we are doing now, WALL-E’s terrible lifeless world may become a reality sooner than we may think.

When I went to New York City for the first time and saw Times Square, it was a whole new world for me. Coming from India, I had never seen anything like that before in my life. Those huge glowing displays, video screens and neon signs mesmerized me with their beauty. After watching WALL-E, I’ll probably never look at those signs in the same way, for there is a particular scene in WALL-E which reminded me of Times Square as soon as I saw it, and it made me shiver. Every moment of each day these signs are hypnotizing us, telling us what to buy for our benefit. But do they benefit our society as a whole? Only time will tell.

Regarding the technical aspects of WALL-E, I can say that I have never seen an animated movie like this. The creators tried hard to give each frame the “shot” look rather than the “animated” look, and that is evident from the depth of field of the scenes and focus shifts and other lens shooting artifacts present throughout the movie. This movie also uses live action for a video footage. As I said before, a large part of this movie is devoid of dialogs, and the whole Pixar team watched every single Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton movie for a year and a half to understand visual storytelling. When you learn from the best, it shows in your work. More than once during the movie, I remembered Chaplin’s “Modern Times.” Also, more than once the movie made me laugh out loud although I was watching it alone.

The script is good, but it also has some glaring plot holes. I do not want to name them here as I don’t want to reveal key plot points, but they were evident to even a moderately observant person like me. However, this is one of those rare movies where the technical flaws are overshadowed by the message. I would have been happier though if these obvious mistakes were not made by the Pixar team after making this amazing effort.

WALL-E is one Disney movie which is not completely for the kids. Like a Chaplin classic, or Satyajit Ray’s "Hirak Rajar Deshe", it is immensely funny and enjoyable to the children. But to form the bridge between the fantasy world and the real, and to extract the complete message that the filmmakers so painstakingly put into it, an adult mind is needed. And this is why, in my opinion, WALL-E emerges a class apart from other animated movies. While films like "Shrek", "Finding Nemo", "The Lion King", "Ice Age" or "The Incredibles" all had messages for children, the real message of WALL-E is actually for the parents. Our planet as seen in WALL-E is the planet that the adults of today are leaving for their children. And particularly in the first world countries, parents dream of giving their children the life of the obese human beings of WALL-E who live life without having to move a muscle. Today is being observed as National Walk-to-Work Day in the US, for nobody walks to work anymore. WALL-E warns us against such alarming dependence on machines. WALL-E is also a warning against the growing power of stores who can sell anything to us by advertisements, however absurd or harmful it may be.
In short, WALL-E is a classic that everyone, young or old, must watch. I had given up on Hollywood after watching “Independence Day.” WALL-E tells me there is still hope.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Spring has Sprung

"Kaal chhilo daal khali
Aaj phule jaay bhore,
Bol dekhi tui maali
Hoy se kemon kore?"

(Lost in translation)
Yesterday's barren boughs
Are full of flowers now
This happens, O gardener
Can you tell me how?

These lines by Rabindranath Tagore are going round and round in my head for the last few weeks, for exactly as he described, the barren branches and fields of the winter have suddenly erupted into a flowering frenzy which I would have never believed possible if I had not seen it myself.

Last year I wrote about spring in Kolkata, where the occasional palash tree shows unusual enthusiasm in welcoming spring along with the frantic cuckoos and mango blossoms, but that is about all that can be observed in the city. Many other plants and trees also flower there, but most of them are found in the suburbs or places like Salt Lake. Flowers bloom in proper Kolkata too, but they are the poppies, pansies, dahliyas and chrysanthemums of people's flower beds and flower pots. To truly see nature rejoice the passing of the long and severe winter, one needs to come to these higher latitudes.

And it all started very quietly. Even before the last snowfall of the season occurred, the dry fields were suddenly full of bright green velvety soft grass. The melting snow and rotting fall leaves had provided them enough nourishment to burgeon inspite of the cold weather. Then one day, I noticed someone's lawn full of small violet flowers. Soon there were more - some red, some yellow. Then, just over a month ago, I saw the first daffodil of my life while roaming around in New York City. That was just the beginning. Even before I could finish off the roll of black and white film in my camera and load color, there were flowers in every direction, at every height, and of every colour.

Daffodils, jonquillas, hyacinths and tulips formed the lowermost level, if we don't consider the yellow dandelions in the grass. Then there were some yellow flowers that absolutely covered some hedges. Dogwood, magnolia and apple blossoms covered larger trees. I have never seen a large tree get so covered with flowers that nothing else is visible. And it all happened very suddenly, within a day or two.

But the icing on spring's cake was provided by the cherry blossoms. Branch Brook Park in Newark has USA's largest collection of Japanese ornamental cherry trees, and they all bloomed together in the last two weeks. Words cannot describe the beauty of a grove of cherry blossoms - it is something to see and feel. Small pinkish white flowers by the millions cover every tree in sight, and as they mature the soft petals fall like rain and cover everything below as well. After the flowers drop off, new red and green leaves take their place. Soon, all trees will be full of leaves again and the cycle that started with the leaves turning red in last fall will finally end.

Since I came to the USA, I have seen three seasons - fall, winter and now spring. Each seemed more beautiful than the previous one. Let's see what the American summer feels like. After all, that is the most-awaited season around here.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Two Stories

Time: Once upon a time
Place: A distant jungle

   A wolf was drinking at a spring on a hillside when he saw a lamb just beginning to drink a little lower down. “There’s my supper,” thought he, “if only I can find some excuse to seize it.” Then he called out to the lamb, “How dare you muddle the water from which I am drinking?”

  “No my lord,” said the lamb; “if the water is muddy up there, I cannot be the cause of it, for it runs down from you to me."

  “Well, then,” said the wolf, “why did you call me bad names this time last year?”

  “That cannot be,” said the lamb; “I am only six months old.”

  “I don’t care,” snarled the wolf; “if it was not you it was your father;” and with that he rushed upon the poor little lamb and ate her up.


Time: March 2009
Place: One of India's largest IT companies in Hyderabad who pride themselves on their integrity and human values.

A manager was sitting at his cubicle one day when he sees an employee who had been in the "freepool" for some time. "Let's get rid of her," he thought. "That will increase our company's margins and I may just get a hike." So he talks to the HR and the HR calls up the girl.

"You have to pass this exam, and if you fail we will fire you," said the HR manager. The exam was tough and the syllabus unfair, but the girl worked hard and managed to pass it nevertheless. After a few days, she gets another call from the HR department.

"We give you fifteen days to find a project. If you can't find one, you must resign." The girl was terrified. Finding projects for the employees was in fact the job the HR people were being paid for, but still, she went on to search for a project. At the end of a week, she finds a project where a "resource" of her qualifications was required.

"I have found a project for myself," she told her manager and the HR. "Now I won't have to resign, right?"

"Oh, that project is in a different 'vertical' (department). We cannot let you go to another vertical! We spent money on you. You have to stay here and find a project, or else resign," said the manager. And sure enough, a week later...


The comparison seems far fetched? The scenario exaggarated and unbelievable? You better believe it, for this is a completely real incident. This is the way the Indian IT giants are behaving. Unyielding integrity indeed!