Sunday, July 20, 2014

2 States--a new favorite

How do you really measure a movie?  There are all sorts of schemes to do a comparative measurement,  but they are all subject to a personal bias individually or collectively.  We all enjoy different things by which I mean not only that different people enjoy different things, but that each one of us enjoys different things.

So far this year I have watched over 150 movies, many of which were very good and satisfied to some degree different aspects of my psychological needs.  People like to be happy, like to be scared, like to cry, like to laugh, some even like to think--at different often unpredictable times. Two movies this year have really left a feeling of enjoyment--"200 Pounds Beauty" and "About Time".  It really is some sort of chemistry and admittedly not everyone would get the same reaction.  Another movie, "2 States" recently viewed  has left a similar feeling.

In this case I had a few expectations which can be dangerously unrealistic.  Chetan Bhagat has earned my respect by the one book I read and a few earlier movies that have been tied to him.  Shankar Ehsaan Loy are my favorite music composers.  Words and music.  I also have a visual side, but that is the unexpected bonus.

Chetan's name first came to my attention in relation to the movie "3 Idiots", but the producers and even Aamir Khan distanced themselves from him.  Most observers readily give Chetan credit for inspiring the movie if nothing else and it has become one of my favorites.  Bookwise I have so far only been able to read "One Night@the Call Centre" which was very imaginative and was able to see the movie adaptation which was enjoyable.  "Kai Po Che!" was another very good movie where Chetan was credited.  "2 States" is supposed to be biographical as was "3 Idiots."  Humour is definitely one of his tools, but so is a realistic view of humans as individual and in relationships.  I have written about Chetan elsewhere and now follow him on Facebook.  More details at:  http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2011/10/chetan-bhgat-new-discovery-for-me.html

Shankar Ehsaan Loy have also been covered in numerous blogs of mine.  They have such a range in a number of movies such as "Kal Ho Naa Ho" "Rock On" "Dil Chatha Hai" "Lakshya" "Karthik Calling Karthik" Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara."   A lot of good movies enhanced by their music and a few saved.  Three guys that bring different things to the table--a playback singer, a guitarist and a keyboardist brought together for radio jingles.

I started with Bollywood and discovered there is more depth than weird music and dancing (although us Westerners can get addicted if we allow ourselves).  Indians do have a different perspective, but in the most important aspects of being human they are the same.  A country that big and with their long history contains a lot of insight and have their own unique ideas of beauty.

I have also watched a number of Tamil movies which are different from Bollywood and one can appreciate a few differences--as a distant observer it is something like Italy where the money is made in the north and southerners seem to enjoy life more.  In India as with Italy there are racial (the south tends to be darker skinned) and cultural (one newspaper carrier parent pointed out the food in the south tends to be spicier) differences.  There is an underlying unity partly brought about in part in Italy by Garibaldi (one of my heroes).  In India one of the unifying factors would be Gandhi (another one of my heroes) and perhaps a reaction to British (and other) colonizers.

"2 States" (based on Chetan's courtship and marriage has the usual plot;  boy meets girl, they fall in love and their parents object.  Overcoming the obstacles is the whole point.  The main protagonist, Krish resembles Chetan in his education following engineering to a business school all the time proclaiming he wants to be a writer.  He is not sure what he wants to write about, but he wants to be realistic.  The dialogue is excellent.  In India they award dialogue writers as well as those responsible for the story.

The music was enjoyable. with music to express great joy, and great despair.  Bollywood has a long tradition of dancing which is expected by a large part of their audience.  The dancing might distract Westerners, but if you loosen up you will appreciate dancing is fun.

Binod Pradman award winning cinematographer provided a sight for sore eyes.  Instead of the usual Mumbai settings we viewed some sights of Delhi, Ahmedebad and Chennai (formerly known as Madras). 

Alia Bhatt has been on a roll this year with a few hits, one of which I had recently seen.  Her father Manesh Bhatt is a well known producer, director and screen writer and I am sure the connection helped, but she has also obviously learned a few things including picking good scripts with good crew and the subtleties of acting.  I am more impressed by her acting (Highway) than looks (she is definitely more than ok, but not outstanding in my opinion)  Amitra Singh,  Revathy, Ronit Roy and Shivkumar Subramaniam veteran actors as unhappy parents added dramatic realism.  Arjun Kapoor  played the leading man as I might imagine Chetan to have been in his college days.

Lots of other movies are worthy of your time and at different times some will hit the right nerve.  This is my latest experience where an appreciation of art and emotional response tied together almost perfectly.   Looking forward to more.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

LEADERS ARE "SELECTED" BY FOLLOWERS

Leadership is a popular topic mainly because most of us are attracted to the rewards and others because of the good that leaders can accomplish.  The authors, Mark van Vugt and Anjana Ahuja identify three perks of being a leader--salary, status and sex. They study evolution to better understand leadership.  Most books deal with the how to get to be a leader or how to lead, but don't really touch the follower aspect.

Leadership means nothing without followers.  Why does anyone want to follow another person?  The authors go back to pre-history, our hunter-gatherer days to understand.  In the end they favor some of the earliest practices and suggest adaptations to modern reality.  Back in the African savannah days of our history, groups were small and it became crucial to co-ordinate activities to survive.  Circumstances dictated a level of equality creating a balance between leaders and followers.

A strong person might be the leader, but they could not survive without followers.  Leadership emerges whenever there is a need for social co-ordination for example with basic human activities as hunting, food gathering, sleeping, migrating.  Groups with better direction will outperform other groups.

We needed strong leaders to make decisions regarding food and protection from external forces (wild animals, human enemies).  We valued strength and intelligence.  The groups tended to be small  and members knew each other very well.  If a leader became too arrogant there were ways of controlling them.  Undermining leaders with gossip and public discussion, mockery and disobedience.  Similar strategies were seen with chimpanzees, but with humans we added desertion of our leaders.  This was one step short of more extreme measures such as assassination.

Leadership was often dispersed among different skills such as hunting, medicine, warring, tool making, etc.  Although there often was a tendency for one leader to gain more roles it was also resisted by the followers.

The Agricultural Revolution which came after a million or so years of evolution changed the balance.  For the first time wealth could be accumulated and some individuals could get more rewards with power.  Groups became bigger and everyone did not know everyone.  Chimpanzees tend to form groups around 50, but humans with greater brain power could handle groups of 150.  Once beyond that, the process becomes less personal.  Leadership is too often romanticized whereas in many cases quiet leadership is more effective.

After diagnosis, what are the prescriptions for today?

Dominance is dangerous.  We should favour followers more than we do currently.  Distributive leadership should be encouraged.  Consensual decision making has been a key factor in the success of the human race.  

Followers chose leaders on criteria important in the African savannahs that are no longer as crucial.  We do not need as much emphasis on strength, height or the male gender as before.  The authors suggest we minimize our natural bias although that is much easier said than done.

Authors point out today leaders tend to be picked from the top down.  Some progressive companies encourage involvement of subordinates.  The advantage is that the followers will have more respect for those who give them their direction.

We should be concerned about the pay (and other perks) gap between CEO's and their workers.  It not only causes resentment, but it also attracts selfish people who do not always have the best interest of their subordinates top of mind.

At an individual level the authors suggest their readers should find their own niche and develop skills that benefit the group they are in.

Mark and Anjana offer many suggestions for how we should go forward that merit further discussion.   Professor Mark Van Vugt, evolutionary, social and organizational  psychologist based in the Netherlands has a website worth investigating at http://www.professormarkvanvugt.com/

Sunday, July 13, 2014

KANGANA RANAUT, A BOLLYWOOD QUEEN


Researching through the international movie database, IMDB  Kangana Ranaut has appeared in a fair number of poorly rated movies in leading roles.  On the other hand after watching her in a few of her better acclaimed movies she shines through. There is some glamour about her, but also a wide range of emotions often displayed very subtly.

Actors do not always control their destiny.  Speculating I assume she was pushed into some roles to keep her career moving forward.  Being too selective might mean you are unemployed.

Her first movie was "Gangster" in 2006. which I have not seen, but is worth seeking as it is well rated.   In the same year "Woh Lamhe" was released where she played a schizophrenic actress
dealing with a controlling man.  She deteriorates under the pressure.

"Life in a Metro" came out in 2007 and to be honest when I first saw the movie I was not really conscious of her role, but re-visited and identify it as a difficult one playing the mistress of her boss who is married to her room-mate's sister and has suicidal tendencies.  She eventually finds true love with the main protagonist played by Sharmon Joshi who rented out his apartment for financial and career reasons.

"Fashion" was released in 2008 set in a competitive world of fashion models.  Priyanka Chopra led while again Kangana played a difficult rival with psychological problems.




"Once Upon a Time in Mumbai" Kangana plays a glamorous Bollywood star who mixes with a notorious gangster and handles it well.  Ajay Devgn is her leading man.  Released in 2010.
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 A comic role in "Tanu Weds Manu" with Madhaven playing a non resident Indian returning to find a bride. As you might expect she is difficult to pin down.

"Queen" came out in 2014 and what a change.  Kangana is de-glamorized and at the beginning her character is humiliated by a last minute rejection by Rajkummar Rao just before a scheduled wedding.  She decides to go through with the honeymoon travels and suffers the trials of an unsophisticated traveler in Europe.  She meets up with a lot of odd characters in strange circumstances and grows. This has to be one of the most revenue generating movies for a women centric movie.  She is the big reason and will deserve the awards I expect her to win.  One of the more enjoyable movies of the year.

"Krrish 3" was  a high budget film that came out in 2013.  She plays an evil shape shifter, but steals the role of hero's wife and feels emotions never felt before.  Priyanka plays the wife to Hrithik Roshan (whose father wrote and directed the movie). 

A primary goal of every actor is to be selective, to perform in roles that are satisfying to oneself.  Kangana is headed that way and not only will she benefit, but so will her audience.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Second Machine Age

The authors, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee offer frightening concepts, but hopeful suggestions.  The second machine age is doing what the first machine age did--changing job structure.  Only with the second machine age we are finding machinery that can do more including displacing human labour and even thinking.

One of their basic beliefs is that innovation creates wealth.  The first machine age really got going with the invention of the steam engine by James Watt.
It not only was used for transportation, but also in factories and was adapted in countless ways leading to more innovations.  It is true that new technologies displaced workers, but also true that over time more jobs were created to take advantage of the new technologies.   It is also true that life became more comfortable for more people.

The first machine age mostly reduced physical labour from work.  The second machine age could be said to affect mental labour.  New machines could take over much mental drudgery and figure out many things faster and more reliably.  It has also been economical to transfer many clerical and communication tasks overseas displacing lawyers, office workers and others.

The Second Machine age has speeded up innovations and is forging ahead at exponential speed meaning adjustments are falling behind and machines are taking up a higher percentage of formerly paid for labour.  New opportunities are being developed, but unskilled work is disappearing and wages diminishing.

The authors were stunned by driverless cars offering greater safety now (with a few exceptions that will probably be covered in near future). They had read of all the difficulties surrounding the idea, and concluded that driverless cars would be in the far distant future if ever.  However recently they agreed that driverless cars are already here and will improve.  GPS is only one innovation that made that speeded up their possibility.

Another innovation, 3-D printing has only recently been announced and applications are increasing daily.  The authors expect this one innovation will lead to many more manufacturing shortcuts squeezing out more jobs.

Free internet actually helps the GDP to decline, but in fact people get value out of the internet.  Free access to information/entertainment.  Many people who made their living organizing and selling information will continue to lose their jobs while others leverage free information to make more money or at least to enjoy life more.

We are already at the stage where we don't need as many workers working as many hours to provide all the manufactured goods we expect.  Medium wages have stopped tracking productivity and life expectancy of poorer people in the US is falling.  As a global society we have a problem.  The authors quote Voltaire, "Work saves us from three evils., boredom, vice and need."  Inequality could escalate, we could have have a violent revolution or civilization could crumble.

Education is considered basic.   They noted that Montessori schools have been a foundation for Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Jeff Bazar, key innovators.  The self organizing skills that they encourage are likely sources of innovative success.

Other ideas explored include negative income tax, building infrastructure, encouraging immigration (where entrepreneurship seems to spark) and emphasizing more scientific research.  Their thoughts all have merit, but I am a little disappointed in that the problem they painted seems overwhelming.

Innovations add not only to our wealth, but potentially to our enjoyment of life. There is actually a tremendous opportunity for the future of man, but I fear greed will have to be overcome if the majority of our descendents will be better off than we are.

One last redeeming thought.  Machines don't ask questions, only provide answers, meaning you still need humans to figure out innovations.  So far.

To learn more and take part in discussions visit:  http://www.secondmachineage.com/

Monday, July 7, 2014

WHAT THE WORLD CUP MEANS (TO ME)

A fellow Canadian once commented that he wasn't interested in following soccer.  Surprisingly he was fairly young, not surprisingly grew up in Canada with little international experience.  Is the rest of the world crazy?  Or are we the only ones who appreciate talent and beauty?

Canadians of my age generally have had little experience with soccer (in fact "football" means something else entirely different and we are much more familiar with it).  My son played soccer, because it was cheap, safe and convenient.  I became involved as a volunteer.  Most volunteers shared my limited experience, but inevitably we did encounter soccer enthusiasts, usually having grown up with the game in another country.

I watched several attempts to make soccer a major league sport, but until recently the progress seemed  tied to immigrants, most of who complained that it was much better in the old country.  The young kids are enthused and drag their parents (some of whom may have been involved with soccer themselves).  The grassroots is now a power to be reckoned with and still professional soccer in English speaking North America has not quite made it...yet.

It doesn't take much awareness to see that soccer is the big sport in the rest of the world.  Still even they seem to admit that without American approval they aren't given enough respect.  American success in the World Cup will inspire many more and elevate its status.  Only cable stations covered the U.S. tying Portugal in a very exciting game.  They bowed out against Belgium in a brave effort with little non sports network coverage.

Flopping (feigning injury to attract penalties against the opposition) turns off Canadians and Americans.  As the British might say, it isn't cricket.  Amateur sports were supposed to be played by "gentlemen" who above all believed in fair play.  Professionals and increasingly amateurs today are looking for an edge beyond athletic skills.  That might come out as cheating on the margins and includes trying to fool the ref.  When it works and you win, you are admired.  Personally I still admire fair play, but I like it when my favorite team wins.

In Hamilton there are a lot of immigrants from Italy and Portugal.  My neighborhood used to be predominantly Italian (including my wife's family) but now is much more Portuguese.  Whenever Italy or Portugal won a game you could hear horns honking almost everywhere.  My wife and I would often walk over to James St only a few blocks just to see the parade of cars with flags and joy.  One year one Portuguese shop sold barbecued sardines and I bought one and enjoyed it.  For years I had ignored all the Portuguese restaurants, but became interested after a visit to Vancouver.

Flags are on cars and houses.  Portuguese don't want to miss this opportunity to flaunt their heritage but also Italians let you know they still are a power.  I have noticed a few Germans, not normally flamboyant, but do have some proud connections. Although I have spotted others they aren't as common as in past years.

Unbelieveable,  Italy and Portugal went out during the round robin and generated very little horn honking.  In past years the Portuguese looking for a good excuse switched their loyalty to  the Brazilians, their colonial cousins and I  have seen a little evidence, but not as much as in the past.

The Columbia team dance routine after goals got my attention.  James Rodrigues made a spectacular  goal and I understand he had made four others.  The other team that really got my attention was Costa Rica.  When I read the group they were in they were very easy to dismiss, but they defeated Uruguay and Italy and tied England (admittedly already eliminated).  For a little nation they reached unexpected heights, but their talent and their luck weren't enough.

The biggest surprise was the early exit of Spain and Italy and England all teams that had won previous World Cups and were considered amongst the favourites.  There have been some great athletic accomplishments, Luis Suarez (before the biting incident, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar.  Lionel Messi, recognized as one of the world's best footballers put on a few good displays.

Before the tournament got started Brazil was heavily criticized internally by those who felt that huge amounts of money should have been spent on alleviating poverty.  From the outsiders there was question of competence and safety.  From what I have seen they have produced some impressive stadiums and filled them with boisterous fans.  It is likely tourism will be boosted for the next few years and it is naturally one of the world's most interesting tourist destinations.  Rio di Janeiro is considered one of the most fun cities in the world.  But there is a lot more to Brazil than Carnival time.  The Amazon is one of the most important rivers in the world and has many hidden and beautiful secrets.  The capital Brasilia is inland away from the famous beaches.

The pace of the World Cup is something to be admired.  For the first two weeks you get to see 32 of the top teams of the world play three games each.  It is possible to lose one of the three games and go on to win the the final game, but the squeezing has started.  After the round robin half of the teams are eliminated.  Most of these tournaments are dominated by teams from Europe and South America and each time it is suggested that African or Asian teams will break out, but I can't recall any that really have contended.  The tension really does mount for the knock out games, most of which are settled by no more than one goal and many go to extra time or a shoot out.

As this is being written we are down to four teams, Germany, Brazil, Argentina and the Netherlands.  They all have a long soccer history  and their current crop of players are worthy.  Predictions are precarious.  I do anticipate some close, probably low scoring games with a high degree of athleticism, but any game could be decided by millimeters.  It has been an enjoyable run (at least for me).