Monday, June 28, 2010

Germany 4-1 England: German Blitzkrieg ends English campaign

Watching England fall to a young German team last night brought back memories of the time when I used to religiously follow the travails of Team India. There are many similarities between the English football team and the Indian cricket team.  The popularity they enjoy across the globe, the money they make in comparison to other teams in their sport, the intense scrutiny that their private lives are subjected to by the media, and last but not the least, their continued inability to perform when it matters.

Just like Team India was blessed with superstars like Sachin, Azhar, Dravid, Ganguly, and more recently, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Sehwag etc, the Three Lions also have amidst them some of the most recognizable brand names such as Rooney, Lampard, Gerard, Terry to name a few. Individually, these superstars are considered the best (arguably) in their roles/positions. However, put them in a team together, and they are so abject that it is almost embarrassing to watch them play. Although there are many instances of the Indian cricket team at their abysmal best, since this post is primarily intended to comment on the English performance at the World Cup, I will end the comparisons here.  Of course, the intent of the comparison was to drive home a point, and I am sure it has been.

Last night’s match against a young German side highlighted some of the long- standing frailties of the English national team. The way the famed English defense disintegrated towards the end is ample proof that, Fabio Capello and his Italian toughness be damned, the English are fragile when they are under pressure.  John Terry and Mathew Upson were caught ball-watching too many times, and as a result, the left-back and the central midfield were drawn out of position leaving gaping holes on the left for a marauding Mueller to first drive the nail in the English coffin, and then hammer it shut beyond any chance for an English resurrection.

The match began well enough with both teams showing passing ability and attacking intent, before the Germans resorted to character and chose to take the Route One for their first goal. John Terry, now more popular for his sleeping exploits off the field, decided to bring some of those talents on the field as well when he decided to take a nap to let a hapless Upson try and stop the towering Klose from scoring. The result was inevitable, and Klose, with one flick of his right leg, put the ball past David James, who was caught in two minds between coming forward to collect the ball and staying back to block the shot.

The second goal from Germany was a work of art, with Podolski drilling a fine left footed shot past David James. Podolski, a Bayern cast-away currently plying his trade at lowly FC Cologne where he scored 4 goals all season, showed once again that success or failure in club football may not mean much at a World Cup. Wayne Rooney and his English colleagues will serve as bright examples in support.

The English revival through an Upson goal was just reward for their industry and when Lampard’s shot crossed the goal-line, the revival was complete. Or so everyone thought. Except the referee and his assistant who ruled that the ball had not crossed the goal line. FIFA and its weird ways are beyond explanation.

The second half began with England pushing all the way for the equalizer, and despite another Lampard effort crashing against the post, there was no respite for them. As they committed all their men forward at set-pieces, the German’s decided to teach a footballing lesson in counter-attack. The English, due to a combination of exhaustion and lack of desire, did not do enough to track back and close down the flanks when the German’s surged forward, and a 20 year old Thomas Mueller, playing on the right just behind the center forward, duly obliged with a well taken brace.

The last few minutes after the German blitzkrieg seemed like an ordeal for the Englishmen who were, understandably, in no mood for anymore fight. When the referee blew his whistle ending what turned out to be rout, Fabio Capello and his team were left to rue what could have been had the Referee not “screwed” them with the disallowed goal.

With yet another early exit from a World Cup, the “Golden Generation” of English football has probably played their last World Cup, without winning any major trophy at international level. The trial by media now begins.  The likes of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerard will find new challenges and controversies to get embroiled in, to take the attention away from this failure. A certain John Terry and his pal Ashley Cole would be getting together to discuss their new partnership, as the rest of their team-mates at Chelsea FC hold on to their wives and girlfriends even harder in these times of distress.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Wonder Years

Every generation has a golden era. For my generation, it was the 90's. Most kids on the cusp of adoloscence found their calling in the eventful period that preceded the Y2K euphoria.

As a bunch of early teens just discovering the birds and the bees, the 90's heralded an exciting phase in our boyz-to-men journey. Coupled with the changing political and economical situation in the country, the period was significant for the various influences it had on us.

As India, under the able yet eventually discredited P.V. Narasimha Rao, opened its doors to the world in a clear cry of capitalism, the first noticeable change in our lives was the advent of satellite TV. For a bunch that found its entertainment in a single channel on the state run Doordarshan for years, the sudden exposure to a variety of international channels, and the liberal dose of skinshow that they brought along, was a shock that took a while to adjust to. The influences of those early days, after a long period of latency, is now clearly seen in the way the youth of today dress.

The exposure to Satellite channels also opened the doors to international pop music, and as we later found out, so many other genres of music that we had previously never known to exist and had therefore, grouped under the convenient umbrella of Pop music. Out went the tapes of Mukesh, Rafi, Latha, Kishore etc, and in came the likes of Michael Jackson, GNR, Def Leppard, Eric Clapton, Bryan Adams etc. The period also saw the advent of the Remix music. Old Hindi classics, that had lost ground to the more appealing International music genres, resurfaced in a new remixed avatar, the most notable being Bally Sagoo's remixed version of "Chura Liya" which became a rage during the times.

This period during the early 90s is also memorable, for my generation, for the adoloscent crushes and the experience of first-love. The song "Pehla Nasha", from the classic JJWS, could not have come at a more apt time and became the anthem for all kids my age. The song, till date, continues to be the perfect ode to teenagers experiencing the magical sensations of first love.

The mid 90s heralded the beginning of a new wave of Bollywood movies. The industry had already started to move away from the abhorable stereotypes of the 80s, thanks to movies such as QSQT, Maine Pyaar Kiya, Hum Aapke Hain Koun etc. The baton had already been passed from the previous generation of superstars to the new one. In 1995, when Shah Rukh Khan played his now legendary character of Raj in DDLJ against Kajol's Simran, the Bollywood transformation was complete. SRK became the superstar and Yashraj films found their formula to a fortune.

In 1998, when a debutante director Karan Johar announced his arrival with "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai", made clearly using the Yashraj formula, the whole country laughed and cried with SRK, Kajol and Rani. With a generous dose of heavy duty emotions, and a world devoid of petty issues such as poverty and crime, the Yashraj- Johar formula offered the audience a chance to dream of a world that they would love to be a part of. The formula was used over and over again, and continues to be used, mostly to great effect since the movie going majority in India and the NRI population abroad just don't seem to tire watching rich people and their merry making, with a dash of tragedy and romance, and embellished with melodious music and fashionable clothes that also facilitate liberal skin show.

As the decade came to a close, my generation had also completed the metamorphosis from the excitable kid to the cynical adult. Student life had given way to professional life, and the innocent dinners at roadside dhabas had been replaced by expensive parties at exotic restaurants and nightclubs. Money and ambition had started to drive our lives, and we had no time for the simple joys anymore.

As the nineties gave in to the new Millennium, it also marked the end of an era- of innocence, romance, passion and self-discovery. Fond memories and strong influences of the era continue to shape our lives even today, and as an entire generation that found its calling in the 90s will agree with me, those were the days of our lives. For us, those were the "Wonder Years".

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

3 Idiots- The Review

At long last, after the whole world, and then some, has already watched it, I finally managed to watch the year's biggest hit "3 Idiots". On my laptop, mind you. Yet, despite the constraints of the medium, the sheer magnificence of the movie remained unmitigated.

There are very few movies that can be called perfect. Even a classic like "Rang De Basanti" had its share of detractors dismissing it to be too preachy and impractical. This latest offering from Rajkumar Hirani, however, is flawless. I know I am sounding like a fresh-off-the-boat fanboy here, but truth be told- the movie is perfect. 

While there are conflicting views on how much of the script is based on Chetan Bhagat's novel, and since I have not read "Five Point Someone" myself, I'll be generous and give complete credit to Hirani and his team for such an engaging story and screenplay. Despite the obvious temptation to make it preachy, the director manages to keep it breezy and witty. The messages are all there, but cleverly packaged amidst some very funny situations and one-liners.

Among the 3 idiots, Aamir as Rancho sleepwalks through a role that he has played so many times to perfection in the past decade (Dil Chahta Hai, Rang De Basanti). It is to his immense credit that, at 44, he can still convincingly play a 22 year old. However, it is not an act that deserves a "Best Actor" award. But, knowing how the awards work, I would be surprised if Aamir doesn't win most of the awards. It is ironic considering that Aamir never won the awards for the movies when he really deserved them, back in the early 90s (Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke etc).

Madhavan, as Farhan, the wildlife-photographer-trapped-in-an-engineer's body, plays his role well although the real revelation is the 3rd idiot, Sharman Joshi. Sharman as Raju, a lower middle class youth carrying the weight of his  family's expectations, is the best actor among the three. He displays great maturity in portraying the phobia-ridden Raju who is forced to choose between his family's expectations from him and his loyalty to his friends. If anybody deserves an award, it is Sharman although it is technically only a supporting role.

Kareena deserves a mention for the freshness and exuberance that she brings to every scene that she is in. Boman Irani, reprising his obnoxious dean role from "Munnabhai MBBS", does perfect justice although he risks becoming typecast in such roles.

A special mention for Omi Vaidya, who plays Chatur Ramalingam or "The Silencer", the hyper-competitive NRI kid who is a diametric opposite to Rancho, and who detests Rancho's philosophy of "Learn to excel, and not just learn to succeed". Chatur, on the other hand, believes in toeing the oft-trodden path and champions the "learning by rote" idea. In many ways, Chatur represents the Indian education system, and its over-emphasis on grades and bookish knowledge without regard for the application of the knowledge. The annual day scene where Rancho messes up Chatur's script, leading to a hilarious speech very aptly brings out the point about learning without understanding.

The movie comes a full circle when the rest of the protagonists eventually find Rancho, who had absconded for 10 years after graduating from Engineering, in a remote village in Ladakh to realize that he is actually somebody else- an elusive scientist named Phunsukh Wangdo, who is sought by American (Chatur represents the American interest) and Japanese industrialists for his 400+ patents. When Chatur finally accepts defeat and strips to his innerwear to offer his salutation, in the characteristic college style, and goes "Jahanpanah, tussi great ho, Tofu kabool karo" in his inimitable accent, you know that "All izz Well". Indeed.