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Monday, June 23, 2014

Tikona Trek

I am happy to proclaim that I have partaken in my first trek. My previous ‘adventurous’ trips were basically tourist-y trips and did not include trekking in actuality, just walking. This however was completely different and involved climbing up a mountain and along a very, very steep flight of stairs. Maharashtra has a lot of trek worthy forts, which has added to my wanderlust, and I hope to do as many as possible during my stay here. One thing I would like to point out is that it is wise to go in a big group if you are looking forward to trek any of the forts. Our destination was Tikona Fort in Lonavala and we were a part of a huge group of 40. 

Our day began at 4 in the morning as we had to reach the boarding point by 6. We reached our boarding point well before 6 and met up with our team leader, who seemed a nice, warm guy. Trust me, during any trek, the first gut feeling about your team leader is very important. Because you have to trust him wholeheartedly, sometimes even with your life. The bus journey to Tikona Peth was uneventful, mainly because most of us slept through the ride. It was a good thing, because we had no idea the amount of exhaustion that awaited us. We reached the village base at 9 and were hosted by a family in the village. They opened up their portico to us and served us breakfast. The experience in its entirety was very quaint. 

After breakfast, everyone gathered in a nearby field and introduced ourselves; I don’t remember all of their names but I do remember their faces. In retrospect I figured out that the one place where you can depend on a stranger’s kindness, where they will help you out, like a comrade in arms is on a trek. Because that is what happened. I had been helped by these strangers on more than one occasion during the trek, when the going got rough. So the world is not coming to an end. At least not just yet.
The trek officially started at 10 and our leader told us that we would reach the top at around noon. This is what we were aiming to conquer in 2 hours. 

I wouldn’t lie, for the first 30 minutes of out trek, I would look up and then freak out to my friend – “I don’t think I can make it to the top! I don’t think I can make it! There’s no freaking way I can do this!” She kept on reminding me, cross the bridge when you get there; no need to panic from this far off. Another reason why I started freaking out was because I was lagging behind everyone even before the trek had begun. To reach the foot of the behind, we had to walk down this kilometer long road and I was last one. I was slow, and sluggish, out of breath and sweating profusely; since the start was this bad, I was positive that I would never make it to the top. 

I lagged behind for the next hour; I was a part of the laggards in the group. But I realized that I was getting used to the terrain and the altitude slowly and I picked up my pace. I am happy to report that my friend and I were part of the middle group, who reached the top. The terrain wasn’t treacherous throughout, but yes there were a few curves when I held on to the side of the mountain, or plants for dear life and said a quick good-bye to my loved ones in my mind. The drop wasn’t a great one, but it was scary enough for a first timer like me.  

But the most scariest and ominous part of the trek – a flight of steep staircase cut out crudely, almost at an awkward angle of 120 degrees. And this is where a gang of strangers united and came together and helped each other out. Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of the staircase because I was very scared to let go of the make shift wire railing and take a picture. Looking down was not an option, but looking up also gave me vertigo; instead I chose to focus on the immediate step that I had to climb. I am not ashamed to admit – the last few steps I actually crawled up, because the make shift railing ceased to exist and I just had to hold on to something. 

The entire group made it to the top at half past noon; we had taken a little more than the approximated time, but the main thing was that all of us made it. The view from the top was breathtaking and it made the climb worth every bit of the drama and the tension and the pain. We spent a blissful 75 minutes on the top, enjoying the breeze and the drizzle. 

The climb down took us surprise as we did it in really quick time; but the dangers didn’t cease to exist. On more than one occasion I slipped and skidded on the loose gravels and my trek mates/ strangers behind and in front of me offered out their hands in support. My friend too held on to my bag, just in case I decided to topple down the hill. But you know what the best part was?! My friend and I were one of first people to get back to the village base! Yes I am proud of that accomplishment! I know, I know, it was a trek not a race but it still felt really good. To have started off on somewhat of a negative note and to have been able to turn it around in the end, it felt good.

The bus ride back into the city was a hot and dusty one, but I couldn’t care less because I slept through all of it. My limbs are still sore from the climb, but I assure you this is just the beginning and nothing is going to stop me from going on more of these treks.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Mississippi Mud

Director Jeff Nichols calls Mud his modern day portrayal of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. He admits that Twain’s works, where the Mississippi is treated more as a character than as a setting had always attracted him, which is why he wanted to spin a modern day tale around it. As has been the norm for the recent ‘Southern’ movies, it is based in a small town of Arkansas, where people do not zip down the roads in Mercedes Benz or shop at Bloomingdale’s and Barney’s. It is refreshing to see that American directors are finally holding up to the global audiences the reality of America with movies like Winter’s Bone, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Hounddog, Monster’s Ball. While it is not entirely correct when we say that the southern states have always lagged behind economically after the Civil War, it is however true that some parts had to battle out the worst and is still doing so, something that isn’t always let out to the world. Most of these movies deal with poverty, dying towns, lack of jobs, violence in family, mirroring a very true picture of the small towns in the southern states. 

Mud is a coming-of-age drama, revolving around two 14 year old boys who seek adventure and thrill along the Mississippi. Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are Nichols’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, who belong to the fishing community, from the small town of De Witt, Arkansas. Like typical 14 year olds, Ellis and Neckbone make grand plans to explore various places down the river, armed with a boat, flashlights and walkie-talkies. Their great adventure involves establishing ownership over an old boat that has been stuck surrealistically on a tree after a flood of the Mississippi. Once inside the boat, they however find it to be inhabited by the titular character – Mud, played brilliantly by Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey shows that he has moved over his Wedding Planner and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past days, and is ready to mete out striking performance, bringing a raw, desperate masculinity to Mud. 

The boys at first are both suspicious and enthralled by the stranger. With his snake tattoo, nails like the shape of a cross underneath his boots and most importantly his colourful stories about his life are what attract the boys to Mud. However they are a little wary of him too because of his coarse, unkempt appearance, and the pistol tucked at the back of his jeans, which they happen to catch a glimpse of. Mud befriends them eventually and tells the boys that he is waiting for his girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), his one true love since childhood. To Ellis and Neckbone, Mud is a charismatic and a romantic figure. He gives them the adult male attention which every teenage boy craves, makes them feel needed and important. He tells them that it is only with their help he can be successful with his quest – run away with Juniper to a better life in the boat. The boys help him, first with food, then with stealing every odd bit that could get the boat running and finally locating Juniper in the town and giving her a message on behalf of Mud. 

Adam Stone captured the life on Mississippi to perfection; the life on houseboats for fishermen and clam collectors, how harsh everyday existence can be and is for the community is depicted exquisitely through wide frame shots of the river. The island where Ellis and Neckbone meets Mud, is a magical, fantastical place, where boats are stuck up on trees, water moccasins run amok in creeks, friendships are created, and memories are made.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Oh Maleficent!

Disney’s new summer blockbuster – Maleficent has managed to confront a lot of stereotypes, the biggest of them all is that every story has two sides. As a kid, we would go to sleep listening about Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella and Snow White and Aerial. But we were too young, at a very impressionable age and we never thought that there could be another version to any of these stories.
Maleficent is a whole new take of the classic fairytale Sleeping Beauty; the film presents a back story and tells it from the point of view of the wicked witch – Maleficent. Maleficent! What a word! What a completely beautifully ambiguous word! There are so many possibilities as to what it could mean – malevolent, benevolent, magnificent, malicious, beneficent… Or maybe the word is an amalgamation of all of that. Won’t that be something?! Maleficent is a complex character and to have written her off just as the evil witch is not justifiable. It is heartening to see Disney taking up such projects, where the no-man’s land of evil and good is being explored. I personally love the concept of anti-hero; this shows to the world that all protagonists need not be like Hercules – brave, powerful, strong almost like demi-Gods. We should instead have more of Macbeths and Holden Caulfields because that is who most of us are. 

Angelina Jolie plays the eponymous Maleficent; she was brilliant as brilliance could be. I am a self-confessed fan of Angelina Jolie, since I was 12 I think but even the hardcore Jolie lover in me was not quite convinced of the suitability of the choice. But her performance shattered whatever iota of doubt or skepticism I was harbouring. She got her diction absolutely correct, with a hint of British accent, and variations in her pitch during her dialogue delivery. Usually I don’t peg Jolie as a comic actress, in fact she doesn’t herself either. But it was quite exhilarating to see her able to adhere to the comic timings when it was demanded of her. As we all know, with comedy, timing is utterly essential. With her pointed and distinguished cheekbones, ruby-red lips, horns and wings and piercing eyes, Jolie was almost the perfect epitome of the classic Disney villain that we have all heard about, growing up. 

Elle Fanning plays Princess Aurora and like all her previous roles, especially in We Bought a Zoo, she is her usual spritely, joyous self. But then again the script demanded she play that because Aurora “is never supposed to be blue.” Out of the three pixies charged with protecting Aurora, Imelda Staunton as Knotgrass stole the show; Juno Temple’s Thistlewit and Leslie Manville’s Flittle were just vanilla supporting characters. However Sam Riley’s performance as Diaval is commendable. Diaval is both indebted to Maleficent yet has the courage to stand up to her when he thinks that she is strewing down the path of error.

The movie had been entirely shot in front of a green screen, but Jolie is a pro, having previously worked on two Lara Croft movies; she is no stranger to action either. The plot may not have been the best, but I admire the intention because I believe it to be a message film. It was rich in acting, rich in cinematography and definitely rich in effort.

Monday, June 16, 2014

This Lifegurad Definitely Needs Saving!

The Lifeguard is a movie that I will definitely not recommend to anyone. Unless a tiny pervert resides in you and you find that it is okay for a thirty year old woman to have sex with an underage high school boy of 17. There, I have told you what the basic plot of the story is. Maybe this has been intriguing enough for you and you will make your decision, wise or not based on the very first line of this article. 

This is where I cannot stand Hollywood’s hypocrisy; if the genders were to be reversed, with an older man with an underage girl, it would have caused uproar! But since this time around, it is a very pretty blonde who is taking advantage of a skater boy punk kid, suddenly this is okay. Kristen Bell plays Leigh London, an almost thirty reporter at Associated Press in New York, who feels lost at her job, lost with her ‘adult’ life. While doing a story about a pet tiger that died of malnutrition, Leigh figures out that she and the tiger are the same at a metaphorical level, both being trapped in a cage. She concurs that her life too is headed towards the same fate as the tiger’s so she ups her entire New York life and moves back in with her parents. 

Once home, she takes up her old high school job as a lifeguard at the community pool and seeks out her old friends – Mel (Mamie Gummer), the vice principal of the local school and Todd (Martin Starr), an art appraiser. She encourages a ‘carefree’ behavior in both of her friends which includes smoking weed, and drinking with the underage kids of Mel’s school. While Mel isn’t exactly thrilled about it, she goes ahead with Leigh’s outrageous plans in order to get away from her controlling husband. Leigh eventually begins a relationship with the 17 year old Jason (David Lambert). 

Leigh’s story is nothing new and has been told plenty of times before. While I did empathize with her at one level, because I am the sort of person who feels lost and left out on a regular basis, I however did not appreciate the fact that she thought she could just turn up and play around with her friends’ lives. I also did not appreciate her summer fling with an underage high school kid. The film presents you with no resolution. Leigh departs with the same lost look that she arrived with; she has no plan. While this happens to be the reality, I guess as an audience I want some hope at the end of the movie which tells me that my life will get better eventually, with a bit of planning. One needn’t mirror all the realities of life; it becomes a little difficult to meet the gaze then.   

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Welcome to the Good Life!

Last weekend I officially became an adult. Even though I got my right to vote six years ago, last Saturday was when I was officially welcomed into the ‘BIG’ league. It was my brother’s birthday and he threw a 33rd birthday bash, ‘away from the maddening crowd’ as he liked to put it. And I was invited to his party. Now I had heard about his ‘legendary’ parties, when I was in my teens from my aunt and I would be like, If only…. Who knew that my wish would finally come true! So I grew up and got myself a job in Mumbai and then got myself invited to my brother’s birthday slash house-warming party. Yeah, it took me some years to get the invitation, but I did manage to secure it in the end. And below is the proof.

As it turned out, the weekend getaway was just what the doctor had ordered; work is getting crazy and depressing by the minute and the weekend getaway was the perfect antidote. The drive to Khopoli was a nice long drive along the Pune expressway; we enjoyed most part of it except for the bottleneck near Panvel. We stopped for burgers at a McDonalds near Kharghar and raced each other the rest of the way. Sadly, the car I was in lost. Once there I realized that there were lots to do; I hadn’t quite imagined such an empty house. I should have because he had just bought it. So all 7 of us, including my 8 year old nephew set off in making the place habitable. It was a task and we were thoroughly worn out and decided to steal an hour’s nap. It was a good thing that we did because we didn’t realize that we wouldn’t get any more sleep rest of the night. 

And then the electricity betrayed us and we sat around in the dark and in the heat till 8. When the lights did come back, I decided that it was too much effort to put on party-worthy clothes, so I told my brother that he can just deal with me in my shorts and tee at his birthday party. He isn’t the kind of guy to object to comfort and neither did anyone else. 

I had met a few of my brother’s friends, but most of them were strangers to me. But they are such awesome people that they made the introvert Virgo me participate very actively in everything. Apart from my nephew, who wasn’t exactly allowed in the party, I was the youngest and it was so endearing when they were looking after me with such care. Everyone made sure I had enough to eat and drink *wink wink*. The in-house DJ was a friend and his mixes were really good. The party went on till the wee hours of the morning and at 4: 30 we decided to bring the proceedings to a halt.

It was such a huge honour to be finally a part of my brother’s famed parties. Now I can die and go to heaven in peace.