Sunday, May 29, 2011

Barcelona Campeóns!

Yesterday’s final was a neutral’s dream match.The best team in the world v the best team in England. Pep Guardiola’s FC Barcelona v Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United at Wembley.

Barcelona is widely regarded as the best club team assembled. Barcelona turn up and unleash their butterfly brand of fluttering moves and defence splitting passes of such accuracy ,while expertly keeping the possession that it drives the opponent to chasing shadows .Having won only 3 UEFA Champions League compared to 9 of arch rivals Real Madrid they wanted to desperately win more.

Madrid’s philosophy of ostentatious money is loathed and rightly so by Barcelona as it is diametrically opposite to Barcelona’s focus on youth academy and not for nothing is the claret and maroon brigade home grown, it is fiercely Cataluñan and prides itself for being ‘Més que un club’.

Something of that rivalry is in England. Liverpool’s tally of 18 league titles has been surpassed by Manchester United this season. That is something that United wanted to do for a long time. But because of their stunning history, Liverpool have 5 UEFA Champions League titles which Sir Alex has categorically said he is not comfortable with. Liverpool have not been knocked off their perch yet. United want to have that honour in their name too.

Hence Barcelona and Manchester United both were driven by that desire to win and be the top club locally in Spain and England respectively.There is no doubt that at the moment that these two are the most followed clubs in the world .It was a fitting finale with 4 high quality goals.The final score read

FC Barcelona 3- 1 Manchester United

Pedro Rodríguez 27’ Wayne Rooney 34’

Lionel Messi 56’

David Villa 71’

Manchester United can only draw solace from the fact that they equalised Pedro Rodríguez’s opening goal and at least they competed in the first half. Wembley was Barcelona’s night to celebrate and be champions of Europe ; twice in 3 years as they took another step towards becoming the team of their generation and the club to beat .

The first goal was created by an incisive pass from Xavi who sold the United defenders a dummy by looking the other way and passing from the outside of his right boot. It was cancelled by 1-2 move by Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney which was United’s highlight of the match.All thought that a fightback was on the cards. But from then on , backed by the surprisingly dominant Barca fans, it was all Barcelona as they went on to give United a hiding . Incidentally, Messi had not scored on English soil until now. And lo and a run of genius befitting him and the stage, Messi curled it past the retiring Edwin van der Sar.

Messi was not done yet as another move initiated by him left striking partner David Villa in perfect position to turn in the third and final nail in the coffin, drowning any faint hopes for the Red Devils. And that was it , there was no comeback from there.

At the final whistle, Sir Alex Ferguson while shaking hands with Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola, had a benign smile of resignation to having lost the best side in the world , twice in two years now in the finals. The favourites justified their billing by their mesmerizing and relentless display of the beautiful game . And as they continue to improve , it is difficult to imagine any club challenging them next season.The reason Barcelona don’t ever tire is because they play most of their game in one half- the opposition’s half.They played an attractive and buoyant game and after a while United could only sigh to the inevitability of the outcome.

The cream has come to the top! Felicidades Barcelona !!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

The biggest plus point about Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is that it is closer to the first film ‘The Curse of the Black Pearl’. It is not surreal and confusing as the last two films ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ and ‘At the World’s End’. And while it just cannot trump the excitement and exuberance of the first film, but of the four films of the franchise, this is the second best yet.

Mermaids, zombies, silver chalices,magic swords and the Spanish have entered the popular mythology of the Pirates of the Caribbean .It starts off with the map of the Fountain of Youth that Jack Sparrow rowed into sunset with, at the end of the third film. On Stranger Tides is Disney’s attempt to infuse life in Pirates of the Caribbean,quite appropriately by letting the pirates chase the Fountain of Youth. And for me, it works and for most parts of it, it works pretty well.

Captain Barbossa now a privateer sanctioned by King George, the dreaded pirate Blackbeard aboard his ship Queen Anne's Revenge and the Spanish all are hunting for the elusive fountain with the elixir of life. On Stranger Tides is about the quest to get there, and in true pirate fashion there are crosses and double crosses along the way. And Jack has got ‘stirrings’ if not feelings for the feisty Angelica (Penélope Cruz), his ex-flame, who may or may not be the daughter of Blackbeard. That she and Jack have great chemistry together is evident is encouraging for the future films .

Pirates of the Caribbean is Disney’s prized franchise which grew from a fantasy ride to a multimillion dollar money spinner and it is unlikely that this is the last of the pirates film. And given the way the story has been left open, there is scope for atleast one more film. Those who stayed until the end of credits will know that Angelica has Jack’s voodoo doll while Jack has walked away with Gibbs with a sackload of miniature ships and is trying to figure how he can get his beloved Black Pearl out of the bottle .

The reason On Stranger Tides does not seem as swashbuckling as it could have been , is because there is not that much of an element of surprise in it. It is especially difficult to find novelty in sequels. Moreover Jack Sparrow is at the sidelines most of the time, never upping the ante himself .He is surviving cunningly and picking the right side of the battle. That is one of Jack Sparrow’s features but that leaves the audience wanting more of him.There are some clever lines in the film and the memorable lines as always mostly from Jack .

Jack to Gibbs: I hate that monkey.

Jack to Angelica: If you had a sister and a dog, I will choose the dog.

Angelica to Jack: How is it that we can never meet, without you pointing something at me?

Jack to Blackbeard (after being caught red handed and cornered): Captain I wished to report a mutiny; I can name fingers and point names.

Jack to Gibbs (about Angelica): I have got stirrings.

But my argument is that Pirates of the Caribbean is so huge because of the pop-culture icon that is Johnny Depp’ Jack Sparrow. And inspite of cutting a lot of characters he has not got enough time on screen.Let him run riot and not play the second fiddle. His charm is inexhaustible, so why hold Sparrow back? Put Angelica and Jack in little love triangle next time and let them sail to Cape Horn, the southern-most tip of South America with a healthy prize for him at the end of it all.

Coming back to the film, it has got a good score with music from Hans Zimmer and the Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. The locations of Hawaii are beautiful but not exactly pristine.It gets a wee bit slow when the mermaid Syrena is captured ,though as against the general notion going around,i didn’t find it too long. It is good pirates film, which is entertaining. Let’s leave it at that and expect more from Pirates of the Caribbean: V.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Shane Warne : adieu

Ian Chappell said on air recently about Shane Warne: ‘Warnie makes the game interesting for his players, and that translates into exciting cricket for the fans. It’s just like when he bowls: there’s an air of expectancy with every ball.’

It is for that sense of expectancy with each ball that I used to wake up at 5 in the morning to watch the Australian home test matches- to see the Warne spin his wizardry. Importantly, he not only bowls every ball, he lives it – animatedly, which makes him a broadcaster's delight.

Wisden chose him as one of the 5 cricketers of the century alongside Donald Bradman, Gary Sobers, Jack Hobbs and Vivian Richards. All 4 have been knighted except for Shane Warne and he is the only bowler! It is remarkable because Warne became ‘Shane Warne- the champion leg spinner’ only from the summer of 93’ when he bowled the ball of the century leaving the victim Mike Gatting perplexed beyond explanation.

This was mainly because of his single handed contribution in revitalising the art of traditional leg spin and making it an attacking weapon than a defensive one. Although Anil Kumble – no less a man, was a key exponent too, he was the more unconventional one and not as pro-glamour as Warne. And for millions of fans, Warne made bowling leg –breaks attractive and made the game cerebral as he out-thought the batsmen. ‘Hollywood’ as Warne was called fondly by teammates, would rip the ball above the eye level of the batsman, catching his blind spot which causes an error in judgment of the flight and trajectory and before they realise what has happened the Aussies would be celebrating yet another of his wickets. He has done so much for the game of cricket just by showing up and bowling those gifted stack of deliveries in his arsenal- the classical leg-break, the wrong ‘un, the clicking slider, the top spinner.

Warne is a brand name in the game of cricket and his clash with leading batsmen like Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar were marquee battles within the games that their countries were playing. The Indian tour of Down Under in 99’ was a marketed on ESPN as Shane Warne v Sachin Tendulkar – what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?

Warne was an irresistible force, a weapon that his captains deployed to take down the opposition. He has a very sharp acumen and could plan the dismissals of batsmen. He could bowl for one hour from the same end into the breeze to get the drift for his leg-breaks ;as the aussie quicks bowled into the wind. That requires tremendous amounts of skills and some execution. Warne has a finger spinner’s control over the cherry despite being a wrist bowler. Any captain would give a finger and an arm for such a player. It was such team work that gave the all conquering Australian side from 90s to late last decade, the bulwark and the intimidation that stream rolled opposition.

As tantalising as his leg-breaks were, he would also give in to the temptations that life threw on him. A person with childish enthusiasm and he is also the epitome of flawed genius. Warne has dipped his feet in very circumstantial waters but has the talent and the will to get out of the rut and whenever he made a comeback, he only found his goodwill multiply and his popularity soar.

His controversies have been far and many. The famous ones include spats with ex-Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga, the sexting episode with the nurse and threesomes with models, the diets on baked beans to the propensity to party and the resulting protruding beer belly, the nicotine addiction, the champion cut and the blonde highlights, the hair transplant, the diuretics, the one year ban, the chin music and banter talk, the hefty fine for having link with Indian bookmaker or getting flashed while drinking beer in the middle of the game. Warne being Warne, he managed to make even those public embarrassments iconic and defining of the era. He was the first cricketer to get in trouble for texting, the first to see his tweets turned into news stories.

Warne is a big match performer but not exactly a role model when it comes to the way he handles his personal life. No kid can do all the partying he does and turn up next day to rip the ball past the batsman like he can. The skill he is blessed with and those he has developed never have deserted Warne. Proof of that being that after a tumultuous year with his wife Simone, they separated in mid-2005.And in the subsequent Ashes ,Warne went on to claim 40 wickets and 250 runs ,in what is considered to be his career's best performance .Even after a decade and a half of tormenting English with his spin, he remained the most popular touring cricketer. Sure, he was banned from the 2003 World Cup , but he was the man-of-the-match in both the semi-final and the final of the 99’ edition. His career has been littered with such illustrious milestones.

When quizzed on his gameplan, Warne said ‘The first thing is to be patient, which is probably the hardest thing to do. Don't worry if blokes are whacking you out of the park because you still have the opportunity to get him out next ball, even if it's not the same ball.' Warne always gave himself a chance, backed himself and his players when he was captaining the Royals in the IPL. For all his shenanigans, Warne gave innumerable moments of magic on a cricket ground and several storylines for newspapers off it . As he has played his last competitive game vs Mumbai last week, we are now have to make do with watching Warne bowling his spells on special sports programmes or on our YouTube favourites link. Anyway the day had to come.

Thank you and adieu, you will be missed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Creative anagrams

And now , what is my laziest post yet, some creative anagrams which I found while surfing .Personally,I liked Osama bin laden’s anagram ‘lob da man in sea’as it is quite apt for the sea burial that the US tells us he got. Anagrams ring sense especially when the words are arranged to mean something that is related to the original word or person. Princess Diana’s is a sad but true example.

Public relations for ‘crap built in lies’ is so very apt and so is the anagram for weapons of mass destruction.

  • Princess Diana -end is a car spin
  • George Bush - he bugs gore
  • The morse code -here come dots
  • Slot machines - cash lost in me
  • A decimal point - I ‘m a dot in place
  • Eleven plus two -twelve plus one
  • Osama bin laden - lob da man in sea
  • Public relations -crap built on lies
  • have a nice day! -have a cyanide!
  • gin and vermouth -hung over, damn it
  • bottoms up! - pubs' motto!
  • Christmas -trims cash
  • apple, inc -epic plan
  • Justin Timberlake -I’m a jerk, but listen
  • Statue of Liberty -built to stay free
  • Halley’s comet -shall yet come
  • Leonardo da vinci -O draconian devil
  • Manchester -Tense charm
  • Weapons of mass destruction -US team swoops. Finds no trace.
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation -if found alive, abuse, interrogate!

Note: The above image is an ad campaign poster created for Scrabble by JWT in Chile. The sliced up campaign consisted of three images representing word puzzles: Elephant ( seen above), a Guitar and a Submarine.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I am writing about a film that I should have written one year ago because it premiered at Cannes in 2010. Somehow, I didn’t watch the film till recently .Biutiful is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s fourth film following Babel in 2006 which won Gustavo Santaolalla the Oscar for best original score. Babel was a story spread across Japan, Morocco, the United States and Mexico and with an international star cast. Biutiful is a different affair, filmed in Spanish and lighter on stars apart from Javier Bardem. Here Iñárritu focuses on a linear narrative rather than the spectacular cross-continental leaps and criss-crosses. Iñárritu examines an array of philosophical questions-chiefly what does it mean to be good? Can we opt to be good selectively, it is okay to be good when it suits us. There is an angle of afterlife which complicates the proceedings for Uxbal played by Javier Bardem.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu is known for making bleak dramas, with decent storylines which we wait to interact at some point in the film that keeps the audience interested among all of the depressing emotional realism that he brings to the screen. In Biutiful, the story is about Uxbal alone and his gradual approach to his death as he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Uxbal struggles to reconcile his life choices and profession.

It is a bit depressing to see life piling one misery after another on Uxbal who has no one to share his state of mind with .It is a strange situation as he has to look after the immigrants who he makes money off by hustling deals to local construction sites or sweat shops run by the Chinese. He is unique from his cohort in that he tries to treat those they are exploiting work from, with compassion and dignity. He is their saviour but he also makes money off them. He is a man with conscience, a caring father but a criminal nonetheless in the gritty side-world of Barcelona, a hustler on whom life has never been kind. He knows how cruel the world can be and fears for his children's well being after he has died and hence his reluctance in accepting death.

And as if the troubles were not enough, he also has got a gift of communicating with the souls of recently deceased people who have died before their time and have trouble to let go their bodies. Uxbal makes money out of that too, of course with the guilt that he shouldn’t have done that. There are more than couple of scenes that stay with you..Uxbal talking to his daughter and handing over the diamond ring which is the first and last scene of the film. The flight of the birds on a cloudy and pale Barcelona skyline which i think is meant to represent the only free souls in the film. Another one is when Uxbal gets to see his dead father who had fled Spain during the years of Franco but died as soon as he arrived in Mexico. Uxbal sees the body of his 20 year old father embalmed in the cemetery which is a neat little goose-bump moment .Of particular mention is the cinematography (Rodrigo Prieto) which is always a strong feature of Iñárritu’s films.

There are some other notable moments in Biutiful and they are so effective because of the way Javier Bardem had played the role and conveyed that sense of moral enigma that his life has come to. Incidentally, Javier Bardem's part in this film is the first time that a performance entirely in the Spanish Language has been nominated for an Academy Award Best Actor Oscar.

Iñárritu’s Amores Perros is an attested classic. 21 Grams had a unique and challenging narrative structure, some top class actors and a great story. Babel too had a great cast and kept us entertained throughout. But Biutiful seems and is longer than it should be and at times it can be disturbing to see Uxbal’s life being taken apart slowly but with assurity . Iñárritu falls short of making a really good film. It stops at being a so-so film with an outstanding lead performance. Maybe a change in genre would do well for the director.It is not as if he can not do it.. remember the delightful 3 minute long Nike -' write the future' ad made by him for the last FIFA world cup?