June 2008

In the recent Tamil blockbuster, Dasavatharam, Kamal plays 10 roles – one of which is George Bush. By now, you may have heard that the makeup job for most roles in that movie was sub-par. Probably, the worst was for the George Bush character (or maybe a toss-up with the patti). However, I do see some blog reviews giving him credit for playing a funny Dubya, i.e. being “true to the role”. Yes, he certainly did get the spirit of it, but it failed to impress me. The Dubya related jokes were okay – but in a way too easy, a bit too obvious. However, I think he failed to impress me mainly because I have seen some terrific Bush impersonators here in the US. After all wouldn’t Americans know their President better 🙂 ? Anyway, here are three of the best:

Frank Caliendo
Frank Caliendo is the latest sensation among impersonators here in the US. He does an uncanny Bush – in my opinion, the best.

Frank Caliendo also does a very good Clinton (as seen in that clip), and also many sports personalities including John Madden, which I believe is his claim to fame. I used to look forward to his Madden impersonation (“Monday Night John”, and then “Sunday Night John”) on a local Chicago sports radio station .

Steve Bridges:
Steve Bridges is probably the most popular Bush impressionist – he is even “Dubya approved” as he has appeared with George Bush himself at a “press conference”. He has also made appearances in several TV shows.

As you can see, unlike typical impersonators, he comes with a make-up job – much much better than Kamal’s. I am not sure he has any significant natural advantage in terms of similarity in physical traits here as he also “transforms” himself effectively to the other characters he does. With Bush, he certainly has got the voice with the accent, but in my opinion, Frank Caliendo’s pulls off the mannerisms better. Steve Bridges actually does a very very good Arnold (as seen in the second half of this clip), which in my opinion is easily his best character.

Will Ferrell
Of course, Will Ferrel was probably the earliest one to do Bush – while he was on Saturday Night Live. Here is a more recent clip:

So how do you measure Kamal’s Dubya against these?

Warning: There is a good reason why this is tagged under Weak Humor.

As everyone knows, writers (particularly bad bloggers like mua) experience Writer’s Block frequently. The most irritating form of this is when you come up with a nice train of thought, something funny or profound or powerful, but then you all of a sudden you start losing gas, and soon hit a wall. You are unable to finish it with the punch you had envisioned when it all started.

Now, I would guess that most people simply bang their heads, pull their hair, swear at their computer screens and so on until they come with something decent, or they just give it up for another day. I mean that you don’t see people still ending that thought with gibberish like “and blah blah blah blah”.

I think music composers (lyricists included) must also experience such blocks, but they also must be quite bold and daring to end those fine musical thoughts with gibberish. That can be the only explanation for blabber to find a place in some songs. However amazingly, the gibberish seems to have an accentuating effect on the music. At the least, I think the composers seem to fall in love with it and get carried away. And this happens even to the best of them. Here, I present some examples:

Example-1: Deva’s Achakku and Gumukku
Here, the evidence of the block that this music director experienced, and and how he got out of it is quite obvious:

Phase-1: He comes up with a killer tune, a pulsating beat, the beginnings of a sure hit:

But, he runs into a wall – he just cannot finish that train of high-energy musical thought. Those last two phrases – he has even got the bleeping tune but no !$#@$ words that rhyme! The blasted lyricist is no help as he seems to be stuck in a do-loop and can only up with more of the same stuff – photo-kaaran, moto-kaaran, motto-kaaran, lotto-kaaran, thoatta-karan, ralph-lauren etc. What to do?

Briliiant – isnt’t it? But he is not done! For the ending of the song, he feels that the energy must be taken up a few notches, and so he simply goes bonkers:

Example – 2: Maestro’s Jagajagajaalam
Now some of maestro‘s fans (mua included) may shake their heads and go Tsk tsk tsk! What else would you expect from normal, mortal, non-genius music directors?

However, it shocked me to find out that even the maestro has succumbed to this 😦 .

Phase-1: A nice tune, catchy beat:

Phase-2: But for the next two lines, the maestro wanted something else besides the violin response. Some other instrument maybe? But he was obviously unhappy with cello, flute, veena etc. or any known instrument the world had produced till then – acoustic and electronic. The search must have been hard and painful. It ended with the selection of that uniquely Indian alternative to the synthesizer – the jagajagajijer.

Phase-3: He obviously fell in love with the sound of the jagajagajijer, and hence decided to forge new ground. I suspect that he must have hooked it up to some sort of an effects rhythm processor to create new, funky rhythmic sounds like jaangu, jakku and chajakku. However note that he is respectful to intellectual property and plagiarism laws, and avoids using the obvious “jaambajaar jakku” that would have jelled perfectly here.

BTW, Deva above also uses the human jagajagajijer in the Sample 1 song above, but out of respect to maesrtro, he morphs the ja to ya as in yayayaaayaya yayayaayaya yayayaayaya (perhaps he used a Hispanic version of the jagajagagjijer). He also respects maestro’s intellectual property and uses more new rhythmic sounds: jumku, juppadi and jumka (check it all out here).

Example-3: Dahler’s Th(k)unuk(ku)
Now some of our north Indian friends may say – Well that is Tamil music for you. Meaningless, silly stuff!. But we must inform them that this is not something that afflicts only the proud tamizh makkal. Let us look at Dahler Mehndi.

He has a nice raag going setting a calm mood. He also has the words and tune for the opening line – the storm following the calm as he envisioned it. But something probably didn’t feel right. He needed a bridge over babblebrook.

Sidebar: Coming to think of it, the lyrics sound vaguely familiar bringing back nostalgic memories of me begging my grandpa for that South Indian snack called kunukku. BTW, are there any restaurants in Chennai that serve kunukku?

Example-4: The Greatest Bladi Band
Now maybe some of our western friends want to pooh-pooh all of Indian music because of all this. Besides the obvious point that they just simply don’t get our music, allow me to present the greatest band of all time:

I heard that Desmond went “Oh bloody Molly! Shut up!” but Paul didn’t know about it.

There are of course many more examples – perhaps more outrageous than these. So feel free to chime in.

This is for people who like to see their beds covered with mountains of pillows.

So how exactly is one supposed to sleep on such a bed? Tell me, tell me – there must be a secret. Am I supposed to somehow contort my body around all these in a way as as to not upset the arrangement of the pillows? Or maybe the bed is for looking rather than sleeping, and I should just sleep on the floor/carpet?

Also, what is the solution to “the twenty pillows on a couch” problem? Apparently, we are not supposed to put them pillows aside to make room for our behinds, nor God forbid sit on/against them. Are we supposed to stand instead, and admire the couch since it “apparently” looks nice with all the pillows?

Say – aren’t beds meant for us humans to sleep on, and couches for us to park our behinds upon? Or have the rules changed? When did pillows get higher preference over a tired body – particularly one that may have partly/wholly financed the bed, couch and the pillows?

My tastes in music by all accounts took an 180 degree turn about 12-14 years or so ago (can’t remember). Before that I was really into classic rock and prior to that Ilayaraja classics from 1980s i.e. when I was back in India. Nowadays, as I have already stated many times, it is pretty much carnatic music 100% of the time. Once in a while, out of nowhere, there comes an urge to listen to a particular song I used to like in the past. Sometimes it is classic rock (e.g. Pink Floyd), but more often this would be Tamil film songs.

In fact, nothing fills me with nostalgia more than Ilayaraja songs from the 80’s (i.e. back when I was in India). I listen to certain songs e.g. this one, and I am instantly transported on speed bus between Erode and Trichy, in particular between Namakkal and Trichy. The bus is blaring this song, it is late evening, and a stiff, cool, breeze is blowing through the open bus windows, as it speeds on the road right along Cauvery. I can see glimpses of the river here and there. Lush green fields, tiny villages. I look up and see Cocoanut/Palm trees galore. No, this is not a dream – I have taken that exact trip so many times. Memories of those trips don’t easily fade.

An earlier song like this one, and I am transported to my school days in Erode. The life there, the events plop in front of me like in kaleidescope. Me going to school, playing on a huge playground under a beating sun, our family taking local trips …

It is funny though that these trips of nostalgia always endsup leaving a sad after-taste – obviously, the realization that such an event can never be experienced again. Sure I can take that trip along Cauvery in a bus now, it may even play that old Ilayaraja song, and this may even be part of a trip (back) to my college in Trichy. But it is still a man in his 40s who will be taking that trip, not a wide-eyed young man in his late teens. I can see it would feel empty. It would be a farce – no surprises really there.

The intangible in those trips I took then was of course the the life I was experiencing then at home, and at my college. My life and experiences with my parents at home, my buddies at college, my aspirations, dreams … Those all would have been in my psyche, part of my mindset as I would have listened to that song during one of those trips then.

It is really that intangible which the mind now yearns for – the one thing about those trips it can never get. In fact, a part of me, the sane part knows very well it can’t get that, but still it wants to, and even finds some pleasure in yearning for something which it itself knows can’t be had.

Nostalgia – sure is a funny thing. It is like a sad song that you like – just because it makes you sad, and you strangely like that sad after-taste.

“Illogical” – Spock would quip with raised eyebrows. “Human” – Kirk/Bones would answer.

PS: Is there anything that is NOT in YouTube?

Yesterday I watched the recently released Tamil blockbuster movie Dasavatharam at a local theater here in the Chicago area. I am not really a huge movie buff – but I went there to be entertained, and I was.

If you are planning to see the movie, whether you like it or not is going to depend on your expectations. If you bought the hype, or you are expecting an artsy Kamal flick with great story and a profound message, well – good luck 😉 !

But I also will say – you are to blame yourself! Yes, yes – I know the man’s legacy etc. etc., but give him a break. Let him prepare and serve masala dosa once in a while, and instead of complaining that it is oily, unhealthy, and that you did not expect an onionized dish like masala dosa from this authentic, chaste hotel – just eat the dosa for what it is, and enjoy it!!!

I know that this sounds like bizarro world as this is how one (tr)eats a Rajini flick, but hey that is how this is. Think of it as a much much much (a infinite series) better Vikram and you will love it. The magic is all in your expectations! After all we are talking about movies here – let us not be uptight!

Now on to the movie
(warning some spoilers – although nothing too obvious)