Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Kite Runner - Book Review

I was not aware of the ethnic problems in Afghanistan till recently. I was surprised when I learnt that Afghan people never allowed any foreign nation to dominate them completely. When I found that Khaled Hosseini's 'The Kite Runner' was based on a story in Afghanistan and was a famous one, I just grabbed it. I also found out that there was also a movie based on this novel by the same name. However, I knew from experience how the movie makers screwed up a movie based on the novel 'Q&A'. This forced me to read this novel before watching the movie.

This novel is a pleasant and at times haunting story about two friends, Amir and Hassan. Their childhood days together in Afghanistan and relevant incidents which follow afterwards are nicely conveyed in this novel. The main issue is that Amir belongs to a majority race called, 'Pashtuns' and Hassan belongs to a minority race called, 'Hazaras'. Even though both are very good friends, this difference follows them for years and impacts both their lives quite severely.

The author has traced the history of Afghanistan over a rough period of thirty years. This novel starts at a time just after the Zahir Shah's rule and ends with the present era of the Talibans. Though all the historical facts are not fully reflected, one gets to see the change in glimpses spread throughout the novel. This urged me to read about history of Afghanistan from various sources and I also obtained background information by watching a national geographic documentary called 'Inside the Taliban'.

Here are some incidents from the novel which I liked. During their escape to Pakistan during Soviet invasion, Afghan people encounter a Soviet soldier who asks a married Afghan woman to spend some time with him as a favor for letting them ahead. I feel that this is the sort of danger any nation has to incur if they let foreign force into their homeland. Another interesting depiction of Taliban rule is shown by an incident during a soccer match half-time. Some Talibans bring a woman and a man who are charged with an offense and kill them with stones in the play ground and please the crowd. These acts show how the Talibans once defied humanitarian rules and regulations. Lot more such incidents are very well conveyed in this novel.

I liked the narration and the story of this novel very much. However, I felt that the last few pages were quite slow compared to the pages preceding them. This novel has its own merits and keeps the reader engaged and interested almost throughout. This novel made me dig deep into the history of Afghanistan and provided me a lot of incidents which even I could relate to my early days. I loved this novel so much that I just started reading Hosseini's next novel, 'A Thousand Splendid Suns'. I recommend 'The Kite Runner' to anyone interested in historical fictions.

I will soon have a look at the movie which is based on this novel.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Transcend T.sonic 850

My primary intention was to get a music player like IPod shuffle. IPod shuffle 1GB music player costs INR 2300/-. I decided to settle for a cheaper one with more functions and came across this device. I recently bought the music+video player Transcend T.sonic 850. Here are the features of this device along with a short review.

Functions: Music player, Video player, Sound recorder, FM player, E-book reader, Photo viewer, Clock

Operating Systems: Windows, Linux, MacOS

Memory: 8GB

Price: Indian Rupees 3100

Sound quality is quite good and it plays mp3, wma, and wav files. I think the quality should improve if I use a better headphone (for example Sony). Video player only plays MTP files. The software which comes with this device does not convert all avi, mpeg, dat files into MTP. I am still trying to fix this problem. Sound recorder is very good and I think I will record some important lectures and talks from now on. FM player located around 10 stations in Mumbai and the clarity is good. Picture viewer is also a valuable function.

This device comes with 8GB memory which is useful for storing even large data files apart from video and music files. This device sits as a drive/folder in both windows and linux and it is very easy to transfer files via USB port. No specialized software is required for access to this device. The transfer speed from PC to this device is quite slow (around 200KBps). I did not check the transfer speed from T.sonic to PC. Charging this device is through USB port and full charge comes for around 10 hours. I need to validate this over a period of time to be exact.

For a low-priced device, it has amazing number of functions and all are quite useful to me. It is a good alternative to IPod shuffle which is very expensive and has only the music player. As this device comes with a 2-year warranty as well, I recommend T.sonic 850 to those who want multiple functions in a branded device for an affordable price.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sathi Leelavathi - Movie Review

'Sathi Leelavathi' is a classic Kamal Hassan Tamil movie. This famous movie has been remade in many other languages, the famous one being, 'Biwi No. 1' in Hindi. I do not think these remakes can match the original version. I saw this movie today after a very long time. This movie is non-stop fun from the start to the end. Ramesh Aravind, Kalpana, Heera, Kovai Sarala star in this movie along with Kamal. This film was directed by Baalu Mahendra.

Ramesh Aravind is the hero of this movie with some negative shades. He is quite weak in dealing with girls although he is married to Kalpana and has 2 children. As a part of his job as Managing Director of a company, he bumps into Heera who works in another firm for some business deal. Heera is a girl who wants to marry a rich guy and falls for Ramesh as he hides his marriage with Kalpana. The real fun starts when they are about to board a flight to Bangalore as a honeymoon trip before their marriage.

Kamal is a orthopaedic doctor and a past school friend of Ramesh. He is married to Kovai Sarala and has a boy who always shoots with his handy-cam. Ramesh and Kamal meet in airport which leads to lot of confusions as both go to Bangalore and are supposed to stay in the same hotel. Rest of the fun can better be watched on the movie directly. This movie is strictly for adults and it did not interest me much when I was young.

Acting is superb from all lead actors. Kamal and Sarala with the typical Coimbatore tamil steal the show with great comic timing. Their son also keeps popping up every now and then and his acting is also great. Kalpana as a calm house-wife performs well. Ramesh and Heera also get into their respective characters and evoke laughter throughout. The most funny moment is when Ramesh lifts Heera and gets his back sprained for which Kamal gives treatment.

Music is very good with 'Maarugo Maarugo' song being the pick. Kamal sings this song extremely well. Ilayaraja's background score is great. Crazy Mohan's dialogues are extremely funny with timely jokes providing continued fun. Baalu Mahendra's direction is also very realistic and the incidents flow smoothly throughout.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching every scene of this movie. This movie is a must watch for those who like real spontaneous humor.

Friday, May 01, 2009

What has happened to Shreya?

I have always loved to listen to film songs. I started admiring the masterpieces rendered by SPB during my school days. SPB along with Ilayaraja were the ones who inspired me to listen to a wide range of songs. I still have their golden collection of songs in my system. I also liked listening to female singers, especially Susheela. Janaki and Chitra, though quite good, did not please me that much with their renditions. I was quite disappointed as SPB and Susheela reduced singing over the past few years possibly due to their aging.

The place left by SPB is taken over by the wonderful Hariharan. He is quite amazing with a lot of hit songs to his credit. When Shreya Ghoshal arrived on the tamil film music, I thought that she would be the one to replace Susheela's place. I listened to the song, 'Chellamaai Chellam' from the film 'Album' which was the first time I heard her. I became a fan of Shreya's songs such as 'Munbe Vaa' from 'Sillunu Oru Kadhal', 'Aiyayo..' from 'Paruthi Veeran', 'Uruguthey' from 'Veyil', 'Ninaithu Ninaithu' from '7G Rainbow Colony', and 'Unna Vida' from 'Virumaandi'. Shreya's strength lies in her clear tamil diction along with a clear voice which is very melodious. I am against non-tamil singers singing in tamil unless their diction is perfect. Shreya sang so well in tamil that I had no complaints against her.

Over the past 2 years, I started feeling that she has not been as effective as before. Her voice is quite unclear when singing high pitched verses. I feel that the primary reason to be that the texture in her voice has faded in recent times. Some of the recent songs like 'Kannil Paarvai' from 'Naan Kadavul', 'Oru Vetkam' from 'Pasanga', 'Poovinai Thiranthu' from 'Aanandha Thaandavam', 'Chaaral' from 'Kuselan', and a couple of songs from 'Mariyadhai' failed to impress me. I am quite disappointed with her renditions in these songs. At many places, her voice makes it hard to identify the verses. Even some of her recent hindi songs pose similar problems to the listener.

I still feel that Shreya is a singer with amazing capabilities and the recent songs signify only a minor blip in her music career. I hope she has realized that there is some problem with her singing. The problem may be due to work load, commitments to reality shows, health reasons, or even improper recording. If she identifies and rectifies the problem soon, she can still become one among the legends like Lata, Susheela, Asha, Janaki, and Chitra. Otherwise, she might become one among the passable singers who showed promise but never made it big. Being a fan of many of her songs, I sincerely hope that she recovers fast from this slump and enthralls us with more great melodies.